In Charlie Williams Country, part II

Bannockburn today. The central part of the house directly ahead is original. The section to the left is partly filled-in and partly more recent construction. This includes the kitchen, which likely was originally separate from the house.

Guest post: more from Susan Paxton’s recent trip to Queensland, Australia, in the footsteps of Flg Off Charlie Williams. Here she visits the home where the Williams family lived from 1933.  Text and all new photos by Susan Paxton.

When Horace Edward Williams lost his place as manager of Telemon Station, he had to act quickly. At 69 years of age, likely he had been looking forward to a pleasant retirement once his sons Doug or Charlie took his place, but any promises his former employer had made were now moot. Horace made Townsville, on the coast, his temporary base of operations, and set to work looking for a new opportunity. One day, he spotted this advertisement in a local paper:

Under Instruction from THE UNION TRUSTEE COMPANY OF AUSTRALIA LIMITED, Executors and Trustees in the Estate of William Charles Reed deceased; Solicitors to the Estate, Messrs. Marsland & Marsland, MESSRS. DALGETY &. COMPANY LIMITED, HUGHENDEN, in conjunction with the QUEENSLAND PRIMARY PRODUCERS’ CO- OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION LIMITED, TOWNSVILLE, will offer by PUBLIC AUCTION AT CENTRAL HOTEL LOUNGE, HUGHENDEN, on SATURDAY 21st OCTOBER, 1933, at 11 a.m.
SITUATED – Approximately 80 miles south-easterly from Prairie Railway

A long description of the property followed making it sound paradisiacal. Horace knew better. When he’d first arrived in Queensland as a 16-year-old immigrant he’d worked for his uncle James Tolson at a property adjacent to Bannockburn, Uanda. He was well aware that the area was arid and, unlike Telemon, extremely isolated. The nearest towns were Prairie and Torrens Creek – both specks on the railroad that ran inland from Townsville through Charters Towers and on west – to the north, and Muttaburra and Aramac to the south, only slightly larger and even farther away. Horace also knew that, run very carefully and with the minimum of paid help, Bannockburn could be made to turn a tidy profit. While too arid for lambing, wethers (castrated male sheep) would put on high quality wool eating the available forage. Organizing a syndicate with two friends who were in the shipping industry in Townsville, Horace assembled enough capital to buy the place.

For Charlie and Doug, any hopes that they had had of becoming station managers pretty much ended at Bannockburn. They became station hands, nothing more; the work of the place fell entirely onto them, with only one hired hand. Perhaps what it meant to Charlie in particular comes from his photo albums. His photos of Telemon are full of fun, of visits to and from neighbors, trips to Townsville and Sydney, parties, picnics, often with amusing captions. There are only four or five snaps from Bannockburn, all of them views of the house, with no captions at all other than “Bannockburn.”

The Williams family put a great deal of effort and money into Bannockburn and indeed almost immediately had the place earning its way and providing enough income to make further improvements. Horace had the small and bare homestead enlarged, added stands to the shearing shed, had new bores drilled, bought more sheep. But with the coming of war, at least one of his sons was more than eager to get away from the place and its unrelenting drudgery and tedious isolation. So it was in late January 1941 that Charlie Williams walked down the steps, into a car, and was off to the railroad station at Torrens Creek. He would never return.

Telemon today is a ruin; Bannockburn is a working station owned and run by Bill and Amy Dart, with their children Cameron, Malcolm, and Ruby. In the Williams’ day it was a sheep station; the Darts run cattle, sturdy Droughtmaster breeds.

While the interior of Bannockburn has changed a good deal, this is almost certainly original and gives an impression of the rather spare house the Williams family moved into.

The shearing shed at Bannockburn. The reason for the height of the building above ground is two-fold; it made it easier to load bales of wool directly into the bed of a truck, and if rain started during shearing the sheep would be driven under the building and penned in to stay dry, since wet sheep cannot be sheared.

The interior of the shearing shed, which Bill Dart uses today to store hay. The prefabricated iron construction is notable.

