Every so often while researching you come across an extraordinary story. One that spans
generations, involves a long forgotten war time romance and includes a small village in
The Netherlands. A tale that is more likely read in a fictional novel or set as a plot line in a
movie. The story of Maxwell Hope Squires is one of these.
Max was born into the local Squires family on 2nd October 1923. His parents Samuel and Dorothy lived at Clinton at the time and his grandfather Henry was a respected resident of Gum Flat. Later Samuel gained employment with the Municipal Council in Inverell and moved his family to Chester St in town.
Growing up in Inverell Max was actively involved in the Boy Scouts and completed his schooling at Inverell High School. After attaining his leaving certificate Max worked at the local G J Coles store in Byron St as a shop assistant. It was while working here he received his call up papers into RAAF in 1942. At only 18, one wonders if Max thought of this as an opportunity for travel and a great adventure.
On enlistment Max was deemed to be “fit for full flying duties” and began his initial training at Bradfield Park in Sydney. Further training at a Wireless Air Gunner School in Queensland and the Bombing & Gunnery School at Evans Head in NSW, saw him rise to the rank of Sergeant and a transfer to the RAF, Bomber Command in the UK.
Early in the war, due to a lack of trained aircrew in the UK, the RAF recruited airmen from all over the Commonwealth, particularly Australia, New Zealand and Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme. In total over 37,000 RAAF personnel were recruited under this scheme. Max was one of the 20,000 who were transferred into Bomber Command. A vital strategy of Bomber Command was to engage in strategic bombing raids. The idea was to strike directly at key industrial, economic or political targets deep within Germany. Due to the vulnerability of the heavy bombers to the German fighter planes, bombing raids were often conducted at night. Whilst this offered some protection from enemy fire these missions were still fraught with danger and losses were often heavy.
On reaching the UK in March, 1943 Max continued his training at Litchfield (night bombing course) and at Blyton (heavy bombers) until being attached to the 460 Squadron based at Binbrook, Linolnshire in August. The 460 Squadron RAAF was regarded as one of the most efficient Australian Bomber Squadrons in Bomber Command. It flew the most bombing raids and dropped the most bombs, nearly 25,000 tons. As such, it also suffered
the most losses with a 60% casualty rate and a loss of 181 aircraft.
By the time he was posted to 460 Squadron Max had worked his way up to the senior non commissioned rank of Flight Sergeant. He was still not quite 20 years old. At Binbrook, Max joined the crew of JB-607 AR-N “Leader” a Lancaster III bomber piloted by fellow Australian Stan Ireland. In the four months Max was stationed there he flew nineteen successful operations with Stan as pilot. An impressive feat as the average life expectancy of crew in Bomber Command was only eight missions.
On his twentieth operation Max once again flew with pilot Stan Ireland as the rear gunner on L for “Leader”. The rest of the crew were, fellow Australians Pilot Officer Ambrose Blight (navigator) and Flight Sergeant Frank Seery (bomb aimer) and Englishmen Sergeant Cyril Seddon (wireless operator), Sergeant Reg Poulter (mid gunner) and Sergeant William Squire (flight engineer). The objective was Berlin, Germany and on the 29th December 1943, Max and his fellow crew flew out at 5.03pm in the first wave of 712 bombers taking part in the operation. It was while returning from Berlin at about 10.30pm that L for “Leader” was shot down near the German/Netherlands border by a German night fighter plane. The plane crashed into the orchard of a Franciscan Monastery in the village of Bleijerheide, Netherlands.
The only crew member to survive was F/Sgt Frank Seery who was detained as a POW for the rest of the war. Max and the other crew were initially buried in the grounds of the monastery and later interred at the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kleve, Germany.
The final resting place of Max Squires, Grave 15-A-12,
Like many young men who died in the war, the memory of Maxwell Hope Squires was left for his family to mourn until over sixty years later, in 2010,when a memorial was erected in the village Bleijerheide, Netherlands for the crew of JB-607, AR-N “Leader”. The driving force behind the memorial was Peter Heckmanns, who as a boy played football in the Dutch village of Bleijerheide. He remembered being told that the sporting field he played on was once an orchard into which a plane had crashed in WWII. As an adult Peter was once again reminded of the story when he came upon a local newspaper article that interviewed one of the Franciscan friars about the crash. The friar stated that the survivor, Frank Seery, came back in 1998 and laid a cross and poppies for his mates at the site but no one seemed to know where they were actually buried. It was at this point that Peter decided to find the men and perhaps honour them in some way. It took several years for the memorial to come to fruition and on 25th September 2010 a service was held. Peter had even managed to track down descendants of Stan Ireland, Frank Seery, Cyril Sneddon and Ambrose Blight, some of whom attended the ceremony. Max Squires relatives had not been traced, however a clue was to be found on the inscription of his headstone, a mention of the town of Inverell.
It was appropriate that on ANZAC day 2012 relatives of Maxwell Hope Squires are found. A relative of Peter Heckmanns and the nephew of Stan Ireland the pilot, all traveled to Inverell in the hope of finding information. They met with our research officer at the time, Julie Regan, and The Inverell Times ran a story asking for information but it looked unlikely that any relatives would be found as that branch of the Squires family had moved away from the area decades earlier. In the end it was an article in a Sydney paper that caught the attention of Max (who was named after his uncle) & Robyn Squires. Max’s sister Leigh and a great niece Tayla also came forward. On 29th December, 2013 exactly seventy years after the crash, relatives of Maxwell Hope Squires were able to pay their respects to him at the memorial in Bleijerheide, Netherlands.
This should be the end of Maxwell Hopes Squires story, a young man who was killed in duty and deservedly honoured. Until that is, the IDFHG received a research request for information on the Squires family. A lady called Eleanor had just found out that her birth father’s name was Maxwell Hope Squires. She had been adopted and the Queensland government had only recently released the names of adopted children’s birth fathers, if they had been recorded. Eleanor had found her birth mother, Olive, some years ago living in America but sadly, she had been unwilling to say who her father was. With the help of Jigsaw Eleanor came across the article in the Inverell Times looking for Max’s relatives for the memorial and contacted our group. We were delighted to be able to help. With her help we were able to show that Eleanor could very well be Max’s daughter. The next thing was to contact Max & Robyn Squires (Maxwells’ nephew) and see if they could offer any more information that may verify Eleanor’s claim, and if they agreed, to be put in touch with her.
This type of research is always sensitive and you can never be sure how people will take it. In this case they were so pleased to help and quickly concluded she was one of the family and couldn’t wait to meet her. In their possession was a mystery photo of a young woman they had never been able to identify, the caption on the back read “ to Max, from Olive”. The photo was in Max’s possessions that were sent home to his mother after he was killed. The IDFHG part in this amazing story was not over yet as both Eleanor and Max wished to meet up for the first time in Inverell. We arranged the meeting in our research rooms and I must say, were privileged to watch this new family come together. We have since had Eleanor visit us with her daughter and grandchildren and Max & Robyn have also called in for chat. It seems Inverell has that pull for people. The best of all though is that a family reunion has taken place and Eleanor and her family has been warmly welcomed into the Squires clan.
So the story of Maxwell Hope Squires lives on in the unexpected legacy of his daughter Eleanor, in her daughter and in her grandchildren.
Eleanor (sitting on left) meets up with her cousins Leigh & Max (standing on right) for the first time In the IDFHG rooms.