Hopgood medals auction to aid dam build

Auction 77.qxp

The family of Dams Raid pilot John Hopgood has decided to sell his medals and some other memorabilia to help Water Aid, a charity building a dam in Uganda which will bring clean drinking water to 100,000 people. This very generous gesture is in honour of a young pilot who was, according to his family, an idealistic and deep-thinking man with a big conscience.
Hopgood was only 21, but had completed 47 operations by the time of the Dams Raid. He had become a close friend of Guy Gibson during his time under Gibson’s command in 106 Squadron and Gibson asked him personally to join him in 617 Squadron. By this time Hopgood had already been awarded a Bar to his first DFC, and it is this rare medal (seen above) which is the prize lot in the auction.
There are also a number of other fascinating objects which on their own would have been the star items in many a lesser sale. These include an original telegram from “Wingco and the boys” dated 28 October 1942, the time of his first DFC (see below); an original Buckingham Palace Investiture Ticket; an original letter of condolence from Guy Gibson and a programme for the repeat Royal Premiere of the 1955 “Dam Busters” film.

Auction 77.qxp
The auctioneers are estimating that the collection will reach £30,000–£40,000. My prediction is that it will go for a lot more than this, and we can only hope that whoever purchases such important material makes it available to the public.
The auction is being conducted in London on 15 December 2015 by Morton and Eden. The full catalogue is here. Scroll to page 95 to see the Hopgood collection.

[Hat tip: Dave Bradley]

Act of Remembrance

IMG_0756 lores

The Reichswald Forest War Cemetery lies in a wooded area in north west Germany, near the town of Kleve and not far from a massive road bridge across the Rhine. It is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in Germany – the last resting place for 7672 men who fought with the Allied services in the Second World War. Of these, 3915 flew with the various air forces.
Amongst these lie 32 Dambusters, making this quiet spot the place on earth where there are the most Dams Raid veterans buried. Twenty-seven of the 53 who died on the Dams Raid itself are now interred here (Bill Astell and his crew, Norman Barlow and his crew, Henry Maudslay and his crew, and Warner Ottley and the six of his crew who were killed). Five more men, all by then flying in the crew of Sqn Ldr George Holden and killed on the fateful Dortmund Ems Canal raid on 17 September 1943, also lie here.
The Dambuster graves are in groups in different parts of the cemetery. Seven of them lie together in one row, not far from the edge. This is the crew of AJ-E: Norman Barlow, pilot; Leslie Whillis, flight engineer; Philip Burgess, navigator; Charlie Williams, wireless operator; Alan Gillespie, bomb aimer; Harvey Glinz, front gunner and Jack Liddell, rear gunner. And on 18 May this year it was at their graves that we first paid our respects, coming as we had from the unveiling of a new memorial at their crash site near Haldern, about 30km away.
This was an experienced crew, all of whom had served together in 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston. Three were in their 30s, and six had been commissioned as officers. Unfortunately all this experience came to nought when their aircraft, targeted with an attack on the Sorpe Dam, collided with a high tension electric pylon on the edge of a small wood, and crashed in flames. They were all killed instantly and their bodies were then taken to Dusseldorf North cemetery for burial. After the war, like many other Allied aircrew from other parts of Germany, their remains were exhumed and reinterred in Reichswald Forest.
Although the gravestones were all produced to a standardised format, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission allowed each family to choose a quotation or dedication to appear at the foot of the stone. Not all took this opportunity but when they did, it’s their words which frequently produce the lump-in-throat moment as you walk between the lines of stones.
The AJ-E men each have something added.
Harvey Glinz’s stone has the simplest dedication: “Always remembered”. Leslie Whillis and Philip Burgess have similar quotations. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” is the usually quoted version which appears in the King James Bible version of St John’s Gospel. This appears on Burgess’s stone, while Whillis’s has the variation: “Greater love hath no man than this, he gave his life for his friends.” Charlie Williams’s grave bears words which seem to encapsulate the emotions his family must have felt by the death in a faraway cold land of a country boy from an Australian sheep farm: “He gallantly died renouncing all the things that he loved”. The age of the youngest man to take part in the Dams Raid, Jack Liddell, is alluded to by his family: “ In the prime of his youth he died that we might live”. Norman Barlow, the only one to be both a husband and a father, is remembered for the former achievement, if not the latter: “ In loving memory of my husband who gave all for his country”. And Alan Gillespie’s stone reads: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them”.
These last words are, of course, taken from Laurence Binyon’s famous poem, “For the Fallen”. Its fourth stanza will be read out many times this week:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

