On Thursday 8th March 2018 we (Peter, Maureen and sister Jane) boarded a plane to fly to Billund, Denmark, on the invitation of The Board of The Danish Defence Brotherhood.
Exactly five years earlier we had made a similar trip, accompanied by our parents Peter and Eileen Andrew and members of 44 Squadron, in order to attend the raising of a monument to the crew of Lancaster ED 305. The plane had been shot down on a bombing mission and crashed into the Lillebaelt. My Great Uncle Charles Victor Brown was a member of that crew, and for many years until the plane wreckage was identified, his final resting place had been unknown.
We had been invited back to attend the 75th anniversary of ED305’s final mission. Unfortunately, this time, owing to ill health, Peter and Eileen were unable to attend, which disappointed them very much. Since our last visit we have been informed that other relatives have been traced and made contact but sadly none could attend the 75th anniversary. However Bob Cobley from the War Graves Commission did deliver a moving address written by Nick Brooks, the nephew of Sgt Brian Smith, at the memorial ceremony on the 10th March.
We arrived in a snowy Denmark to be met by Peer Petersen and were transported by military vehicle to our hotel in Fredericia. Thus began the wonderful kindness and hospitality that would feature through the whole visit from everyone involved. Peer and his wife Hana invited us into their home for a delicious dinner that evening, prior to the official events which would begin the following day .
On Friday morning 9th March, we attended a reception in the old town hall, where we had lunch, attended by the deputy mayor of Fredericia and members of the Danish Defence Brotherhood. There then followed a very informative and interesting tour of G.I.Hovedvagt and the town ramparts by Major General Ib Bager. As we toured the town we cast our mind back to the sub –zero temperatures of our visit 5 years ago, and were thankful that this time the weather had been kinder. We were still grateful for the hot drink provided at the end in the Tonder room though.
That evening there was a welcome dinner of delicious open sandwiches at Ryes barracks, hosted by Lt Colonel Teglers, where we were joined by more members of the DDB and their partners. At the meal we were introduced to Peter the stonemason who made the memorial and he explained the thinking behind its design and construction. Also during the evening we, along with others present, were presented with a coin commemorating the 75th anniversary, which featured a detailed imprint of the memorial on its reverse. What a wonderful surprise and an excellent memento of our visit. We, in return, were able to present the DDF with a framed photograph of Charles Victor Brown in his RAF uniform for their display. After the meal and during coffee there was much consulting of weather apps on phones. Would the weather hold for tomorrow’s ceremony? It was far from certain: rain was forecast, but when would it arrive?
The framed photograph of Charles Victor Brown
The following morning Saturday 10th March we were transported to the site of the memorial. It looked as impressive as we remembered it. It was obvious that the day’s events had been meticulously planned and the one thing that could not be controlled. the weather, had held so far. It was very humbling and touching to see the number of people standing in line to lay wreaths and flowers, and the large number of citizens of Fredericia who had assembled to pay their respects.
Peter and Jane laying their wreath at the memorial
At 11 o’clock there was a flypast from a twin-engine plane tracing the final tragic moments before the stricken bomber had come to rest in the Lillebaelt.
The speeches then began which, for the 75th anniversary, were held by the memorial. The weather was so much warmer than five years ago when the cold wind meant the speeches were held by the diving club for shelter. The flowers and wreaths were then laid. Finally came the last post, moving as ever and bringing the ceremony to a close. Even the sun blessed the occasion by making the briefest of appearances!
A reception was held in the nearby diving club. A local brewer had made a delicious special beer to celebrate the occasion (which disappeared very quickly!). The label on the beer depicting the painting of the Augsburg Raid undertaken by No 44 Squadron on the 17th April 1942.
We were then driven to the naval rescue vessel Speditforen that would take us to the spot in the Lillebaelt that was the site of the lost aircraft ED305. As relatives, the three of us each threw a red rose into the water along with Bob Cobley from the War graves commission. It was a moving occasion as we surveyed the waves and thought of Charles Victor Brown and his young comrades who had, 75 years previously, made the ultimate sacrifice in answering the call to fight for freedom.
The weather had been kind to us and we were fortunate to see the beautiful coastline of the area. At the end of the trip, as if on cue, the first raindrops fell. We had indeed been fortunate – the weather had respected the plans!
That evening we had a formal dinner in the YMCA with members of the DDF and their wives to recollect and celebrate the days events. The dinner was a real treat, being a meal that would traditionally be served in Denmark on Xmas eve – delicious!
On Sunday 11th March we attended the last official event, a church memorial service. This was held in a local church as the garrison church was undergoing refurbishment. A translator had thoughtfully been supplied for us. During the service a candle was lit in memory of each member of the crew of ED305 as the name was read out. Sgt Brian Smith, Sgt Gordon Black, Flying Officer Robert Carr, Sgt Charles Cook, Sgt Geoffrey Love, Sgt Charles Brown and Sgt Alfred Healey. After the service we said goodbye and thank you to members of the DDB for their very warm hospitality.
As the service marked the end of the organised events we had some time to walk around Fredericia to look around – although we did end up in the English pub! That evening after a wonderful dinner in a hotel restaurant overlooking the Lillebaelt, we said our goodbyes to our hosts. They had become like friends in such a short time.
On Monday 12th March we were transported again by military vehicle to Billund airport, accompanied by Peer, where we said our final goodbyes.
It had been a busy few days and now we had time to reflect. We had been as moved by the effort put in to marking the 75th anniversary of the demise of ED305 and its crew, as we had been by the initial effort made by the DDB to remember them in the form of a memorial. We had been touched by the kindness of everyone we met during our stay.
As a family, we feel we now have a link with Denmark which, although brought about by the most tragic of circumstances, is meaningful and lasting.