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  609 Squadron Royal Air Force - Flt Lt Jean Offenberg

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Updated: 28 Oct 08

While at Digby 609 lost no pilots on operations, but on 22 January 1942, it suffered a very serious loss in an accident. Flight Lieutenant Jean (‘Pyker’) Offenberg DFC was training a new Belgian, ‘Balbo’ Roelandt, having decided to profit from an improvement in the weather. For more than an hour the 2 Spitfires practised over the airfield. The pupil followed his master well, until Jean said over the radio “One more figure and we’ll call it a day — you are doing well.”

Another Spitfire, from No 92 Squadron, saw the manoeuvres and joined in. Someone was careless and the 92 Squadron aircraft and Offenburg’s collided. The horrified pupil saw both aircraft crash into the snow. Offenburgs funeral, on 26 January 1942, attended by Belgian friends from London HQ and other squadrons was fitting. At the outset it was snowing hard, but when the flag draped coffin, with ‘Pyker’s’ cap and decorations, was borne through Scopwick cemetery gates by his Belgian Squadron colleagues past a guard of honour of his British and Commonwealth ones, suddenly the sun came out, and uniforms wreaths and priestly robes became lustrous against the newly fallen snow. Standing apart was a lady in black with a single snow white lilly. The burial service was read, the bugles sounded the last Post, the rifles of the firing party cracked; and finally, starting with the Station Commander, each officer and senior NCO saluted the grave and departed. It was all very beautiful, and very sad. By all accounts Offenburg was exceptional. Father Morris, the Roman Catholic Padre of the Station, gave this testimony to a colleague. “I had the privilege and honour to buy him this afternoon. According to all I have heard of him it is both consoling and encouraging to know that a saint sometimes slips unseen among the others. Offenburg did not receive the last Sacraments but I am convinced that he did not need them.” Jean de Selys I.ong-Champs, a fellow pilot, wrote to Jean’s uncle. “I do not know if you know your nephew well. Jean was the greatest, the most magnificent of us....” “I cannot explain to you all Jean meant to us. He was a symbol of integrity, a permanent example, an inexhaustible hope in the future, in our future, in the future of our country, in our King and all that we hold dear.”

Jean Offenburg’s mother living at 43 Square Riga, Brussels, never heard the plaudits, nor did she read his diaries. The shook of his death, broadcast in one of the BBC bulletins on 24 January 1942, killed her ...

The lady in black was Marigold, Countess of Londesborough, a very good friend of RAF Digby. Many of its officers had come to regard her residence, Blankney Hall, as a home from home ever since she bad invited them to Christmas dinner and afterwards led them via a complicated cross-country route to Fulbeck, there to attend a dance given by Air Vice Marshal Willock of Cranwell, his charming wife and stunningly beautiful daughter. Hospitality was lavish.

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