Two crash site tributes on anniversary of Dams Raid

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The AJ-E memorial near Haldern, Germany. (Pic: Volker Schürmann)

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The AJ-Z memorial near Emmerich am Rhein, Germany. (Pic: Curt Fredriksson)

The tributes shown above at the crash site memorials for AJ-E and AJ-Z were left by local people on the 78th anniversary of the Dams Raid, 17 May 2021. I am sure that all readers of this blog are very grateful to those who are responsible for installing and maintaining these memorials. (Many apologies to all concerned for not posting these pictures earlier.)

AJ-E was piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC, an Australian who had previously completed a tour of operations in 61 Squadron. While flying at low level towards an attack on the Sorpe Dam, their aircraft hit electricity wires near Haldern and crashed at 2350. All on board were killed.

AJ-Z was piloted by Sqn Ldr Henry Maudslay DFC, commander of 617 Squadron’s B Flight, who had previously completed a tour of operations in 44 Squadron. His aircraft was brought down by flak, returning towards the coast after dropping its mine at the Eder Dam. All on board were killed.

The fourteen men from both crews are now buried in Reichswald Commonwealth War Cemetery, shown below in another photograph by Curt Fredriksson.

We should never forget that as well as the 53 men from Britain and the Commonwealth who died on the Dams Raid another 1,341 lost their lives as a result of the destruction caused by the bombing. 

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Pic: Curt Fredriksson

William Long’s Eastleigh birthplace

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Pics: Eastleigh and District Local History Society

Lyndon Harper has kindly sent me two historic photos showing the house in Eastleigh in which William Long, front gunner in Lewis Burpee’s crew in AJ-S on the Dams Raid, was born. The house, now demolished, was at 166 Desborough Road, a long terrace of houses near the centre of the Hampshire town. William Charles Arthur Long was born here on 11 September 1923, the older of the two sons of William and Ethel Long. His father was described as a baker on his birth certificate.

By 1926 the family had moved to Bournemouth, to a house in Northcote Road, and it was while living there that their second son, Peter George Frank Long, was born in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Boscombe, on 2 February 1926. William Long Sr was described as a “baker and confectioner (assistant)” on Peter’s birth certificate.

Very little more is known about William Long, beyond the fact that his nickname was “Ginger”, which would suggest that he had red hair. He volunteered to join the RAF in October 1941, shortly after his 18th birthday, although he didn’t get posted to an Aircrew Reception Centre until April 1942. He was sent for air gunner training, and was then posted to 106 Squadron in September 1942.

Long flew on two operations, on 17 October with Sgt Lace on the Le Creusot raid and 8 December with Flg Off Healey to Turin, before joining Lewis Burpee on 20 December. He then flew on all the twenty-one further operations flown by Burpee in 106 Squadron, as well as a single trip to Berlin on 16 January with Flt Lt Wellington. He was therefore only five operations short of completing his first tour, after which he would have been due a well-earned rest, when he was killed on the Dams Raid on 17 May 1943, at the age of 19.

As an addendum to this information, Clive Smith has kindly sent me a recently digitised photograph from the IWM collection. It was obviously taken at the same time as a better known image which was released to the press in January 1943 as one of the “crews who bombed Berlin” and has therefore been widely reproduced. According to recent research in The Times archive, it was taken by William Field. Left to right are Gordon Brady, William Long, Guy Pegler and Lewis Burpee, all of whom flew on the Dams Raid. The two on the far right are Eddie Leavesley and George Goodings, who had both finished their tours before Burpee and the other three were transferred to 617 Squadron in March 1943.

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Pic: IWM CH008483

On the record: Barnes Wallis memorial service


William Wallis is a great nephew of Barnes Wallis, and was 16 when he died in 1979. He attended both his funeral in his local church and the later memorial service, which was held in St Paul’s Cathedral. William has kindly sent me photographs of the orders of service for these events and he also has an LP record of the memorial service, the cover of which is shown above.

In an email, he described the St Paul’s event: “I was 16 at the time of the service and my recollections of such an auspicious occasion were tempered by my age. I recall being very annoyed at having to wear my school uniform and that I sat behind Prince Charles, finding his growing bald spot very amusing.”

