RNZAF pilot's helmet returned after nearly 60 years in the Netherlands

RNZAF pilot's helmet returned after nearly 60 years in the Netherlands

Photo Captions: 20110721_OH_K1001337_0004.jpg: Mrs Muriel Sefton looks at the flying helmet of her brother, Flying Officer Henry John Burtt, with Flight Lieutenants Dan Pezarro and Barbara Findlayson of RNZAF Base Ohakea.

22 July 2011

It was an auspicious day for Muriel Sefton of Wanganui when she received her late brother’s leather flying helmet which had resided in the Netherlands since he was shot down near Tilburg over the Netherlands in 1944 during WWII.

Flying Officer Henry John Burtt was captain of a Lancaster Bomber engaged in operations against Homberg, near Duisberg in Germany during WWII. The aircraft failed to return to its base and Flying Officer Burtt and his crew were reported missing.

Flying Officer Burtt’s helmet had been safely looked after by Arthur de la Vieter in the Netherlands. Mr de la Vieter’s efforts to discover the origins of the helmet resulted in correspondence between Mr de la Vieter and Flying Officer Burtt’s niece Sue Little from Wanganui. That correspondence lead to the return of the helmet to New Zealand and to the family.

Dutch Ambassador to New Zealand Mr Arie van der Wiel handed over Flying Officer Burtt’s helmet and a remembrance medal to Muriel Sefton in Wanganui yesterday afternoon on what was a significant occasion. The helmet arrived via the diplomatic courier service from the NZ Embassy in The Hague direct to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington.

Mrs Sefton said the return of the helmet brings closure to a remarkable journey. “It’s a time for closure from being notified that he was missing, to being informed of his death, and then all these years later to have his helmet returned to me. It’s an extraordinary feeling to be holding the helmet my brother was wearing when he was shot down. Henry was a family man and it would please him immensely to have his flying helmet home in New Zealand. I am very happy and grateful to all who have made this day happen.”

Royal New Zealand Air Force Flight Lieutenant Dan Pezaro says, “It’s an honour to be invited here today to help facilitate and witness the return of a treasured possession belonging to a fallen comrade. I represent the RNZAF and the people of New Zealand when I say we are very proud of Pilot Officer Burtt and very thankful for everything he did for his country. In the spirit of ANZAC, we will remember him.”

John Henry Burtt’s grave is in Tilburg, The Netherlands along with other members of his crew.


For further information please contact Vivienne Sanders, Senior Communications Adviser Air Force, on 04 496 0286.

About the medal

The (Dutch) National Committee 'Thank You Canada & Allied Forces', was formed in 1979 to express appreciation to veterans who participated in the liberation of the Netherlands and to ensure the Dutch youth will know the shared experiences of sacrifices made in 1944-1945. 
Before WWII allied countries had decided against double decoration of military staff for military campaigns.  Each country, including New Zealand, decided to decorate their own soldiers, also for merits in the Netherlands. In this respect the Netherlands government renounced a remembrance medal and, as a private enterprise, the Nationaal Comité “Thank You Canada and Allied Forces” together with the Foundation “Welcome again Veterans”, organised remembrance programs and offered a remembrance medal to foreign military staff, for which the Ministry of Defence supplied a once-only subsidy. In 1996 Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands presented the first 1945-2010 Thank You Canada and Allied Forces Medal to Canadian and Allied Forces Veterans who helped to liberate the Netherlands in 1944/1945. The ceremony was held at Het Loo Palace, in Apeldoorn. 
Throughout the years, on their website the Nationaal Comité “Thank You Canada and Allied Forces” announced activities such as, celebrations and commemorations organized by the National Committee "Thank You Canada & Allied Forces".  From 1980 till 2010 this has been done every 5 year, but in 2010 they finished those big National Programs. The same happened in French and Belgium.  Remembrance ceremonies will still be held every year, but at a lower level. 

Outside the Netherlands, individual medals are presented through the Netherlands Embassies.


This page was last reviewed on 26 July 2011.