Dambuster bomb sight sells for £41,000, and is going to ‘good home’

Auction screenshot

The wooden bomb sight used by Plt Off John Fort on the Dams Raid sold yesterday at auction for a staggering £33,500 hammer price (more than £41,000 with commission and taxes added). The bidding opened at £20,000 and it quickly became apparent that the only serious contenders were two people in the room who had very deep pockets.
The buyer is at present anonymous, but we have been assured by the auctioneer that the bomb sight, and the other artifacts sold to the same purchaser, have gone to a ‘good home’. We hope to bring you more details in due course.
The bomb sight and a navigator’s parallelogram and desklight were given to my grandfather, Ettrick Maltby, by his son David, the pilot of AJ-J on the Dams Raid. Following David’s death, they were placed in a display cabinet at Hydneye House School, the prep school in Hastings owned and run by the Maltby family. When the Maltbys retired they decided that they wanted them left at the school so that future generations of boys could see them.
Unfortunately the school was forced to close in the early 1970s following a Compulsory Purchase Order when the area became scheduled for redevelopment. By then Ettrick Maltby had died, and nobody from the family thought to retrieve the items from the school. So the Headmaster gave the items to an old boy of the school for his budding aerospace collection.

bomb sight

The bombsight is the only surviving example of those which were made for the Dams Raid. Not all the bomb aimers used the sight, which was devised by Wg Cdr C L Dann, supervisor of aeronautics at the Royal Aeronautics Establishment at Boscombe Down. Many used their own makeshift systems for working out the release points, with pieces of string and chinagraph marks on the perspex blister, but now it seems certain that John Fort preferred this sight.
It is not clear what all the numbers stamped on the handle refer to, although the figure 29.5 would seem to be the angle in degrees between the two arms. Although the two arms are adjustable by means of a wingnut, each arm is locked in position with a small panel pin which can be seen just to the left of the wingnut.
The metal plate was obviously added later when the sight went on display. The varnish was probably also applied at this time.

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Dambuster of the Day No. 89: John Thrasher

Canadians damsraid15aThe 16 members of the RCAF who survived the Dams Raid, photographed the following day. John Thrasher is in the back row, sixth from the left. His crewmate Bruce Gowrie is in the front row crouching, fourth from the left. [Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada]

Wrt Off J W Thrasher
Bomb aimer

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

John William Thrasher was born on 30 July 1920 in Amherstburg, a small Canadian town in the far south west of Ontario, very close to the border with the USA. His parents, Charles and Irene Thrasher had fifteen children altogether, although two died in infancy. His father worked as a clerk in a liquor store. He was educated at St Anthony’s Primary School and St Rose’s High School, and matriculated in 1938. 
He worked as a printer’s apprentice for two years, then moved to be a laboratory worker in a soda ash plant.
He enlisted in the RCAF in May 1941, and was selected for Air Observer training, which he completed on 25 September 1941. His CO described him as: ‘Straightforward and assertive. Cautious but fairly aggressive. Quick. Cheerful. Good appearance, and personality. Very good material.’ But by December he had only passed out 20th out of 22, with an average overall mark. In further training it was noted that he was weak on navigation, but had achieved 98% in bombing. 
After arriving in England he underwent further training, and was sent to 19 OTU in Kinloss. It would appear that he met up with navigator Richard Macfarlane and wireless operator Bruce Gowrie there, as the three were posted together to a conversion unit for final training on the same day in October 1942. There they were joined by flight engineer Edward Smith and mid-upper gunner William Maynard, and these five were posted to 57 Squadron at Scampton on 9 December 1942. Rear gunner Stephen Burns joined the squadron a few days later, but the crew were without a pilot until Geoff Rice arrived in February.
The crew then flew on nine operations before being posted together from 57 Squadron over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission.
John Thrasher’s bomb aiming skills were severely tested during the Operation Chastise training period, but he acquitted himself well, coming second overall in the bombing practice sessions conducted in the first half of April 1943. 
On the raid itself, of course, he never had a chance to drop his mine, since it was torn out of AJ-H’s bomb bay over the sea.
Thrasher flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations between the Dams Raid and December 1943, and he received a commission. However, their luck ran out on 20 December when they were hit by flak 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage.
John Thrasher and his five colleagues were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium.

His brother, Plt Off Charles Thrasher, also joined the RCAF and served as a navigator in the Canadian 424 Squadron, based in Yorkshire and flying Halifaxes. He was awarded the DFC in 1944, with the citation noting his ‘fortitude, courage and devotion to duty.’ He survived the war. Details of Charles Thrasher’s service (scroll down).

More about Thrasher online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Rice crew burial site, Gosselies cemetery

KIA 20.12.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

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Dambuster of the Day No. 88: Bruce Gowrie

Gowrie RCAF 0234 lores

Pic: Canadian National Archives

Wrt Off C B Gowrie
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

Chester Bruce Gowrie, always known as Bruce, was born on 14 April 1918 in the small Canadian village of Tramping Lake, which lies roughly halfway between Edmonton and Saskatoon, in the province of Saskatchewan. His parents were Malcolm and Phyllis Gowrie. He attended the local Tramping Lake School, which he left in 1936. He then worked as a post office clerk for four years, while also gaining experience of farming.
He had thought about applying to join the RCAF before the war, so when the war came it was an obvious path to take. He was accepted as a recruit in February 1941, and was selected for wireless operator training. His pre-war hobby of building radio sets made him a natural choice to be selected for wireless work.
After qualifying, he spent the Christmas of 1941 on leave and embarked for England in January 1942. More training followed, and at the end of June 1942 he was posted to 19 Operational Training Unit in Scotland. It would appear that he met up with navigator Richard Macfarlane and bomb aimer John Thrasher there, as the three were posted together to a conversion unit for final training on the same day in October 1942. There they were joined by flight engineer Edward Smith and mid-upper gunner William Maynard, and these five were posted to 57 Squadron at Scampton on 9 December 1942. Rear gunner Stephen Burns joined the squadron a few days later, but the crew were without a pilot until Geoff Rice arrived in February.
The crew then flew on nine operations before being posted together from 57 Squadron over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission.
Gowrie flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations between the Dams Raid and December 1943, and he was promoted to a Warrant Officer First Class in December. However, their luck ran out on 20 December when they were hit by flak 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage.

