A GROUP of Dutch amateur historians are looking for the family of an airman who died in a crash in the Second World War – so they can be reunited with a St Christopher medal recovered at the site.
Sergeant James Bernard Brennan of Chester-le-Street, County Durham, perished when his Lancaster bomber crashed over Oosterhout, in the Netherlands, on July 21, 1944, while returning from a raid on Hamburg.
At the end of the war the 23-year-old’s mother wrote an impassioned letter to the Dutch authorities asking if his rosary beads and St Christopher medal were found, but was told they had not been.
However, as the 70th anniversary of the crash approaches, a St Christopher has been found among the belongings of the only surviving crew member, who died recently.
Jan Jolie, who is co-writing a book on 11 Allied aircraft which crashed over his town, said “Shortly after the war two women assigned to handle the family affairs of the British soldiers in the Netherlands came to the town.
“One of them had a letter from a mother who was desperately hoping to find rosary beads and a St Christopher medal. She wanted to get it back to remember him by.
“The only thing that was found on Sgt Brennan’s body by the German Bergungskommando was his dog tag and his name written in ink on his brown overalls.”
The navigator, Pilot Officer Alan Hayden, was the only person in the seven-man crew to survive the crash.
He made his escape with the help of the Resistance, but was betrayed in Belgium and became a POW for the rest of the war.
Mr Hayden of Leatherhead, Surrey, returned to meet members of the Resistance in 1994, when he was given papers and items found at the crash site.
When he died in April, Mr Jolie’s co-author Cees Joosen attended his funeral. Mr Hayden’s son gave Mr Joosen an envelope containing Belgian and French “escape money”, compasses, two cotton sheet maps and a St Christopher medal.
The back of the medal bears the message: “I am a Catholic in case of accident notify a priest.”
Mr Jolie said: “We cannot be certain that it is Sgt Brennan’s St Christopher, but would like to trace his relatives and tell them all about where and how the crash happened.
“Our story is nearly complete, except for the medal.”
Sgt Brennan’s parents were Michael and Sarah Brennan.
Anyone with information is asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01325-505065.