This single-cylinder diesel motor was used to turn the drive belts for the shears and other equipment. Although taken down, most of the pulleys and other equipment are still stacked around the shed.

The shearer’s quarters, now used for storage. The chimney marks the kitchen.

This old water trough dates from the Williams’ time. The remains of the tank it was once attached to are visible behind it. The bare patch gives an indication of the size of the tank; Bill Dart told me it takes decades for plants to regrow in this area when the roots have been killed.

The last sheep at Bannockburn! The Darts found this now-elderly resident on the road when it was a baby and they saved and raised it.

This monument in Torrens Creek remembers Jack Bunt, “A man of courage and integrity,” the local mailman whose long, lonely route took him every Monday to Bannockburn, where he delivered the letters Charlie Williams was writing home. The fence beyond marks the site of the railroad station from which Charlie left to report to the RAAF.

Once again, my visit was made possible by Helen Williams-Brown, who was my patient companion in my pilgrimage. Bill and Amy Dart and their children Malcolm and Ruby (oldest son Cameron was away at school) were our unfailingly pleasant and very interesting hosts for our overnight stay at Bannockburn.


AJ-Z memorial to be unveiled in May

The crew of AJ-Z, killed returning from the attack on the Eder Dam, 17 May 1943. L-R: Henry Maudslay, Jack Marriott, Robert Urquhart, Alden Cottam, John Fuller, William Tytherleigh, Norman Burrows. [Collage of pics: © Dambusters Blog]

The memorial to the Dams Raid crew skippered by Henry Maudslay will be unveiled on 17 May 2019, near where they were shot down in the early morning of 17 May 1943, seventy-six years ago. The event has been organised by local researcher Marcel Hahn.

On the Dams Raid, Henry Maudslay and his crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, had been spectators at the Möhne Dam when it was breached. The three Lancasters still with bombs on board were directed to go to the Eder dam. The attacking force quickly realised that the dam presented a much more difficult target. The lake is smaller and set in a deep valley, meaning that there is a much shorter approach which starts with a very tricky steep dive from over the Waldeck Castle. This is followed by a sharp turn to port. Given the geography, the Germans had obviously discounted the idea of an aerial attack, since there were no gun batteries in the vicinity.

David Shannon in AJ-L was the first to try an attack, and made three or four passes without releasing his mine. It was very difficult to get down to the right height after the dive, and then turn. Then Gibson told Maudslay to try, and he found it just as hard, so Shannon had another go. Two more dummy runs followed until, at last, he got the angle and speed right and dropped his mine. It bounced twice, hit the dam wall and exploded sending up a huge waterspout. At the later debriefing his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’ but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.

Maudslay had another attempt but then something went wrong. His mine was released too late, hit the parapet and exploded. Although his aircraft was beyond the dam by the time this occurred, it may have been damaged, since his later progress home was slower than would be expected. Some reports say that something was seen hanging down below the aircraft, perhaps caused by hitting trees on the run in.

Gibson saw that AJ-Z had fired a red Very light signal after passing over the dam wall and called Maudslay on the radio: ‘Henry – Henry. Z-Zebra – Z-Zebra. Are you OK?’ Nothing was heard, so he repeated the call. This time Maudslay’s voice could be heard, although the signal was faint: ‘I think so. Stand by …’ This signal – confirmed by members of Shannon’s and Knight’s crews – was the last voice contact anyone made with AJ-Z.

In fact they would stay airborne for a further fifty minutes. At 0157, some twenty minutes after they had dropped their mine, wireless operator Alden Cottam sent a ‘Goner 28B’ message back to base, which indicates that they were making progress. At about 0230, they had reached the Rhine. The turning point on the return route was supposed to be at the town of Rees, but Maudslay headed 20 miles north of this towards Emmerich, which was defended by several Heimat light flak anti-aircraft batteries, largely manned by non-military personnel. Some of the outbound force had in fact passed over the town a few hours earlier so the batteries were on alert for the opportunity to fire on any returning crews. When AJ-Z was heard approaching Emmerich it came within range of the batteries on the south and east edges. They fired on the aircraft, and although it turned to the right to try and avoid the flak, either an engine or a fuel tank was hit, as there was a burst of flame. The aircraft lost height and crashed in a field at 0236 close to the hamlet of Osterholt, between the German town of Klein Netterden and the Dutch town of ’s Heerenberg. The following morning, German officials recovered seven bodies from the wreckage. Two were identified as Alden Cottam and Jack Marriott, but the rest were recorded as unidentified. All seven were buried in the Northern Military Cemetery at Düsseldorf, and were reburied after the war in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Reichswald Forest.