And every time the audience or congregation repeat the last four words, we should think not just of these seven men, nor just the 53 who died on the Dams Raid, nor even of the 55,000 men of Bomber Command who died in the Second World War, but of the countless millions who have died in conflict before and since. Each of these was someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother. “My subject is war and the pity of war.”
“We will remember them.”

Johnny meets mascot for the first time in 70 years

Johnson Bailey 5523 lores

Pic: Heather Allsworth

George “Johnny” Johnson came face to face again with the crew mascot who flew with him on the Dams Raid recently at East Kirkby. The small toy panda is now owned by Dorothy Bailey, the daughter of Johnny’s crew mate, Bill Radcliffe, and recently featured on an episode of the BBC Antiques Roadshow.
Radcliffe was the flight engineer and Johnson the bomb aimer in the Lancaster skippered by Joe McCarthy, one of the two Dams Raid aircraft to attack the Sorpe Dam in the early hours of 17 May 1943. Radcliffe would tuck the mascot inside his flying boot before every operation, and both it and he survived the war. Unfortunately in 1952 he was killed in a car crash, back in his native Canada so his widow and young children returned to England.
Dorothy and Johnny had never met before, so this was an opportunity for her to ask him about the father she scarcely knew and, of course, for Johnny to see again the little toy whose lucky life may have helped him survive the war.

Jack Liddell’s mystery friend

Regular readers of this blog will know the story of Jack Liddell, the youngest man to take part in the Dams Raid. Born in Weston-super-Mare on 22 June 1924, he was still only 18 when he was killed when AJ-E, piloted by Norman Barlow, crashed near Haldern in Germany shortly before midnight on 16 May 1943. He was the rear gunner in this aircraft.
Despite his youth, Liddell was a Bomber Command veteran, with a full tour of 30 operations in 61 Squadron to his credit. Rather than go on an inter-tour break in an instructional role he volunteered to join 617 Squadron and train for the Dams Raid.

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His personal effects were returned to his family after his death, and amongst them was this photograph of a fellow air gunner. The Liddell family do not know who this man is, and they have asked for our help in identifying him.
There is no clue on the photograph itself, other than an embossed stamp saying “Searle/Market Place/Hyde”. This was a well known firm of photographers in Hyde, Greater Manchester.
We can say for certain that the man did not take part in the Dams Raid. Nor is he Jack Liddell’s regular air gunner partner in 61 Squadron, Sgt George Culham.
The man himself is obviously quite young, and it must have been taken after he had completed his training as he is wearing his AG brevet, and has his sergeant’s stripes. He is also wearing an unusual belt.
Any help gratefully received. Please leave a comment in the space below, or contact me by email.

Thanks for help to Patricia Gawtrey, Susan Paxton and Alan Wells.

Bill Radcliffe’s Dams Raid Panda

Radcliffe pandaChuck-Chuck, the toy panda bear mascot who flew on the Dams Raid in May 1943.

For full details of all the men who flew on the Dams Raid see our companion Complete Dambusters site.