Bruce Gowrie and his five colleagues were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium.

More about Gowrie online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Rice crew burial site, Gosselies cemetery

KIA 20.12.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

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Dambuster of the Day No. 87: Richard Macfarlane

MacFarlane 240913

Flg Off R Macfarlane
Navigator

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

Richard Macfarlane was born in Glasgow in 1921, the older of the two sons of Daniel and Jessie Macfarlane. He attended Hyndland School and the High School of Glasgow. In 1939 he enrolled at the University of Glasgow to study law, but these studies were interrupted when he joined the RAF in 1941. He was sent to Miami in the USA to train as a navigator. He was commissioned and after further training back in the UK joined 57 Squadron on 9 December 1942.
When Geoffrey Rice arrived at 57 Squadron in February 1943, the crew was established and flew on nine operations. They were then posted together over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission. As the most senior navigator in A Flight, Macfarlane became the Flight Navigation Officer.
Shortly before the raid, Macfarlane travelled home to Glasgow, on leave to see his family. In a 2013 newspaper interview, his brother recalled that they were obviously engaged in an important project:

We gathered he was going back to do something special. But he couldn’t tell us what it was.
 On the morning after the overnight raid we were listening to the wireless and heard the dramatic news. So we were pretty certain that was where Richard had been.
 They were given leave immediately and he was back at our home in Broomhill, Glasgow, sitting round the dinner-table and confirming he had been on the Dambuster raid that previous night.
The Herald, 16 May 2013

Macfarlane flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations they completed in the period July to December 1943, but they were unlucky on 20 December when they were hit by flak 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage.
Richard Macfarlane and his five colleagues were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium.

More about Macfarlane online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Rice crew burial site, Gosselies cemeteryWikipedia entry about his brother, Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden
Biography of Macfarlane at University of Glasgow website
Article in The Herald, 16 May 2013

KIA 20.12.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

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Dambuster of the Day No. 86: Edward Smith

Smith 240913

Sgt E C Smith
Flight engineer

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

Edward Clarence Smith was born in Cambridge in 1919, the middle of the three children of Clarence and Annie Smith.He joined the RAF in 1937 as ground crew, trained at the No 3 School of Technical Training at RAF Manston and served in various squadrons until 1942.
It was then that the new category of Flight Engineers was introduced, and many experienced ground crew volunteered for flying duties. Smith was selected and after training was posted to his first operational squadron, 57 Squadron based at Scampton, on 9 December 1942. He arrived on the same day as most of those who would later fly with him on the Dams Raid, but not pilot Geoffrey Rice.
When Rice arrived in February, the crew was established and flew on nine operations, before being posted over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission. 
On the Dams Raid, AJ-H took off from Scampton at 2131 but had to turn back after flying too low over the Waddensee and losing their mine. Smith played an important role in bringing the aircraft home safely to Scampton when hydraulic power for the undercarriage had been lost.
Smith flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations they completed in the period July to December 1943, but they were unlucky on 20 December when they were hit by flak 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage.
Edward Smith and his five colleagues were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium. More than 100 British and Commonwealth servicemen lie there, nearly all aircrew who died in the vicinity.
Edward Smith had married Evelyn Tyrell in Cambridge in 1942.

More about Smith online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Rice crew burial site, Gosselies cemetery

KIA 20.12.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

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It’s coming on Christmas

Trees_snow Unsplash

Pic: Unsplash

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
[Joni Mitchell, The River]

Songs of joy and peace to all readers of this blog this Christmas-tide. And best wishes for the New Year.

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Good news for Dambuster memorial appeal

AJ-E crew lores
A piece of good news to cheer us all at this festive season. This blog’s good friend Volker Schürmann has recently informed us that the appeal for funds to erect a permanent memorial at the site where Norman Barlow and his crew crashed on the night of the Dams Raid has succeeded. The stone for the memorial is now being quarried and the plaque is being designed. The memorial will be officially unveiled at a ceremony at 11.00am on Sunday 17 May 2015, the 72nd anniversary of the Dams Raid, and the crash.
The crash occurred on farmland, a few kilometres from Haldern, a small community in Rees in the state of North Rhine Westphalia. Lancaster ED927, code name AJ-E, had been the first aircraft to take off on Operation Chastise, leaving RAF Scampton at 2128 on Sunday 16 May 1943. Just over two hours later, flying at about 100 feet, it struck a pylon. It may have been hit by flak a few moments before. The crew of seven were all killed, and are now interred in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. They were:
Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC (pilot)
Plt Off Leslie Whillis (flight engineer)
Flg Off Philip Burgess (navigator)
Flg Off Charles Williams DFC (wireless operator)
Plt Off Alan Gillespie DFM (bomb aimer)
Flg Off Harvey Glinz (front gunner)
Sgt Jack Liddell (rear gunner)
It is thought that members of the families of at least four of the crew will be attending the unveiling of the memorial.
More details will follow. Members of the public will be welcome to attend.
Many thanks are due to Volker Schürmann and his colleagues for organising the memorial.

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Filed under Alan Gillespie, Charles Williams, Harvey Glinz, Jack Liddell, Leslie Whillis, Norman Barlow, Philip Burgess