Pressemitteilungen  "The Sunday Age" in Melbourne, Australien, 5. August 2001












Found: the Australian airmen lost for 57 years




IN 1944 a Lancaster bomber with four Australians aboard flew from England for its final mission over Nazi Germany. It never came back. What happened to the Australian airmen on ED 867 has remained a mystery. All that their families have been told for the past 57 years is that the men were rnissing in action.

Until now

Thanks to the dedication of a group of German amateur historians and the forensic detective work of Australian defence officers, the mystery of ED 867 is dose to being solved. The Germans have found the wreckage of the Lancaster near their town of Qranienburg, 30km north of Berlin. They dug down for 3m and found the remains of three, possibly four, crewmen still inside the wreckage of the plane. A wing revealed the serial number: ED 867.

Australian forensic experts will soon go to Berlin to try to make final identifications of the airmen so they can be given a marked grave and buried with full military honours. The Lancaster bomber of the Royal Australian Air Force‘s 467 Squadron, crewed by four Australians and three British airmen, took off from Waddington, England, on January 29, 1944, on a bombing raid over Berlin. lt was their 27th operation and was to be the Australian crew‘s last mission. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant lvan (Joe) Durston, 32, of Windsor in Queensland, had been told he had already completed his number of missions and could be transferred out. The chances of being killed in raids over Germany were so high that airmen were limited to 30 missions. But the Aussies had made a pact that they would all finish together. So the commanding officer told Durston and wireless operator Pilot Officer Robert Ludlow, 31, of Glen Niven, Queensland, gunner Flight Sergeant Phillip Gill, 20, of Coorparoo, Queensland, and gunner Flight Sergeant Jack Sutherland, 22, of Prospect, South Australia, that this would be their last mission before being transferred to other duties.

lt was a tough one. Berlin was heavily defended and the Germans threw up all the flak they could at the bombers. Durstons plane, designation ED867 with PO-L marked on the side, was bringing up the rear as he had to photograph the result of the raid. lt meant all  enemy firewould be concentrated on this plane. As they made their final approach to Berlin over the town of Oranienburg the Lancaster was hit by flak or fighters and fell out of the flying formation, plummeting to the ground in flames. Three bodies were quickly found and later buried near die crash site. After the war, one was identified as Englishman Flight Sergeant Sidney Griffidis and he was reburied in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Berlin. The two others, whose nationalities have not been determined, were placed in graves marked "unknown airman. What happened to thefour other crewmen are unknown. Back in Australia, Durston's sister, Betty James, was told he was missing in action. She has carried his photo in her wallet ever since, hoping that somehow he might still be alive.

lt was not until Mario Schultze, 33, a local cabinet maker and amateur historian, last year started searching the fields around Oranienburg for crashed warplanes that answers to the mystery started to surface. "The area had been set aside for military manoeuvres by the East German Army and was only opened up to the public recently," he said. "We found parts of 14 warplanes that had crashed around the town. We decided it would be our mission to identify them all so relatives could know what happened to their missing men. "Some were Russian, some American, some British. We found part of a wing of the Lancaster just sticking above die ground. We dug and found the serial number ED 867. "With the help of the German Army we dug further and found the remains of three, possibly four, men about three metres under the ground. lt seems the plane exploded on impact and so it buried itself deep in die ground." The German Army gave the airmen a temporary grave and notified British authorities. RAF records gave the name of the crew and dental records indicated the remains found were of Flight Lieutenant Durston.

In October defence experts from Canberra will go to the site to examine the remains. lt is hoped all the remaining bodies can be finally identified and reburied with fuIl military honours in the Berlin Allied War Cemetery alongside 252 other Australians.  Even if individual remains can't be identified, they are no longer missing and can be buried in a grave marked with the names of the full crew of ED867.

Betty James, 83, said finding her brother‘s body after almost 60 years had at last brought peace to her and die family. "When you lose someone like this you are still waiting and wondering. You wonder where he is, was he captured, was he kept overseas?" she said from her home at Adelaide. " We weren‘t told much about how it happened. "Now we are at peace because he is going to be officially buried. I am not looking for his body to be brought home, just for him to be buried. lt closes a chapter."

More than 11.000 Australian airmen were killed in World War II. At the end of the war more than 3000 RAAF personnel were listed as missing over Germany. Today, 1.300 are still listed as missing.