On 16 May 1943, a young Canadian called Bill Radcliffe was the flight engineer in the aircraft flown by Flt Lt Joe McCarthy when it took off on the Dams Raid. The crew successfully dropped their bomb on the Sorpe Dam, but the dam was not breached. Two months earlier, in March 1943, the same crew had completed a full tour of 30 bombing operations with 97 Squadron but then volunteered for posting to the new 617 Squadron for “just one more trip”.
On all its operations in both squadrons the McCarthy crew always carried their lucky mascot, a small stuffed Panda Bear, named Chuck-Chuck, and tucked inside Bill Radcliffe’s boot. The crew also made sure that a painting of the same mascot was used to decorate any Lacaster bomber which they flew regularly.
William Gordon Radcliffe was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada on 24 September 1919. His family were recent emigrants to Canada. In March 1939, suspecting that war was on its way, he travelled to England with his friend Howard Godfrey, and volunteered to join the RAF as a ground crew mechanic.
In 1942 the RAF decided to institute the new position of flight engineer in its heavy bomber squadrons. Many ground crew saw this as their chance to fly, and amongst these was the young Canadian. Radcliffe was sent to the No 4 School of Technical Training at St Athans in Wales, and qualified as a flight engineer in July 1942. He was posted to 97 Squadron and flew on his first operation on 10 September 1942. A few days later, he had teamed up with Joe McCarthy and together with gunner Ron Batson and wireless operator Len Eaton became the nucleus of a crew which would stay together for almost two years.
Their first operation as a crew was on 5 October on a trip to Aachen. Most crews were given what was thought to be a relatively easy assignment on their first operation. The McCarthy crew’s first outing most certainly was not. In a letter home, Radcliffe wrote:

You usually get a nice easy trip for the first time and we were told this one was going to be fairly easy. But it didn’t turn out that way. … [W]hen we got up to 10,000 feet we ran into an electrical storm. It sure was pretty at first seeing sparks and flashes all over the windscreen and flashes all over the wings and fuselage and the tips of the props were glowing. But then it started to ice up and then the trouble started. 
We climbed right up to 15 or 16 thousand and we were still in it. We’d pass through a cloud with a negative charge and then hit one with a positive and the result was a big blinding flash that scared the daylight out of me. We weren’t much troubled by Jerry and we made the target O.K. and just managed to bomb through a gap in the clouds but couldn’t see the results.
Coming back it got worse and we ran into a lot more ice. We must have dropped over 14,000 feet in less than nothing and the rapid change in temperature or the ice cracked the perspex windows on each side of the cabin and blew a two foot hole out of each side. Believe me then I was scared. I thought for sure we had been hit, my log and the navigator’s log, pencil and instruments etc just vanished outside. As soon as I realised what happened, I looked out and saw that we were skimming the tree tops of France. You could see the roads and houses plainly and we passed over a large town that didn’t seem to be blacked out at all.
We got everything under control again and made some height to cross the coast. When we got back to the aerodrome we couldn’t get any answer from our radio and after half an hour of circling we had to land by signals. When we got down we found the aerial inside the kite instead of outside. It must have broken off in the storm and come through the window. Believe me I was relieved to find some of the other crews were scared as much as we were. Mac is a wizard at handling the machine. If it hadn’t of been for him … I think if I had to go through these storm on every trip I’d be grey before I’m 24.
[Dave Birrell, Big Joe McCarthy, p.55]

Fortunately not every operation was as eventful as this, and Radcliffe went on to complete his full tour with McCarthy by March 1943. The whole crew was then transferred to the new 617 Squadron for “just one more trip”.
After six weeks’ training came the raid itself. McCarthy and his crew were more than half an hour late leaving the ground because they had to switch to the reserve aircraft after a fault developed in their own. Radcliffe’s skills as a flight engineer were put to the test as they pulled out all the stops to make up time, something McCarthy would later acknowledge, and they were only nine minutes late reaching the Sorpe Dam. 
On their return journey, Radcliffe’s experience told again:

We decided that we’d map-read through the Zieder Zee and go home the way we came in. We scooted up the Zieder Zee. My engineer had flown with me on many, many trips. He and I always used to argue about speed and he’d say “No we’ve got to save gas, we’ve got to save gas.” He’d never give me my speed. But this night, coming out I was saying “Cut those motors back, you’re going to burn them out.” He had them set right up to the max and we were really tooting along. He had it all set like that until we got out into the middle of the North Sea.
[Dave Birrell, Big Joe McCarthy, p.123]

