WAR VISITORS LINKHOUT: HOW IT ALL BEGAN
At that point we decided it was necessary to found our own association to do these trips along with friends and people with an interest in both World Wars. It all started as a bit of fun but the later it got the more serious it got too. We were spreading our plans and more and more people seemed to be interested in an association like this. So why shouldn't we found one?
We already decided the name of our association should be War Visitors Linkhout. Later that week Andy created our Facebook page and Nick created a website.
One moment, the old monument in Linkhout came up. Lots of the people in Linkhout don’t know (or don’t remember) that there’s a war monument in Linkhout too. And we don’t mean the one opposite to the church in the centre of Linkhout, but the one in the so called ‘Goeren’ in Linkhout, in the Mierenbergstraat.
This monument was inaugurated in May 1983, but was in a very ruinous state now. At this place, a Lancaster bomber crashed in the night of February 21st of 1945, shot by a German night hunter. There was only one survivor among the 7 crew members, Alex Jenkins, the pilot. More info about him, you can find on the page ‘Linkhout’.
The monument in the eighties (photo: Rudy Kenis)
On a pleasant Saturday evening in the beginning of August 2010, we were at a barbecue at Andy’s place. Suddenly Andy came up with the book ‘The Lancaster bomber – Alfa Romeo Two, shot above Linkhout – Zelem during WW II’ (in Dutch), written by Rudy Kenis. Fascinated, Nick was browsing in the book and his interest in the book, the monument and it’s story was growing massively. That night, we agreed on having a first meeting with the WVL-team, on the next Wednesday. But it didn’t even take that long before we were confronted with the book again. One day later we assembled at Andy’s place to visit the museum ‘Slag der Zilveren helmen’, a WWI museum in Loksbergen, because of the 96’th anniversary was celebrated that weekend. Before we drove to Loksbergen, we visited the Lancaster monument. I visited it one or two times as a child, and amongst me many others I guess, but it still hurt to see how the monument is getting in a devastated situation, and was overgrown with plants and trees. We couldn’t let this happen anymore and our main task was to upgrade the monument and make it famous (again) amongst the people of Linkhout, Lummen and much further away.
The monument in 2010, before the renovation (photo: Nick Lieten)
After visiting the museum of the Battle of the Silver Helmets in Halen, we returned to the Lancaster monument since more people had join our group now. There is a picture in the book where the graves are shown in front of a house in Zelem. The crew was buried here for approximately one year,
We were fascinated by this picture and started looking for that house. Unfortunately we weren't able to locate it. Yet...
We visited the owner of the book but he couldn't tell us the location either.
We continued to Robrechts grandpa who is a Belgian veteran, but they didn't know the location either. But they could tell us who we should ask. One day later Lincy's grandparents told us where the house is so that Sunday evening we went searching again and we found it. The house is still there. There's a new house built on the soil where the graves were.
The house in Zelem where the crew was buried for a year (photo: Nick Lieten)
On August 11 we held our first WVL-meeting. The most important discussion was the renovation of the Lancaster monument. We contacted Rudy Kenis, who wrote the Lancaster book. He was very surprised and pleased that people are still interested in this event. We promised to contact the community of Lummen to discuss what was possible concerning the monument.
On Friday November 5, 2010 our first event took place. Rudy Kenis gave a lecture about the Lancaster crash in Linkhout. He did incredible research to determine this story. You can imagine this book is his lifework, and we're grateful he did this. We were hoping to have about 30 to 40 persons joining the lecture, but we were so pleased that over 120 people attended that night, a big succes for our association.
Rudy told about the event for over 2 hours, people listened very interested, and so did we.
Group picture after our first event (photo: Koen Luts)
On April 2, 2011 we did our first day trip. With a group of 38 people we went to Ypres where we visited Flanders FIelds. We visited the In Flanders Fields museum and drove around the battlefields of Flanders Fields with a guide. We ended the day by attending the Last Post under the Menin Gate.
On September 17, 2011 we renovated the Lancaster monument for the first time. About 18 people gave us a hand that day, the youngest being 4 years old and the oldest was our local veteran Evarist Doggen, 87 years. We are very proud about our renovations through the years.
The Lancaster monument after our last renovation in 2013 (photo: Nick Lieten)
The best and most remarkable moment in our short existence occured on May 24, 2012. Sir Alex Jenkins and his lovely wife Pauline visited us for a day. We picked them up in Brussels and visited the church, Jenkins' landing spot and all the other important places concerning the incident. It was a very pleasant but also very emotional day for the veteran and his wife. They were very grateful for what we did and do, and we promised to keep on doing what we do as long as we can.
Alex Jenkins at the monument made up with the landing gear of his own Lancaster in 2012 (photo: Nick Lieten)
By now many relatives of crew members have visited our little village: Margaret Theile -Sydney Swifts sister- and her husband Gerhard, their sons Stephen and Marcus, and daughter in law Joanne. Pam and Maddie Cairns, also relatives of Sydney Swift and Charles Jenkins, Alexander Jenkins' nephew.
In 2015 we organised the 70th commemoration of the Lancaster-crash. The Theile family was present on this day. It was a very beautiful but emotional commemoration.