Historic dams test site on view

Pic: Diamond Geezer

Short notice, I know, but if you are in the Watford area tomorrow (Saturday 9 September) you might like to visit this important site. This is the model dam which was built in the grounds of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in Garston, near Watford. The construction took place with great secrecy in the winter of 1940–41, two years before the Dams Raid actually took place. On their own initiative, BRE scientists and their colleagues at the Road Research Laboratory (RRL) in Harmondsworth had been discussing possible ways of attacking the German dams before the involvement of Barnes Wallis.

Wallis was put in touch with the BRE and RRL team, and it was agreed to build a 1/50 scale model of the Möhne Dam on a secluded part of the Garston site. The very informative article on the BRE website tells the story:

The model, which survives today at the centre of the now enlarged BRE site, was built in seven weeks between November 1940 and January 1941. Temperature records from the time show that the winter was very cold, with daytime temperatures close to or below freezing over much of this period, and photographs show snow on the ground.

To conceal its identity, the model was referred to as ‘Weir No. 1.’ in the records. These show that work at the site started on Monday 25 November 1940, when the area was excavated to widen and deepen the stream, and to prepare an area for the concrete base of the dam. The foundation concrete was poured on 29 November, and the two towers of the dam were cast in situ the following Monday. The side wings [were] completed shortly after this. To allow the model to be built across the stream, a pipe was placed in the foundation to carry the water beneath the centre section during its construction.

Having built the model, the scientists then proceeded to try and blow it up. The dam was badly damaged during these tests, and further experiments were carried out elsewhere. However, because it was repaired in the 1960s this is probably the only place where Dams Raid test infrastructure remains in place and viewable by the general public. As such, it was scheduled by English Heritage in 2002 as being not only of ‘national but also international importance’. (In later tests in May 1942 the Nant-y-Gro dam in Wales was also blown up, but it is still viewable in its damaged state.)

To get a flavour of what is also viewable at Garston, read this account of last year’s open day by Diamond Geezer. Hat tip to him for the post alerting me to this event, and also for use of the photograph above.

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David Maltby items for sale

Two more items which are claimed to have belonged to Flt Lt David Maltby at the time of the Dams Raid are up for sale at an auction which closes this coming Sunday, 10 September. Like several other items previously sold by the same auctioneer, these are the property of the same collector who acquired them all from Hydneye House School when it closed in the early 1970s. Hydneye House School – a boys’ preparatory school – had been owned and run by David Maltby’s parents, Ettrick and Aileen Maltby, until they retired in 1955.
As with the earlier items sold, neither has ever been seen before by current members of the Maltby family, who cannot therefore provide any provenance for them.

Alan Gillespie: prized possessions

Alan Gillespie was a pupil at Appleby Grammar School in what was then called Westmorland from 1934 to 1939. In those days children ended state elementary schooling at the age of 14, so the only way by which a child could carry on free education was by getting a place at a grammar school on a local authority scholarship. Aged 11, Gillespie won a scholarship from Long Marton primary school and entered the grammar school, which was three miles away from his home. His father’s occupation was given as ‘railwayman’.
By 1936, school records show that the family had moved to the nearby village of Crosby Garret, a few miles the other side of Appleby. Gillespie passed the School Certificate and left in July 1939 after finishing Form V. He became a solicitor’s clerk, but the records do not show which firm he joined.
Gillespie was obviously a studious boy, and won the two school prizes shown here. In 1938, he won the Form IV prize for General Merit and the following year secured the Form V prize for Woodwork.
The books are now in New Zealand, in the possession of his niece, Susan Richardson. Her father was John Gillespie, Alan’s elder brother.
Thanks to Susan Richardson for help with this article.

Appeal launched to fund AJ-A memorial in Netherlands

The crew of AJ-A: (L-R) Sqn Ldr Melvin Young (pilot), Sgt David Horsfall (flight engineer), Flt Sgt Charles Roberts (navigator), Sgt Lawrence Nichols (wireless operator), Flg Off Vincent MacCausland (bomb aimer), Sgt Gordon Yeo (front gunner), Sgt Wilfred Ibbotson (rear gunner).