Radcliffe went on to fly with McCarthy throughout the rest of their second tour. He was commissioned in November 1943, and awarded the DFC in June 1944. After coming off operations, he served in training units for the remainder of the war, returning to Canada in February 1945.
After the war he became a Customs and Excise Officer, and was also attached to the recruiting branch of the RCAF Reserve.
 Bill Radcliffe died on 5 July 1952 when his car failed to go round a bend in the road, went into the Fraser River where he drowned. It was thought he had had a blackout. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered by his colleagues in the RCAF Reserve over his favourite mountain, Burnaby Mountain in Canada (also known as Eagle Mountain).
He had married Joyce Palfreyman, an English WAAF, and they had three children. Following his death, Joyce returned to the UK with the children to be nearer her own family.
The toy bear was shown on the Antiques Roadshow by Bill’s daughter Dorothy in September 2015.
Portrait, Sgt. W. Radcliffe, a flight engineer
An earlier version of this article about Bill Radcliffe is shown in our Dambuster of the Day series, here.

The final entry, and a new complete website

DotD 1 133

In early April 2013, I started writing my profiles of all 133 aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid, with the aim of posting them at the rate of one a day for nineteen weeks. The scheduled closing date was therefore sometime in August of that year.
Some two years later, I have at last reached the end of the course, with the rather cursory biography of Arthur Buck published below. Even though this is one of the shorter biographies, I hope that it at least does justice to my intention, which was to give each of the men who took part in the raid the dignity of their own entry. Too often, their names are lumped together in the appendices at the end of a book, sometimes with their names misspelt and their family details incorrectly recorded.
I am sure that there are still mistakes in my biographies, but because they are online rather than in a book I can correct and update the entries as and when more information emerges. So if you spot anything that is wrong or can provide further details, then please contact me.

Complete DB screengrab

As a further service to one and all, the complete list appears on my brand new website, completedambusters.com. This is a list of all the 133 aircrew who took part in the raid, and each has a link back to the individual profile. I hope that this too proves a useful resource for the future.

Dambuster of the Day No. 133: Arthur Buck

BuckArthur Buck photographed in 1943. Pic: Dominic Howard

Sgt A W Buck
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED924/G

Call sign: AJ-Y

Third wave. Did not reach Sorpe Dam because of navigation problems, flak damage and weather conditions. Returned with mine intact.

Arthur William Buck was born in Poplar, London, in 1915, the younger of the two children of George and Ann Buck.
He joined the RAF in 1940 but did not begin air gunnery training until 1942. In January 1943 he was posted to 1654 Conversion Unit, where the whole crew which would eventually fly on the Dams Raid with Cyril Anderson came together.
The crew were posted to 49 Squadron in February 1943, and did their first operation together as a crew on 12 March. After their second trip, they were posted to 617 Squadron but in fact stayed on 49 Squadron to do three more operations, including two to Berlin.
After their trip on the Dams Raid, the Anderson crew returned to 49 Squadron and resumed their operational career with an attack on Krefeld on 21 June.
Altogether, they flew on 14 more operations in 49 Squadron, but on 23 September they failed to return from a successful attack on Mannheim. As they headed home, their aircraft was shot down by a night fighter near Offenbach.
The bodies of five of the crew were recovered from the wreckage and were buried by the local Catholic priest Fr Jacob Storck on 26 September.
The bodies of Gilbert Green and one other unidentified member of the crew were not found until after the others, and the pair were buried in Offenbach Cemetery on 28 September, two days after the other five.
After the war all seven were exhumed and identified, and then reburied in Rheinberg War Cemetery.
Arthur Buck had married his wife Rosetta in 1941.

Thanks to Dom Howard for help with this article.

More about Buck online:
All the Anderson crew are commemorated on Dominic Howard’s excellent website. Each of the crew has their own page with biographical details, there is a complete list of the operations undertaken by the whole crew and a full account of their final flight on 23 September 1943.
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission

KIA 23.09.1943

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.