The front covers for both services are shown below:

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William Wallis is the grandson of Barnes Wallis’s brother, Lt Col Charles Robinson Ashby Wallis, who served in the First World War in the artillery (being gassed at both Passchendaele and Ypres) and later the Royal Air Corps. William’s father, Charles David Ashby Wallis, was the oldest of his children and died in 2018 aged 92.

The two Wallis brothers spent many happy holidays in Dorset with their families, as
this 2008 article in Dorset Life written by their children, first cousins Charles D A Wallis and Mary Stopes Roe recalls. As the article says:
“… both brothers had a love for the Dorset countryside; so after the war, when Barnes and family took their summer holiday in Dorset, the two families would get together. Barnes rented a field between Corfe and Swanage under Nine Barrow Down as a camping site. …
He took pleasure in keeping the camp trim and well-ordered, and in making sure that the younger ones knew how to pitch tents, deal with sanitary matters, see to guy ropes and take weather precautions. The sound of his Wellington boots clumping round the tents on wet and windy nights as he checked the ropes was unforgettably comforting. He took part in the daily chores, joking, singing and inventing games. When he washed up, plates would be tossed to the person drying up, and from him or her to the person stacking away. The larder cabinet was strung up on a tree trunk, and a barrel of cider (‘It’s cheaper by the barrel!’) carefully raised to allow for easy pouring.”

In retirement, Charles R A Wallis dedicated himself to his local community of Gillingham in Dorset and its church which he was instrumental in refurbishing. As a keen historian he started a local museum which is still open today as part of the Gillingham museum. Sadly, in 1962 he drowned while staying in Cornwall, trying to save a swimmer in trouble. He dived in to the sea and although himself a fit man who was a strong swimmer both he and the other swimmer lost their lives. He was posthumously recognised with the highest award for bravery by the Royal Humane Society.

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Charles R A Wallis, as a young army officer, photographed in 1916. [Pic: Wallis family]

Despite this tragedy, Barnes and Molly Wallis stayed close to his brother’s family, and their four great nephews were frequent visitors to their house in Effingham.

Barnes and Molly Wallis, photographed at their house in Effingham in the 1970s with their great nephews. From left, Matthew, William, Robert and Andrew Wallis. [Pic: Wallis family]

New photograph of William “Ginger” Long

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Blog reader Tony Penman has kindly sent me a wartime formal picture of Sgt William Long which I have never seen before. Long was the front gunner in Lew Burpee’s crew in AJ-S on the Dams Raid. He had flown with Burpee since December 1942, clocking up 23 operations with him.

The photograph appears to have a formal signature by the photographer, dated 1942. The reverse has an inscription in different handwriting, obviously composed by someone who knew him personally:

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“William Long
Long Road Bournemouth was named after him for bravery in the M. Dam Raid during last war where he lost his life.
He was a most wonderful wonderful boy”

The claim about the naming of the road needs further investigation. Google Streetview reveals it to be houses that look as though they could have been built in the 1950s, but local historians might be able to verify this. Long himself was born in Eastleigh, but the family certainly moved to Bournemouth before the war. Any further information will be gratefully received.

Len Eaton and Charlie Williams photographed together in training

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44 Course Air Gunnery training at No 14 OTU, 10 April 1942. [Pic: Susan Paxton]

On this day 78 years ago nineteen Lancaster aircraft took off from RAF Scampton on what would become known as the Dams Raid. Two of the wireless operators had, in fact, gone through part of their training together, as this photograph shows. It depicts a group of wireless operator/gunners taken in April 1942 at RAF Cottesmore, while they were in No 14 Operational Training Unit.

The two were Flt Sgt Len Eaton, wireless operator in AJ-T, piloted by Joe McCarthy, and Plt Off Charlie Williams DFC, wireless operator in AJ-E, piloted by Norman Barlow. The photograph was pasted into a scrapbook belonging to Williams, which is amongst his papers held in the John Oxley Library, part of the State Library of Queensland, Australia. 

The nature of wartime service in the RAF makes it quite likely that there were a number of other previous encounters of this kind between the men who were brought together in March and April 1943 to take part in this historic operation, but this is one of the few which have documentary proof. 

