In the Netherlands, the Remembrance of the Dead (Dodenherdening) is held annually on 4 May, the eve of the anniversary the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazi occupation of 1940 to 1945. It now commemorates all civilians and members of the armed forces of the Kingdom of the Netherlands who have died in wars or peacekeeping missions since the beginning of the Second World War.
In the churchyard at St Cross, Appleton Thorn, are buried two Dutch airmen, flying officer (Officier-vlieger) Petrus Johannes HUIJER and Sergeant Aviator (Sergeant Vlieger) Alexander Joseph SMITH. They were young Free Dutch Naval Officers serving in the Fleet Air Arm, who trained at HMS Blackcap. They were killed when their planes collided over Budworth Mere on 15 March 1944, whilst practicing for the D Day Landings.
HMS Blackcap, or the Royal Naval Air Station, Stretton, was originally planned as a Royal Air Force night-fighter station to protect Liverpool and Manchester from Luftwaffe air raids during the Second World War. But changes in German tactics (to focus attention on Russia) meant that the airfield was not required, so it was transferred to the Admiralty on completion.
HMS Blackcap was commissioned on 1 June 1942 and forty-one Fleet Air Arm Squadrons were based there for varying periods, some aircraft being flown directly to and from aircraft carriers operating in the Irish Sea and other nearby waters.
After the war, HMS Blackcap was home to the Fleet Air Arm’s Northern Air Division. The last operational Squadron based at Blackcap was 728B Squadron (FAA) who were formed in January 1958 and flew out of Blackcap on the 15th February 1958 en route to RNAS Hal Far, Malta.
HMS Blackcap was decommissioned on the 4th November 1958.
As well as the two Dutch airmen, St Cross churchyard also holds the graves of:
Wren Annie Elizabeth McCORMICK, of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, who was killed on 31 May 1943, along with two other Wrens and three naval air mechanics, when the truck they were travelling home in after a dance, crashed and overturned at Wrights Green. Annie’s funeral was held at St Cross, but the church wasn’t big enough to hold all the mourners who attended, and so the service was conducted at the war memorial;
Sub-Lieutenant James Watt BYRES, of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, died in July 1946, aged 20; and
Flight Sergeant Thomas JONES, of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who died in November 1943, aged 23.
Until very recently, the Manchester Branch of the Fleet Air Arm Association held a yearly remembrance service at St Cross for all those who served in HMS Blackcap. My predecessor, the Revd Canon Elaine Chegwin-Hall, is their chaplain. Sadly, numbers attending dropped year by year as the association said goodbye to shipmates, but on the first Sunday in June we continue to remember HMS Blackcap in our service at St Cross.
As well as the two Dutch Airmen, we also remember Paul Bosman. Paul, originally from Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, spotted the distinctive Dutch war graves at St Cross and asked if the church could hold an act of remembrance on 4 May. He and his son, David, adopted the two graves in 2013 – a custom in the Netherlands. Sadly, Paul died in 2019. His son, David, has asked us to continue the act of remembrance, which we are happy to do, and to remember Paul, and pray for his wife, Lyndy, and David.