Dambuster of the Day No. 56: Richard Bolitho

SG1L7859 lores

Richard Bolitho on left, with two other air gunners, Sgt Adams (centre) and Sgt Julian Bracegirdle (right). Photograph probably taken while at Air Gunnery School, summer of 1942. [Pic: Bate family]

Sgt R Bolitho
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED864/G

Call sign: AJ-B

First wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Richard Bolitho was born on 19 January 1920 in Derry city, in Ireland*. His father William Bolitho was a commercial traveller in the seed business, originally from Cornwall. He had stayed on in Ireland after meeting and marrying a local woman, Jane Cuthbertson, the daughter of a land steward. Richard was an only child.
In 1927 the family moved to England where they bought a hotel in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire. Richard moved in with his aunt Emily who owned a fruit and vegetable shop in the town. He was educated at the local Church Hill School and then won a scholarship to the nearby Heanor Secondary School (later Heanor Grammar School) in 1931. He joined the RAF in 1940, but wasn’t selected for aircrew training until early in 1942.
After qualifying as an air gunner, he was posted to an operational training unit, where he crewed up with Max Stephenson, Floyd Wile, Don Hopkinson and Albert Garshowitz. The five were then selected for heavy bomber training and John Kinnear and Frank Garbas were added to the crew.
Their first posting to 9 Squadron was cut short when Stephenson was killed while flying with another crew, and the remaining six were sent on to 57 Squadron at Scampton, and assigned to Bill Astell. They first flew together on 13 February 1942, but some six weeks later they were all posted to the new 617 Squadron.
His last leave before the Dams Raid was spent at his home in Kimberley, where he was accompanied by his colleagues Floyd Wile, John Kinnear and Albert Garshowitz.
All would die together near Marbeck in Germany just a few days later, in the early hours of Monday 17 May 1943, and they lie together in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, having been reinterred after the war from their original graves in Borken.
In 1946, three years after his death, his parents returned to Northern Ireland where they lived in the coastal resort of Portrush, and they lived out their days there.

Heanor memorial P0336 lores

Richard Bolitho remembered on the war memorial from Heanor Grammar School, now relocated to Marpool Church, Nottinghamshire. [Pic: Heanor & District History Local History Society.]

More about Bolitho online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Kimberley War Memorial
Bolitho family history website
Aircrew Remembered webpage about Astell crew

KIA 17.05.43

* Bolitho’s birth predates the partition of Ireland in 1921 into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Dambuster of the Day No. 55: Francis Garbas

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Frank Garbas (left) and Albert Garshowitz (right) photographed at Scampton while serving in 57 Squadron. [Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada]

Sgt F A Garbas
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED864/G

Call sign: AJ-B

First wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Frank Garbas was born in July 1922 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, one of nine children. Many of the families who had come to the town, attracted by the prospect of work in the steel mills, were like his of Polish descent. He attended the town’s Cathedral High School and Technical Institute where he was good at sports, and went on to play rugby in the local Eastwood team with Albert Garshowitz. He also played in another team which became Canadian champions. After leaving school he worked for Otis Elevators, but joined the RCAF soon after the outbreak of war.
After training in Canada and qualifying as a wireless operator/air gunner he was shipped over to England in the summer of 1942, and went to the gunnery school at RAF Stormy Down, where one of his instructors was John (‘Tommy’) Thompson about whom I blogged last year.
He was then posted to a conversion unit at RAF Wigsley, and by coincidence there he met his old friend Albert Garshowitz, who was in a five man crew headed by pilot Max Stephenson. As they were training to fly on Lancasters they now needed an extra gunner. Garshowitz must have pushed successfully for Garbas to join them. He was pleased to tell his family in a letter dated 20 October 1942:
‘The [new] Gunner is from our fair city of Hamilton – I used to play football with him for Eastwood Park. He went to Wentworth Tech – He’s a swell fellow. His name is Frank Garbas.’
After completing training, the crew was posted to 9 Squadron at RAF Scampton just before Christmas. Sadly, early in the New Year, Max Stephenson flew as the flight engineer on an operation to Duisberg with another crew, and was shot down. So, without a pilot, the crew was posted to 57 Squadron, where they were allocated to Bill Astell.
In another letter home, dated 28 January 1943, Garshowitz described Astell as a ‘veteran at the trade’ and ‘an experienced and gen pilot’. He went on to describe how Garbas had only just had his first shave and ‘tore his whole side of the face – laughs galore’. It’s a sobering reminder that he would in fact die before his 21st birthday.
The new Astell crew flew on their first operation in 57 Squadron on 13 February 1943, and had completed a number more before being transferred to 617 Squadron on 25 March. Less than two months later they would die, damaged by flak and colliding with a pylon near Marbeck. They were buried in Borken.
After the war, Frank Garbas and his comrades were reinterred together in Reichswald Forest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