Members of the Maudslay and Marriott families are expected to attend the unveiling of the memorial, which will take place at 1430 on Friday 17 May. Other families and distinguished guests will be confirmed nearer the time. Members of the public are welcome to attend. The location is shown in the map below. Refreshments will be served afterwards in the MU-Cafe, also shown on the map.

Marcel Hahn can be reached by email here and also on the event’s Facebook page.

In Charlie Williams country

Guest post.
Long time friend of this blog Susan Paxton has recently been to Queensland, Australia, on a trip to find out more about the life of Flg Off Charlie Williams DFC, wireless operator in the AJ-E crew which took part in the Dams Raid.
Text and all new photos by Susan Paxton.

Telemon in the early 1930s. The poinciana tree to the right; in the garden Mrs Williams and daughter Sheila. Possibly H.E. Williams standing to left. Fenced rain gauge in the foreground. Photo taken by Charlie Williams. [Pic: Williams family]

On the morning of 25 March 1919, Matthew Macalister, the elderly manager of Telemon Station, located in Flinders Shire not too far, in bush terms, from Hughenden in Queensland, stepped out to walk to the shearing shed, promising to return for lunch. When he did not, someone went to check on him and found that he had never arrived. Word was sent to neighboring Marathon Station and a search effort hastily organized. All through the night the search went on, but it wasn’t until 8 am that a drover found Macalister where he’d fallen, dead of a heart attack or stroke.

Local writer “Bill Bowyang” noted in his regular column “Along the Track,” printed in the Townsville Daily Bulletin, “…the owners of Telemon will seek afar for the man to fill his place.” But in fact the owners of Telemon did not have to search far at all, for, from a nearby station they also owned, Tamworth, they tagged the manager, Horace Edward Williams, to take Macalister’s place. H.E. Williams brought with him his wife Helene, his daughter Sheila, and his two sons, Doug and Charlie.

Charles Rowland Williams, future DFC, had just turned ten when his family moved to Telemon, widely felt to be one of the finest sheep stations in Queensland, with 60,000 acres of freehold. Situated on a low hill above the Flinders River floodplain, the station homestead was beautifully located, but too small. Horace immediately set about improvements, starting by jacking the existing single-storey house up. A concrete floor was poured and a first storey built under, creating a house that was both spacious and, for the bush, elegant. Shady verandas encircled most of the first and second storeys; a spreading poinciana tree grew in the front. Stone walks were laid and gateposts marked the entrance; the usual scatter of station outbuildings spread out to one side and behind, along with a water tank on an iron stand to provide piped water. It was here that, for the next fourteen years, Charlie Williams would live and learn his trade as a station manager.

Good things do not last. In the spring of 1933 Telemon was sold, and the Williams family lost their place. The house likely sat empty for a time since Telemon was merged with adjacent Marathon. In 1948 the Stewart-Moore family bought Telemon to add to their property, Dunluce, and for several years lived there until they decided it was more practical to live at the Dunluce homestead, closer to the new Flinders Highway and the existing railroad. For a few years into the 1960s a boundary rider lived in the house; it must have been a lonely existence. Finally, the house was left to the elements.

In March 2019 my search for CharIie Williams brought me to Telemon, almost exactly 100 years since the Williams family arrived. What is left is saddening. Sometime probably in the 1980s, unheard by human ears, the house collapsed, and all of the outbuildings have followed suit. The hill is crowned with shapeless piles of broken, weathered wood, and the paddock around is littered with scattered corrugated iron sheets blown here and there by the occasional storms. Now and then a landmark can be spotted; the iron frame that supported the water tank, the flagstone walkway, one of the gateposts.

