Royal Air Forces Association Belgian Branch


The Comet Cycle event took place in early June of this year, organised by Wg Cdr Charles Howard-Vyse and Wg Cdr Emma Thompson it comprised of an intrepid team of 15-20 enthusiastic cyclists and a dedicated support team.  Coinciding with the RAF 100 celebrations, the event followed part of the route used by the heroic 'Comet Line', an underground organisation that escorted downed Allied aircrews to safety from behind enemy lines.

Starting from NATO HQ, Evere, the team cycled the Comet Line until the reached the town of Lille where they spent the night. By Sunday afternoon they had reached a significant point of interest along their route, the town of  St Omer (France) where the roots of the RAF were firmly founded (RFC units had been established at the aerodrome between Aug - Sep 1914). The group of cyclists stopped at the memorial to the Secret Army at Marcq-Labliau where appears the name of the Allied airman Gerald E Sorensen who, after jumping from his flaming plane landed in Gibecq on May 1st 1944. Sorensen was assisted by the Comet Line, but was tragically killed fighting alongside the resistance against the occupation.

After a brief stop and a picnic at Beloeil, the team pedaled onwards to Rumes. There they  were treated to an encounter with Mdm Herriette Hanotte (also fondly known as Monique), a National Heroine and member of the Hanotte family, who at the age of 16  personally escorted airman across the boarder; evading German patrols and onward to safety.  The encounter took place outside the former Hanotte family home, where there is a plaque dedicated to the bravery of the family and their generosity.


The annual SHAPE British Summer Fete took place around the newly revamped festival tent at SHAPE on the 17th Jun under unusually (for us Brits) sunny weather. The day was a great success with many stalls and attractions including a Gurkha Military marching band; Morris dancing; bouncy castles and an obstacle course for the children; SAFFA cakes and a grand prize draw. On top of this the RAFA team at SHAPE, led by RAFALO’s FS Matt Bowen and Sgt Richy Phillips ran a RAFA stall raising funds for needy servicemen and women and their families, past and present. The stall sold the traditional aircraft pin badges, RAF soft toys and charming flying RAF ducks as well as running a prize draw for a limited edition single malt Scottish whiskey. In all, over the five hour period, we managed to raise funds of 300 Euros. A big thank you must go to all those who took time out from their own afternoon and volunteered to do a stint on the stall, including Cpl Gordie Wilkie, FS Kim Jarvis and Mrs Lisa Phillips. The team’s next outing should be the SHAPE festival in early September.

This event was the final swansong for FS Bowen as RAFALO at SHAPE, who has officially handed over the reins to FS Kim Jarvis. She will work alongside Sgt Richy Phillips to continue to fly the flag for RAFA, raising funds and carrying out duties on behalf of the Royal Air Forces Association. FS Bowen is soon posted to MOD Corsham to carry out a CIS Project Management role and hopes to continue his association with RAFA in the future. He would personally like to thank all those who supported RAFA during his tenure at SHAPE and wish every success to all those of the RAFA Belgium Branch, especially as they look towards a busy 2018, holding the prestigious 100 year RAF anniversary overseas conference.

FS Matt Bowen



On the 05 March 1945, only 3 days short of VE day, Avro Lancaster NN775 took off from RAF Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire on a bombing mission over Gelsenkirchen but never returned. The 514 squadron aircraft came down in circumstances unknown in a Belgian field near the Flemish village of Bunsbeek. All seven aircrew were killed in the incident and what could be found of the remains of the airmen at the time were buried in a single grave at Heverlee war cemetery. The large hole created by the crash, which quickly filled with water, and was then filled in by a farmer.

On 11 Nov 2016 work began by the Planehunters Group and the Belgium Aviation History Association Archaeology team (BAHAAT) to excavate the wreckage of NN775, with the permission of the Flemish official archaeological board. They found the Lancaster was still buried but in a badly damaged state.

Amongst the articles found relating to the crew was a wristwatch, oxygen mask, a uniform cap and British coins. Once the aircraft and any remains were fully exhumed it was fitting to have a reburial commemoration service at the Heverlee war cemetery. This was held on the 28 April 2017, organised by the UK Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), based at Imjin barracks in Gloucester. Heading the RAF contingent whom attended from SHAPE was Wing Commander Gez Currie who gave a warm-hearted commemoration speech at Heverlee barracks to the dignitaries which included families of some of the fateful aircrew; British Ambassador Rose; Australian representative Cdr Gaudry and Mayors of Glabeek and Leuven.  The contingent then relocated to the Heverlee CWGC cemetery for the main commemoration service which was conducted by the RAFA Belgian branch reverend (Wing Commander) Ashley Mitchell RAF. Wreaths were laid by the families of the fallen aircrew by the individual headstones. I had the honour of laying the wreath on FS Allan Olson’s (RAAF) grave in the absence of his family.

From Left to Right

Pilot: F/O Holman Kerr (23, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland)
Air bomber: F/O Frank Clarke

Navigator: F/Sgt Sidney Smith (21)
Wireless Operator: F/Sgt Allan Olsen RAAF (20, Toowoomba, Australia)

From Left to Right

Mid Upper Gunner: Sgt Christopher Hogg (20, South Yardley, Birmingham, England)

Rear Gunner: Sgt Herbert Thomas (23, Jamaica)
Flight Engineer: Sgt William Marsden (20, Croston, England)

Article written by FS Bowen