Sad news reached Ballymoney Museum last week that Jannie van Beek Pol had passed away in Rhenen in the Netherlands.
Jannie’s story became news in her home country and across Northern Ireland when, only eight weeks ago, she met the family of the Ballymoney World War Two airman Flight Sergeant Francis McCluskey.
Francis was killed when his parachute failed to deploy after his Halifax bomber was shot down as it returned from a mission over Germany. Jannie found Francis’ body on the morning of 7 October 1942 in a forest near her home in Rhenen.
Having retrieved Francis’ cap from the scene, she kept it safe for over seventy years. The cap was returned to the McCluskey family in a moving ceremony last October and is now in Ballymoney Museum.
A few months later, in May 2015, Rhenen Council brought the McCluskey family and representatives of Causeway Council as their special guests to the Netherlands to meet Jannie and pay their respects at Francis’ grave. During the trip, Jannie met Patricia McCluskey, Francis’ cousin, now also in her late eighties.
The two elderly ladies had a very emotional and poignant first meeting and, despite the language differences, formed a strong personal bond.
The meeting of Jannie and the McCluskey family was filmed by camera crews from the BBC and the Netherlands and was broadcast on television news in both countries.
Condolences have been sent from Ballymoney to Jannie’s family, she will be fondly remembered by everyone who had the privilege to met her.