Crew of Short Stirling That Disappeared Over 70 Years Ago, Families Traced

Short Sterling

On the 29th March 1943, bombers set off on a night raid to Berlin. Included in that number was a Short Stirling III with the serial number BK716 captained by Flying Officer John Frederick Harris.

The bomber took off from RAF Downham Market on Norfolk, and then nothing more was heard of the plane.

That fateful night in 1943, a total of 328 bombers took off to bomb the heart of Germany. They faced electrical storms that resulted in heavy icing of the fuselage, and 120 of the planes were forced to return to base.

The remainder flew on but ran into a massive night fighter resistance that made full use of the bright and calmer weather conditions over Europe. Records from Germany indicate that the fighters shot down nine bombers.

The crew who were listed as MIA when their plane was lost as it returned from a bombing run in Germany in their Short Stirling.
The crew who were listed as MIA when their plane was lost as it returned from a bombing run in Germany in their Short Stirling.

BK716 was one of the bombers that did not return, but none of the fighters claimed to have shot it down. It was assumed that the plane was either hit by flak or succumbed to the bad weather on her return. All seven crew members were listed as missing in action.

The wreck of BK716 was found submerged in Lake Markermeer, near the Dutch city of Amsterdam, and authorities are hoping that the remains of the crew are still with the plane.

Plans are now being made to recover the plane in March 2020, and authorities have commenced tracking down the next of kin of the seven crew members.

Appeals were placed on social media, and relatives of six of the crewmen have been traced.

The crewman for who no relatives have come forward is Sergeant Charles Armstrong Bell (1027864).

The Consett Police in County Durham has received a request from the Bomber Command Museum of Canada for assistance in tracing any living relatives of Sergeant Bell.

Durham Constabulary said, in a statement that, according to military records, Sergeant Charles Armstrong Bell was married to Frances and lived at 10, Quebec Street in Langley Park.

His parents were James Ainsley and Elizabeth Bell.

Royal Air Force armourers check over the sixteen 250lb bombs before they are loaded into a Short Stirling bomber
Royal Air Force armourers check over the sixteen 250lb bombs before they are loaded into a Short Stirling bomber

The memorial stone erected in his honor, list him as being a husband and son but does not mention him being a father. This led authorities to believe that Charles and Frances had no children.

Records indicate that Frances married again to John Wharton and authorities believe Frances may have had a sister by the name of Lilly Dobbin. Public records show that Frances died in 2003, but there is no record of a Lilly Dobbin.

The Markermeer, one of Europe’s largest freshwater lakes were the Short Stirling was found, a vast 700-square-kilometre (270-square-mile) expanse of water, which regulates the level of water in the rest of the Netherlands,. BRAM VAN DE BIEZEN/AFP via Getty Images.
The Markermeer, one of Europe’s largest freshwater lakes were the Short Stirling was found, a vast 700-square-kilometre (270-square-mile) expanse of water, which regulates the level of water in the rest of the Netherlands,. BRAM VAN DE BIEZEN/AFP via Getty Images.

Authorities are very keen to trace any known relatives of Charles Bell, so if his remains are found in the plane once it is raised and he can be positively identified, his relatives can be present at his funeral.

This airman paid the ultimate sacrifice, and it would be a great pity if no family members are present at this funeral.

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Anyone who can assist Sergeant Mawson of the Consett Neighbourhood Policing Team is asked to please email consett@durham.pnn.police.uk