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TRIBUTE: New memorial to downed airmen about to be unveiled

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Tom Slater & Tom St. Amand

It began with a bike ride.

Guus Kroon was cycling through the Netherlands when he noticed several monuments commemorating Allied aircraft that crashed during the Second World War.

Kroon wondered why his hometown of Muiden, a quaint village east of Amsterdam, didn’t have one. Local residents knew a Halifax bomber had crashed on May 1, 1943 between Muiden and Muiderberg; in fact, some had ancestors who witnessed it.

Townspeople also knew six crew members, including Sarnia’s Ted Parsons, were buried by the Germans in the Muiden General Cemetery while a seventh airman, William Louth, was buried in Amsterdam.

By 2017, Kroon had decided to act, and five people volunteered to help. It wasn’t easy, but what they have accomplished is remarkable.

Sarnia’s Ted Parsons,27, was navigator and only officer on board.
Submitted Photo

The plan was to have a permanent monument in place by May 1, 2018, on the 75th anniversary of the crash. But they had time only to erect a plaque, inscribed with the names and a brief description of the crew.

But the plaque’s official unveiling at the actual crash site generated interest, and the group forged on.

The site was too close to the road and considered a motorist safety hazard, and underground pipes and cables presented another problem.

So the group found a new and approved spot on the curve of a bicycle path, about 150 metres from the crash site.

Needing €4,000 ($6,300 Canadian) to finance construction and maintenance, the members set up a foundation, a website, and Facebook page in 2018. They advertised nationally, crowd-sourced, and organized various fundraising events. Last spring they even ran a “Ted Parsons Look Alike Contest.”

Construction began in January. Today, the impressive monument stands three metres (10 feet) tall. A pedestal of concrete and red brick is affixed with the 2018 plaque. Atop it is an airplane propeller supported on a steel tube. The blade is original and from a Halifax bomber, though not Parsons’ plane, Halifax JB803.

The Germans removed Halifax JB803 in 1943, and local historian and group member David van Coolwijk assumes the metal went into Hitler’s war machine.

But the Germans did not recover everything. In 2003 the bomber’s engine was unearthed and is currently on display in Heemskerk at the Aircraft Recovery Group Museum.

And van Coolwijk, using a metal detector, has recovered other pieces of the aircraft. The plan is to present them to family members of the seven airmen heading to Muiden for the official unveiling on Sept. 5.

Unfortunately, Sharon McDonald, Ted Parsons’ niece from Sarnia, is unable to attend, so pieces of her uncle’s plane are being sent.

McDonald is disappointed she can’t be in Muiden, but is very appreciative of what Guus Kroon started three years ago.

“When I first heard about it I couldn’t think of anything else for a couple of weeks,” she said. “It’s amazing really and I’m so grateful to Guus and his group. Olive, my grandmother, would be extremely happy and so proud of her son, Ted.”

The group behind the Muiden Halifax Memorial said building it was an honour.

“These young heroes need to be remembered for their selfless sacrifice,” van Coolwijk said.

The fundraising goal of €4,000 has not been met. Donations can be made through the Muiden website: https://www.halifaxmonumentmuiden.nl/

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