I’ve written before about the post-war career of Douglas Webb DFM, front gunner in Bill Townsend’s crew on the Dams Raid. He went back to work as a photographer in the film and ‘glamour’ industry, where one of his subjects was the well-known model and film actress, Pamela Green. They had a long term relationship and eventually retired together to the Isle of Wight. Doug died in 1996, but Pamela survived him until 2010.
Her friend Yahya El Droubie now runs a tribute blog about Pamela. (Please be warned, as they say in the best TV voiceovers, that this contains ‘scenes of nudity’.)
Amongst the tasteful poses, there are some hidden gems of great interest to the Dambuster obsessive. This includes a picture that I have never seen before, which must have been taken, presumably by Doug, on the day that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Scampton after the Dams Raid, on 27 May 1943. They are walking off the airfield, probably en route to lunch in the Officers’ Mess. In the front row is the Queen, alongside a senior RAF officer. Behind them are a group of three, which I think includes Guy Gibson on the left, and the King in the centre. The third group of five has the unmistakeable figure of Barnes Wallis on the far right. I would hazard a guess that Charles Whitworth is on the far left of this quintet. Note also, the official RAF photographer on the far right.
Any suggestions as to the rest would be very welcome.
Another post in Yahya’s blog contains this picture of Doug Webb, Bill Townsend and the four other members of their crew who were decorated after the Dams Raid. This was taken outside Buckingham Palace on the day they received their medals, Tuesday 22 June 1943.
Left to right: Ray Wilkinson, Rear Gunner; Douglas Webb, Front Gunner; Charles Franklin, Bomb Aimer; Bill Townsend, Pilot; Jack Grain, Wireless Operator; Lance Howard, Navigator. (Note that, for some reason, flight engineer Sgt D Powell was not decorated.)
Wartime portrait by Cuthbert Orde, published in The Tatler, September 1943
The last pilot to land his aircraft safely on the night of the Dams Raid was Bill Townsend, pilot of AJ-O. He had been detailed as one of the five mobile reserves, taking off from Scampton at 0014 on Sunday 17 May. He was sent to one of the raid’s secondary targets, the Ennepe Dam, which he and his crew attacked — after three attempts — at 0337. Although it bounced twice, the mine exploded short of the dam which remained intact. They hung around for a while waiting to see if others would arrive, but then set off for home. They passed over the Möhne, saw for themselves the extent of the devastation already wreaked and then set off as fast as they could.
With dawn breaking, AJ-O had a very hairy journey back to base. As they approached Texel on the Dutch coast the Germans depressed a heavy flak gun on them and deliberately bounced shells off the water, a tactic which navigator Lance Howard later described as ‘not cricket’. (You imagine that he was being ironic, given the weapon that they had bounced off the Ennepe lake a few hours previously!) They finally landed, with only three engines working, at 0615 and were met on the hardstanding by a group of Bomber Command’s most senior officers, including AOC ‘Bomber’ Harris, whom Townsend failed to recognise and pushed past. It was however, as his crew later recalled, a piece of ‘superb flying’ which had brought them home.
After the war, Townsend had a quiet life. At one point he and his wife owned a pub, but he later worked as a civil servant, including a spell in the Department of Employment in Bromsgrove. Although he died as recently as 1991, there doesn’t seem to have been any obituary published in the national press. However one from a local (unnamed) Bromsgrove newspaper has now been unearthed by members of the WW2Talk Forum. Poster ‘Spidge’ started a thread three or four years ago trying to identify all the final resting places of the 129 Dambusters who are no longer with us, and one of his colleagues, Geoff, put up this snap:
Like so many of his generation, Bill Townsend was a modest man who rarely spoke of his part in the RAF’s most famous ever bombing operation. He surely deserves to be more widely celebrated.