Dambuster Memorial unveiled as many pay tribute

IMG_6611Pic: Wim Govaerts

Several hundred people gathered on Sunday 17 May 2015 on the edge of a small wood in Haldern, north western Germany, to pay tribute to the crew of Dams Raid Lancaster AJ-E, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC. This was the spot where the aircraft crashed shortly before midnight on the night of 16 May 1943, en route to attack the Sorpe Dam.
Some of Norman Barlow’s letters home to his mother in Australia were read out during the ceremony. In one, written on 3 May 1943, he told her about the new aircraft he had been assigned for the Dams Raid. “I have just got a brand new machine. “E” for Edward or Elsie or Elliott. I hope I am as lucky as I was with “G” for George”.
And then, just 12 days later and the night before died, he sent love to everyone back at home, including his daughter, then four years old: “I must close now and have a bath and get a little shut eye whilst I can.  So keep your chin up Mother dear it can’t last forever. Your loving son Norman xxxx.”
Sadly, E-Edward would not turn out to be not a lucky machine for Norman and his crew, and they were all killed instantly in the crash. For seventy years, the site was not marked in any way, but then in 2013 local historian Volker Schürmann began a campaign to have a permanent memorial established. He organised a public appeal which succeded in raising the funds, after many generous donations from supporters from around the world. There were further donations of materials from the local community, and the farmer on whose land the aircraft crashed was kind enough to make a space available.
Relatives and representatives of five of the crew travelled to Germany, and unveiled the memorial. Wreathes were also laid by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, by other organisations, and by the local community. A guard of honour was provided by the Haldern Fire Brigade, and musical tributes were played by the Haldern Brass Band.
Huge thanks go to all the people of Haldern who donated to and supported the memorial, and to all those who travelled to Germany to take part in the ceremony.

Pictures below by Wim Govaerts and Mitch Buiting.

IMG_6365 Banner depicting the crew of AJ-E. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6396Volker Schürmann being interviewed by British Forces Broadcasting Service reporter, Rob Olver.

IMG_6388Items from the wreckage of AJ-E, found locally by Marcel Hahn. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6462Welcome from Bernhard Uebbing, Chair of Heimatverein Haldern, the local history society. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6481Volker Schürmann outlined the background to the project. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6494Charles Foster gave a brief history of the Dams Raid and its historical significance. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6509Trish Murphy, a friend of Norman Barlow’s daughter Adrianne since their schooldays in Melbourne, read from Norman Barlow’s last letters home. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9274Rob Holliday, whose wife Sara is a cousin of bomb aimer Plt Off Alan Gillespie, gave an account of the lives of all the crew members of AJ-E. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6550The first wreath was laid by Group Captain Steve Richards of the RAF. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6553Lt Colonel David Sexstone and a colleague laid the second wreath on behalf of the Royal Canadian Air Force. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9289Wreath laid in memory of Norman Barlow by Trish Murphy, with assistance from Jacqui Kelly and Aisling Foster. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

Rework_9293Wreathes laid in memory of Philip Burgess by Carole Marner, followed by Jenny Rowland. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

Rework_9298Wreath laid in memory of Alan Gillespie by Sara and Rob Holliday (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6558Wreath laid in memory of Charlie Williams by Helen Brown. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9306Wreath laid in memory of Jack Liddell by Patricia and Mike Gawtrey. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6471Music for the occasion was provided by the Haldern Brass Band. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6685A guard of honour was provided by the Haldern Fire Brigade. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6665The five sets of relatives and representatives, joined by Volker Schürmann and Charles Foster. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6678The full RAF and RCAF delegations, photographed after the ceremony. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6583AJ-E, honoured and remembered, 17 May 2015. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)


All set fair for memorial unveiling

AJ-E stone installation

Several hundred people are now expected to attend the unveiling of the memorial to the Dams Raid crew of Lancaster AJ-E, scheduled for 1100 local time on Sunday 17 May at Haldern, near Rees in Germany.
Above, you can see the memorial stone and foundation being installed. It is an impressive piece of work, and we are all much indebted to the local people and traders who have worked so hard to bring the project to fruition.
The good news is that the weather is expected to remain dry, although with a maximum temperature of 16ºC a jacket is probably advisable.

Screen shot weather

Please also note that there will be no parking at the site itself, except for those needing disabled access. Parking will be available approximately 500m away, so be prepared to walk.
If you are visiting the area for the first time, you might also like to know that Reichswald Forest War Cemetery is about 40km away. This is the last resting place of the crew of AJ-E, captained by Norman Barlow, and three other Dams Raid crews – those captained by Henry Maudslay (AJ-Z), Bill Astell (AJ-B) and Bill Ottley (AJ-C).
Finally, if you are there on Sunday and are a reader of Dambusters Blog, come over and say hello. And spread the word to your friends and acquaintances!


