This article was written by our Amersham correspondent Alison Bailey. It first appeared in the Amersham & Chesham edition of the Bucks Free Press on July 1, 2022. It is a sad but illuminating and inspiring story which I think will be of interest to all our readers.

In a clear sky, in the early hours of June 13 1944 the Avro Lancaster “Maggie” DS818 / JI-Q of the 514 Squadron was shot down over Nunspeet, then a small agricultural village in the central Netherlands.

The previous day the Lancaster had taken off from the RAF Bomber Command airfield at Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire and successfully bombed German oil installations in Gelsenkirchen. Whilst limping home, damaged by flak, Maggie was attacked by a German nightfighter and burst into flames. Three of the crew parachuted from the stricken Lancaster and survived.

On the ground 21-year-old Krijn Polinder witnessed the plane plummeting towards him around 2am. He was in hiding in an underground hut on his family farm to avoid being sent to the Nazi labour camps. Completely out of control, the burning plane just avoided the thatched roof of the farmhouse and crashed into a neighbouring rye field, killing the three crewmen trapped in the fuselage, Flight Sgt Gordon ‘Jock’ Lewis, Sgt William Steger and Sgt George Brown. The tailpiece, which had broken away, fell on the oat field of a neighbouring farm, killing the tailgunner, 20-year-old Sgt Keith Baker from Chesham Bois.


On June 13 2022, a gloriously sunny day, the now thriving municipality of Nunspeet honoured all the crew of the Lancaster by holding a ceremony to unveil a new monument. I had the privilege to attend, representing the family of our local boy Keith Baker, as they were unable to be there.

This inspiring occasion was all down to the hard work of local resident, Wessel Scheer, the leader of the project. A pilot with a passion for WWII history, he decided to research the story of the plane crash during the first coronavirus lockdown when he found himself unexpectedly grounded. He then had the idea of creating a permanent memorial to the crash after he learned that a significant part of the wreckage still existed. The propeller hub had been discovered in 1994 at the crash site by investigator Gerrit De Ruiter with his metal detector and it was still in his shed. Not only did Wessel persuade Gerry to donate the hub but he also convinced him to join his working group!

In the 1990s Gerry had travelled to Rugby to meet Derek Duncliffe, the Pilot Officer who survived the crash, and was still in touch with his family. Wessel contacted Amersham Museum for information on Keith Baker and similar enquiries were made about the other airmen. Gradually the story of the Lancaster’s crew was pieced together.

Another significant member of the team was Gerrit Polinder, Krijn Polinder’s nephew who still runs the family farm. The Polinders had sold the field where the Lancaster crashed to a poultry processing plant, but when this company recently went into liquidation the land came into the ownership of the municipality for industrial development. Gerrit believed this was an opportunity to create a memorial on the land which he had always hoped to do. Wessel’s working group also included local historian Dick Baas, and Harwin Prins, the monument’s designer. Crucially the idea was supported by the Town Council and in a short space of time an easily accessible location was agreed close to the crash site, and funding was secured.

Ceremony and service

So 78 years later at 2pm on Monday June 13 2022, the ceremony was held in front of a large crowd with a Guard of Honour of veterans from The Netherlands and Britain. The newly appointed Mayor of Nunspeet and Nicky Brayn, Pilot Officer Duncliffe’s granddaughter then unveiled the monument with a brass band, speeches and even a fly past.

The monument has the propeller hub positioned on a brick plinth at its centre. The hub points north-west towards the airbase at Waterbeach. At the back is a Corten steel panel with milled out propellor blades so that when you stand in front of the monument the hub appears to be connected to the blades. The pentagon shape of the contrasting brick pavement represents the five years of war. There is also an information board and a plaque commemorating the names of the seven airmen.

A short service of commemoration was then held at the Nunspeet-Oost Cemetery where the Last Post was played, and Tayah Duncliffe, also a granddaughter of the pilot, gave a heartfelt speech thanking the town on behalf of all the families. Everyone then filed respectfully past the graves of the four crew members with their framed photographs on display. Earlier Wessel had added a second photograph of Keith Baker with his nephew, Richard Gann, as Richard was unable to attend the ceremony.

Rick Brooks, another researcher, was also present, representing the family of Bombardier Sgt Harry Bourne. With Flight Engineer Sgt Peter Cooper, who also parachuted out of the plane, Harry survived his experience as a POW. Rick was able to live stream the entire ceremony to Harry’s stepdaughter, Maggie, as she was unable to attend. However, seven members of the Duncliffe family were at the ceremony including Derek’s son, Phillip and daughter, Barbara.

None of them would have been there that day if local people and the Dutch Resistance had not kept Pilot Officer Derek Duncliffe safe after he successfully parachuted out of his stricken Lancaster. He was hidden until the Liberation of The Netherlands in various safe houses around Nunspeet before spending three weeks in the Hidden Village (Het Verscholen Dorp, see below) in the neighbouring Soerelse forest. Derek stayed there for three weeks before he was moved on to the town of Apeldoorn, where he stayed until it was liberated by Canadian soldiers in April 1945. He then joined them in the fight to free The Netherlands from German occupation.

Although many family members were unable to attend this commemoration, they can rest assured that their loved ones are being remembered and honoured today by the generous people of Nunspeet, and that this monument will continue to inform future generations of the extraordinary story of the Avro Lancaster “Maggie” and its brave crew.

Photos of the ceremony are courtesy of Arjan Vrieze Photography. For more information about this story please see, or visit the museum in Old Amersham.

Het Verscholen Dorp

The Hidden Village was established in 1943 by the Bakkers from Nunspeet to hide their Jewish neighbours with the support of a wealthy lawyer Edouard (De Boem) von Baumhauer from Vierhouten. It grew into an organised camp of nine well-camouflaged huts in four separate areas of the dense pine forest separated by fire breaks. With the support of many local families, at great personal risk to themselves, ‘Opa’ (Grandpa) Bakker and his wife Cornelia, ‘Tante Cor’ provided supplies and transport to keep the camp running. Between 1943 and its discovery in October 1944, it provided refuge for between 80 and 100 people in hiding. These included Jewish families, Allied airmen, and even a Russian and a German deserter.

The atmospheric forest hideout is now a heritage and education centre where three well-hidden and partly underground huts have been rebuilt as they would have been in 1944. Nearby, on one of the forest roads, Tongerenseweg, there is a memorial to the 8 Jewish camp members who were discovered and murdered in October 1944. Amazingly around 80 people fled to safety after realising that the Germans had discovered the camp. The Nunspeet-Oost Cemetery also contains the well-tended graves of resistance fighters who were killed during the war including the grave of Opa Bakker. Tante Cor is buried opposite, having lived until 1989. Hundreds of people attended her funeral.