John “Jake” C. Cornish was born in Brucefield - Usborne Township – Huron County. He traveled to Hamilton and enlisted into the R.C.A.F. in November 1941. Following his training in various places in Canada he was posted overseas in February 1943.
There is a Lancaster Memorial located in Grafhorst, Overijssel for a Mk I Lancaster W 4316, from R.A.A.F. Squadron 460 of Group 1 Bomber Command. It was shot down in the early morning of June 13, 1943.
This is the story of that ill fated aircraft and her crew……
“Jake” was sent to Australian Operational Training Unit #27 based at Litchfield, England and it was here they were assembled into crews. This crew had one Canadian. Then they were sent to a Heavy Conversion Unit based at Blighton to continue with their training.
The mission of the night of June 12/13, 1943 was to bomb the German city of Bochum. Lancaster W 4316 lifted off from R.A.A.F. base Binbrook in Lincolnshire at 23:10 hours. This was the third mission.
It was a dark night with only a sliver of the moon showing. W 4316 or her radio call name “Queenie” was not able to reach the target and had only crossed the Dutch coast near Ysselmuiden (north-east of Amsterdam) when suddenly the bomber was ripped by explosions. The belly had been ripped open by cannon shells. The last words heard by the crew was the order to “bail out”. “Queenie” was dying, burning and beginning the spiral toward the ground. Queenie fell into the Ganzendiep River near Grafhorst.
At 01:23 hours Hauptmann (Flight Lieutenenat in R.C.A.F.) Rudolph Sigmund in his Me 110 intercepted “Queenie” at 5,400 metres and flying at 286 mph when he began his attack on 'Queenie”. He himself was killed three months later by a pilot of a Spitfire.
“Jake” left his mid upper gun position, went to open the door of the tail gunner but he had been blown out of the aircraft. He went to the tail door put on his parachute, opened the hatch door, went through the flames and fell into the night sky. When the chute opened the tail of the plane hit him in the back and he blacked out from lack of oxygen. He came to about 10,000 feet and his parachute was not deployed fully so he cut the intercom cord away and the chute deployed.
Suddenly the ground appeared and he made a hard landing on his rump onto a cow flop and he remembers seeing Holstein cows. He tried to walk but had to crawl to the farm house. The father and two sons took him inside and within the hour a local doctor was tending him. One toe had been shot off and his other leg had been hit as well. They gave him soup and a cigarette. “Jake” gave the farmer his escape money and photo. When he awoke on the morning of June 13, 1944 he could not see as his eyes had closed from the burns. To save the family from being shot he told them to hand him over to the Germans. They did so and he was taken to Queen Wilhelmina Hospital in Amsterdam and he was there a month.
The Holtland farm was located near Kampererseedijk and Grafhorst.
He was at two camps Stalag Luft VI and Stalag Luft IV. He was prisoner 304. He was at Stalag Luft VI for a year. On February 6, 1945 the “Black March” began toward the west, ahead of the Russian front. They marched for 450 miles until they came to the Allied front. They were put into another camp and a week later began another march of 150 miles. On May 2, 1945 they were “liberated” by the Royal Dragoon Guards of Scotland. On May 8, 1945 “Jake” was in England and in July was home in Canada.
Following the war, Jake kept in touch with some the Holtland family and following the war received a pair of wooden shoes from them, but as time passed they lost contact with one another. But as the 40th anniversary of the end of the war in Holland approached (1985) the Holtland children decided to begin the search for the man they saved and bring him back to Holland for a reunion. In May of 1985 on the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Holland “Jake” his wife and a scrapbook went to Holland for the ceremonies and celebrations. Jake was 64 years of age at that time.
He thought it was going to be just a visit but the people there had other ideas. Upon his arrival he went and visited some of the farmers. They put him in a convertible and they started to drive. The people from the area were all there and they came out into the streets to meet one of their liberators. Then they took him to the very field where he landed. Suddenly there was a sound he had not heard for a long time and it was the sound of parachutes opening. There were men in parachutes coming down and when they landed they came over to Jake, saluted him and gave him his parachute harness that he wore when he parachuted to safety.
Then he was shown his parachute. The same one he used when he bailed out of “Queenie”. He was told that when a woman was married in the area part of his parachute was sewn into the wedding dress. This demonstrated to me the affection the people of the Netherlands have for our Men of Honour.
Jake's crew-mates are buried together in the Grafhorst General Cemetery. It is not known if any other members of the crew were able to bail out of “Queenie”. The rear gunner was found in the same field where “Jake” landed.
All the above truly tell how the Dutch feel toward Canada and its Men of Honour.