The friendship between Frank Garbas and Albert Garshowitz is mirrored in a later generation by that of their nephews, Paul Morley and Hartley Garshowitz. Together they have done much to keep the memory of their uncles alive, and I am privileged to know them both. Many thanks to them for help with these articles about the Astell crew.

More about Garbas online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Article by Paul Morley on Bomber Command Museum of Canada website
Article by Paul Morley on CBC Hamilton website
Aircrew Remembered web page about Astell crew

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Dambuster of the Day No. 54: Donald Hopkinson

Hopkinson

[Pic: Hopkinson family]

Flg Off D Hopkinson
Bomb aimer

Lancaster serial number: ED864/G

Call sign: AJ-B

First wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Donald Hopkinson was born on 19 September 1920, in Royton, near Oldham in Lancashire. His mother died when he was quite young, so he was raised by her brother’s family. He was educated at Chadderton Grammar School, where he excelled at cricket, and worked as a clerk before volunteering for the RAF in early 1941. After initial training in England he was selected for training as an air observer and sent to Canada. He qualified as a bomb aimer in May 1942, and was commissioned.
Hopkinson was posted to an Operational Training Unit in the summer of 1942, and crewed up with Floyd Wile, Albert Garshowitz and Richard Bolitho, with Max Stephenson as their pilot. In October 1942, all five were sent for heavy bomber training to RAF Wigsley and Frank Garbas and John Kinnear were added to the crew.
The crew was posted on operational duties to 9 Squadron two days before Christmas. However, tragedy struck early in the Ney Year when Max Stephenson was killed on an operation to Duisberg flying as second pilot/flight engineer. The remaining six were sent on to 57 Squadron at RAF Scampton, and were allocated to pilot Bill Astell. They flew on a number of operations together in February and March before being posted into 617 Squadron.
On his last home leave, Hopkinson mentioned to his family that he had a bad premonition about the forthcoming operation. Unfortunately he was correct, and from his position in the nose of AJ-B he must have suddenly seen the HT cables and pylons in its path, realising perhaps that they could not avoid them.
Donald Hopkinson is buried with his comrades in Reichwald Forest Cemetery, having been reinterred there after the war.

More about Hopkinson online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Aircrew Remembered web page about Astell crew

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Dambuster of the Day No. 53: Albert Garshowitz

Garshowitz0006photo

[Pic: Garshowitz family]

Wt Off A A Garshowitz
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED864/G

