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Plane of missing RAF gunner from Iwade to be recovered, 77 years on

The son of an RAF gunner whose plane vanished in the Second World War will finally be able to lay his father to rest, after his aircraft was found more than 75 years later.

Sgt Leonard Richard James Shrubsall, from Iwade, near Sittingbourne, was one of seven crew members on board the Short Stirling Bomber when it was lost returning from a raid on Germany.

Sgt Leonard Shrubsall, far right of group picture, with the six other crew members of the Short Stirling Bomber which was lost
Sgt Leonard Shrubsall, far right of group picture, with the six other crew members of the Short Stirling Bomber which was lost

The BK716 aircraft had flown out from Downham Market in Norfolk when it went missing on March 29, 1943.

Sgt Shrubsall’s wife, Beatrice, was three months pregnant when she received a telegram informing her that her 30-year-old husband had failed to return from air operations. He had known his wife was pregnant with their first child.

Now his son, Richard, 76, has learned the bomber – which was discovered last year – is to be recovered from Lake IJsselmeer in the Netherlands next month.

Richard, who also lives in Iwade, said: “The plane was found submerged in this freshwater lake. At first, it was thought the aircraft was a BK710, but when it was looked into further it was the BK716, which was my father’s plane.

“The seven families of the crew have been informed and are led to believe their remains are still on the plane.”

Sgt Leonard Shrubsall's son Richard and his wife Janice
Sgt Leonard Shrubsall's son Richard and his wife Janice

Almere City Council in Holland is funding the recovery.

Richard’s wife, Janice, also 76, added: “They found a cigarette tin, which had the initials JC in the corner and that was John Campbell, one of the crew members. They have brought up a spanner and other things too. It’s been going on for over a year now.

“The lift was supposed to be done in March, but it’s all been put on hold because of Covid-19 and they’re now hoping to start it on August 31.

“How they are going to do it is not finally decided yet.”

When asked how they felt when they were first told the plane had been found, the couple said they were “flabbergasted”.

Sgt Leonard Shrubsall was 30 years old when the plane was lost
Sgt Leonard Shrubsall was 30 years old when the plane was lost

Janice said: “It just came out of the blue, we had no idea whatsover.

“We just thought it had been shot down over the North Sea, that’s all the family had ever thought until the past year.

“We used to live in Lower Halstow and the letter informing us of the find went to our old house.

“It was forwarded to here and that’s where it all started.”

“We’re ecstatic that it’s going to be recovered,” she added. “It is emotional though. We think Richard is the only child of the crew members left.

A letter from King George VI to Sgt Shrubshall’s family after the aircraft went missing
A letter from King George VI to Sgt Shrubshall’s family after the aircraft went missing

“We do intend to go over there when it is lifted, they’re thinking about doing a full military funeral if they can and they’ll probably bring the remains over here for a burial.”

Sgt Shrubsall’s name is engraved on his parents’ grave at Milton church and he’s also remembered at the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial in Surrey.

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