Jordan, Needham and Wales

The first airplane to crash in Oegstgeest was on 27 June 1940, on Zandbergen’s property which was a meadow located along the Valkenburgerweg (where a district of Rijnsburg has since been built). The plane was a two-engine RAF Bristol Blenheim IV which flew as part of a 6-bomber formation of the 235th Squadron. They had taken off from the English airbase Bircham near Newton in Norfolk at 12:55 hours for a reconnaissance flight between Amsterdam and the Afsluitdijk to the west of the IJsselmeer or ‘Zuyderzee’, the name used on English maps. This squadron’s flights were made by daylight and could only be carried out under the cover of clouds to avoid being spotted by the Germans. One disadvantage of flying under a cover of clouds was that the airplane could quickly fly off course – it was not an easy task to navigate through clouds while holding stacks of maps and peering through the window to check the plane’s position. At about 15:00 hours, the airplane finally flew over Dutch territory at the level of Noordwijk.

This ‘message slip’ was given to pilot Alan Wales by John Needham. Spoken messages were impossible due to the noise of the aircraft.

Blenheim-bombers on a military airfield in England

Suddenly the clouds parted, showing a sun-bathed sky. The Bristol Blenheim IV was flying towards the north, over Schiphol airport (now Schiphol East) which was then a large German airbase. From their base at Schiphol and from airfield Waalhaven near Rotterdam, German fighter planes took off to intercept the intruders. According to Pilot Officer Hugh Wakefield from the 235th Squadron who survived, the spectacle of 18 German Messerschmitts flying directly towards them – first appearing as a distant cloud formation and then within 2–3 minutes flying right before their eyes – was both a terrifying as well as splendid sight. The English aircraft scatter in all directions. It remains a miracle that even two planes survived while four planes crashed in Ouderkerk on the Amstel, in Vinkeveen, in the sea at Noordwijk, and the last in Oegstgeest at 15:30 hours. This plane was shot down by Lieutenant Joachim Schypek flying with the German 2nd Fighter Squadron 76 which took off from Waalhaven at 15:02 hours.

Salvage and funeral

Daniël Oudshoorn, aged 14, was working the land with his father and grandfather when he witnessed the catastrophe. Pieces of wreckage covered a 400-meter area. Daniël could feel the searing heat as a piece of wreckage, one of the engines, crashed only 10 meters away. The airplane landed head down in a watery ditch and two crewmen were found nearby. Daniël’s father wanted to offer assistance which proved impossible as ammunition in the airplane kept exploding continuously. It was not until the explosions had ceased that he could jump the ditch to try to help the airman who had crashed nearby. However, he could do no more than loosen the buttons on the airman’s uniform to give some relief before the young man died. According to the name registered on the dog tag worn around his neck, the flyer’s name was Thomas Charles Jordan, son of William Henry and Jane Ellen Jordan from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was the radio-operator and gunner on board the aircraft.

The 25-year-old observer Sergeant John Walter Needham also lost his life that day. He was the son of Augusta Elisabeth Needham from Kilburn in Middlesex.

The bodies of the two men were laid to rest on 30 June 1940 with German military honor in the Groene Kerkje cemetery, not far from the site where their bodies still lie buried, near the bend in the graveyard fence. The German army chaplain preached that hostility ends with death (‘Wenn sie tod sind, sind sie unsere Freunde’) saying that the Germans (‘Wir Deutsche’) were therefore providing a burial for the two men who had died in the field of honor (‘gefallen auf dem Ehrenfeld’). Furthermore, before ending the service with the prayer ‘Our Father’, he asked that God provide succor for their surviving families who still knew nothing about their deaths. The 24-man honor guard, under the orders of an ‘Oberfeldwebel’, stood straight-backed before firing three honor salvos over the open graves. Afterwards the empty cartridge cases were carefully collected. Metal was a costly item.

Salvage of Alan Wales  

By this time the Germans had finished salvaging the wreckage of the airplane where a third airman was discovered. He was 20-year-old Pilot Officer Alan Roger Wales, son of Herbert and Bertha Wales from London. On 1 July he was buried next to his mates. A tombstone was placed above the double grave upon which their names were inscribed.

The numbers written upon their tombstone are serial numbers. Later a second Blenheim crew will be laid to rest beside them. Upon this occasion, the tombstone was removed and each man was given, upon German orders, the obligatory wooden cross with the painted inscription ‘Died for his country’.

On 30 July 1942 their remains and crosses were transferred to the sites where their bodies still lay buried. If the bodies had been left where they had originally been buried then the Allies would have come to lie between an increasing number of fallen German soldiers and the Germans did not consider that situation fitting.

The first graves with wooden crosses.

Burial at the ‘Groene Kerkje’  

The photo at left – made fater the funeral of the crew of the second Blenheim – shows the original horizontal gravestone of the crew of the first Blenheim.The origin of the flag is unclear. Propably this was a flag of a former British colony and the only flag available.

The graves of Jordan, Needham and Wales.