Les Knight’s crash site and memorial

Teunis Schuurman, a Dutch writer and designer, has a huge website, much of which is devoted to pictures of wartime memorials and crash sites. On this page (which is very large — scroll about three quarters of the way down) I found pictures of a plaque commemorating Les Knight, at Den Ham in the Netherlands. (Images courtesy Dick Breedijk.)

monument-den-ham-1monument-den-ham-2The inscription is in Dutch. Translated into English it reads:

Early in the morning of 16 Sep 1943 a Lancaster of the RAF crashed in this meadow. The Australian Pilot of the 4-engine bomber – Fl/Lt Leslie Gorden Knight, DSO – was killed after he ordered his seven crewmen to bail out first.
He was buried the same day at the “Old Cemetery” in Den Ham. The others landed safely nearby. The two left engines were out, but he pulled up to avoid the disaster of a crash on the village of Den Ham. That night the plane was on a raid targetting a dyke of the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen. Les Knight and his crew belonged to 617 Squadron and in May 1943 were also one of the “Dambusters”, the famous attack on the Ruhr dams in Germany.

This raid took place in very bad weather conditions. The 617 Squadron detachment were using a new thin case 12,000lb bomb, dropped from a very low height. However they failed to damage the canal, and five aircraft were lost. Four complete crews and Les Knight, pilot of the fifth plane, were killed. All the remaining seven of Knight’s crew, including Fred Sutherland, still alive and well in Canada, baled out while Knight struggled to keep his damaged aircraft aloft. They owe their lives to him, as do people in the village of Den Ham which he managed to avoid when crashing.

33 thoughts on “Les Knight’s crash site and memorial

  1. Les Knight August 22, 2009 / 5:14 pm

    Being in the USA i didn’t hear much about him but now i have. It’s too bad a lot of heroes die so young.

  2. Ed Lessing October 15, 2010 / 7:53 pm

    Fred Sutherland, rear gunner, and Sidney Hobday, navigator wound up with a Dutch resistance group, including myself, in a hut in the woods near the village of Lage Vuurse, in the center of Holland. After they were smuggled back to England, our group was found out and raided by German forces on the 29th of December 1943. The only ones still alive at this date are myself, other Dutch resistance member Herman Munninghof, and Fred Sutherland with whom I correspond regularly. I have several photographs of Sutherland and Hobday with our resistance group in the woods.
    Ed Lessing

    • Lachlan July 27, 2011 / 11:41 am

      Mr Lessing – I am fascinated to hear that you were in a Resistance Group with the survivors of Les Knight’s crew. Have you written anything about your experience, or is there a website with more information and the photos you have? – if not, do please consider doing something about it as it would be terrible if your information were lost to history.”

      By the way, the History Channel website has a wonderful, poignant interview with Knight’s flight engineer, recorded around 2003, in which he describes being the last man to bale out of AJ-N while Knight battled to maintain jump height. There are so many stories of courage across all the services, from all nations, in WWII and of course other wars; but few of them match the self-sacrificing heroism of Les Knight. Greater love hath no man, than that he shall lay down his life for his friends – and lest we forget.

    • Daniel Hobday January 30, 2012 / 2:15 pm

      Hello Ed, I too have some pictures from the resistance group, passed to me by my late Grandfather, Sidney Hobday. I would love to exchange images, if I have any that you do not already posses. Daniel.

    • John Sydney Hobday November 17, 2014 / 8:50 pm

      Hi my name is John Sydney Hobday my father was H S Hobday I would be very interested in any photos you would sell or copy for me

    • Teunis Schuurman December 26, 2016 / 10:47 am

      Teunis Schuurman, a Dutch writer and designer, has a huge website, much of which is devoted to pictures of wartime memorials and crash sites.
      Yes, the comment in the header is pointing to me. As I do have 300+ crashes in a 50x50mi area
      now indexed in detail, there is still a long way to go to get everything right.
      3061 pages now in length after 31.000 volunteer hrs in this topic.
      Would like to contact the relatives of LANCASTER Mk.III – JB144 – KC-N “Nan”.

