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.]

Alan Gillespie exhibition in Carlisle

If you are in the Carlisle area sometime before the end of this month, you can see a small exhibition in the town’s Museum of Military Life about Plt Off Alan Gillespie DFM.
On the Dams Raid, Gillespie was the bomb aimer in AJ-E, which was piloted by Norman Barlow. He had completed a full tour of operations with Barlow in 61 Squadron and had been awarded the DFM.
More about Gillespie in his Dambuster of the Day profile, here.
(Thanks to Dom Howard)

They died for your freedom: Woodhall Spa’s 617 Squadron war memorial

Pic: Wikimedia Commons

The 617 Squadron war memorial is in on the main street of the little town of Woodhall Spa, on the corner of the road which leads to the site of the wartime RAF station which bore the same name. It is a large concrete monument in the shape of a breached dam wall – the water flooding through the centre represented by a slate slab, which is carved with the squadron crest and battle honours.

This is the official memorial to the 53 men from the UK and the Commonwealth who died on the day of the Dams Raid, which took place 74 years ago today. The memorial also lists the 151 other men who served with the squadron and died while on active service later in the war. All are listed in strict alphabetical order: no ranks, just initials, surnames and decorations.

The town is popular with tourists and day trippers so a small stream of people walk up to the memorial every day, many looking for the famous names. But few cannot be moved by the sheer number here – 204 died in a period of under two years. We should not forget, however, that their sacrifice is replicated on the countless other memorials across the world to those who died elsewhere in the Second World War. Together, they are a humbling sight.

Stolen Fraser logbook – £5000 reward offered

Photocopy of John Fraser’s logbook, from Alex Bateman’s trial. [Pic: Metropolitan Police]

Shere Fraser Lowe, the daughter of Dambuster Sgt John Fraser, has offered a £5,000 reward for information leading to the return of his stolen log book. This was loaned to researcher Alex Bateman by the Fraser family for his work. Bateman was jailed for two years in February 2017 for theft after failing to return it.

Fraser Lowe believes someone other than Bateman knows of its whereabouts. She told the BBC in an interview today: “Some people say it’s just a document, a piece of paper, but that’s not what it is to me – it’s priceless. Because I lost him at a very young age – I value every little piece – so to get it back would be like getting a piece of my father back.”

She said she did not think it right to treat the log book as a commodity but had been advised that “money talks”. “I believe someone out there knows something, and hopefully they will come forward and tell us where it is,” she added.

The logbook has also been added to the International Lost Art Register, the world’s largest private database of lost and stolen art, antiques and collectables.

Bateman’s trial and sentence were reported here. In 2003 he was cautioned for other historical thefts, including stealing two documents and a badge from the National Archives.

Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of the 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.

More information in this BBC story.

Dambusters Blog hits the million!

 

At about 10pm BST today, the Dambusters blog registered its millionth hit. I can’t be sure exactly who was the visitor who took us over the magic figure, but it seems likely to have been someone from the UK who ended up on our front page having followed a Google search. By an amazing coincidence, this event occurred nine years to the day since the first ever post, which was published at 8.35 am on 7 May 2008.


Checking back through the daily statistics (which through the wonders of WordPress are still available to me) I see that I got just 4 hits on that first day. But within nine days, I had got to a total of 163 which, I recall, I was pretty chuffed with at the time. The fact that this occurred on 16 May 2008, the 65th anniversary of the Dams Raid, probably explains the upwards bump.

So why are people still so interested in the Dams Raid, even though most of the people who now access the blog have no first-hand memory of the war? I think the reason may be because although the raid itself is the stuff of legend, it also represents a bigger story: that of the ‘greatest generation’ who fought tyranny, came through the years of austerity which followed, and built a better society in which all could flourish. There have been many sharp turns and setbacks since, some still on-going, but no one would argue that the world is in a better place than it was in 1939.

The fascination with the Dambusters themselves is because the Dams Raid combined so many different things which contributed to the war effort – a revolutionary new weapon, supreme airmanship skills and raw courage in pressing home an attack under fire. The fact that it was then immortalised in what is now regarded as one of the best ever British war films just adds to its mystique.

So if you are one of the people who contributed to our million hits – either as a regular visitor or just someone who fetched up here after a random search – many thanks for being here for the ride. It’s been a privilege to serve you all this time, and I hope to carry on doing so for the foreseeable future. Per ardua ad astra!

[I should add a word of thanks to WordPress, who have provided the blogging software and the hosting since 2008. This is all for free, except for the ongoing cost of registering and using a .com domain name. In my opinion, they provide by far the easiest to use blogging software, and a huge range of off-the-shelf designs. And I have no connection at all with the company!]