Eaton returned safely from the Dams Raid, and went on to fly with McCarthy on another 34 operations until he was taken off operations in July 1944. He received the DFM for his service. Williams, however, was not so lucky. He and all the other members of Barlow’s crew were killed when they collided with a power line near Haldern in Germany. They died shortly before midnight on 16 May 1943. 

The names of all the 26 men in the photograph are listed below, along with what is known about them at present. The research has been done by Susan Paxton and Alan Wells, who would welcome any further information. 

Top Row:
Weir: Sgt Allen Weir RAAF, Cloncurry, Qld, Australia. KIA 2 June 1942.
Pugh: Possibly Canadian.
Livingstone: Nothing known.
Moir: Sgt Colin Moir RAAF, Marrickville NSW. Survived the war. Almost certainly the last survivor of this photograph: he died just last month on 20 April 2021, at the age of 100.
O’Keefe: Sgt Ralph O’Keefe, born in Canada, but serving in the RAF. KIA June 1942.
McLeod: Possibly Australian.
Lawlor: Nothing known.
Quance: Sgt Peter Quance RAAF, born in Birmingham, England, but his family emigrated and he enlisted in Sydney, Australia. KIA June 1943.

Middle row:
Radermeyer: Sgt Ignatius Rademeyer, Rhodesia. Later PoW and survived the war.
Degen: Sgt Lawrence Degen. Survived the war, and died in 2008.
Gallagher: Sgt Francis Gallagher RAAF, born 1914, Guyra, NSW, Australia. KIA January 1943.
Eaton: Sgt Leonard Eaton, born 16 March 1906, Manchester. Survived the war, and died in 1974.
Black: Possibly Australian.
Taylor: Possibly Canadian.
Robson: Sgt Wallace Robson RAAF. Australian. KIA June 1942.
Barrett: Nothing known.
Hunt: Sgt Edmund Hunt RAAF, Rockdale, NSW, Australia. KIA 30 June 1942.
Royal: Nothing known.

Bottom row:
Little: Plt Off Harvey Little, from Wetheral, Cumberland. KIA 31 May 1942.
Powell: Nothing known
Wood: Possibly Australian.
Grey: Plt Off Charles Gray. Survived war.
Gillenland: Plt Off Harold Gilleland, from London. KIA December 1942.
Williams: Plt Off Charles Williams, born 19 March 1909, Townsville, Qld, Australia. KIA 16 May 1943.
Newround:  Plt Off Alec Newbound RAAF. Born in 1917 in Swallowcliffe, Wiltshire. Emigrated to Australia and enlisted in Melbourne. Survived war.
Agley: Possibly Flt Sgt Leonard Agley, from Bradford. Survived war.

Bernard “Bunny” Clayton: 617 Squadron pilot with 82 operations from three tours

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Left to right: Plt Off Bernard “Bunny” Clayton, Sqn Ldr David Maltby, Flt Lt Harold “Mick” Martin. Photographed at RAF Scampton, July 1943. [Pic: IWM Collections, CH11048]

The loss of eight crews on the Dams Raid meant that 617 Squadron needed a swift injection of new personnel in order to function properly. One of those who arrived in July 1943 was Plt Off Bernard Clayton, known from his schooldays as “Bunny”. He was only 23, but had completed two tours of operations and been decorated with both the CGM and DFC.

Clayton was born on a farm in North Yorkshire on 7 December 1919, the oldest of seven children. He went to the King James Grammar School in Knaresborough, where he met a boy called Ian Robinson who became a close friend. Both got jobs after leaving school but then at the outbreak of war both volunteered for the RAF. Called up at different times, from then on their paths rarely crossed. Robinson became an observer, serving first in the Far East before returning to the UK. Clayton qualified as a pilot, and went on to fly a full tour in both 9 and 51 Squadrons, with a spell of training in between. 

It was after starting a second spell as a training instructor that Clayton was posted on his own to 617 Squadron. He then travelled over to his previous operational outfit, 51 Squadron, and persuaded all six of the crew who had flown with him on his previous tour to accompany him. They went on to play a pivotal role in rebuilding the squadron after the September 1943 attack on the Dortmund Ems canal when one crew was lost on an aborted attack, and five more the following day when it finally went ahead. Clayton and his crew flew a total of 31 more operations before being taken off operations for a third and final time in July 1944. Clayton received the DSO for this final tour. 

