Search for relatives of World War Two RAF hero from Leeds

An amateur historian from the Netherlands is seeking relatives of a 28-year-old RAF gunner from Leeds who was killed along with five crew members when their Halifax bomber was shot down during World War Two.

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 6:00 am
Flight Sergeant Albert Heptonstall is pictured (back row far left) with fellow crew members of Halifax bomber BB244.

Robert Ellenkamp, of Vorden near Arnhem, has launched a bid to trace relatives of all six victims, who are buried in war graves at the cemetery in his hometown.

Only one member of the seven man crew survived after parachuting from the stricken Halifax before it crashed in Vorden at around 3am on March 30 1943.

Mr Ellenkamp contacted the YEP after the War Graves Commission told him that one of the crew members who died - Flight Sergeant Albert Heptonstall - was from Leeds.

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Sergeant Albert Heptonstall's grave in the cemetery at Vorden, The Netherlands.

Mr Ellenkamp said the 51 Squadron RAF Halifax bomber was returning to the UK after a mission in Berlin, when a German fighter aircraft shot it down over Vorden.

"I want to learn more about Albert Heptonstall," Mr Ellenkamp said. "Are there still relatives or elderly people alive who knew him?

"Where did he grow up, what schools did he go to and what job did he do before he joined the RAF?

"We kindly ask for the help of relatives and other individuals of Leeds for this information.

"It will give us the opportunity to commemorate Sergeant Heptonstall and the other crew.

"We want to place a photo of each victim at the grave and compile the information in a book. We have now started crowdfunding for this."

Mr Ellenkamp said Albert Heptonstall and his comrades who lost their lives are remembered on May 4 every year at a memorial service at the cemetery in Vorden.

He has discovered that Halifax bomber BB244 was one of two that took off from Snaith near Selby for the bombing mission.

He said the pilot was Ray Harris, and other crew members were E A Williams, VJ Dowling, D M Reed, J M Taylor and J P Young.

Mr Ellenkamp said Sgt E A Williams parachuted out of the aircraft and suffered a broken pelvis and a back injury, but survived.

He was captured and was taken to a hospital in Amsterdam and spent the remainder of the war in a prisoner of war camp.

Mr Ellenkamp said Sgt Williams wrote a letter to a family member in which he gave a first hand account of the night the plane was shot down.

He said Sgt Williams wrote in the letter: "Somewhere just East of Hanover we were attacked by a fighter which raked us down the side, put David's radio out of action, blew up my chart table and (I think) killed Bert Heptonstall.

"About eight minutes later two Junker's 88's got us, raked us underneath once and then coming in from the top.

"I think Johnny must have been killed and fallen onto Ray because the aircraft dropped its nose, the engines stopped and a fire was developing in the middle of the plane.

"Ray shouted to us to get out and I saw David putting his chute on.

"I had not taken mine off since the first attack and so went down to clear the bits off my chart table and seat from the escape hatch underneath, opened the hatch and left."

Anyone with information is asked to contact Robert Ellenkamp via [email protected]

For more information, go to Robert Ellenkamp's website at