Studiegroep Luchtoorlog 1939-1945


Evader chart: E0235
SGLO Date crash Aircraft
T3249 22-12-43 B-17 Flying Fortress
MilRank First Name(s) Name
2/Lt. Ernest James Bennett
Milregnr. Nationality Born
O-755165 American Waterloo, Iowa, USA, 6 Sep 1915
Returned Y/N Evader Fate Date Captured/Liberated Place Captured/Liberated Escape Line
No EVD-POW 21 Jun 44 Mechelen, Belgium Comet Line
Evader Story
						2/Lt. Ernest James Bennett was the navigator of B-17 42-37766 ‘Princess Pat’ that crashed at Lageveen near Zuidwolde early in the afternoon of December 22, 1943. Soon after he landed, he met fellow crewmember S/Sgt. Richard Dabney (E0236), the radio operator. They accosted Arend Otten, a farmer who lived at the hamlet Fluitenberg, northwest of Hoogeveen. Otten contacted barber and resistance member Gerrit Hemstede who then contacted Johannes ‘Jos’ van Aalderen, a wood merchant who also lived in Hoogeveen. But Jos van Aalderen was also a high ranking member of the Landelijke Organisatie (LO), the Dutch National Organisation for help to persons in hiding. That same day, he collected the two Americans from farmer Otten and took them to his house at the Bentinckslaan, close to the centre of Hoogeveen. From here his cousin Albert van Aalderen took the airmen to the house of the Van de Nie family at the Hoofdstraat 52 in Hoogeveen.  Meanwhile Jos van Aalderen contacted Machiel Rombout (alias 'Rob Kooymans') who was leader of the LO in the western part of the province of Noord-Brabant. Rombout asked LO-district leader Sytse Beinema from Dordrecht if he could hide two airmen. Beinema found two addresses in Dordrecht so on December 30, 1943, Bennet and Dabney left Hoogeveen for Breda, escorted by Hilde Dekker. From the train station there, Kooymans brought the men to Dordrecht where Bennett stayed with Miss. de Vries at the Vriesestraat 32 and Dabney with Barend Berends at the Werkenmondestraat 22, both in Dordrecht. 

On the 6th of January 1944 Guus van den Broek and Paul Reybroek came to Dordrecht and picked up Bennett and Dabney. By train, the four travelled to Best. At the station there they were joined by Gerard Wassenberg and the five men cycled via Nijnsel to Erp where the Americans were delivered to the ‘Pyama House’ of the Otten family at Kerkstraat 6. Two days later (8 January) Harrie and Gerard Otten brought Bennett and Dabney to Sevenum where they hid in the house of the Vermeeren family. On the 11th of January 1944, Wiel Houwen and Wim Crijns came to Sevenum by car and brought them to the house of Josephus Claessen at Helden. Six day later, Wiel Houwen returned to Claessen with the American airman S/Sgt. Charles Zesch (E0211) in his car. Bennett and Dabney said farewell to Claessen and got also in the car. Wiel then brought the three Americans to the station of Venlo where they were handed over to Antonius Mooren from Vierlingsbeek. They took the train to Vierlingsbeek and went to the tavern owned by Mooren's mother. The three airmen stayed there for fourteen days.

Because the resistance could not pass the Americans into Belgium, Antonius contacted 'de Groot' from Zwolle who probably was a member of the ‘de Groene’ resistance group. This group had his own route to the south open for their 'pilots' and Antonius asked if they could help the three Americans. They agreed to do so and Antonius took them by train to Zwolle on the 24th of January 1944. From the station they were brought to the house of Hendrikus Beernik at the Harculostraat 6 in Zwolle where his wife Hendrika Beernik-de Riet took care of the visitors. They stayed here till the 27th of January 1944 when they had to move because the Germans started a search in the city of Zwolle. The airmen were brought to the house of Ebert van Rooyen at the Gladiolenstraat 18 in Zwolle. They stayed here for seven days and then went back to the south of the Netherlands. 

On February 3, 1944, Johan Gelderman, a member of the resistance group from Oldenzaal/De Lutte, came to Zwolle and took the three men to Rotterdam. From the Rotterdam Central Station, Johannes Roovers took Bennett, Dabney and Zesch to the house of his father at the Snellinckstraat 21a in Rotterdam. The three Americans stayed here till February 14 when Roovers Jr. brought them to Rene de Vuyst. De Vuyst handed them over to Johan Goudzwaard and Fritz Ruys who brought the airmen to the headquarters of their resistance group at the Claes de Vriezelaan 21b in Rotterdam. The name of the resistance group where Goudzwaard and Ruys were members of was '21' after the house number of their headquarters. The Americans stayed here till February 19, when Goudzwaard moved them to their next safehouse at the Mathenesserlaan 162, Rotterdam. This was the house of Annie Wilton. After 9 days they had to go again and were brought to the house of Wim de Ruiter at the Corverstraat 5b in Rotterdam. The airmen stayed here for almost a week when Vuyst and Ruys came to bring them to Charles van der Sluis at the Vredehofweg 52, Rotterdam for a four day stay. In the beginning of March, Vuyst and Ruys brought Bennett, Dabney and Zesch to Ingen Sneep at Goereeschestraat 38, Rotterdam. This address was on the southern side of the river Maas. After 18 days they returned to the house of Roovers Sr. where they arrived on the March 24.  

During their stay with Roovers, Bennett, Dabney and Zesch got the idea that the resistance was unable to find a way out of the Netherlands. Somehow, they got in touch with Martinus Hoogenraad who said he might be able to help them. Hoogenraad knew a route to Brussels from his work as a guide for the Bravery escape line of Karst Smit. Together, Hoogenraad and the three Americans made a plan for their escape. Meanwhile Tjerk Elsinga handed Bennett, Dabney and Zesch over to Cornelis Hendrik v/d Engels who then brought them to the house of Jack van Dongen at the Graaf Florissstraat 105 Rotterdam. Early in the morning of April 13, Hoogenraad and Michael Perelaer guided the three Americans to the Belgium border near Baarle-Nassau.  

When they crossed the border into Belgium, they were challenged by German border guard. They started to run and the guard started to shoot at them. Fortunately, they managed to escape and for three days the three airmen walked on their own through Belgium. On April 16, they came at the farm of Louis Aerts at the Diesterschebaan in Hechtel. They asked him if they could get some sleep in his haystack and Aerts told them it was ok. He also contacted the 'Witte Brigade', a Belgian resistance group. A member of this group interviewed Bennett, Dabney and Zesch several times to check out their credibility. The next day, the three Americans were brought to the farm of the Cannaearts family in Heultje. They stayed here for several days and then moved to Malines were they stayed at the house of furniture maker Franckx for three weeks. On June 21, Franckx went to a meeting with his friends of the resistance but didn't came home. He was arrested and the next morning at 11 o'clock, Bennett, Dabney and Zesch were arrested by the Germans. All three were eventually sent to a PoW camp where they stayed for the rest of the war.

Ernest James Bennett passed away on 16 February 2008 at Gretna in Nebraska at the age of 92.
* Frans Govers, Pyama-House. Ontdekkingsreis door het uitgebreide netwerk van de pilotenhulp tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog: 1943-1944 (Uden 1992), page 41-42
* NIOD, 896, Willemsen, W.J.M, 2, 'E.J. Bennett'
* NIMH, The Hague, List 'Ondergedoken piloten te Erp (Fam. Otten)'