Flg Off C R Williams DFC
Lancaster serial number: ED927/G
Call sign: AJ-E
Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Charles Rowland Williams was born on 19 March 1909 in Townsville, Queensland. He was the middle child of the three surviving children of sheep station manager Horace Williams and his wife Hedwige or Helene (she used both names). His mother seems to have decided to travel to Townsville in order to have the baby. At the time of his birth the family lived in Winton, but then lived at a series of other sheep stations before moving to Telemon, a station near Hughenden, when he was 10 years old. This was a small settlement in inland Queensland, some 250 miles west of Townsville. Australian country districts did not have elementary schools in those days so Williams was tutored at home until he went to Townsville Grammar School as a boarder at the age of 12.
Leaving school at 16, he went home to work on the station his father managed. He also became a skilled mechanic and took up building wireless sets and photography as hobbies. The great crash of the early 1930s led to his father losing his job so, as part of a syndicate, the family bought their own station which they had to work hard to build up.
Like many young men of his generation, Williams had long wanted to fly and took some flying lessons at the aero club in Townsville. When war came, he was already 30 years old. Both he and his brother could have avoided military service on the grounds that their elderly father was ill, and could not run the property on his own but they both joined the army reserve. They agreed between themselves that Doug as the elder should remain in the army so that he could stay in Australia to take responsibility for the family, but younger brother Charlie should volunteer for the air force.
In February 1941, some seventeen months later, Williams began his training. He was posted to Sydney, and then on to a training school in rural New South Wales. By then almost 32, he was mustered as a wireless operator/air gunner. After training, he was commissioned and then posted to England.
He arrived in Bournemouth in November 1941, a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. This traumatic event had another, often overlooked, consequence besides bringing the USA into the war. The Australian government quickly realised how exposed their country was to possible invasion by the Japanese and many aircrew under training were kept back in case they were needed at home.
Caught in a training bottleneck, Williams remained at Bournemouth until being assigned to No 1 Signals School at Cranwell in the middle of February, and then to 14 OTU at Cottesmore in the first week of April. However, his operational experience began very suddenly, when the unit was required to send several Hampdens on the first Thousand Bomber Raid, on Cologne on 30 May 1942. He was also sent on the later raids on Essen and Bremen.
By September, he was ready for operations and had arrived at 61 Squadron at Syerston, as wireless operator in a Lancaster crew skippered by Flg Off Brian Frow, an experienced pilot, who went on to survive the war and rise to the rank of Air Commodore. Their first operation was a raid on Munich and they flew on seven more before Frow finished his tour.
In December, Frow was replaced by a New Zealander, Flt Sgt Ian Woodward, another pilot who also survived the war. Philip Burgess would also join this crew in early 1943. By March 1943, Woodward had completed his tour, but Williams had to do one more as he had missed a couple of operations back in January through illness. He flew on a trip to Berlin, and his CO signed off his logbook as tour complete. He wanted to return to Australia, as his father was seriously ill, which would probably mean he would need to do a second tour. If he went on the normal six-month inter-tour break that would only delay things.
Also, he had broken off his engagement to his Australian fiancée (they hadn’t been in touch for several months) as he had become involved with another woman in Nottingham, Gwen (‘Bobbie’) Parfitt. He wanted to marry her as soon as possible, and then bring her back with him to Australia.
He wrote to his family about his decision:
Yesterday I made a decision which may or may not be wise, I am joining a crew with an Australian as pilot, he, like myself has nearly finished his first tour and when we have finished we are going to another squadron and will carry on with our second tour without any rest, the second tour now consists of 20 trips and we believe when we have finished our operations we will have a much better chance of being sent home, and with the summer coming we should finish in three or four months, and I think it is better to do that than have to come back on operations after having been off for six months.
The Australian pilot and the new squadron he mentions in this letter were of course Norman Barlow and 617 Squadron. And so it was that his fate was sealed, for a few weeks later they were leading the second wave of the Dams Raid over Haldern in Germany when they hit the fateful electricity pylon.
Like several other Dams Raid participants Williams had been recommended for a decoration, in his case the DFC, but it was not awarded until after his death. It was eventually presented to his mother. The news that he had broken off his first engagement had not reached Australia by the time of the Dams Raid, so his first fiancée, Millie McGuiness, was contacted by the Australian authorities when his death was confirmed. Eventually his new fiancée, Bobbie Parfitt, was able to set the record straight.
In his final letter to his family, Williams wrote:
How I wish I could tell you everything I would like to, there is so much I could tell you but until the war is over I cannot tell anyone but I hope in the near future I will be able to tell you some of the amazing things I have seen and experienced.
Because of the delays in the postal service this was the last of the several letters which kept on arriving at home well after his death.
He also wrote and posted a final letter to Bobbie. Timed at 7.30pm, it may be the last written by any of the men who died on the Dams Raid. It reads in full:
Sunday 16th May 7:30 PM
My Darling Bobbie.
Well darling I am very sorry I was unable to get in tonight, I was very disappointed about it also at not being able to contact you at Joans, but I could not ring you after four o’clock as I was too busy, I am almost sure I will be in Monday or Tuesday night, but will phone you and try and let you know.
When I do see you I hope to be able to explain why I have not been able to get in, and I am quite sure that you will then know that it has been absolutely impossible for me to get in during the past two weeks except for the one night I did come in and could not find you.
There is quite a big chance that I may get leave sooner than I expect, and if I do I may not be able to give you more than a few days notice, but will try and let you know as soon as possible, and when I do get that leave I hope you are able to get leave also, so that we can be married.
I will have a lot to tell you when I do see you darling and I can only hope it will be very soon, because I have missed you an awful lot, and it seems ages since I saw you last.
This letter will have to be very short dear as I have very little time, and have work to do, and am only able to let you know that I have not forgotten you.
Cheerio for now darling and believe me when I say I love you very dearly and always will.
All my love dear and kisses
Charlie Williams is buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.
The stark note on his personnel file confirms his death. [National Archives of Australia]
Thanks to Susan Paxton for help with this article.
More about Williams online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Entry at Aircrew Remembered website
Casualty file on RAAFDB website
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Eric Fry, An Airman Far Away, Kangaroo Press 1993
The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.
Further information about Charlie Williams and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.