Dam Busters in six sheets

Pic: Ray Hepner Collection

A giant six-sheet size poster for the 1955 film The Dam Busters recently came onto the market, and was bought by our old friend, the collector Ray Hepner. He is now having it professionally mounted on linen so that it can be displayed.
Although the size (approx 81 inches square) is known in the poster trade as a ‘six sheet’, the poster was in fact printed in four parts with overlaps (which you can see in the picture above). Because most posters this size were displayed on outside hoardings, and then pasted over the following week, they are quite rare and much sought after by collectors. You do, however, need a pretty big wall on which to display something this size. Clear that space, Jeeves!

Alex Bateman jailed for two years: full report

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Shere Fraser Lowe and her husband Joe McCarthy Jr outside Wood Green Crown Court today.

Alex Bateman has been sent to jail for two years following his conviction for the theft of the logbook belonging to Flt Sgt John Fraser, the bomb aimer who flew in John Hopgood’s crew on the Dams Raid in May 1943.
Bateman was found guilty last month after a five day trial in Wood Green Crown Court, and appeared today for sentencing.
John Fraser’s daughter Shere Fraser Lowe had flown from her home in Washington State, USA, to attend the hearing. Prosecuting counsel Jollyon Robertson summarised the victim personal statement which she had submitted to the court, and then invited her to take the witness stand. She described how she had been ‘overjoyed’ when Bateman promised to return the logbook to her in 2003, and how distraught she and her mother had been when they were sent a damaged envelope from which the logbook was missing. Her mother was actually physically sick, she recalled. The loss of the logbook had been a lasting deep and emotional scar.
Robertson went on to give more details about the caution given to Bateman in 2003 for the theft of material from the Public Record Office, now the National Archives. He read from a statement made by William Spencer, Principal Specialist: Military Records in the National Archives. This described how an investigation of another individual had elicited Bateman’s name. At the PRO’s request, police went to Bateman’s address and recovered some material. The PRO then requested that a further search take place, and this time Spencer accompanied the police. They found a number of items including two documents of significance relating to 617 Squadron, and an Air Corps training badge. All of these had been removed from the PRO.
However, although the case was passed to the police, it never went to court and an official police caution had been administered.
In mitigation, defence counsel Samantha Wright said that Bateman was struggling to cope. She read a letter which he had written to the court in which he described how he had spent two-thirds of his life researching the Dams Raid, in order, as he said, to ‘pay tribute to those who had served in Bomber Command.’ Wright went on to say that in Bateman’s eyes, he had lost everything. He had had no employment for some 13 years, and was ‘emotionally frail’.
Having heard the submissions, Judge John Dodd QC said that he had given Bateman every opportunity to restore the logbook to its rightful owners. ‘I had hoped that you would have done the decent thing,’ he said. ‘But you maintained the position you had taken during the trial.’
‘The jury plainly didn’t believe you, and neither do I. You lied repeatedly to conceal the truth as to what had happened to the logbook. It remains a mystery as to what you actually did with it.’
‘You have been involved in the theft of historical material for some time, and you are well aware of its financial value.’
‘It is my view that this offence is so serious as to call for a term of immediate imprisonment.’
‘It will be plain to you that I consider this to be a despicable offence involving, as it did, abusing the trust placed in you, presenting yourself as a genuine historian, by the widow of a war hero.’
‘You decided to keep the log book treating it as your own, and misleading the family when they sought its return, which added to their sense of loss and betrayal.’
He sentenced him to a term of two years, saying that he would be released on licence after 12 months.
The judge also set a date for a confiscation hearing in April to settle the matter of compensation.
Speaking later outside the court, Shere Fraser Lowe said it was important that relics of the war were not treated as ‘commodities’.
‘What we value most is upholding my father’s memory and his legacy and his courage,’ she said.
‘For future generations, the log book details his missions, it details his whole service. War is terrible but what is important is that we recognise the courage and the bravery, and we never abuse it – we never treat these items as a commodity.’
‘I know there are good historians and I know there are honest collectors out there. I’m not out to say anything bad about that. But what I want is a balance of respect and trust maintained.’
Fraser Lowe urged anyone who knew where the logbook was to come forward and said the family would never give up hope of getting it back.
‘It can’t be sold on now, and will forever be hunted until it is back with my family. It belongs to its rightful owners,’ she said. ‘I hope that Mr Bateman reflects on this and finds it in his heart to disclose [its] whereabouts.’
There has been a further positive outcome from the police investigation. Among the items found in the police search of Bateman’s house in July 2015 was a wartime photograph album belonging to the family of Flg Off Ken Earnshaw, a crewmate of John Fraser in the Hopgood crew on the Dams Raid. He was one of the 53 personnel who died on the operation.