      Also fellow researchers …. give me note ….. e-mail is in this link:


      Teunis Schuurman – aka – PATS
      Volunteer WWII researcher – area Vollenhove – The Netherlands
      SGLO member

  3. Tony Potter March 1, 2011 / 3:21 am

    I have long wondered why he was not awarded a posthumous VC. Does anyone know why not?

    • Alan Hennessy March 4, 2011 / 1:08 am

      Pilot Officer Leslie Gordon Knight
      Award for Dambusters Raid: Distinguished Service Order
      This order was established to reward officers who exhibited individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war. It was usually awarded for service under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy. However, from 1914 to 1916 it was awarded under circumstances which could not be regarded as under fire. After January 1, 1917, commanders in the field were instructed to recommend this award only for those serving under fire. Prior to 1943, the order could be given only to someone who had already been Mentioned in Despatches. The order is generally given to officers in command above the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Awards to ranks below this are usually for a high degree of gallantry just short of deserving the Victoria Cross.
      A bar is awarded for an act which would have earned the order in the first place. The bar is plain gold with an Imperial Crown in the centre. The year of the award is engraved on the reverse. A silver rosette on the ribbon alone is worn in undress uniform.

      Information from http://www.vvaa.org.au/ord-ds.htm

    • Stuart Nimmo March 3, 2013 / 3:34 pm

      “I have long wondered why he was not awarded a posthumous VC. Does anyone know why not?”
      In fact the British establishment was … well… very British in being mean with recognition. I suppose that what Les Knight did in sacrifysing himself for the crew and the village was a shockingly common event – only about 1 Lancaster pilot in 4 survived the war. But still, if you take this selfless act on top of Les Knight’s achievement in breaching the Eder Dam, yes, you would have thought a VC was in order. That said, only the Dambusters officers were invited to Buckingham Palace after the raid, not the other ranks… I find that utterly appalling, while there are still three of the flightcrew alive it could (and should) still be rectified.

      • charlesfoster March 3, 2013 / 11:40 pm

        Stuart — Actually, all ranks who received decorations in the Dams Raid crews were invited to the investiture at Buckingham Palace on 22 June 1943. There are several pictures of Sgts Oancia, Webb, Chalmers and others outside the palace, and I know that Sgt Pulford in Gibson’s crew and Sgt Nicholson in Maltby’s crew were also present. If you look at the lists of those who were decorated, you will see that all the pilots, bomb aimers and navigators who dropped their bombs and got back safely were decorated, irrespective of whether they were officers or NCOs. On top of that, all of Gibson’s crew were decorated (which is understandable) and also the wireless operator and gunners (but not the flight engineer) from Townsend’s crew (which is something of an anomaly). Of the three Damubusters still with us, I am glad to say that George (Johnnie) Johnson, the bomb aimer in McCarthy’s crew, did get the DFM. I hope this clears up a few points.

      • Stuart Nimmo March 4, 2013 / 12:34 am

        Hello Charles, Thank you for letting me know, I heard from Fred Sutherland’s friend, (who asked that I sign his present to Fred) that Fred had told him that only officers were invited. Doubtless this info’ went wrong along the way somewhere, It does seem from your message though that the gunners were not included among the crew who dropped their bombs and got back safely being decorated? As Fred Sutherland was Les Knight’s front gunner and it was they that breached the Eder Dam, it seems a bit sad. Have I got that right Charles? Maybe that was what Fred Sutherland mentioned or maybe his friend just got it wrong..
        Anyway, thanks for the correction, and please excuse me for spreading disinformation in my first post (or any post for that matter).

  4. Hans Dekker January 24, 2012 / 8:40 pm

    I am Hans Dekker and I live a hundred meters in distance from the grave of Les Knight in Den Ham in Holland. I have several pictures of the grave and of the monument near the crashplace.
    I wrote some articles in our historical magazine concerning the crash of the lancaster and what happened with the crew.

