Wellington R3162 te Veurne

In de nacht van 30 op 31 mei 1940 crashte aan de Proostdijkstraat een Wellington lc van 38 Squadron. Deze tweemotorige bommenwerper, (de HD-H – serienummer R3162) was om 22u25 van Marham (Engeland) opgestegen voor een raid op Diksmuide maar werd vermoedelijk door de Duitse Flak neergehaald.

Pilot Officer Roy Banes, Flying Officier Vivian Rosawarne, Sergeant John Knight, AC2 James Adams, Sergeant Dennis Spencer en boordschutter Sergeant John Dolan kwamen om het leven.  De crew ligt begraven op de Britse militaire begraafplaats aan de Oude Vestingstraat te Veurne.

Het graf van de 23-jarige Vivian Rosewarne herbergt nog een bijzonder verhaal. Op het moment dat zijn lichaam geborgen werd te Veurne, vond men tussen zijn persoonlijke spullen op de basis Marham een brief, gericht aan zijn moeder, die al weduwe was. Vivian was haar enig kind. Zijn bevelhebber, Group Captain Claude Keith, had de taak om alle materiaal te inspecteren vooraleer het naar de families gestuurd werd, en diende ook deze intieme brief te lezen. Hij was zo geëmotioneerd, dat hij Vivians moeder vroeg om deze naar The Times te mogen sturen. En zo werd deze brief op 18 juni 1940 in de krant gepubliceerd, maar dit gebeurde anoniem. De redactie werd de dagen nadien overstelpt met meer dan 10 000 brieven om het schrijven van de onbekende jongeman als aparte bijlage te publiceren. Het pamflet kende drie herdrukken, en King George VI richtte een persoonlijk schrijven aan de getroffen moeder. Tegen eind 1940 waren een half miljoen kopieën verdeeld. Het jaar nadien werd er een kortfilm gemaakt, waarin de brief door de bekende acteur John Gielgud werd ingesproken. “An Airman's Letter To His Mother” bracht troost bij duizenden getroffen families, zowel in het Britse Gemenbest, de Verenigde Staten als daarbuiten.

Lange tijd bleef de identiteit van de auteur onbekend, in de eerste plaats wegens veiligheidsoverwegingen. Dit leidde tot discussie over de authenticiteit van de brief, die als propaganda aangewend werd. Pas toen de dood van Vivian Rosewarne vanuit bezet gebied bevestigd werd, op 23 december 1940, werd de auteur bekendgemaakt. Zijn moeder verkoos om in de schaduw te blijven, want ze wilde door het leven gaan als een moeder van een jonge, onbekende vliegenier. Mrs. Lilian Roseware overleed in 1981.

De stem van John Gielgud, die de brief leest voor de film, kun je hier beluisteren.

"Dearest Mother:

Though I feel no premonition at all, events are moving rapidly and I have instructed that this letter be forwarded to you should I fail to return from one of the raids that we shall shortly be called upon to undertake. You must hope on for a month, but at the end of that time you must accept the fact that I have handed my task over to the extremely capable hands of my comrades of the Royal Air Force, as so many splendid fellows have already done.

First, it will comfort you to know that my role in this war has been of the greatest importance. Our patrols far out over the North Sea have helped to keep the trade routes clear for our convoys and supply ships, and on one occasion our information was instrumental in saving the lives of the men in a crippled lighthouse relief ship. Though it will be difficult for you, you will disappoint me if you do not at least try to accept the facts dispassionately, for I shall have done my duty to the utmost of my ability. No man can do more, and no one calling himself a man could do less.

I have always admired your amazing courage in the face of continual setbacks; in the way you have given me as good an education and background as anyone in the country: and always kept up appearances without ever losing faith in the future. My death would not mean that your struggle has been in vain. Far from it. It means that your sacrifice is as great as mine. Those who serve England must expect nothing from her; we debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep.

History resounds with illustrious names who have given all; yet their sacrifice has resulted in the British Empire where there is a measure of peace, justice and freedom for all, and where a higher standard of civilization has evolved, and is still evolving, than anywhere else. But this is not only concerning our own land. Today we are faced with the greatest organized challenge to Christianity and civilization that the world has ever seen, and I count myself lucky and honoured to be the right age and fully trained to throw my full weight into the scale. For this I have to thank you. Yet there is more work for you to do. The home front will still have to stand united for years after the war is won. For all that can be said against it, I still maintain that this war is a very good thing: every individual is having the chance to give and dare all for his principle like the martyrs of old. However long the time may be, one thing can never be altered - I shall have lived and died an Englishman. Nothing else matters one jot nor can anything ever change it.

You must not grieve for me, for if you really believe in religion and all that it entails that would be hypocrisy. I have no fear of death; only a queer elation ... I would have it no other way. The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice. We are sent to this world to acquire a personality and a character to take with us that can never be taken from us. Those who just eat and sleep, prosper and procreate, are no better than animals if all their lives they are at peace.

I firmly believe that evil things are sent into the world to try us; they are sent deliberately by our Creator to test our mettle because He knows what is good for us. The Bible is full of cases where the easy way out has been discarded for moral principles.

I count myself fortunate in that I have seen the whole country and known men of every calling. But with the final test of war I consider my character fully developed. Thus at my early age my earthly mission is already fulfilled and I am prepared to die with just one regret: that I could not devote myself to making your declining years more happy by being with you; but you will live in peace and freedom and I shall have directly contributed to that, so here again my life will not have been in vain.

Your loving son"

Serienr. / Rompcode: 
Type Locatie: 
De Decker, Cynrik & Roba, Jean-Louis: Luchtslag boven het Kanaal, De Krijger 1993