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Shere Fraser Lowe examines the Earnshaw wartime photograph album

The album has been confiscated, and has now been entrusted to Shere Fraser Lowe. She will take it back to Canada and return it to the Earnshaw family. 

Earnshaw’s logbook was also sent to Bateman in the late 1990s, and is still missing.
Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of either log book, or who has further information about other missing Dambuster material, should contact Acting Detective Sergeant Henry Childe on 020 8345 4552 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Bateman sentenced two years for Fraser logbook theft

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Pic: Metropolitan Police

BREAKING NEWS:
Alex Bateman was sentenced today to two years imprisonment for the theft of Flt Sgt John Fraser’s logbook. Describing his act as a ‘despicable offence’ in which he abused the trust placed on him, Judge John Dodd QC said that it remained a mystery what Bateman did with the logbook which had been loaned to him by the Dambuster’s widow, Doris Fraser.
Speaking afterwards, Fraser’s daughter Shere said: ‘It is difficult to express the emotions I feel today, but one word best describes it – relief. The stolen logbook to anyone else is just a commodity. To us it is a reminder of a loved and cherished man. Due to the greed of a dishonest man, an integral part of my family’s history has been stolen from us.’
FULL REPORT TO FOLLOW

The boys who bombed Berlin: Shannon and Burpee together in Express

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Pic: Chamberlain family

I wrote last year about the selection of David Shannon’s Dams Raid crew, and how four men who had previously flown with him in 106 Squadron were transferred to 617 Squadron at the end of March 1943. These were flight engineer Cyril Chamberlain (known as Joe to his friends and family), wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, and air gunners Douglas McCulloch and Bernard Holmes. In the event, none of them ended up in Shannon’s crew and by the end of April 1943, they had been assigned to other duties.
Cyril Chamberlain’s family have now contacted me and sent me pages from his logbook and some other interesting material. Included was the press cutting seen above, from the Daily Express of 19 January 1943. Bomber Command had mounted two raids against Berlin on 16 Januaryand again on 17 January – the first two attacks on the German capital for 14 months. Part of the force on both nights had come from 106 Squadron, and two of its crews were singled out for mention in the press. By coincidence, both pilots and some of their crews would take part in the Dams Raid four months later.
David Shannon was one of the 12 106 Squadron pilots who captained crews on the first trip, on 16 January, and his crew was later photographed. The press cutting shwn above was annotated by Chamberlain some time after the war. On the left hand side of the cutting you can see the men he identified: bomb aimer Walter Herbert, flight engineer Joe Chamberlain, wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, skipper David Shannon, mid upper gunner Mac Maccoulh [sic – should be McCulloch], rear gunner Dave Lilley, navigator Dave Whalley [sic – should be Frank Whalley].
I have not seen this picture before, so it is helpful to have so many of Shannon’s then crew identified. However, there is a mystery about the man named as the rear gunner, Dave Lilley. The rear gunner on Shannon’s 16 January 1943 trip to Berlin is identified in the squadron operations record book as Bernard Holmes, and this is confirmed by Holmes’s own logbook, which is in the possession of his son, Robert. Robert also says that the man in the picture is not his father. Furthermore, there is no trace of anyone called Lilley in the squadron operations record book at that time.
A possible explanation is that the photograph would not seem to have been taken immediately after the raid but on the following day, as the men are wearing battledress tunics rather than flying jackets or suits. So Holmes might not have been present when the call came for the crew to reassemble, and another man from another crew was called in to make up the seven. His name, however, is unlikely to have been David Lilley.
This theory is supported by the fact that the crew on the right hand side of the cutting would appear to have been photographed while still in their flying kit.
This is the crew captained by the then Flt Sgt Lewis Burpee. Burpee flew as one of the nine 106 Squadron crews on the second sortie, on 17 January. Of the crew Chamberlain names only the pilot ‘P/O Burpee’ and the flight engineer ‘John Peglar’. These men have all been identified by Lewis Burpee himself on a print which is in the possession of his family. (See this post from June 2015.) They are, left to right: Gordon Brady (rear gunner), William (‘Ginger’) Long (mid upper gunner), Guy (‘Johnny’) Pegler (flight engineer), Lewis Burpee (pilot), Edward Leavesley (wireless operator), and George Goodings (bomb aimer). Leavesley and Goodings both left the Burpee crew before it moved to 617 Squadron.
There are only six men in this shot, which does not include Burpee’s navigator on the day. In fact, this was the squadron navigation leader, Flt Lt Norman Scrivener.
Thanks to the Chamberlain family for pictures.

