"Lost airmen mystery solved" 10.06.2003

By Peter Morley

QUEENSLAND crew members of a bomber shot down over Germany during World War II will be buried in graves marked with their personal headstones in Berlin next month.
For more than 55 years, the men had been listed as missing in action after their Lancaster was hit by anti-aircraft fire north of Berlin. The plane crashed into a thick forest near Oranienburg where the crew lay until German war historians located the wreck in 1999. Some of the seven crew were identified but three who were not were buried the next year in Berlin War Cemetery as "unknown airmen".
Since then researchers in Germany, assisted by Max Johnson, of Bribie Island, have confirmed the identity of the three from dental records. They were the pilot, Flt-Lt Ivan Durston, mid-upper gunner Flt-Sgt Phillip Gill both of Brisbane and radio operator Flt-Sgt Robert Ludlow, from Stanthorpe. German war historian Mario Schulze said yesterday the remains of the three would be buried on July 15, with some of their relatives present.
One will be the pilot's sister, Betty James, of Adelaide. Mr Schulze said: "The headstone with the inscription 'three unknown airmen' has been removed from the Berlin War Cemetery. On July 15 they will receive their personal headstones. They are not missing in action any more."
A memorial stone for the crew would also be unveiled at the crash site the same day.
Mr Johnson, Australian president of the RAAF 467/463 Lancaster Squadrons Association, said the identifications should put relatives' minds at rest.
"For nearly 60 years they have wondered," Mr Johnson said. "Finally they know."
Flt-Lt Durston's niece, Penelope Hewitt, of Victoria Point, near Brisbane, said identification of the remains was a strangely emotional experience.
"He was gone before I was born but the unravelling of this mystery has had quite an impact on me," Mrs Hewitt said of her uncle.
Mrs Hewitt said her uncle had "flown the whole war, got the Distinguished Flying Cross and died on his last mission".
"On the night of that raid the last on Berlin my uncle had mechanical trouble," she said. "This delayed his take-off from Britain and he was given the opportunity to abort because he was half an hour behind the other bombers.
"Apparently he discussed the situation with the rest of the crew and they decided to proceed.
"It was to be their 27th mission the last on that particular tour of duty."

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