Fake “Gibson” telegram withdrawn from auction


A telegram confirming the 1944 death of Guy Gibson, described as being from Sir Arthur Harris, has now been withdrawn from auction after doubts about its authenticity. It was due to be sold by Fieldings Auctioneers in Stourbridge on Saturday 16 May, with an estimated price of £600.
The sale was trumpeted in articles in the Daily Express, the Daily Mirror and other newspapers, with typical over-excitement. None of these publications thought to contact any historian or serious collector who might be able to throw some light on the telegram. “Dambusters hero’s death kept secret for MONTHS to protect morale during WW2,” said the Express. The Mirror also went along with the morale idea, saying: “RAF hushed up death of Dambusters hero Guy Gibson to preserve morale, wartime telegram reveals”.
The telegram, we were told in both papers, had been found by a dealer inside a book during a house clearance sale, apparently being used as a bookmark.
Having seen the newspapers, I contacted the auctioneers. I pointed out some of the reasons I had to doubt the telegram’s authenticity, and they decided to seek the opinion of professional curators. I am glad to say that they agreed with me, and the item was then removed from the sale.

I am now quite convinced that the telegram is a fake. I have commented in this blog before how Fleet Street editorial standards have slipped over the years. In this case, the newspapers seem to have stoked up the hype and not questioned the item’s provenance. Anyone with any knowledge of the RAF’s wartime communication systems would surely have smelt a rat. And there are several other features, visible even in the small photograph on the auctioneers’ website, which were very suspicious indeed.

Use of a telegram
In November 1944, Sir Arthur Harris held the rank of Air Chief Marshal and the job title of Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command. The job was normally abbreviated to AOC-in-C HQBC in official communications. Messages, instructions and orders between him and other sections of the RAF were normally communicated via official message forms or by telex. On both of these, his official job title or its recognised abbreviation would be used. The use of a normal Post Office telegram for any important service purpose seems most unlikely, as would the signature being abbreviated to “Harris Air Marsh”. And finally, if by any chance a normal telegram form was used, the sender’s address would be shown as “HQ Bomber Command”, not “Air Ministry”.

Overall look
Many examples of wartime telegrams survive, and some general observations can be made when they are compared with the “Gibson” telegram. Here is a genuine wartime telegram, found on the 206 Squadron website:

Bendix - MIA TelegramLet us start with the form itself. Even though it is possible to get genuine blank wartime forms, the “Gibson” telegram would appear to be composed on a fake form. There are several different designs of wartime Post Office telegram forms, but they all have one thing in common – the font used is Gill Sans, as seen above. The form had been redesigned in Gill Sans by the famous typographer Stanley Morison in 1935. The “Gibson” telegram uses a different font, another sans serif, but not Gill Sans.
Furthermore, in “real” telegrams, the message itself was cut from the output of a telegraph machine and then pasted onto the form. The message would have been printed with a fabric ribbon, which led to a rather grey colour. The individual words themselves are usually spaced well apart, the gap between each word being almost two characters wide. And the individual characters which make up each word are themselves spaced quite widely.
In the “Gibson” telegram, the lettering looks as though it was produced by modern computerised typesetting. The letters and the words are more closely spaced than their wartime equivalent.

Wrong ranks
Harris had been promoted from Air Marshal to (Temporary) Air Chief Marshal [(T) ACM] on 16 August 1944. He would have signed any communication after this date as either (T) ACM or ACM.
Below the official print is a handwritten note: “Read out to the Mess but did not inform men. J B Tait GC”. However, in November 1944, the Officer Commanding 617 Squadron, J B (“Willie”) Tait was still a Wing Commander. He was not promoted to Group Captain until after he left 617 Squadron at the end of 1944. Any note written by him at this time would therefore would have been signed as “J B Tait WC”.

Address and rubber stamps
It seems most unlikely that a telegram would be sent to the Officers Mess of any squadron. In any case, in November 1944 the arrangements for officers stationed at Woodhall Spa was quite complicated and there was no single Officers Mess as such. 617 Squadron’s officers were billeted at the Petwood Hotel in the town of Woodhall Spa, as were some other officers serving on the station, such as some intelligence officers and the station commander, Gp Capt “Monty” Philpott. The actual RAF station was a few miles away in Tattersall Thorpe, and other officers on the station, such as those in 627 Squadron, were housed there in a series of temporary concrete or brick huts.
The correct mode of address for a communication to the squadron would be to its officer commanding. Any rubber stamp used would say “617 Squadron/RAF Station Woodhall Spa/Received/date”, without mention of the Officers Mess.

Unlikely wording
The wording of the text does not sound as though it was composed by a wartime writer, used to writing succinct messages where excess words and pronouns are removed. A genuine text would be more likely to read “Prime Minister and NOK informed”, not “I have informed the Prime Minister and NOK”.

Caveat Emptor
The estimated price of £600 for this item was very conservative, given the huge sums reached recently for genuine Dambuster memorabilia. According to the auctioneers there had already been “substantial interest” in it. My guess is that it would have reached at least £5000, and possibly nearer £10,000.
The amount of profit available means that there may well be other attempts to deceive the market with further fake material. One collector recently went public after a bad experience with a well-known unscrupulous trader. My advice to anyone who sees anything offered for sale is to get good advice from a reputable independent source.

