Three Allied airmen were shot execution style at a “safe house” during a raid by German Gestapo officers on the morning of 9 July, 1944 at Tilburg in the southern province of Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands. They were 21 year old F/L Ronald Arthur Walker (RAF), 26 year old Australian F/O Jack Stewart Nott (RAAF) and Canadian born, 23 year old F/O Roy Edward Carter (RCAF).
Walker was the pilot and only survivor from Lancaster bomber ND551 OL-V ‘Victor’ of No 83 (Pathfinder) Squadron, which took off from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire at 23.18 hrs on the night of June 21, 1944 to bomb Wesseling. It was intercepted by a German night fighter, some 9 km south of Eindhoven in Holland at 01.25 hrs on 22 June, 1944. The aircraft exploded in mid-air with the loss of the other six crewmen. They were F/L Norman Cornell (navigator), F/L John Wells (bomb aimer), F/Sgt Harold Houldsworth (flight engineer), F/Sgt Bailey (wireless operator), F/Sgt David Kelly (rear gunner) and F/Sgt Charles Taylor (mid gunner). The six dead were buried in the cemetery at Woensel, Eindhoven.
Jack Stewart Nott was the bomb aimer serving in Halifax bomber MZ698 KN-J of No. 77 Squadron. It took off from RAF Full Sutton on the night of June 16, 1944, with a crew of eight to bomb Sterkrade in Germany. It was shot down over St-Oedenrode, a small town north of Eindhoven in Holland. Five of the crew were killed in the crash and Flight Sergeants J. W. Needham and J. M. Bulmer were taken prisoner.
Roy Carter was serving with No. 431 Squadron RCAF operating from Croft in Yorkshire. He was shot down on the night of 16/17 June, 1944 in Halifax NA514 SE-B near Nistelrode in Holland. All of the crew, except the pilot, F/O Blachford, who died in the crash, were able to bale out. F/O Lough and F/Sgt Gould sadly did not survive the parachute jump. F/Sgt Hattey and F/Sgt Kennedy were captured almost immediately. F/Sgt Thomas Masdin and F/O Roy Carter managed to evade capture. Masdin was later apprehended and taken prisoner.
Ronald Walker had no memory of exiting the plane but landed safely with just bruises. Once he recovered himself he started walking until he spotted a farmer's wife. She called for assistance to Bas van de Aaist who was working in a nearby field and who was a Dutch Resistance member. He took Walker to a cornfield and told him to stay there until night fall, which he did. He was then taken by another Resistance member, Walter de Vries, to his home. The Dutch Resistance had formed a chain to get Allied airmen out of Holland and into Belgium. Jack Nott had a similar rescue and met Walker on another farm where they spent a week together. On 29 June, 1944, both men were moved yet again, to the house of Frans van Dijk, who was hiding two Canadian airmen.
On the evening of 8 July 1944, the four airmen were given fake Dutch identity cards and Nott and Walker were driven to Tilburg in a “police car”. The driver did not know the way and was accompanied by Miss Leoni van Harsell, a Resistance leader. The men were to be taken to the house of 60 year old Miss Jacoba Pulskens, known as “Aunt Coba” at 49 Diepenstraat in Tilburg. Aunt Coba was already hiding Roy Carter in her house.
The other two Canadian airmen that Frans van Dijk was sheltering were arrested that night as they were being transported in the fake police car. Under severe questioning the driver, Jantje, revealed that there were three more airmen whom he had taken to a house at Diepenstraat in Tilburg. The following morning, around 11 a.m. the Gestapo raided the house. There was a loud banging on the front door which the unarmed airmen immediately realised meant trouble. They moved towards the back door where Michael Rotschopf was waiting with a machine pistol. He forced them to line up along the wall and shot all three of them. The shootings were witnessed by Mr. Nico Pulskens and his wife, who lived opposite Aunt Coba, would later testify that Rotschopf was the shooter.
A man named Hardegan was in charge of the arrest squad. One of the German officers, Hans Harders, ordered Aunt Coba to cover the bodies with a sheet. As an act of defiance she used the Dutch flag, instead. The Tilburg police were to be informed to come and collect the bodies. Examination of the corpses revealed that they had been shot around 100 times. They were later cremated, possibly at Vught Concentration Camp near s'Hertogenbosch.
Aunt Coba was arrested and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp where she was gassed in February 1945.
The “Trial of Franz Schonfeld and Nine Others” (a.k.a. The Tilburg Lynching Trial) was held before a British Military Court sitting at the Jugendheim (youth centre) on Fürstinstraße in Essen-Steele, from June 11-26, 1946. The ten defendants were charged with committing a war crime in that they
at Tilburg on the 9th of July 1944, in violation of the laws and usages of war, were concerned in the killing of a member of the Royal Air Force, a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force and a member of the Royal Australian Air Force.
All ten pleaded not guilty.
Miss Leoni van Harsell, a member of the Dutch Resistance, testified as to the events of 9 July, the court being permitted to hear evidence from a secondary witness as the primary one (Aunt Coba) was dead.
There was discussion of the Doctrine of Common Purpose as it applied to this case. The Judge Adovocate concluded that in the case of the four condemned, it did apply.
Of the ten, four were convicted and sentenced to death, six were acquitted due to lack of evidence and released. The verdicts and sentences were as follows:
Karl Paul Schwanz: Death sentence. Hanged at 10.08 a.m., age 49.
Albert Rösener: Death sentence. Hanged at 10.41 a.m., age 35.
Karl Cremer: Death sentence. Hanged at 10.41 a.m., age 37.
Michael Rotschopf: Death sentence. Hanged at 11.36 a.m., age 26.
Karl Otto Klingbeil: Acquitted & Released
Franz Schonfeld: Acquitted & Released
Hans Harders: Acquitted & Released
Werner Koeny: Acquitted & Released
Eugen Rafflenbeul: Acquitted & Released
Karl Brendle: Acquitted & Released.
The four sentenced to death were hanged at Hameln on Friday 5 September, 1947 by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by RSM Richard O'Neill and Edwin Roper.
All three of the airmen are commemorated at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey. Jack Nott is on Panel 257, Ronald Walker on Panel 203 and Roy Carter on Panel 245.
Jacoba Maria Pulskens was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1947. On 27 June, 1984, a memorial rock to Mrs. Pulskens and the three airmen was unveiled in Tilburg.