Call sign: AJ-B

First wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Abram Garshowitz, known to his friends as Albert, was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on 11 December 1920, the ninth of twelve children of Samuel and Sarah Garshowitz, who had emigrated from Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century.
At school, he was a keen sportsman, playing many sports but especially American football and rugby. He also played for the Eastwood team in the Hamilton Junior Rugby League, together with Frank Garbas, with whom he would ultimately serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Having worked as a salesman before the war, he enlisted in the RCAF in January 1941, indicating on the enrolment form that the reason for leaving his occupation was “to fight for the country”. He qualified as a wireless operator/air gunner in April 1942, and on the day of his brother David’s Bar Mitzvah his family came to see him in Trenton, and bid him goodbye.
After arrival in England, he underwent further training on Whitley bombers, which had a crew of five, and then was posted to RAF Wigsley for conversion onto Lancasters. The crew, under pilot Max Stephenson, included his future Dams Raid crewmates Floyd Wile, Donald Hopkinson and Richard Bolitho. By coincidence also posted to Wigsley was Frank Garbas, and Albert seems to have persuaded Max Stephenson to add him to the crew, along with flight engineer John Kinnear.
The crew’s first operational posting was to 9 Squadron. After a short time, they were moved on to 57 Squadron at Scampton. However, Max Stephenson was then killed, on an operation with another crew, and they were allocated to Bill Astell, an experienced pilot embarking on a second tour of duty.Their first operation was against the French port of Lorient on 13 February 1943. They undertook a number of operations in the next few weeks.
Astell’s crew had been allocated to 57 Squadron’s C Flight, under Flight Commander Melvin “Dinghy” Young. On 25 March, news came through that the entire Flight was to be transferred to a new squadron, under the command of Guy Gibson.
Known as a gregarious and high-spirited character, Albert was responsible for chalking an inscription on the mine carried by AJ-B on the Dams Raid “Never has so much been expected of so few”, as well as another near its door saying “officer entrance only”.
However, luck wasn’t on their side that night. On the way to the Mohne Dam, near Marbeck, AJ-B encountered flak then hit a pylon and crashed in a farmer’s field, killing the crew. They were initially buried in the City Cemetery in Borken, and subsequently reinterred in 1948 in the Reichswald Forest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
A prolific letter-writer, Albert wrote many letters and sent numerous pictures to family members, telling them about life in England and what was permissible under censorship rules about his duties. Albert’s nephew Hartley Garshowitz has used this correspondence to build a picture of Albert’s life, and I am grateful for his help with this article.

More about Garshowitz online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Garshowitz family tree website
Article by Paul Morley on CBC Hamilton site
Aircrew Remembered webpage about Astell crew

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Dambuster of the Day No. 52: Floyd Wile

Garshowitz group small

Floyd Wile and colleagues at 19 OTU, RAF Kinloss, September 1942. Four aircrew in this picture would later take part in the Dams Raid. Back row, L-R, Floyd Wile (navigator), Max Stephenson (pilot), Don Hopkinson (bomb aimer). Front row, L-R, Albert Garshowitz (wireless operator), Richard Bolitho (air gunner). From Albert Garshowitz’s photograph album. Pic: Garshowitz family. 

Plt Off F A Wile
Navigator

Lancaster serial number: ED864/G

Call sign: AJ-B

First wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Floyd Wile was born on 17 April 1919 in Scotch Village, Nova Scotia, Canada and worked in the timber trade after leaving school. He enlisted in the RCAF in May 1941 and was selected for training as a navigator. He qualified as an Air Observer in February 1942. After further training he was posted to Britain, and arrived in May 1942.
He was sent to a further training unit at RAF Kinloss and crewed up with pilot Max Stephenson, wireless operator Albert Garshowitz, bomb aimer Don Hopkinson and gunner Richard Bolitho, flying Whitleys. The picture above was taken sometime in September 1942, during this period. The crew were then posted for further training on heavy bombers and Frank Garbas and John Kinnear were added to the crew.
When they were ready for operational flying, the whole crew were posted to 9 Squadron and Wile received a commission. However, before they could fly together Max Stephenson was sent to gain operational experience on a trip to Duisberg, flying as flight engineer. Unfortunately his aircraft was shot down, and he was killed.
Without a pilot, the crew was then shipped to 57 Squadron, and allocated to Bill Astell and flew their first operation to Lorient on 13 February 1943. After several more operations, they were posted together to the new 617 Squadron.
Sadly, Wile and his colleagues were all to die on 617 Squadron’s first operation, when their Lancaster was damaged by flak and collided with a pylon near Marbeck. They were buried first in Borken, and reinterred after the war in the Reichswald Forest Military Cemetery.
Thanks to Floyd Wile’s nephew, Don Lightbody, for help with this article.

