They took off at 22.43 hrs from Dishforth, Yorkshire joining 105 other aircraft (47 Hampdens, 39 Whitleys, 16 Wellingtons and 3 Halifaxes) to bomb Cologne. The bombing was poor and only scattered damage. 19 people on the ground were killed and a further 17 injured.
This Whitley Z6479 was intercepted on their return journey by two German night-fighters. One of these was shot down. The British were hit by the second German fighter, piloted by Ofw. Reinhard Kollack, 1/ NJG1. They crash-landed at 02.26 hrs, on Tenhaagdoorn heathland near Houthalen, Limburg, Belgium. 3 out 5 crew members were killed in action.
The bodies of Jefferis, Evans and Baston were prepared for burial by local people, who tended the graves. Originally the bodies were buried in Houthalen Cemetery but were moved to Adegem on 6th April 1961 due to subsidence caused by mine workings.
P/O. Holland survived the crash with head injuries. He was captured several days later and spent the rest of the war as a P.O.W. After the war he returned to duty and spent some time as an interpreter in Japan, before being posted back to Surrey. It was he who provided details of the Whitley's demise. He was killed as a passenger in a car crash, travelling with other officers to the Officers' Mess one morning.
Local witnesses to the Whitley crash in Belgium reported another airman being escorted away by German troops. This was presumably P/O. Crichton. However, no trace of him has ever been found. He is commemorated on panel 32 of the Runnymede War Memorial in Surrey.
Wreckage of Whitley Z6479 (Courtesy: Jeremy Nicholson) Insert: Reinhard Kollack survived the war with 49 kills.
Military graves Houthalen, Belgium.
Personal details have been collected from official Service Records and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. Some of the additional information has been provided by War Diaries, Libera Me (G.E. Spittael), Polder Fighting (R.W. Catsburg), Veterans Affairs Canada, WW2 Talk, Aircrew Remembered and other sources. The commonwealth-adegem.com website is not responsible for incorrect information.
Everything has been collected and processed voluntarily by Michael van de Velde, Netherlands. Along the way I had great support from expert researchers and other volunteers. Thank you!