Telemon, March 2019

It is quiet there; the only sounds are the wind, the lowing of cattle, the sudden sound of disturbed locusts whirring away. Possibly if one had time to sit on the rocky ground, back against the one standing gatepost, and just listen, you might hear voices, or music. There was life here once; Charlie’s photo albums show costume parties, tennis matches, New Year’s celebrations, boating on the waterholes. The local papers record how the town folk from Hughenden would come here to play cricket against the country dwellers. Now, it is silent.
Charlie Williams, killed on 16 May 1943 in the raid on the dams, is buried a world away, in Germany. I suspect some of his heart remains here.

The remaining gatepost and traces of the flagstone path to the front door, with the house beyond.

The iron posts were adapted from bore casings and once supported the upstairs veranda

One of the few identifiable features, the large post leaning to the right here stood in the living room.

Charlie Williams, aged about 20, photographed on a trip to Townsville. [Pic: Williams family.]

My visit to Telemon was made possible by Helen Williams-Brown, who accompanied me on a whirlwind tour of what I insisted on calling “Charlie Williams country”; by Jack Stewart-Moore, whose property Dunluce subsumes the old Telemon ruin and who gave us permission; and by his manager Mark Williams, who was our gracious guide to the site.

Joe McCarthy and his wartime friends

Joe McCarthy’s son, Joe McCarthy Jr, has kindly sent me some more information about the well-known picture of members of his father’s crew fraternising with the crew of an American B-26, taken at the Earls Colne airfield in Essex in 1944. I have previously reproduced a similar picture in the Dambuster of the Day article on Ron Batson.

Joe’s picture is a better shot obviously taken at the same time, as it doesn’t cover Johnny Johnson’s face. He also sent me a clipping from a newspaper given to him by Dorothy Bailey (daughter of Bill Radcliffe, the flight engineer in the McCarthy crew) which reproduces the same picture and helpfully includes a caption listing all the personnel:

Two more interesting points from Joe. The return flight from Earls Colne to Woodhall Spa was probably the last time that Johnny Johnson flew with the crew, as he left the squadron shortly after. McCarthy’s new bomb aimer was ‘Danny’ Daniels who went on to fly with ‘Willie’ Tait, including on the Tirpitz raid.

Next to McCarthy is the American pilot Major John Bull Stirling, another US citizen who joined the RCAF before the USA entered the war. In fact Stirling had been in the same RCAF training class in Ontario as McCarthy but he chose to transfer into the US Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor. According to this entry on the American Air Museum in Britain website, he had an eventful time during the war and died in 1988.

A model masterpiece

In the 1960s, like many children of my age, I was an avid builder of Airfix plastic model aircraft. I made a reasonably decent job of them, but I remember the slight disappointment that the final results never quite resembled the smart looking painting on the box.

Then, one recent Christmas some 50 years after I had last opened up an Airfix box, I was given a present of a model Lancaster.

I toyed with the idea of building the model myself, but in the end my nerve failed me and I put it away in a cupboard. There it languished for a year or two, until I had an email exchange with my old friend Dom Howard, the great nephew of Dams Raid pilot Cyril Anderson. Several years ago, we had both been active on the old Lancaster Archive Forum (still much missed by those of us of a certain age) and I knew that this had a sub-forum on model aircraft. A prominent member of this had been a model builder called Ian Collis, whose pictures of his work in progress showed that he was a real ace at this kind of detailed work.

So I decided, as a treat to myself, that I would ask Ian to build the model for me. It was to be decorated with the markings which my uncle, David Maltby, had carried on his aircraft ED906 AJ-J on the night of the Dams Raid. Ian kept me informed about how he was getting on and posted the occasional shots on his Facebook page of the work in progress. Then a few days ago he put up the final series showing the completed work. Here is a link to the page on which they are displayed.

Talk about Wow factor! In every shot one can only marvel at the level of detail of his work. Here is a shot of the cockpit, front turret and bomb aimer’s position, each with an individual figure.

