Pressemitteilungen July 17 2003 , AAP


Son watches as airman father he never knew is buried

By Maria Hawthorne, London

David Sutherland was nine months old when his father's bomber was shot down on a mission over Germany in 1944.

Yesterday, he watched as Jack, the father he never knew, and five other airmen - three Australians and two Britons - were buried with full military honours in the Berlin War Cemetery, 59 years after they were reported missing in action, presumed dead.

Their remains were unearthed two years ago when German aviation historians found the wreckage of their Lancaster bomber in a forest outside Berlin. They were given a formal burial yesterday in front of a group of relatives flown in for the ceremony from Australia and Britain by the RAAF, the RAF and the Australian and British governments.

Mr Sutherland, 60, a sales representative from Adelaide, said it was an emotional pilgrimage. "A friend of mine said 'Your father is going to be so happy when you get there. He's been lying there waiting for almost 60 years for you to come and see him'," Mr Sutherland said. "It is an emotional time."

Flight Sergeant Sutherland was 22 and an RAAF rear gunner when Lancaster ED 867 took off from RAF base Waddington, in England, in the early hours of January 29, 1944, to bomb Berlin.
But less than three hours later it was shot down, 40 kilometres north of its target, killing all seven men on board.

RAF bomb aimer Sid Griffiths's body was found soon after and buried in a local cemetery, before being reinterred in the war cemetery. But the other men were simply listed as missing in action, their fates unknown for decades.

Flight Sergeant Sutherland's mother, Edna, eventually remarried, and her first husband was rarely mentioned. "All I knew was that my father had been killed in the war," Mr Sutherland said.

"I often wondered what happened - did it blow up in mid-air, or did it crash to the ground and was he wandering around somewhere? Would there be a knock at the door one day and this person saying 'I'm your father'? But I never tried to find out more because I didn't want to cause any disturbances to my mother."

When he got the phone call two years ago explaining that the plane had been found, he was stunned. "It was like a smack between the eyes," he said. "I just sat there and said 'You'll have to excuse me a minute' and I cried for a few minutes."

Following that, and his stepfather's death, his mother began to open up about the loss of her first love.

"I've had two or three photographs of him for years, but I always had them locked away in my wardrobe because I wasn't supposed to bring them out," Mr Sutherland said.

"Now I've got them up in the loungeroom with his medals and a little plaque."

The others laid to rest were Queenslanders, pilot Ivan Durston, 32, upper gunner Phillip Gill, 20, and wireless operator Bob Ludlow, 31, and RAF navigator Harold Fry and flight engineer Francis Aver.