Alex Bateman verdict: jail inevitable

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Alex Bateman arriving at court, Friday 13 January. [Pic: Gavin Rodgers/Pixel8000]

Alex Bateman was told today that he will be sent to jail after being found guilty of the theft of a wartime Royal Canadian Air Force logbook. As the verdict was delivered, he bowed his head and closed his eyes. The judge then said that he had ‘lied through his teeth’ and ordered him to be remanded in custody before returning for sentence on Friday 3 February.

q12-2017-logbookPhotocopy of the first two pages of the missing logbook. This was introduced in evidence very near the end of the trial by Alex Bateman himself. It is thought that he made this copy before selling or otherwise disposing of the original. [Pic: Metropolitan Police.]

The logbook was lent to him for his research in 1996 by Doris Fraser, the widow of Flt Sgt John Fraser, the bomb aimer in AJ-M, the aircraft piloted by John Hopgood on the Dams Raid. This was the second Lancaster to attack the Möhne Dam on the night of the raid, and it was shot down with the loss of five of the crew. Fraser and the rear gunner were able to bale out of the burning aircraft, but were captured and became prisoners of war. After the war Fraser returned to Canada and joined the forestry service. He was killed in a flying accident in 1962.
Mrs Fraser’s daughter, Shere Fraser Lowe, asked him to return the valuable document in 2003. At first, Bateman went along with her request but then concocted a series of ruses in the hope she would think that it had been accidentally lost. He posted a deliberately damaged envelope to her address in Canada, so that she would think the item had been lost in the post. Then he claimed it had been found again, and finally that it had been stolen in a burglary at his home.
He also forged a Christmas card, which he said had received from Mrs Fraser in 1996, which told him to ‘keep the logbook, you might find it useful’.

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It emerged during the trial that in early 2003 he had also accepted a formal police caution over the theft of some 70 documents from the Public Record Office (now the National Archives) in Kew.
Judge John Dodd QC said: ‘I cannot see any alternative to a custodial sentence. The length of the sentence which I consider absolutely inevitable, is now something I have to reflect on.’
He did, however make one final offer to Bateman. ‘He has lied through his teeth to this jury,’ he said. ‘He has done something dreadfully cruel, I think he has it in his power to tell the truth, and if he does choose to tell the truth and restore the original document that will help him enormously.’
During the trial, Bateman admitted never telling Mrs Fraser how much the item was potentially worth, but said: ‘I didn’t [tell her] at any point because I don’t see the monetary value in it. I only see the value of the information.’ He then added: ‘I don’t collect Dambusters memorabilia.’
However, his eBay account reveals that he has, in fact, publicly sold some small value items in recent years such as signed Christmas cards and an invitation to the premiere of The Dam Busters film in 1955.
In May 2016, Bateman was jailed for 12 months for making indecent images of children. He completed six months of this sentence, before being released on licence for good behaviour while in prison.

Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of the late Flight Sergeant John Fraser’s missing RAF log book should contact Acting Detective Sergeant Henry Childe on 020 8345 4552 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Daily Mirror report
Evening Standard report
Daily Telegraph report
Daily Mail report