And here’s the bomb aimer himself, apparently crafted from a model soldier using a pair of binoculars, using the famous wooden bombsight, made to 1:72 scale!

I’m just overwhelmed by the pictures and am much looking forward to collecting the finished model from Ian very shortly. A masterpiece indeed.

Fred Sutherland: tribute from the Johnson family

Left to right: Fred Sutherland, “Johnnie” Johnson, Ray Grayston. Pictured at East Kirkby, 2002. 

Guest post by Philip Johnson, son of Flt Lt Edward “Johnnie” Johnson DFC, bomb aimer in AJ-N on the Dams Raid. (All pictures © Philip Johnson.)

I am 81 now and my memories of my father’s crewmate Fred Sutherland and his wife Marg are based on conversations with my father and the meetings I had with Fred and Marg at the 617 Squadron major events that I was invited to over the years, starting with the premiere of The Dam Busters film in London in 1955.

My father aways called Fred by his RAF nickname “Doc”. My father would retell stories he would hear from Doc and Marg about their adventures and trips. To him, Doc was always an “outdoor in the Rockies” man. Marg would occasionally exchange ideas and information with my mother on their joint interest in fabrics and hand skills (sewing and embroidery). For years, my mother cherished a small doll given to her by Marg (I think from South America or Mexico – a fabric/weaving trip). Marg guaranteed it improved sleep. I still have it working for me.

My last meeting with them both, and the occasion when I spent most time with Doc, was at my father’s 90th Birthday party in May 2002. As a family we were fortunate to be able to enjoy his birthday in the company of Fred and Marg, and also Ray Grayston and his family. What a splendid few days we had at the Petwood Hotel and the East Kirkby Aviation Centre where we enjoyed the final pleasure of a trip down the runway in the restored Lancaster.

There will never be enough words to capture the loss the family of Doc and Marg must feel. It has to be for me to say, on behalf of all my family in UK and New Zealand, “Farewell, knowing you was a special pleasure.”

Here are some pictures to show what Fred and Marg meant to my family.

This rare picture, probably taken while they were still at 50 Squadron, shows Les Knight with his complete Dams Raid crew. Left to right: Fred Sutherland, Johnnie Johnson, Bob Kellow, Harry O’Brien, Sydney Hobday, Les Knight, Ray Grayston. The two men on the right hand side are unknown ground crew. [Amended from original post, 03/02/2019.]

Fred and Marg skiing. A note on the back in Fred’s writing says “Feb 90 at Lake O’Hara”. 

A special gift on Johnnie Johnson’s 90th birthday was a recreation of the well-known wartime picture of the Knight crew by artist Simon Smith. Johnnie, Ray Grayston and Fred Sutherland shown here with the portrait. 

Inside Lancaster “Just Jane” at East Kirkby. Fred Sutherland trying out the pilot’s seat. 

Fred and Marg Sutherland inspecting a vintage Bentley car outside the Dambusters Inn in Scampton. 

Fred Sutherland

PIC: © Sutherland family


I am sorry to have to report that Fred Sutherland died on Monday 21 January, at the age of 95. He was one of the only two survivors of the men who flew on the Dams Raid in May 1943. Sutherland was the front gunner in the aircraft piloted by Les Knight, which dropped the ‘bouncing bomb’ which broke the Eder Dam.

Frederick Edwin Sutherland was born in Peace River, Alberta, Canada on 26 February 1923, the only boy in a family of the three children of Dr Frederick Henry Sutherland and his wife, Clara. His father was a doctor and his mother was a nurse. From a young age, he had wanted to fly and had dreams of becoming a bush pilot, but the war put paid to that, so he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941, as soon as he turned 18. After initial training he volunteered for air gunner duties.

He arrived in England in 1942, and crewed up with pilot Les Knight and his future colleagues at a training unit before they were all posted to 50 Squadron in September of that year. He flew on 25 operations with Knight before the whole crew volunteered to transfer to the new 617 Squadron in March 1943. Sutherland was normally the mid-upper gunner but the special Lancasters used on the raid had this turret removed, so he was transferred to the front turret positioned immediately above the bomb aimer.