Halfway through this final tour, in February 1944, Flg Off George Chalmers joined Clayton’s crew as the wireless operator. He had been in Bill Townsend’s crew on the Dams Raid, and had won the DFM for his role in attacking the Ennepe Dam. He was also withdrawn from operations in July 1944, having notched up a total of 66 operations. 

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George Chalmers DFC DFM [Pic: Anthony Eaton]

Clayton stayed on in the RAF after the war, transferring to Transport Command. In 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded the divided city of Berlin in East Germany, and so what became called the Berlin airlift was organised – transport aircraft flying in a narrow corridor to provide supplies. Clayton became one of the many pilots undertaking this difficult exercise, undertaking a total of 94 trips. He then transferred to RAF Manby for more training duties. Sadly, on 19 March 1951, he lost his life in the crash of a Handley Page Hastings at RAF Strubby. Another officer was piloting the aircraft that day. 

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You can read much more about the life and career of Bunny Clayton and his school friend Ian Robinson in an interesting book about the pair, Two Friends: Two Different Hells by A.E Eaton. It is available at £10 including p&p on special offer from the writer, who you can contact by email at tony.ae778@gmail.com

Sidney Knott DFC turns 100: veteran who turned down Dams Raid chance

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Positioned in the centre of the middle row, Sidney Knott, photographed in summer 1942. Taken at 42 Air Gunners Course, No. 1 Air Armaments School, RAF Manby.

Guest post by Susan Paxton

On a mid-March day in 1943 Wing Commander Cosme Gomm, DSO, DFC, looked up as the good-looking young Lancaster Captain entered the room. Gomm had established 467 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, four months previously. The Squadron Commander motioned Frank Heavery to a seat.
Measured by the grim realities of life and death in Bomber Command during early 1943, Heavery and his crew were experienced. They had survived 12 operations, including two trips each to Essen and Nuremberg. Heavery respected Gomm. He was a man worth listening to, having completed a first tour on Whitley bombers before flying Beaufighters in the night interception role. Gomm formed 467 at Scampton on November 7 1942 and had taken it to another bomber station, Bottesford, later that month.
Gomm came straight to the point. Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane, 5 Group’s Commander, was charged with forming a “Special Duties” squadron. Cochrane wanted talented crews for this new unit. Gomm looked hard at Heavery: “I don’t want to lose you, but I have made my choice and I have picked you. How do you feel about it?”

Tony Redding, Life and Death in Bomber Command, 2013 revised edition

Sergeant Frank Heavery was uncertain enough to take a vote amongst his crew, and when it came out 3-3, he cast the tiebreaker. No, they would stay at 467 (RAAF) Squadron and finish their tour there: in fact, they would be the first 467 Sqn crew to survive their ops tour. The next crew Gomm asked was less experienced, that of Sergeant Vernon Byers, RCAF. They had three operations behind them, and were posted to the “special duties” squadron, which by that time had its number 617, on 24 March, one of the earliest crews to arrive at Scampton. They would be the first crew to die on Operation Chastise, shot down at 2257 on 16 May 1943 off Texel island on the Dutch coast.

Thanks perhaps to that deciding vote, the young man who was Frank Heavery’s rear gunner is celebrating his 100th birthday today, on VE Day. He is Sidney Knott DFC, perhaps the last surviving “almost Dambuster”, and he voted, incidentally, to go to the “special duties” squadron. After finishing his tour with 467 Squadron, he spent his 6 months rest at 17 OTU, crewed up there with Flt Lt Clive Walker and went with him to 582 Squadron (Pathfinders), finishing his second tour in mid-August 1944 with a total of 64 operations, a promotion to warrant officer, and the award of a DFC which arrived in the mail in 1948, which must have been quite the anticlimax.

There are many interesting people and stories with ties to Operation Chastise, and the “almost” crews are among the most fascinating. Sidney Knott is especially fortunate in having lived to tell his story to author Tony Redding, who wrote it up very ably in Life and Death in Bomber Command, published originally in 2005 and then in a revised edition in 2013. Anyone who wants to understand Bomber Command at the time 617 Squadron was being formed would do well to find a copy.

Happy birthday, Sidney. And thank you.

