73 years ago in March 1943 a German bomber crashed near my village of Earlston in the Scottish Borders, killing all four members of the crew.
Last year, Auld Earlston, my local heritage group received an enquiry from the Aircrew Remembrance Society, who, on behalf of the grandson of the pilot Paul Rogge (left), was seeking information on the crash.
Local residents recalled the event, with some children taken to see the crash site, but they were too young to know any details.
However Auld Earlston referred the Society to the Scottish Borders Archive Service at the Heritage Hub, Hawick, who were known to hold police records relating to wartime air crashes.
With sensitive sections omitted, the information from the Aircrew Remembrance Society website and the Heritage Hub, Hawick, forms the basis of this tragic wartime story - but one that ended in Reconciliation.
The police report read:
"At midnight on the night of Wednesday/Thursday 24th/25th March 1943, I received the air raid warning "Red". At that time aircraft could be heard overhead of Earlston. Immediately after receiving this warning and passing it onto the Civil Defence Services, I went out on duty with Special Constable XXXX. At about 0.10 hours, when in the Market Place, I heard a burst of machine gun fire right up overhead....... I heard a roar of aircraft increasing to a high pitch. I heard a second short burst of machine gun fire and this was immediately followed by the abrupt cessation of the high pitch roar. ...there was a great flash of light, followed by a dull thud.
At about 0.30 hours we received a report from XXXXX of Fans Farm, Earlston that he could see a number of small fires in a field and described them as like a stick of incendiary bomb burning........We located the site on the farm of Darllngfield, Earlston and reaching this field we discovered a German aircraft. It had apparently dived straight into the ground and parts of it were still burning in a deep crater with parts strewn over a wide area.............All the aircrew were killed.
The bodies of the crew were were removed by ambulance to the RAF station at Charterthall; personal property and documents were handed over intact to to RAF Intelligence, Turnhouse, Edinburgh
The Aircrew Remembrance Society website relates:
"On March 24th-25th 1943, a German Junker plane was on a mission to attack Edinburgh. This aircraft crashed at 0030 hours on 25.03.43 at Earlston near Melrose, Berwickshire. Map Ref: U.0756. The cause of the crash is obscure.
The aircraft was heard flying fairly low and three witnesses stated that firing in the air was heard before It crashed and it was almost entirely destroyed or buried, the crew being killed. There are no reports of an interception in this area at the time of the crash. No bullet strikes can be found in the wreckage".
On 2nd April 1943, "The Kelso Chronicle" featured a report headed "Eight Bombers Down: Enemy Attacks Parts of Scotland". For reasons of wartime security, the actual detail given was very vague, but included a reference to:
"Four miles from a small town in south east Scotland, where high explosives and incendiary bombs fell, some damage was caused.........Not far away, the wreckage of a burned out German plane was found, as well as parts of a propeller, an oxygen breathing apparatus and a German helmet."
All four members of the crew were killed, with the body of the gunner never found. Their initial burial place was at nearby Fogo Churchyard, before being transferred to the German Military Cemetery in Staffordshire.
Amazingly this photograph of baby Irmtrud pictured at eight weeks old was found in the tunic pocket of pilot Paul Rogge. All personal items were returned to his family via the German Red Cross.
*********In Autumn 2015, a small memorial to the victims was unveiled at the crash site in the presence of the pilot's grandson and daughter (the baby in the picture above) who had never known her father. The moving private ceremony was led by Earlston minister Rev. Julie Wood with representatives of the Earlston community present and from the Aircrew Remembrance Society. From the occasion, friendships were forged.
In November this year. Henning Hiesterman the grandson of the pilot, Paul Rogge, made a return visit to Earlston with members of the Aircrew Remembrance Society who were making a further investigation of the site.
A new plaque was placed at the simple memorial, in the presence of members of the Auld Earlston Group, who assisted in the original enquiry to trace more information on the crash.
It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, standing in the field, surrounded by the peaceful Borders countryside that 73 years earlier had witnessed a tragedy of wartime.
Henning (centre), grandson of the pilot. with members of the Auld Earlston Group