All the crews undertook intensive trying for about six weeks but, like most of the squadron, Sutherland had no idea what the target was to be until he walked into the briefing room hours before take off on 16 May 1943. When he saw the scale model of the Möhne Dam, the first thing he noticed were the 20-millimetre gun posts at either end of the dam. ‘I immediately thought we didn’t have a hope,’ he said recently.

In the event, Knight’s aircraft was not needed at the Möhne. After this was breached the crew moved on to the Eder, and Sutherland realised how difficult the attack was going to be:

We were all afraid of the hill. We had to drop the bomb at the right distance and the right height, and then to make it [Les] had to push the throttles right through the gate, which is not supposed to be done… I didn’t see anything when the bomb went off because I was in the nose, but I heard the rear gunner saying ‘it’s gone, it’s gone’.

After the raid, Les Knight, Sidney Hobday and Johnny Johnson were decorated. Knight was embarrassed that the whole crew had not been rewarded, Sutherland recalled. ‘He felt badly that half the crew got decorated, the other half didn’t. He said you know I’m wearing the DSO for all you guys, you all did something for it.’

The next operation the crew flew on was the fateful raid on the Dortmund Ems canal in September 1943. Knight’s crew were in the lead section of four aircraft led by the new squadron CO, George Holden, who had taken over from Guy Gibson a month previously. As they flew over the small town of Nordhorn in Holland, Holden was hit by flak, and his aircraft exploded. On board were four of Gibson’s Dams Raid crew, including fellow Canadians, Terry Taerum and George Deering. Sutherland in the front turret saw everything:

It was so close I could almost reach out and touch it. Your friends are getting killed and you are scared as hell but you can’t let it bother you because if you did, you could never do your job. All you can do is think, ‘Thank God it wasn’t us.’

Hours later, Sutherland was himself on Dutch soil, having parachuted to safety after being ordered by Knight to bale out when his aircraft, flying very low in foggy conditions, hit some trees and was badly damaged. All the seven men in his crew escaped and survived, but unfortunately Knight was killed trying while trying to crashland in a field outside the village of Den Ham. After being hidden by a friendly Dutch farmer, Sutherland was put in touch with the underground network, and then met up with his crewmate Sydney Hobday, the navigator. The pair were smuggled all the way through Belgium and France to Spain.

At one point while on a train, using forged documents provided to him by the underground, Sutherland duped a German officer who inspected his fake passport. Suspicious, the officer held the passport up to the light and scrutinized it painstakingly, trying to determine if it was forged. ‘I had to ball up my fists to keep him from seeing how much my hands were shaking,’ he recalled.

Any airman who evaded capture was not allowed to fly over occupied Europe again in case they were captured and gave up the secrets of the underground resistance, so Sutherland was sent on training duties and then in 1943 eventually sent home to Canada. He spent Christmas on a troopship and on his arrival on home soil set off for Alberta by train. Greeted in Edmonton by his parents and his girlfriend, Margaret Baker, he proposed to Margaret on the platform. A few weeks later Terry Taerum’s mother found out that he had been posted back to Canada, and asked to meet him. She wanted to know whether her son had any chance of escaping the blaze when his aircraft was hit. ‘Telling her about it was the hardest thing I ever had to do,’ he said.

After a spell as an instructor, Sutherland was demobbed from the RCAF in November 1944. He then studied forestry, and got a job with the forestry service. In 1964 he became forestry superintendent in Rocky Mountain House in his home province of Alberta, where he lived until his death. Margaret and he had three children, and they had been married for more than 73 years by the time she died in 2017.

Fred Sutherland used the famous Chemin de la Liberté route in his escape through the Pyrenees, and in 2010, he paid a return visit to the area and met the people who keep the memories of the route alive. Marge and he were both very active until late in their lives, and frequently went on hiking holidays.

Fred was a lovely man – friendly, courteous and generous with his time. He never forgot that he was lucky to have survived the war while many of his comrades did not. He will be much missed by all who knew him, especially his family, to whom we send our deepest condolences.