Appeal to find family of Sheffield RAF bomber crew member who hid behind enemy lines with Resistance help after crash

The son of a wartime bomber pilot is trying to trace relatives of a Sheffield member of the crew who evaded capture with the help of Resistance fighters when they were shot down in Belgium.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 10:05 am

Geoff Wood, son of Douglas Wood, is looking for the family of Sgt Ronald George Dickerson (service number 1436082). He was a bomb aimer in Douglas Wood's Halifax aircraft crew in 1944, part of Bomber Command 578 Squadron.

Geoff is arranging a trip next May for relatives of the crew to the village where the men were hidden so that they can meet Bonnie Mellaerts, the last surviving Resistance member who helped them.

The Halifax crew were shot down over Belgium on September 11, 1944 on the way back from a bombing raid on a refinery and were hidden by the Resistance for two weeks until they were liberated by advancing Allied troops.

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Sgt Roger Dickerson poses with two local women next to the wreckage of the crashed Halifax bomber after his liberation by Allied troops

The secret report by W O Wood, Flt Sgt George James Woodgate and Sgt Dickerson makes fascinating reading. It says: “Two of our engines were put out of commission and we were unable to stabilise our aircraft. We baled out and came down over Gierle about 16.50 hours.

“Members of the MNB, the Resistance party, were waiting for us and hid us in the woods nearby until dark. They took our equipment and hid it. The machine was completely destroyed in the crash.

“We were taken to the village of Gierle and hidden in a farmhouse. The first night Woodgate and Dickerson were at the same place but Woodgate was moved on September 19 to the house where Wood was staying. We expected the Allies to arrive any day.

“During the night we visited each other but during the day we were hidden at our respective farms.”

Geoff Wood, wearing a cap, Roger Dickerson, George Woodgate and three of the US Liberator crew posing together at the crash site near Gierle, Belgium

The report says that a US Liberator aircraft came down in the area a week later and three men were killed. Geoff Wood said that the Resistance hid the survivors.

One of his father’s crew, gunner JW Archer, was taken prisoner by the Germans.

Geoff said that his father met 17-year-old Bonnie when he dragged him and his parachute out of a tree to escape pursuing soldiers.

The air crews join in liberation celebrations in September 1944 in Belgium with villagers and arriving troops

He said Bonnie is now well into his 90s and added: “We have met many times and he became a close friend of my family.”

Geoff is appealing to Retro readers to help him find the family of Ronald Dickerson, who he said was married in July 1944.

He added: “I believe that his son visited the crash site in Belgium and met with some villagers.“They believed he was a member of a cycling club but had died in an accident in the last 20 years?”

Someone who did research for him on the Sheffield Indexers website found that Ronald was 22 when he married Olive Brookes on June 24, 1944 at Wadsley Church. His address was Overton Road, Hillsborough and his father Arthur was listed as an ARP instructor.

The report by members of the Halifax crew on how they evaded capture after they crashed, with the help of the Belgian Resistance

Wedding witnesses were Ernest Brookes and Douglas Ward.

People in Gierle have also tried to get in touch with the Dickersons as they hold a yearly memorial service at the crash site to thank the air crews who helped their liberation.

If you have any information, email [email protected] and we can put you in touch with Geoff.