For many years a small group of Dutch citizens, headed by Jan van Dalen, have looked after the graves of the Dams Raid crew of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young in the General Cemetery of the small coastal town of Bergen. The crew were aboard Lancaster ED887, AJ-A, on the Dams Raid on 16-17 May 1943, and all seven members lost their lives when they were shot down on their return journey.

AJ-A had been the fourth aircraft to drop its Upkeep mine at the Mohne Dam and had caused a small breach. A few minutes later AJ-J dropped another mine, causing the final breach and the dam’s collapse. Young had flown on to the Eder Dam in order to take over command if anything should happen to Guy Gibson on the attack there, but in the event had nothing to do. He then set course to return home and reached the Dutch coast just before three in the morning. Then, out over the sea, he hit disaster when the gun battery at Wijk-aan-Zee fired at the rapidly disappearing Lancaster. At that stage, the aircraft was well past the last gun battery and only a few hundred yards from safety. The battery later reported shooting down an aircraft at 0258, which was almost certainly AJ-A.

The wreckage of AJ-A, photographed shortly after the Dams Raid in 1943.

Over the next few weeks, the sea yielded up the victims. Part of the wreckage was washed ashore and the first bodies – those of Melvin Young and David Horsfall – floated up on 29 May. They were buried in the General Cemetery at Bergen two days later, and were joined by the bodies of the other five which were washed up over the next thirteen days.

The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation has now been formally established to commemorate all members of 617 Squadron who lost their lives in the war. As part of this work, the Foundation plans to erect a memorial plaque to the crew of AJ-A on the seafront at Castricum-aan-Zee, which they are hoping to unveil at the time of the 75th anniversary of the crew’s burial in Bergen cemetery in late May 2018. Members of the families of the crew of AJ-A have already said that they hope to be present for this occasion.

The cost of this project is estimated to be in the region of €3500-4000. If you would like to make a donation to the Foundation to help pay for the memorial, you can do so using the PayPal link below. (You don’t need to have a PayPal account in order to make a payment – any credit card can be used.) Your donation will be gratefully received and will be acknowledged at the unveiling ceremony.



 

Doubts over Dams Raid bomb release switch

Four items which claim to be related to the Dams Raid are coming up for auction this Saturday (1 July) by the Northamptonshire firm of J P Humbert. Two lots are being sold by the same collector who sold the wooden bomb sight used on the Dams Raid in January 2015. He had acquired the bomb sight from Hydneye House school when it closed in the late 1960s. The school had previously been owned and run by my grandfather Ettrick Maltby, father of Flt Lt David Maltby, pilot of AJ-J on the Dams Raid. Afterwards, David had given the bomb sight to his father.

When Ettrick Maltby retired in 1955, he handed over the bomb sight and two items of navigational equipment to the new headmaster, Gerald Brodribb. Brodribb kept the letter, seen below, and it was used at the 2015 auction to establish the provenance of the bomb sight and navigational equipment.

However, it now seems that the same collector has come across another artifact, a bomb release switch (see below), and is also putting this up for auction. However, there is no mention of this item in Ettrick Maltby’s letter and nor was it one of the substantial number of items shown to George “Johnny” Johnson when the collector met him in 2008 and asked him to authenticate them.

A standard Lancaster bomb release switch is shown here in a well-known wartime publicity photograph. It is claimed that the item for sale is a non-standard one which was removed from aircraft ED906, code letters AJ-J, after the Dams Raid and then given to Ettrick Maltby before David’s death in September 1943. However, in the summer of 1943, ED906 was still being used by 617 Squadron for test drops of the Upkeep weapon and therefore its bomb release switch should still have been in place.

IWM CH12283

I have only been able to examine the single photograph of the item being sold shown above, and would counsel any prospective purchaser to look at the original item, rather than a photograph. From the photograph, it would seem that it has different wiring from the standard release switch. A wire comes out on each side of the casing before being twisted together below. The standard bomb release has all its cabling gathered together in a single thicker cable which would have given it more protection when in use.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence that the release switch on the Dams Raid aircraft was changed from the standard model. Indeed there would be no need for it to have been, although the fuzing mechanism was modified. Release of the Upkeep weapon was activated by a standard electro-mechanical bomb slip in the bomb bay roof and all that was required was to arrange the wiring circuit from this to the release switch, so that it was direct, by-passing the usual bomb selector panel options, which normally enabled the bomb aimer to select bomb stations in order to programme the sequence of release. Regardless of the circuit it could still have been activated by the standard release switch.

