“Wizard!” “Tremendous!” “It’s gone!” – Dambusters comic makes a great story

NickSpender-DamBusters 1

Nick Spender’s new comic book is a wonderful labour of love, and will certainly appeal to the kind of person who remembers rushing into the newsagents every week with thruppence for a copy of the Eagle.
This new ebook has been designed to look like a 1950s gravure-printed comic book – right down to the authentic library stamps – and beautifully recreates the artistic style of masters of the genre, such as Frank Hampson (who actually taught Spender in art college 30 years ago).
Although it evokes this historic style, the book is artfully constructed to transcend the period and tell the familiar story economically but accurately, with spot on details. Some of the frames resemble shots from the 1955 film, but the liberties with the truth taken in the cinematic release are not repeated here, which is something to be thankful for. For instance, there’s no nonsense about using angled spotlights to calibrate an aircraft’s altitude after a trip to a music hall. The real inventor, Benjamin Lockspeiser, gets the credit.
The comic book is sometimes underappreciated and dismissed as a method of imparting information. This view has been challenged by writers like Scott McCloud, whose book Understanding Comics should be read by anyone interested in modern communication methods. In McCloud’s words, comics offer tremendous resources to the writer and artist: ‘range and versatility with all the potential imagery of film and painting plus the intimacy of the written word’.
In the hands of a true creative comic book artist like Nick Spender a single frame can say as much as a page of a printed book. This is what makes this work such a great success, and why it is highly recommended.

NickSpender-DamBusters 21
It’s available as a Kindle ebook, but you really need a colour ebook reader, or an iPad, to do it justice. A printed version would be even better, and would be a terrific addition to the bookshelves of anyone with an interest in this endlessly fascinating story.

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Johnny Johnson to speak in Retford

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Our old friend George ‘Johnny’ Johnson is going to be busier than usual next month, because his autobiography is being published by Ebury Press, just in time for the 71st anniversary of the Dams Raid.
One of the public events to promote the book will be held near to his former home in Retford. On Friday 23 May, Johnny is giving a public talk at Retford Town Hall. He will also be answering questions from the public and signing copies.
Johnny will be joined on stage by Eric Quinney who, as a post-war pilot in 83 Squadron, flew one of the Lancasters used in the 1955 film.
The event is being organised by local bookseller Paul Trickett. Tickets for the event can be purchased and printed off here.

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Appeal launched for AJ-E Dambuster memorial

AJ-E crew lores
The crew of AJ-E. Left to right: Norman Barlow, Leslie Whillis, Philip Burgess, Charles Williams, Alan Gillespie, Harvey Glinz, Jack Liddell.

Eight crews from 617 Squadron were lost on the night of the Dams Raid, 16/17 May 1943. Of these two, AJ-A piloted by Sqn Ldr Melvin Young and AJ-K piloted by Plt Off Vernon Byers were lost over the sea, but the other six crashed on dry land in Germany or the Netherlands.
Three of the crash sites are commemorated with a plaque or other memorial:

AJ-B: Flt Lt William Astell
AJ-M: Flt Lt John Hopgood
AJ-C: Plt Off Warner Ottley

An appeal has now been launched to add another memorial to this list. Lancaster ED927, call sign AJ-E, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC, crashed into a electricity pylon on some farmland near Haldern, at about 2350 on 16 May 1943, killing all on board. Haldern is a community in the district of Cleves, in the lower Rhine area.
The plan, to erect a memorial stone and bronze plaque on this site, is being organised by Volker Schürmann, a local historian, who is looking to raise €750 (about £620) to cover the cost. We are therefore looking for 150 donations of €5.
By way of thank you, donors will receive a colour souvenir postcard featuring pictures of the finished stone in place and portraits of all the AJ-E crew. It is hoped that we can arrange for a descendant of one of the crew to be present when the stone is unveiled, and, of course, all donors will also be warmly welcomed.

You can donate to the appeal via Paypal here:
Make a Donation Button

If you would prefer to make a donation by cheque or bank transfer, contact me and I will give you details of how you can do this.
Below is a picture of the site where the memorial will be erected.
two oaks 2 lores

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

Dambuster of the Day No. 68: Alan Gillespie

 

Gillespie ©PH lores

[Pic: Peter Humphries]

Plt Off A Gillespie DFM
Bomb aimer

Lancaster serial number: ED927/G

Call sign: AJ-E

Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Alan Gillespie was born in 1920 in Wetheral, just outside Carlisle. He had worked as a clerk in a solicitor’s practice before volunteering for the RAF in 1940. He was eventually selected for aircrew and sent to Canada for training in September 1941. 

After returning to the UK, he underwent further training and met up with Norman Barlow and Leslie Whillis at 16 OTU in July 1942. All three were eventually posted to 61 Squadron in September 1942, and did their first operation together over the Alps to Turin on 20 November. 

