A Forgotten Piece of Dutch History: Downed English Pilot is given Shelter in the Hidden Village

All the time I come across snippets of research that help to build a more accurate picture of what happened in wartime Holland. While on holiday in Nunspeet last week, I came across an app called Gemeente Nunspeet which has a section on wartime reminiscences. 

 It lists out seven crash sites in Nunspeet and in the surrounding area where Allied planes were shot down by the Germans. Each place has been commemorated with a memorial plaque.  

In nearly every case, the burning or burnt-out planes were discovered by local people who came across the shocking sight of dead men still strapped into their seats or lying near the wreckage. Most were young men, as young as 21, on sorties from the south of England and flying Lancaster bombers on their way to attack German targets – railway lines, locomotives, heavy goods vehicles. It wasn’t just the RAF - the Royal Canadian Airforce were also involved in hundreds of sorties over the Dutch countryside and into enemy territory. Many were successful, but the unlucky ones mostly lost their lives. American pilots were also among those shot down. 

One story stood out for me, not just because the downed pilot survived, but because of what happened to him afterwards. 

As I pieced together his story (with the help of google translate), it was so like the episode I had envisaged in The Hidden Village, when Jan discovers an English pilot whose plane had come down. What is remarkable is that I knew nothing about the pilot, also English, who was shot down over Nunspeet, until I read the app. 

It was as if I’d lifted Derek Anthony Duncliff’s story and reimagined it for my novel. 


Derek Anthony Duncliff -survivor


One June night in 1944, just after the Normandy Landings, the people living in the Oosteinde area of Nunspeet were shaken from their sleep by a sickening roar as a plane fell from the sky. Fortunately for them, it came down in a nearby field. It was a Lancaster bomber, one of 294 that had made successful missions destroying German oil installations and jet fuel depots.      

This particular one was Lancaster MK-II DS818 called “Maggie”. It was hit as it flew over Hardewijk, lost height and crash landed, breaking into pieces which scattered over a large area. 

There were casualties, including the bodies of three men found in the burning plane, but three managed to escape with their lives after successfully deploying their parachutes. Sgt Peter Geoffrey Cooper sustained a broken leg and was found by Germans and taken to hospital. Flight Sgt. Henry Hames Bourne was picked up some local people and insisted on returning to the crash site only to be captured by the Germans. Both men were sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Silesia but were able to return to England when the war ended. 

The luckiest of them all was Pilot Officer Derek Anthony Duncliff who managed to parachute down into the forest. The morning after the crash, he was found in his stockinged feet by young Wim Mazier who was on his way to school. Nervous at first that he’d come across a German, he recognised the pilot’s RAF uniform and knew he must be English. Excited by his find, he led the man to safety to an underground hut, before running home to fetch his downed pilot sandwiches and coffee. From there, Derek Anthony Duncliff was given refuge at the Pas-Op Kamp (the hidden village) and was moved to other safe houses in Nunspeet. 

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