THE relatives of a Durham war hero are being sought by a man living in the country where he is buried.

Flt Sgt John Hence lies in the Netherlands beneath a headstone which was engraved in 1943 with a poignant message: “Always a beautiful memory, often a silent tear, loved by Mam, Dad and Sister.”

Those who follow the regular debate in the pages of The Northern Echo about what a North-Eastern native fondly calls their mother will note the use of the vernacular “mam”.

Flt Sgt Hence was born in or around the city of Durham in 1919. He was the son of John and Eleanor (nee Carter) who married in 1915 in Durham, and the sister mentioned on the headstone was Annie, who was born in 1927 in Durham.

John joined the RAF and on April 9, 1943, was the flight engineer on a Lancaster bomber flying from RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor, near Market Weighton in east Yorkshire, to bomb Duisburg, in Germany.

Duisburg, in the Rhineland, was a centre of the German chemical, steel and iron industries and so was a primary target for Allied bombers – some believe it to be the most heavily bombed city during the Second World War.

But at 10.45pm that night in April 1943, John’s Lancaster was shot down by a German night-fighter over the Dutch village of Doornspijk. The bomber exploded with such force that debris from it hit the night-fighter causing it to crash, too.

All seven of the Lancaster crew were buried on April 13, 1943, in Doornspijk cemetery. John was 23.

“This is all the information I have,” says Frank Hop, who lives near Doornspijk. “I am trying to find the family of this hero – he died for my freedom, and he deserves more than only a stone on his grave.”

  • If you have any information about the Hences – and, best of all, a photo – either email or get in touch with Frank direct at