Alex Bateman, in an ITN report from 2013.
Dambuster writer and historian Alex Bateman has been charged with the theft of the logbook belonging to Flt Sgt John Fraser, who took part in the Dams Raid as the bomb aimer in John Hopgood’s crew. Fraser survived the Dams Raid after being shot down, and became a prisoner of war. He returned to his native Canada after the war.
At an appearance in Highbury Corner Magistrates Court, Bateman pleaded not guilty to the charge. He will be tried at Wood Green Crown Court on 15 August.
See these newspaper reports:
The Times (paywall)
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Several items of wartime RAF uniform, some supposedly once owned by 617 Squadron veteran Flt Lt (later Sqn Ldr) Lawrence ‘Benny’ Goodman, were recently sold on Ebay for a total of about £1065. These were the items listed:
The seller claimed that:
Back in 2009, I acquired a large military/aviation collection from a retired private collector. This Service Mess Dress was among the collection and originally belonged to one incredible man … The story goes that he bought these from a dealer that was specialist [sic] in abandoned / unclaimed storage units.
However, Benny Goodman, who is now 96 and who recently attended the 617 Squadron Association annual dinner, is adamant that this uniform never belonged to him. And he points out that he still has his medals (indeed he wore them at the dinner).
Another piece of clothing is this battledress uniform, which does not appear to have any nametags:
Although this may be a real Squadron Leader’s Second World War battledress, it would seem to be enhanced by the addition of a 617 Squadron badge on its sleeve. Most experts in RAF militaria would say that it was very unusual for a real pilot to have his squadron crest on his sleeve.
Although there is no claim that this belonged to Benny Goodman, it should be noted that when he finished his tour of operations in 617 Squadron, he was still a Flight Lieutenant. He did not achive the higher rank until his post-war service.
Two more items which did supposedly belong to Benny were these “service wallets”:
First of all, there was no such thing in the wartime RAF as a “service wallet”, for officers or other ranks. Second, Benny also denies having ever owned these. Indeed it is not clear why he would even possess two identical, unused wallets. It should be noted that similar wallets conveniently marked with the initials of 617 Squadron officers have also occasionally surfaced on Ebay.
Apart from the wallets, all the items in the sale would seem to be genuine Second World War material. In some, the value has been enhanced by adding the name of a known veteran to the nametags. The seller may themself not have been involved in this process, but at the very least they should have tried to ascertain whether or not these items definitely belonged to Benny Goodman before making a tidy profit.
Once again, a strict warning should be given to anyone thinking of purchasing similar material on Ebay: be very careful what you buy, and look for direct provenance.
Alex Bateman, filmed in a 2009 TV documentary
Regular readers of this blog will know of the work of Alex Bateman, a long-time researcher of the Dams Raid and author of the book, No 617 ‘Dambusters’ Sqn, (Osprey 2009). Over the eight years I have been writing this blog, he has sent me a number of pictures and pieces of information and expressed forthright views in his comments on various posts.
It is therefore with some shock that I recently learned that on Monday 3 May, at Wood Green Crown Court in London, Alex Bateman pleaded guilty to the possession of indecent images and videos of children. On Friday of last week, 27 May, he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.
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UPDATE 20 June 2016: Story in Harrow Times
The chapel at RAF Scampton, 1942. [Pic: Stephen Murray]
The spiritual needs of the Allied forces during the Second World War were met by a large number of clergy who volunteered to serve as chaplains for its duration. One of these was Rev Donald Hulbert, Rector of a Suffolk parish, who became the Anglican padre at RAF Scampton in 1942. His wife, Vi Hulbert, a musician and a woman with a strong faith of her own, moved with him to live in two rooms in a builder’s house in a nearby village. The base’s chapel can be seen in the wartime pciture shown above.
They stayed at Scampton for about two years, a period which covered the five and a half months 617 Squadron was present, and were there when the Dams Raid took place. Some thirty years later, Vi Hulbert wrote a short pamphlet called Reflections of a Parson’s Wife. Stephen Murray has kindly sent me a copy of this, along with some other wartime photographs.
