Omroep Flevoland – News – The forgotten story of airgunner William Ward

It is the night of June 11-12, 1943. Lancaster ED357 PH-S, a bomber, takes off at Wickenby, England. On board is 20-year-old William Middleton Ward from Edinburgh, Scotland. He has previously conducted missions over enemy territory. As an airgunner, Ward guards the plane. The goal of the latest mission is to bomb areas around Düsseldorf. It is an operation in which dozens of allied aircraft participate. For William Ward, it will be his very last mission.

An enemy night fighter tracks the Allied aircraft. German Helmut Bergmann fires from his Nachtjagdgeschwader and hits the British plane. The Lancaster with seven crew members crashes in the IJsselmeer, near what is now the Dronten. Sergeant Sparling survives the crash. After the war, he tells his story about the night of the fall.

Five of the seven people on board were killed, including Pilot Thomson and Sergeant William Ward. The Scotsman is only twenty years old when his life is over.

On November 11, Britain celebrates the end of the war. The school the airgunner attended that day pays tribute to all the (former) pupils who died, including William Ward. Almost eighty years after the crash, the young airgunner has been almost forgotten. Until history teacher Dave Clarke from Stewarts’ Melville College in Edinburgh comes across his name. The teacher investigates former students at his school who died during World War II, of which William Middleton Ward is one. Clarke has an old school photo of the former student’s class. Only it is not written who these students are. Nowhere is a name written and it is not known who William Ward is.

Class photo by William Ward

Clarke learns that his schoolmate has crashed into the IJsselmeer, which is now eastern Flevoland. The teacher also learns that a memorial service is held annually on May 4. The monument in Dronten consists of a wall and a propeller. This propeller comes from the Lancaster that William Ward was in.

The investigation continues. The teacher also finds out that a street is named after the student who died: Wardhof, near Lancasterdreef. The story of William Ward fascinates the history teacher. In 2019, he will go to Dronten to participate in the commemoration on 4 May and to see the propeller with his own eyes.

Orchardfield Avenue, Corstorphine
William Ward grew up in Corstorphine, an old working-class village that Edinburgh grew up against. The terraced house on Orchardfield Avenue still exists. But the Ward family no longer lives there. Opposite the parents’ home is now Corstorphine’s archive. There, too, there is little to be found about the citizen who died in the IJsselmeer. There is no more than a series of military data.

More could be found in the local church. On one of the walls of St. Ninian’s Church hangs a plaque commemorating all the soldiers killed in the area. At the very bottom is the name ‘William Ward’.

Pastor James Aitken immediately goes looking for more information about the young airgunner. In a book about the church is a copy of the church magazine from July 1943. In it is written about the crash of the bomber. The text says that another young man is missing. At that time, it is not yet clear that William Ward is already dead. The episode ends by saying that our thoughts go out to William Ward’s parents who are going through a tough time.

Stewart’s Melville College
On November 11, Stewart’s Melville College pays tribute to all deceased (former) students, including William Ward. The fateful story of Ward tells the history teacher in the days before the big memorial for his students. In this way, Clarke wants to make it clear to the students that William Ward is one of them. He brings the story so close.

William Ward’s school reports have survived. It shows that the student was very good at geography. He has the highest score in the entire class.

This year, Dave Clarke visited Dronten again. This time he laid a traditional poppy wreath at the war memorial. The poppy is the British flower of remembrance. Clarke also wore a traditional Scottish kilt. The motif is in the colors of the Ward family.

‘Never unprepared’
William Ward is buried at Nieuwe Oosterbegraafplaats in Amsterdam. Next to him are three other crew members from his last flight. His tombstone reads ‘Never unprepared’ – never unprepared. It was a big surprise for Dave Clarke. ‘Never Unprepared’ is also the school motto of Stewart’s Melville College.

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