RAFBF to hold Dambusters charity cycle challenge

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To celebrate the forthcoming 100th birthday of the last Dambuster, Sqn Ldr George ‘Johnny’ Johnson MBE DFM on 25 November 2021, the RAF Benevolent Fund charity is holding a sponsored 56 or 100-mile cycle ride at various venues around the country. Most of these will be held on 15-16 May, the weekend nearest the 78th anniversary of the Dams Raid. The 100 miles celebrates Johnny’s impending centenary, while the 56 miles commemorates those aircrew who did not return (53 lost in action, 3 taken prisoner). The planned event at the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa has been delayed until 3 July due to the pandemic, but you can still sign up to the virtual challenge and cycle your 56 or 100 miles anywhere else in the world on 15-16 May. Full details are here on the RAFBF website.

Several ex-RAF 617 Squadron members are planning rides, including some who are taking on a particularly arduous route around Lossiemouth in Scotland. These include Clive Mitchell, Colin McGregor, Nige Tiddy, and Ben Dempster (100 miles) and Pete Beckett and Ronnie Lawson on the more modest 56 miles distance.

RAFBF Lossiemouth cycle

Their route is shown above. If you live in the area, please consider turning out to support them. And if you don’t feel up to the cycling challenge yourself, and you don’t have anyone particular to sponsor, then the 617 Squadron Association is asking you to back Clive Mitchell, whose sponsorship page you can find on this link.

This is the link to the Lossiemouth route.

Good luck to everyone!

Double blooper for Wallis street sign

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Pic: Aidy Riggott/BBC

Reader John Smith has kindly sent me the link to a story about a street sign in Lancashire which is on the site in Euxton where the “bouncing bomb” was filled with explosive during the Second World War.

A local road in Buckshaw Village – built about 60 years after the war – was named after the engineer and designer, Barnes Wallis. However, for the second time in five years his name has been misspelled. The first, erected in 2016, named the road as “Barnes Wallace Way”, but was then replaced with one with the correct spelling, as can be seen in this Google screenshot, taken in 2018. 

Wallis Google screenshot

It seems now that a new sign, installed on the other side of the road and seen at the top of this post, has a different misspelling, shortening the forename to “Barns”. It was spotted by local councillor Aidy Riggott. Chorley Council have told him that a new sign would be installed “as soon as possible”.

A further local curiosity: at some point when the development of the area was going on, there must have been someone in the local Street Names Choosing Department with a sense of history. Look at the examples highlighted in the Google maps screengrab below:

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There are eight different Avenues, Closes, Courts and Drives given the surnames of pilots who took part in the Dams Raid – Astell, Barlow, Byers, Gibson, Hopgood, Knight, Shannon and Townsend. We don’t know for certain whether there are any misspellings of their names – let’s hope not. 

A cruel twist of fate

Lisa Harding, with her parents Fred and Sandy Harding. [Pic: Lisa Harding]

I’ve met the photographer and illustrator Lisa Harding on a few occasions at events in Lincolnshire. Although originally from London, she’s now based in Coningsby and has a fine range of pictures on her website.

She also follows the Dambusters Blog on Twitter, so I was shocked yesterday when scrolling through a bunch of recent notifications to read this:

 

Lisa was interviewed last week on her local radio station Lincs FM (the full text of the piece is here) and told the horrendous story of how both her parents died of Covid-19 within six days, just before they were due to get their vaccinations.

“If you’re offered the jab, take it.
It’s not just to protect you, it’s to protect your elderly parents, the vulnerable people around you.
I’m so proud of the vaccination programme that we’ve done.
It’s brilliant seeing all these people get their vaccinations, looking forward to a normal future, whatever that may be.
But it’s tinged with sadness that it came too late for my Mum and Dad.
If others can get the benefit of the vaccine and continue living their lives, it means all these other lives weren’t in vain.
Get your vaccine, take it with both hands.
When you do, you can hug your parents.
I can never do that again.”

My heartfelt condolences to Lisa. But please, please, take notice of what she says. Grab the chance of getting the vaccine with both hands – it’s not just to protect you, it’s to protect everyone around you.

This last year has been the cruellest in my lifetime, and the months ahead will be no less dangerous. We must do all we can to stay safe for however long it takes for the catastrophe to pass. For those of us lucky enough not to have lost a loved one, there will be better days ahead.

Lisa’s Twitter feed