More about Wile online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Sqn Ldr Tony Iveson DFC

Iveson MoD

Tony Iveson in the BBMF Lancaster, 2008. [Pic: MoD]

It’s sad to hear about the death of Tony Iveson, a friend of this blog, and someone who was assiduous in campaigning for greater recognition of the role played by Bomber Command during the Second World War, particularly the campaign for a permanent memorial. Although he was at RAF Scampton for the Dambusters 70th anniversary commemorations, he was taken ill shortly afterwards.
In fact his first wartime operations were in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. He later retrained as a bomber pilot and joined 617 Squadron a few months after the Dams Raid. He served with the squadron for over a year and took part in three attacks on the Tirpitz, including the final one in November 1944, where the battleship was sunk after three direct hits from the Barnes Wallis-designed Tallboy bombs, dropped by crews from both 617 and 9 Squadron. In January 1945 he flew a crippled Lancaster back to Shetland from Bergen, even though four members of his crew had baled out, convinced that he would crash.
Just over five years ago, Tony Iveson flew again in the BBMF Lancaster, and took the controls for a while. (I blogged about it at the time, reproducing the fine article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph.) He also appeared on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs (another connection to the Dambusters with its signature tune by Eric Coates) and you can listen again to this here.
Obituary in the Daily Telegraph.

Dambuster of the Day No. 51: John Kinnear

Kinnear

John Kinnear, probably photographed in 1942, with his Flight Engineer’s wings.
[Pic: Kinnear family]

Sgt J Kinnear
Flight engineer

Lancaster serial number: ED864/G
Call sign: AJ-B

First wave. Crashed on outward flight.

John Kinnear was typical of many of the flight engineers who took part in the Dams Raid, in that he had converted from ground crew in the the period after mid-1941, when the RAF dropped its earlier policy of putting two pilots on heavy bomber crews. He was known to his family as Jack, but in the RAF, this was inevitably changed to Jock.
Kinnear was born in 1922 in Newport, Fife, a small village on Tayside. His father had once been the chauffeur to the Dundee MP and publisher Sir John Leng, and the family had lived on the Leng estate. He was a mechanically-minded young man who had worked as a garage hand before joining the RAF in 1939, at the age of 16.
After more than three years work on ground crew, Kinnear was finally sent for training to the flight engineer training facility, No 4 School of Technical Training at RAF St Athan, and qualified from there in the late summer of 1942. He was then posted to a conversion unit, and teamed up with Floyd Wile, Albert Garshowitz, Richard Bolitho and Don Hopkinson, who had arrived at the unit with pilot Max Stephenson. Frank Garbas was also added to the crew at this time. The full crew was then posted to 57 Squadron at Scampton.
Sadly, Stephenson was killed on an operation with another crew and the crew were then assigned to experienced pilot Bill Astell. After a number of operations in February and March, they were told that they were to be posted to a new squadron, to be formed at the same station, Scampton. This, of course, would soon be known as 617 Squadron.
Bill Astell and his crew were kept busy in the training period before the raid, but there were the occasional leave periods. On what turned out to be their last short break, Kinnear and his colleagues, Floyd Wile, Albert Garshowitz and Don Hopkinson went to stay with the family of rear gunner Richard Bolitho, at Kimberley near Nottingham.
Their luck would run out shortly after midnight on the raid, when they hit a pylon and crashed near Marbeck. The explosion was so fierce that it wasn’t until the next day that the wreckage was approached by the Germans. Along with his comrades, John Kinnear was buried first in the City Cemetery in Borken. They were all reinterred after the war, and lie together in the Reichswald Forest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

More about Kinnear online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002