Mrs Hulbert’s account of the period is very short, but is worth recording. She was responsible for the flower arrangements on the day of the visit to Scampton by the King and Queen on 27 May 1943.
Donald and Vi Hulbert can be seen together in this picture. Note that she is wearing a ‘sweetheart’ RAF wings brooch.
Among the other interesting pictures in Stephen Murray’s collection is this shot of Scampton CO, Gp Capt Charles Whitworth. The officer on the right is Wg Cdr Everett Briggs, a First World War RAF officer who re-enlisted in the later conflict and who worked on administrative matters at Scampton. The name of the airman on the left is not known. The picture was taken in the vegetable garden on the base, and a couple of men can be seen at work in the background.
All pics courtesy Stephen Murray.
Pics: Mitch Buiting
Twenty-seven of the 53 Allied aircrew who died on the Dams Raid on 16/17 May 1943 are buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. They came from the four crews captained by Henry Maudslay, Bill Astell, Norman Barlow and Warner Ottley.
Last weekend, local photographer Mitch Buiting took new pictures of all their graves in a special tribute for the 73rd anniversary of the operation. They are shown in a composite picture above, and can be seen individually on his Wargraves Photographers Facebook page.
Mitch Buiting is one of the many photographers who do great work for the Findagrave.com project. You can find out more about this here.
Pic: Wim Govaerts
One year ago last weekend, a bronze plaque was unveiled on the edge of a quiet wood near the little town of Haldern in Germany. It is a memorial to the seven men in the crew of AJ-E, who took off from RAF Scampton on the Dams Raid on 16 May 1943, and who died at this spot when their aircraft collided with a power line and crashed.
The memorial was the initiative of Volker Schürmann and his colleagues in the Haldern local history society. Those of us who were present remember it with affection and gratitude, and look forward to continuing the friendships formed on that day for many more years to come.
Photo: Dix Noonan Webb
Sgt Stephen Burns, the young rear gunner in Geoff Rice’s crew, spent several hours on the night of the Dams Raid soaked in a disgusting mixture of Elsan contents and seawater after their aircraft nearly came to grief over the sea. Flying in the second wave and tasked with attacking the Sorpe Dam, AJ-H had crossed the narrow neck of Vlieland at 2259 exactly on track. Past the danger point, Rice gained altitude briefly to check position and then went low again to turn south-eastwards towards the Ijsselmeer. The bright moon shining on the water made height difficult to judge and flight engineer Edward Smith was about to warn Rice that the altimeter was reading zero when there was a huge jolt. Instinctively Rice pulled upwards and felt another ‘violent jolt’.
AJ-H had hit the water twice. The first impact had torn the mine free and sprayed water up through the bomb bay. The second had forced the fixed tail wheel up through the fuselage and demolished the Elsan lavatory just in front of the rear turret. A revolting mixture of its contents, disinfectant and sea water had poured into the turret and immersed gunner Stephen Burns up to his waist. His shout of ‘Christ, it’s wet back here!’ was pretty understandable.
Burns flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations they undertook between the Dams Raid and December 1943, and was promoted to Flight Sergeant. However, the crew’s luck ran out on 20 December when they were hit by flak 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage, and they were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium.
As with many families, the Burnses kept their son’s effects and letters safe and the collection has rarely been seen outside the family. Amongst other things it contains his dress uniform, the gloves which were rescued from his final crash by Belgian civilians and given to his brother after the war, his logbook and several interesting letters.
Photo: Dix Noonan Webb
The material is now coming up for auction next week at Dix Noonan Webb, and should make a good sum. Once again, I express the hope that if possible it should be made available to the public, but I know that this may not happen if there are private collectors around with deep pockets.
UPDATE 18 May 2016: This material sold at auction for £7,000.
Photo: Dix Noonan Webb
Hat tip: Edwina Towson
More about Stephen Burns here.