Flying Officer Gerald Hood – A Fitting Conclusion
From the article published in the August 09 edition of “The Hornet”
(100 Squadron Association newsletter)
“Hornet” readers may recall the substantial supplement to newsletter no 74 back in August 2006 which told the remarkable and tragic story of Flying Officer Gerald Hood, navigator and one of the survivors from Lancaster LM 658 (HW-W) shot down on the night of 12/13th Aug 44 on return from Brunswick. The story told how after baling out over occupied Holland, Hood was sheltered by the local resistance movement at the home of the Van der Wal family and was only captured by chance when Bote (pronounced Bert) the fugitive son of the Van der Wals was betrayed to the authorities, both men were executed without trial just prior to liberation of the area by advancing allied forces.
On Saturday 19th May 2007 a memorial ceremony for F/O Hood was held at the Royal Russell School in Croydon where he spent his formative years as a boarder. An oak sapling transplanted from near the site of the execution was dedicated in his name followed by a fly past (accurate to the second) by a single Hawk from Leeming. Those of us that had worked on the Gerald Hood story were always mindful of the possibility that somewhere there were living relatives descended from his older brother Robert Hood but sadly, despite our best efforts we had been unable to trace them or make any contact before the memorial took place.
However the situation changed again this year (2009) due to the power of the internet, Mrs Zoe Smales from Essex was in the process of researching her family history armed with the knowledge that her maternal grandfathers name was Hood when quite by chance (or more accurately by “Google”) she came across the linked websites of the Royal Russell School and the Lancaster LM658 story, amazed and delighted as she made the connection, any family history buffs will only be too aware of the excitement generated by such a development! Via the website Mrs Smales made contact with Mr Brian Angel of the Old Russellians Committee who has been my contact at the school for the last few years. Brian arranged to meet the family and bring them up to speed on the efforts by all concerned to honour the memory of their relative and make public his story of courage! Through this contact with the family we were informed that Robert Hood (Gerald’s brother) had only recently passed away in 2005 aged 95.
May 4th 2009 Zenderen Overijssel Nethelands
The annual liberation day ceremony in the De Vloedbeld woodland outside Zenderen, near Almelo is always an important, well attended local event but this year it had a special significance as no less than nine of Gerald Hood’s family, as guests of the Zenderen Liberation Committee joined representatives of the Royal Russell school and over a hundred local people at the ceremony in front of the “Oorlogsmonument” (war memorial). This day was also to be the first meeting between Gerald Hood’s relatives and the descendants of the Van der Wal family who had sheltered him in their home at Nyverdal. I am reliably informed this was indeed a special moment.
Prior to the evening ceremony in the woods, the party from England visited the Almelo town cemetery where Mrs Sally Brown and Mrs Mary Williams (Gerald Hood’s nieces) laid a red, white and blue wreath that they had made themselves on the final resting place of their uncle.
Then the group were taken on a local tour by Mr & Mrs Martin Vloedbeld and the Zenderen Liberation committee to the sites of relevant interest, the house in Nyverdal, the prison in Almelo were Hood was interrogated prior to his murder and of course the graves of some of the locals who helped him including Bote Van der Wal and Jan Piksen the resistance man who first located and rescued Hood on the night he baled out of the blazing Lancaster.
I had hoped to attend the liberation day service personally to lay a wreath on behalf of the association and of course meet the family, but unfortunately work commitments prevented this, even more infuriating was the fact that in the course of my work I actually arrived in Almelo just two days after the ceremony. However, to make up for it I recently had the pleasure of a telephone conversation with Gerald Hood’s niece, Mrs Sally Brown who though only a young girl at the time remembers her uncle with great clarity and fondness. Mrs Brown also told me that the whole family was indeed moved by the particular brand of warmth and friendship that the Dutch people of all ages reserve for the visiting relatives of allied airmen buried on their soil, no surprises there then!
I am sure all will agree that this is a fitting conclusion to the story, I could never have guessed that my chance discovery of a memorial to an RAF officer in a peaceful tract of Dutch woodland could be the start of something so significant, but what really matters is that F/O Hood is now remembered with all due honour and respect, not only in the Netherlands where he lies, his memory also lives on within 100 Squadron, at the Royal Russell School where the oak sapling is flourishing and of course as was always the case, within his family! …not forgetting, more recently, on the world wide web for all to read!
Gerald Hood’s story is all but complete… now for the rest of the crew!
Alan J Barrow
De Vloedbeld Memorial Site (Updated Photos 2012).
On my first visit to the memorial site in a couple of years I was delighted to find the old stones had been replaced by brand-new etched, polished tablets and the glass plate in memory of the whole crew of LM658, as presented to the Royal Russel School on the Gerald Hood memorial day back in 2007 was also in place! As ever this is still a place of peaceful, eerie calm!
Alan Barrow, April 2012