‘You can see how important it is for them’: German memorial honours WWII bomber crew

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A Winnipeg man is traveling to Germany this week to honour a long-lost cousin whose plane was shot down during World War II.

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Halifax bomber NP711 crashed near Leistadt, Germany on February 21, 1945, shot down while trying to hit a German weapons factory. All seven crew members died in the crash, including pilot William Wallace Wagner from Napanee, Ontario.

Now, his cousin Rob Wagner of Winnipeg is one of 15 people traveling to the crash site for a memorial ceremony honouring the men who died there. “I’m looking forward to it,” Wagner told CTV. “It’s been a lot of work by Erik Wieman, I think about five years now, so we’re all eager to get over there and pay our respects to these seven crewmen.”

Weiman first discovered the crash site in 2018.

As an amateur archeologist, he quickly realized what he had found, and got in touch with the proper authorities.

“I got permission from the forestry and archeological services to survey the land, said Weiman.”We found a lot of parts from the aircraft and also personal (items) from the crew. It was a very big explosion, the crash site is almost 400 meters wide.”

Once he figured out which bomber crashed and who was on board, Weiman began searching for the descendants of the deceased crew members. He got in touch with Wagner through Facebook.

Erik Wieman searched for descendants of the crash victims on Facebook. (Source: Facebook)

Wagner says it was huge news for his family, “We knew the story for many years,” he said, “but we only knew that it crashed on a hillside, we had no idea of the details of the operation. I didn’t even know the names of the other crew members.”

Wagner is a filmmaker who is making a documentary about the Halifax bomber crew and the crash. He says it is a compelling story.

“They were only together for two and a half months, and we are looking at several aspects of this crew. We want to get to the emotional core of the crew. We want to get to know them, and know their families,” said Wagner.

He and 14 other family members of the lost bomber crew are flying to Germany this week for a memorial service on Saturday, August 6, 2022. Weiman says the crash site has now been memorialized with displays and information plaques telling the story of Halifax NP711 and its crew. 

“So now we’re making the site visible for the people here, for the descendants and we can show them the place so they can really find closure,” said Weiman, “the site was practically forgotten, but now it is known, and no one will ever forget it anymore.”

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