  5. David Friend December 26, 2012 / 11:22 am

    Hello Hans, Les Knight was a dear friend and sporting collegue of my father who passed away in 1978. He often talked about Les and I remember visiting his father when I was a young child. I would appreciate any pictures or articles about Les or links to any information.
    Thank you
    David G.. Friend

    • Hans Dekker December 27, 2012 / 2:13 pm

      Hallo David Friend,
      Thaks for your reaction concerning Les Knight.
      Les Knight is burried about 100 yards from my house on the local cemetary.
      If you want I can provide you of a lot of information about Les Knight and the lancasters. I have written a few articles in the local history-magazine about this subject.
      I met also members of the English Lincoln Lancaster Association, who visited the spots concerning the Dambuster activities, for instance in Germany
      Last year I met A cousin of Les who visited Europe and visited the grave of Les. He came from Australia and livesin the neigbourhood of Melbourne.
      Give me your emailadres and I can send you much information concerning this subject.
      Greetings from the east of Holland near the German frontier Hans Dekker Den Ham Holland. Don’t mind my English from 50 years ago. I am 72 now.

      • David Friend December 28, 2012 / 2:11 am

        Hello Hans, thank you for your reply. I have found some information but would appreciate anything that you have. My email is dgf244@yahoo.com.au. I was not aware of the full circumstances of Les Knights heroic death. thank you

      • Graeme Addicott August 27, 2014 / 7:47 am

        Hi Hans,

        I am writing from Australia, and I have only just found this website.

        My father knew Les Knight in Melbourne before WW2. I believe that they were both leaders of church boys’ clubs, and my father admired him as a ‘fine Christian gentleman’. Dad knew that Les had been killed in action, but it wasn’t until he read Paul Brickhill’s ‘The Dambusters’ that he discovered the circumstances. Brickhill appears to confirm my father’s opinion in his book.

        Dad is dead now, but we have always held him in high regard. In fact, I used the story of his sacrifice to illustrate a devotional talk that I gave some years back in another church boys’ club.

        I would very much like to know more about the circumstances of his death, and look forward to visiting his grave on my next trip to Europe.

        Thank you,

        Graeme Addicott

  6. Mr Scampton January 24, 2013 / 7:27 pm

    You should all be aware that someone is selling bits of metal on ebay, claiming that they came of this plane and blatantly using pictures and word for word text directly ripped from this site. This is an insult to Leslie Gordon Knight and the Dambusters.

  7. Stuart Nimmo March 3, 2013 / 3:39 pm

    Oh dear, grave robbers at it again. some people are plundering my father’s Lancaster crash site too.

  8. Geoff EASTON April 1, 2014 / 4:02 am

    My father, F/Lt Arnold R Easton DFC [AUS410469] who flew 32 raids over Europe with RAAF 467 Squadron based at Wadington, was, outside of Les’ crew, one of Les Knight’s best friends. They knew each other before the war, attending the Camberwell Methodist Church in Melbourne together and my dad, while telling us very little of his war time exploits, never held back when describing the bravery of his hero, Les Knight. I am currently transcribing over 100 letters which my father wrote home to his family during his years away at the war. Les Knight features regularly as does the family Les spent most of his leave with in Loughton, Essex. Following Les’ crash my father finally made himself known to the Evans family and then in turn spent most of his subsequent leave with Edgar, Kathleen, Jennifer and Peter. I would love to hear from either Jennifer or Peter and also Fred Sutherland, if still alive and well in Canada.

    • Claire Collett April 27, 2015 / 8:47 pm

      Hello Geoff
      I am Kathleen and Edgar Evans Granddaughter. Peter was my father, he unfortunately died about 8 years ago, but Auntie Jennifer is still alive. I wonder if she remembers your father?
      Dad often spoke of his memories of the times Les stayed with them and how Granny and Grandpa went to London with Les when he went to Buckingham Place to be given his medal. Apparently his RAF belt buckle used to scratch their dining room table every time he sat down for a meal! Granny and Grandpa remained friends with Nellie Knight and also I believe other people in Holland near the crash site.
      I believe my Father sent all the information we had on Les to RAF Lossimouth to the RAF museum up there, however we never received any acknowledgement so I don’t know if they did get them. Because we don’t have anything left about Les it would be great to see some of the letters your father wrote about his time in the war and Les and of course time with my grandparents in Loughton.
      My daughter is doing WW2 at school, and we were reading about the pilots, hence I googled Les Knight to try to explain to her , so lovely to see your note
      Claire Collett

      • john hobday April 30, 2015 / 9:37 am

        Hi Claire my name is John Sydney Hobday my father was Harold Sidney Hobday known as Sidney he didn’t like his first name apparently he was the navigator for Les on the their famous missions and of course was on the flight that crashed killing Les.I know they were great friends and dad did talk about him to me. My father never really talked about the raids though but I do know that Les was a very respected and like pilot in the 617 squadron.