Thanks to the various researchers who have helped with this article.

Dambuster of the Day No. 105: Frederick Tees


Sgt F Tees
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED910/G

Call sign: AJ-C

Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Frederick Tees was born in Chichester, Sussex on 16 June 1922, one of the five children of Henry and Elizabeth Tees. His father was a barber and had a shop in the town. Tees went to the Central CofE School and the Lancastrian School in Chichester.
He joined the RAF in 1941 and was finally selected for air gunner training in 1942. His final training was at 1660 Conversion Unit, where he joined up with Bill Ottley and the crew who would eventually fly on the Dams Raid. They were posted together to 207 Squadron in November 1942, and took part on their first raid on 23 November. Tees and flight engineer Ron Marsden were the only two who flew on all 17 operations which Ottley undertook in 207 Squadron between then and April 1943.
Ottley, Tees and the rest of the crew were transferred to 617 Squadron shortly after their last operation in 207 Squadron, on 4 April 1943. They undertook their first training flight in the new squadron on 8 April 1943.
Although they normally flew in the rear and mid-upper turret respectively, Fred Tees and Harry Strange had occasionally swapped positions while serving in 207 Squadron. As the specially adapted Dams Raid Lancasters had no mid-upper turret, it is possible that both tried out the front turret of AJ-C during training. This may explain why some of the documents for the operation, including the Night Flying Programme typed up on the morning of Sunday 16 May, listed Tees in the front turret and Strange in the rear.

Grantham 0003 fly order cropped
Detail from the Night Flying Programme shows Fred Tees listed as flying as AJ-C’s front gunner.

When the aircraft took off from Scampton at 0009 on Monday 17 May, however, Tees was definitely in the rear turret, a decision which would save his life. Flying so low that at one point he saw a church steeple above him, Tees fired at some searchlights and gun emplacements as they crossed Holland and Germany.
As they neared Hamm, a “tremendous commotion” occurred and he realised that AJ-C had been hit on the port side. His turret was immobilised and flames began to streak past it. He heard Ottley say “I’m sorry boys, we’ve had it”, and he recalled thinking “there’s no future at baling out at nought feet with three engines on fire”.
Some minutes later, he regained consciousness on the ground. His turret had somehow been blown clear of the wreckage, perhaps as a result of a second explosion as the Upkeep mine blew up. He was badly burned, was quickly captured by the Germans, and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war.
The fact that Tees had survived did not become known for some months, and so his family were told that he was missing in action. Almost a year after the Dams Raid, on Thursday 11 May 1944, his mother, Mrs Elizabeth Tees, was killed in an accident when a USAAF B24 Liberator crashed on the laundry in Chichester where she was working. It had been damaged by flak on a bombing operation over France. After the pilot set a course for it to crash into the English Channel, the crew baled out. Unfortunately, the aircraft veered off this course and crashed on land, killing three civilians. Some sources say that Mrs Tees defied instructions and ran back into the burning building to collect her handbag. Tees apparently only found out about his mother’s death on release from his PoW camp in 1945.
Fred Tees became a barber after the war, the same trade as his father, with a business in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. He took part in a number of 617 Squadron reunions before his death in 1982. He was cremated in England, but his last wish was for his ashes to be scattered on the graves of his fallen comrades in Reichswald Forest war cemetery.

Thanks to Mick Tees for help with this article.

More about Tees online:
ITV News reports about Tees family visits to the graves of the Ottley crew
Chichester Local History booklet on the Liberator crash on Chichester, May 1944
Entry in Wikipedia

Survived war. Died 1982.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

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.

Dambuster of the Day No. 104: Harry Strange


Pic: Dorothy Bill

Sgt H J Strange
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED910/G

Call sign: AJ-C

Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Harry John Strange was born in London in 1923. He joined the RAF in 1941, soon after his 18th birthday, and was sent for air gunner training in 1942.
He arrived at 1660 Conversion Unit in late 1942, and would seem to have met most of his future crewmates there. Although he joined 207 Squadron from 1660 CU on the same day, 11 November 1942, as most of the rest of the Ottley crew, he flew his first two operations with Sgt G Langdon as pilot. His first operation with Ottley was on 21 December on a trip to Munich. This was the day when the Ottley Dams Raid crew all flew together operationally for the first time.
Strange flew another operation with Langdon in January 1943, but on 2 February he made a permanent move to Ottley. He went on to fly on another 12 trips with Ottley, their last being the crew’s final operation in 207 Squadron, an attack on Kiel on 4 April 1943. He seems to have flown on most of the trips as the mid upper gunner, but occasionally he swapped with Fred Tees, and flew in the rear turret.
On the Dams Raid, Strange flew as AJ-C’s front gunner, thereby sealing his fate. Along with five others in his crew, he died when the aircraft was shot down near Hamm on 17 May 1943.
Harry Strange and his comrades were originally buried in by the Germans in Hamm, but were reinterred after the war in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

More about Strange online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

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.