Mystery tribute at AJ-Z crash site

This tribute to the Dams Raid crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, piloted by Henry Maudslay, has recently been placed in a field near the German town of Emmerich, close to the site of the aircraft’s fatal crash after being shot down on the night of 17 May 1943.

Local people, including members of the local group who have recently come together to raise funds for a permanent memorial, would like to know who erected this cross. The local newspaper, NRZ Emmerich is also investigating the matter. There is no indication on the cross itself, and no clues other than the only word “May” is spelt in English rather than German.

If anyone has any information, they are asked to contact the organiser of the local group Marcel Hahn via his Facebook page or the NRZ journalist Christian Schmitt. The Dambusters blog would also like to know, so please add a comment below if you can shed any light on the matter!

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Les Knight tribute planned for September in Holland

On 16 September this year it will be 75 years since Dams Raid pilot Les Knight was killed after his aircraft was badly damaged on an operation to attack the Dortmund-Ems canal. He was flying with the same crew with which he had successfully attacked the Eder Dam, and was also carrying an extra gunner, Sgt L C Woollard.

Knight jettisoned his bomb and then stayed at the controls struggling to keep the aircraft airborne while his crew baled out. He nearly succeeded in a forced landing, but the aircraft hit a bank running across a field and exploded. All seven of the rest of the crew landed safely. Five evaded capture, while two became PoWs. There is no doubt that they all owed their lives to their young pilot, something that they never forgot.

Knight’s crash occurred just outside the village of Den Ham, and he is buried in its general cemetery. Because he managed to avoid the built-up area of Den Ham, Knight is still regarded as a hero in the village.

Local people are now organising a weekend commemoration of Les Knight and are bringing together members of his family, the families of all the men in his crew, and local people to honour his name. Also present will be members of the families of the local underground resistance movement which helped several members of the crew evade capture and return to England. The event has already been discussed in the Australian parliament and it is hoped that its government and service representatives will also attend.

The event will take place over the weekend of Friday 14 to Sunday 16 September 2018.

More information about the appeal on this website .

Les Knight and his crew, photographed at RAF Scampton in July 1943. Back row, left to right: Sydney Hobday, Edward Johnson, Fred Sutherland, Bob Kellow, Harry O’Brien. Front row: Les Knight, Ray Grayson. [Pic: IWM CH11049]

Above: Members of the family of Sgt L Woollard, one of the men who baled out safely, pictured on a recent visit to Den Ham. 

In Lincoln, for one night only

If you are based in or near the city of Lincoln, you are welcome to come along to a talk and signing session I am doing at the city’s Waterstone’s bookshop on Tuesday 10 July at 6.30pm. 

I will be telling some of the family stories I came across while researching my Complete Dambusters book as well as showing some pictures which weren’t used in the final publication. I will also be debunking some of the often-repeated mythical stories about how the men who took part in the Dams Raid were chosen.

Tickets cost £3, but you get the money back if you buy a book on the day! More details here on the Waterstones Lincoln Facebook page. Tickets from the shop or by email from lincoln@waterstones.com

[This event prompts me to say that if readers know of any other outlet or society who would like me to do a talk and/or signing then I will be happy to oblige. Contact me by email here.]

At the Albert Hall, for one night only

Pic: Delfi/Wikimedia Commons

I have realised that I haven’t yet written about the gala showing of The Dam Busters at the Albert Hall on 17 May, even though it’s now more than three weeks after the event. I had a very small walk-on role in the preliminary festivities, and I hope the fact that the composite picture of all 133 men from 617 Squadron was projected onto the screen behind me while I spoke was enough of a tribute to all of the men who took part in the raid.

It was great pleasure to meet members of several Dambuster families for the first time, and I hope that this network will grow in strength. Many more families also made contact with me during the other events of that week. It was also a pleasure to meet Sally Scott, the granddaughter of Michael Anderson, who read an extract from his memoirs about the making of the 1955 film.

Revelation of the night for me was Elizabeth Gaunt, née Wallis, saying that she had actually played a small non-credited speaking part in the 1955 film, as a laboratory technician in the sequence at the giant water tanks in the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. Her appearance, when it came round 40 minutes or so into the film itself, drew a big cheer from the audience.

A bucket collection was taken for the RAF Benevolent Fund as the audience left the hall.

Salute to Mr Gardenshed

Somewhere out there in Cambridgeshire there is, presumably, a garden shed occupied by a man who sells items on eBay under the name of Gardenshed. (This may not be his real name.)