      • claire collett May 1, 2015 / 4:48 pm

        Hello John, Thank you so much for your reply and how nice to hear about Sidney. I have read about the survivors of the crash so you must be very proud of him. I am trying to explain to my daughter and son how brave all these young men and women were in the war and what it must have been like for them.
        Thank you Claire

      • eastonga April 30, 2015 / 10:59 pm

        Hello Claire
        I am so sad to hear of your father’s death; it dampens the excitement of hearing from you. Your Auntie Jennifer will definitely remember my dad and I would love to give you access to letters from her, your dad and grandparents to my dad and his parents during the war. Please email me at: eastonga@bigpond.com
        Geoff Easton

  9. Anita Woollard June 1, 2014 / 4:16 pm

    Hi I am the daughter in law of Les Woollard who was a crew member who baled out. If it was not for Les Knight my husband would not be here. The family did not really know about their fathers involvement as he never spoke about it. Paperwork was found after mother passed away. My husband the youngest of 9 would like to trace the people who helped his father after the crash. He went with the resistance through Holland and France we believe. He arrived back in Engkand in January 1944 having been reported missing in action. If anyone knows about dad we would love to hear from them.
    Anita Woollard.

  10. Anita Woollard June 1, 2014 / 4:27 pm

    Contact from anyone with connection to this flight would be appreciated.

    • Hans Dekker June 2, 2014 / 6:41 pm

      Hello Anita,
      Recently I met a member of the Schutmaatfamily. In their home your father in law Les Woollard was hidden for two weeks. Later on he was able to escape with help of the resistance movement.
      Schutmaat was also present when the grave of Les Knight and Lancastermonument was visited by e great number of Scottish and Enllish people last summer.
      .Also with them old Lancasterpilots.
      Very impressing.
      I was member of the hostgroup here in Den Ham Holland.
      Then it was 70 years ago destroying the Dams in Germany.
      If I can get your emailadres I can send you a lot of photografs concerning Les Knight and the crew of the Lancaster.

      • Anita Woollard June 2, 2014 / 6:55 pm

        Hi Hans
        Thank you so much wonderful news. My husband wishes to contact the family to meet them also as we intend to visit Den Ham now we have a name that makes it so much easier. Our email is anitaady@live.co.uk Thank you again.
        Kindest regards

      • Flt Lt Daniel Woollard September 3, 2016 / 7:54 pm

        Hi Hans,

        I am the Grandson of Les Woollard and currently a serving RAF Officer. I know that some of my family have already been across to Den Ham and met some of the Schutmattfamily but I would like to bring an RAF contingent and some of my family across as an educational and memorial event. It would be great to communicate if this is something that would be well received in Den Ham.

    • pat McDonald November 1, 2016 / 8:23 pm

      I am a historian, a good friend of fred Sutherland still alive and have written and presented on the Dambusters including the harrowing escape of Fred and Hobday three months after the Eder dam.

      • daniel woollard June 7, 2020 / 7:58 pm

        Pat, are you available to talk anytime?

  11. Karin Nijenhuis January 29, 2019 / 3:38 pm

    I went to Fred Sutherlands funeral yesterday. May he rest in peace. Such a kind man, and thank you to the people from the Dutch resistance that saved him.

    • Stuart Nimmo January 29, 2019 / 10:32 pm

      Thank you for letting me know. So Fred has gone on to greater things, that’s a considerable loss. I’d heard that he was a super and kindly man. I sent him a copy of my book about my father’s Lancaster and his exploits in Occupied France, I wonder if he read it – maybe he’d had enough of all that though. He’s the third to go this week for me…. and I greatly admired and loved the other two, so a somber week.

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