All RAF stores and equipment carried an “AM” [Air Ministry] stamp. The fact that this is apparently stamped in this fashion merely adds credence to the fact the item is a piece of Air Ministry equipment.

As is usual in auctions, everything is always sold “as seen” and with numerous caveats. However, if this item is a genuine modified Lancaster bomb release, then my advice to prospective purchasers would be to seek further provenance before the sale.

Three further lots are also being sold on Saturday. One is a group of four marbles which purport to be amongst those used by Barnes Wallis in his “bouncing bomb” tests. Again, these are not mentioned in the letter from Ettrick Maltby and there is no documentary evidence to connect them to the Wallis family.

The other two items come from a different vendor, a fitter who worked on the scrapping of Guy Gibson’s aircraft ED932 (AJ-G) in 1947, and appear to have been in his possession since. If the letter authorising their removal, which I have not seen, is genuine there is no reason to doubt their veracity.

New record set for David Jagger painting

Pic: Bonhams

The artist David Jagger (1891-1958) was the father of Sgt Brian Jagger, who flew on the Dams Raid as the front gunner in David Shannon’s crew. David Jagger’s paintings seemed to fall out of fashion for a while after his death, but recently many art critics and collectors have concluded that he has been wrongly underrated and his work has been much more widely recognised. This has also been reflected in the saleroom prices achieved for his work.
Last week, a 1928 self portrait came up for sale at Bonhams in London. It had been estimated that this would fetch about £20,000 – however, when the hammer went down, it had achieved a staggering £221,000, a world record for Jagger’s work. It is not yet known who bought it.
The Bonhams catalogue explains some of the background to the picture:

During the late 1920s David Jagger had established a system of artificial lighting in his Chelsea studio and had become fascinated with the chiaroscuro effects it produced. During this time he produced a small number of intimately observed portraits, of which this work is one.
Described by the art critic, Bernard James Valentine Carr in an undated exhibition review, ‘To even the most casual observer, the best of the oil paintings is Mr. Jagger’s Self Portrait which is a remarkably fine example of the artists’ technique allied to an unusual method of presentation. The picture is a head against a very dark background. The fact of the dark background and of cutting the portrait off at the chin is to make the shape of the head, the lineaments of the features, and the general characteristics of the subject stand out with unusual force’.

The catalogue entry was written by the art historian Timothy Dickson, who has a website dedicated to information about this remarkable artistic family, Edith, Charles Sargeant and David. They were siblings, all born in Kilnhurst in Yorkshire and all educated at Sheffield Technical School of Art. Tim is writing a book about the family, and we will let you know when it becomes available.
Brian Jagger of course survived the Dams Raid, but died later in the war, on 30 April 1944, in a tragic training accident at RAF Gransden Lodge while testing a new gun turret (scroll down). He was an only child and his death was a devastating blow for his parents, David and Kitty Jagger.
[Thanks to Timothy Dickson]

Canberra Last Post Ceremony to honour Charlie Williams

One of the most imposing buildings in the Australian capital of Canberra is the Australian War Memorial, which honours the 102,815 men and women who appear on its Roll of Honour. Carved in stone, these are the names of all those who have died over the years while serving in the country’s armed services.
A Last Post Ceremony takes place at the memorial every evening, as it closes for the day, honouring a single person from the Roll. The event is live streamed on the Memorial’s Youtube and Facebook sites, and consists of a short tribute, wreath-laying and the playing of Flowers of the Forest and the Last Post.
This coming Saturday, 3 June, the man honoured will be Flg Off Charlie Williams DFC, the wireless operator in Norman Barlow’s crew on the Dams Raid. (You can see his profile here.)
The service will take place at 1655 local time in Canberra (0755 BST). See the live stream here, and the list of forthcoming names here.

Update, Saturday 3 June: Video of the ceremony honouring Charlie Williams.

[Thanks to Susan Paxton for the tip.]