Sometime in the last two weeks Mr Gardenshed purchased a copy of my book The Complete Dambusters and then stood in a queue somewhere to get it signed by the ever-obliging Johnny Johnson. So far, not unusual behaviour. Then he travelled back to his humble abode (which I visualise as being more like a ‘man cave’ than a simple structure filled with potting plants and tools).

At this point, you or I might have sat down, glanced through the book, marvelled at the fact that it contains biographies and photographs of all the men who took part in the raid and perhaps sent a handwritten note or an email to the author congratulating him on the work. You or I might also be pleased that you had your copy signed by a man who appears in it, and then place it carefully on your bookshelf. But no, Mr Gardenshed had a better idea. He could make a quick profit of at least £19 (more if he had bought the book from a discount bookseller) if he flogged it on eBay! Even better he could assure potential purchasers that he hadn’t opened the copy because, as he puts it, its condition is “UNRERAD”.

What a clever fellow he is.

Dambuster fakes back on the market

A recent post on the Historic Aviation forum alerted me to the fact that the trade in fake Dambuster material is still going on. The item was posted by someone called Whitley Project who was rightly sceptical:

A friend of mine says he has been offered Guy Gibson’s mess tankard/mug – apparently with his name on it. He then went on to tell me he has also been offered Guy Gibson’s dogs bowl, which apparently has the dogs name on it too. This made my antennae twitch somewhat, but he is adamant these are genuine items coming from a reputable source. He told me they originated from the defunct Dambuster’s Museum at RAF Scampton.

The first item sounds very like the tankard on this list which we published in 2015. These were the items sold to a collector by a company in Louth, Lincolnshire, called Military Trader UK which is run by Mr Tony Flitter and his son Mr Nigel Flitter. The company has a website called http://www.militarytrader.co.uk and is a regular seller on Ebay.

The collector purchased a number of items from Military Trader UK which purported to be objects owned or used by various members of 617 Squadron during the war. Sadly, it turned out that although these were genuine wartime items, they had been “enhanced” in various ways, with handwriting or typed labels which supposedly added provenance.

After being threatened with litigation, Military Trader UK eventually returned the collector’s money, and paid his legal and professional fees. This came to a total of about £17,000. The list of items included:

  • Guy Gibson’s Cap ​​​
  • Jack Buckley’s Cap ​​​
  • Guy Gibson’s Tankard ​​​
  • RAF Strata Scope ​​​
  • RAF Scampton Microphone ​​
  • Brian Goodale’s Cap ​​​
  • Guy Gibson’s Escape Axe​​
  • Guy Gibson’s Mag Glass​​​
  • RAF 617 Bomb Counter ​​
  • RAF 617 Signalling Lamp ​​
  • RAF Scampton Phone ​​
  • RAF 617 Headphones ​​
  • Flying Boots apparently belonging to Ivan Whittaker ​
  • RAF Veteran Tie ​​​
  • Jack Buckley’s Bible ​​​
  • RAF Visibility Meter ​​
  • RAF Playing Cards ​​​
  • Numerous pieces of wreckage & artifacts
  • AM Visibility Meter ​​​
  • RAF Flag ​​​​
  • Tunic apparently belonging to Sidney Hobday ​​
  • Guy Gibson’s Pilot Book ​​

The reappearance of a “Guy Gibson tankard” suggests that some of these items may be back on the market. Once more, we issue the warning for anyone considering purchasing an item which claims to have a connection to a man who was involved in the Dams Raid: “buyer beware”.

Live today: Australian Parliament to discuss Les Knight heroism

Les Knight’s grave, marked by a wartime wooden cross.

Very short notice, I know. However, readers might like to follow this live link to the Australian parliament live feed, where MP Andrew Wilkie will be addressing the chamber at 10.45 am (UK time/11.45 CET) and telling it how the small Dutch village of Den Ham has never forgotten Les Knight’s heroism by saving it from disaster in September 1943.

En route to a low level attack on the Dortmund Ems canal, on the night of 16 September 1943, Knight’s aircraft hit trees and was severely damaged. He  battled for many minutes to keep it aloft while the seven members of his crew all baled out and landed safely. He then piloted the stricken Lancaster away from the village of Den Ham and tried to land in a field. Unfortunately, he hit a hidden ditch and was killed on impact. He was buried by the grateful villagers in the local cemetery.

This coming September, Knight’s grave will be the focal point for a weekend of ceremonies to mark the 75th anniversary of his heroism, and his family and families of many of the crew he saved that night are expected to attend. It is also expected that there will be a delegation of Australian government officials, which is why Andrew Wilkie MP is speaking today. More on this to follow later this week.