By March 1943, Barlow and Gillespie had both completed their tours. On their penultimate operation, a trip to Berlin, flight engineer Leslie Whillis had been left behind, in favour of Gp Capt Reginald Odbert, flying as second pilot. Odbert was the station commander at RAF Syerston, a popular Irish rugby international who had joined the RAF before the war and captained the RAF rugby team. He was killed in a flying accident in June 1943.

Gilliespie’s tour ended with a recommendation for a DFM. The citation read:

This Air Bomber has carried out 30 successful sorties on all the main targets in Germany and Italy, including six attacks on Essen and five on Berlin. He has frequently obtained excellent photographs, one of his best being the aiming point on Krupps. He has shown himself cool and collected under heavy fire in the target area and has set an excellent example to others in his crew and the rest of the squadron. Strongly recommended for the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.

When Barlow set about putting together a crew who would accompany him on to 617 Squadron Gillespie and Whillis, who had been with him since their training days, were obvious choices. Both were commissioned two days before the Dams Raid. Whether they had time to move from the Sergeants’ to the Officers’ Mess is not recorded. 

It was therefore as a newly fledged Pilot Officer that Alan Gillespie met his end. Flying in the nose of the Lancaster at treetop level, he may have seen the pylon they hit near Haldern a split second before impact. 

Alan Gillespie and his comrades were buried first in Dusseldorf, but after the war they were reinterred in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. The DFM he had won a few weeks before was presented to his family posthumously.

More about Gillespie online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Entry at Aircrew Remembered website

KIA 16.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Eric Fry, An Airman Far Away, Kangaroo Press 1993

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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Channel 4: Mission to confuse

Tirpitz_(AWM_SUK14095)

Channel 4 programming bods have come up with what sounds a very confusing documentary, The Dambusters Great Escape –Secret History, to be aired tonight at 8pm UK time.
Can’t imagine what the thinking is behind this, because the subject is about the operation which finally sank the German battleship the Tirpitz, in November 1943 1944, which had nothing to do with the Great Escape. On this raid, the Dambusters, in the shape of 617 Squadron, were accompanied by another Lancaster squadron, 9 Squadron, also armed with Tallboy bombs.
However, the programme is presented by the completely sane Patrick Bishop, the distinguished author of Bomber Boys and other great books, so we can only hope that the bonkers title won’t reflect what should be a lucid presentation of interesting content.

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Dambuster of the Day No. 67: Charles Williams

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Flg Off C R Williams DFC
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED927/G

Call sign: AJ-E

Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Charles Rowland Williams was born on 19 March 1909 in Hughenden, a small settlement in inland Queensland, some 250 miles west of the city of Townsville. He was the middle child of the three surviving children of sheep station manager Horace Williams and his wife Catherine. Australian country districts did not have elementary schools in those days so Williams was tutored at home without any other formal education until he went to Townsville Grammar School as a boarder at the age of 12. 

Leaving school at 16, he went home to work on the station his father managed. He also became a skilled mechanic and took up building wireless sets as a hobby. The great crash of the early 1930s led to his father losing his job, so the family bought their own farm which they had to work hard to build up. 
Like many young men of his generation, Williams had long wanted to fly and took some flying lessons at the aero club in Townsville.
When war came, he was already 30 years old. Both he and his brother could have avoided military service on the grounds that their elderly father was ill, and could not run the property on his own but they both joined the army reserve. They agreed between them that Doug as the elder should remain in the army so that he could stay in Australia to take responsibility for the family, but younger brother Charlie should volunteer for the air force. 

In February 1941, some 17 months later, Williams began his training. He was posted to Sydney, and then on to a training school in rural New South Wales. At almost 32, he was deemed too old for pilot training and was mustered as a wireless operator/air gunner. On qualification, he was commissioned, one of the about ten per cent of each class who received this distinction. 
He was then posted to the other side of the world, England, which he reached by the method usual in those times – troopship to California, a six day train ride across the USA and Canada, and another sea voyage from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
He arrived in Bournmouth, England, in November 1941, a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. 
This traumatic event had another, often overlooked, consequence besides bringing the USA into the war. The Australian government quickly realised how exposed their country was and many aircrew under training were kept back in case they were needed at home. It was a pretty forlorn gesture, however, as the RAAF had no potent strike aircraft. Their obsolete Wirraway trainers were no match for Japanese Zeroes in the battle of Rabaul in New Guinea in January 1942. 

Meanwhile, in England, Williams was caught in a training bottleneck, and it took several more months of waiting and training before he would be posted to an operational squadron. During this time his war experience began very suddenly, when his training unit was required to send several Hampdens on the first Thousand Bomber Raid, on Cologne on 30 May 1942. He was also sent on the later raids on Essen and Bremen. 

By September, he was ready for operations and had arrived at 61 Squadron at Syerston, as wireless operator in a Lancaster crew skippered by Flg Off Brian Frow, an experienced pilot, who went on to survive the war and rise to the rank of Air Commodore. Their first operation was a raid on Munich and they flew on seven more before Frow finished his tour.
By December he was in a crew led by a New Zealander, Flt Sgt Ian Woodward, another pilot who lived through the war. Philip Burgess joined this crew as navigator in January 1943. By March 1943, most of the crew had completed their tour, but Williams had only done 28 trips as he had missed a few operations back in January through illness. He was keen to finish his tour, but he also wanted to get back to Australia, which would probably mean he would need to do a second. If he went on the normal six month inter-tour break that would only delay things. He also had broken off his engagement with a nurse back in Australia, as he had become involved with another woman in Nottingham, and he was keen to bring her back home so that they could get married.
He wrote to his family about his decision:

Yesterday I made a decision which may or may not be wise, I am joining a crew with an Australian as pilot, he, like myself has nearly finished his first tour and when we have finished we are going to another squadron and will carry on with our second tour without any rest, the second tour now consists of 20 trips and we believe when we have finished our operations we will have a much better chance of being sent home, and with the summer coming we should finish in three or four months, and I think it is better to do that than have to come back on operations after having been off for six months.

The Australian pilot and the new squadron he mentioned were of course Norman Barlow and 617 Squadron. And so it was that his fate was sealed, for a few weeks later they were leading the second wave of the Dams Raid over Haldern in Germany when they hit the fateful electricity pylon.
His casualty file in the National Archives of Australia has many insights into what happened after his death. Like several other Dams Raid participants Williams had been recommended for a decoration, in his case the DFC, but it was not awarded until after his death. It was eventually presented to his mother. The news that he had broken off his first engagement had not reached Australia by the time of the Dams Raid, so his first fiancée, Millie McGuinness, was contacted by the authorities. Eventually his new fiancée, Gwen Parfitt, was able to set the record straight. 

In his final letter to his family, Williams wrote:


How I wish I could tell you everything I would like to, there is so much I could tell you but until the war is over I cannot tell anyone but I hope in the near future I will be able to tell you some of the amazing things I have seen and experienced. 


Contrary to his normal practice he posted this letter immediately, the last in the string which kept on arriving at home well after his death. His letters and his other papers are now in the Queensland State Library in Brisbane. They were used in the biography of him written by historian Eric Fry, who married his sister Sheila after the war. Published in 1993 with the title An Airman Far Away, this book is a fascinating account both of his life and of the way in which the war impacted on an ordinary Australian family.
Charlie Williams and the rest of his comrades were first buried in Dusseldorf, before being reinterred after the war in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

Williams file

The stark note on his personnel file confirms his death. [National Archives of Australia]
Thanks to Susan Paxton for help with this article.

More about Williams online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Entry at Aircrew Remembered website
Casualty file on RAAFDB website

KIA 16.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Eric Fry, An Airman Far Away, Kangaroo Press 1993

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. 66: Philip Burgess

Burgess lores

Flg Off P S Burgess
Navigator

Lancaster serial number: ED927/G

Call sign: AJ-E

Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Philip Sidney Burgess was born in Portsmouth in August 1922. Both his parents died when he was very young, so at the age of four he and his brother were adopted by the Rowland family in Folkestone, Kent. The Rowlands were well known in the town as they ran a popular rock and sweet shop. Burgess was educated at the town’s Harvey Grammar School.
He volunteered for the RAF soon after his 18th birthday, and undertook part of his training in Canada.
He was commissioned in May 1942, and after further training was promoted to Flying Officer shortly before being posted to 61 Squadron in January 1943, a few months after he turned 20. He then became the regular navigator on a crew captained by the New Zealander Ian Woodward, in which the wireless operator was Charlie Williams.
By the end of March he had actually completed 37 operations, well past the number required to complete a tour. However, both he and Williams agreed to join the crew being put together by Norman Barlow which would transfer to 617 Squadron for the planned secret mission.
Despite the six weeks of low level training, Norman Barlow, Philip Burgess and the rest of the crew were all killed instantly when they hit a pylon just outside Haldern, Germany.

Rowlands7269006
After their parents’ death, Philip Burgess and his brother were adopted by the Rowland family of Folkestone. They ran this Rock Shop, well remembered by many generations of people from the town. [Pic: Alan Taylor]

Yet to turn 21, Philip Burgess was probably the youngest officer to take part in the Dams Raid. He was buried with his comrades in Dusseldorf Cemetery, and reinterred after the war in Reichswald Forest Cemetery. His brother, Carrol Burgess, served in the Royal Engineers and survived the war.
Thanks to Susan Paxton and Alan Wells for help with the entries for all the Barlow crew.

More about Burgess online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Entry at Aircrew Remembered website

KIA 16.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Eric Fry, An Airman Far Away, Kangaroo Press 1993

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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