Dambuster of the Day No. 66: Philip Burgess

Burgess lores

Flg Off P S Burgess

Lancaster serial number: ED927/G

Call sign: AJ-E

Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Philip Sidney Burgess was born in Portsmouth on 19 September 1922, the son of Willis and Marie Burgess. Both his parents died when he was very young, so at the age of 4 he and his brother Carroll were adopted, but by different families. Philip was adopted by his aunt, Gertrude Lewis, in Folkestone, Kent. When she died in 1938, he was then adopted by the Rowland family in the same town. Carroll was adopted by the Brookes family. Philip Burgess was educated at the Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone.

He volunteered for the RAF soon after his 18th birthday, and undertook part of his training in Canada. He was commissioned in May 1942, and after further training was promoted to Flying Officer shortly before being posted to 61 Squadron in January 1943, a few months after he turned 20. Although he arrived with a crew in which he was the bomb aimer, he wanted to be a navigator. He then joined the crew captained by the New Zealander Ian Woodward, in which the wireless operator was Charlie Williams, starting life as its bomb aimer but then becoming its navigator. By the end of March when Woodward and Williams had completed their tours, Burgess had clocked up approximately seventeen operations. Both Burgess and Williams agreed to join the crew being put together by Norman Barlow which would transfer to 617 Squadron for the planned secret mission.

When they arrived in 617 Squadron there was a shortage of aircraft. This meant that crews could not be certain exactly when they would be training, nor of the route they would be instructed to undertake. However, if you were the navigator, like Burgess, it was sometimes possible to make minor variations during a session. Burgess explained how he had done this in a letter to his girlfriend, Edna Mitchell, on 15 April:

We came over Guildford last Sunday [11 April] at 4.30 p.m, just did a couple of circuits over the house – we couldn’t shoot the place up properly as we had a ‘Group Captain’ [Probably Gp Capt Charles Whitworth, Scampton’s station CO] on board as a passenger, and we weren’t supposed to be over Guildford anyway. We were supposed to go to Haslemere but I thought it would be better to go to the home town as it was so near. We are hoping to get down that way again in the near future and do a real shoot up of the place. [Letter in RAF Museum]

Despite the six weeks of low level training, Norman Barlow, Philip Burgess and the rest of the crew were all killed instantly when they hit a pylon just outside Haldern, Germany.

Yet to turn 21, Philip Burgess was probably the youngest officer to take part in the Dams Raid. He was buried with his comrades in Dusseldorf Cemetery, and reinterred after the war in Reichswald Forest Cemetery. His brother, Carrol Burgess, served in the Royal Engineers and survived the war.

Thanks to Susan Paxton and Alan Wells for help with the entries for all the Barlow crew.

More about Burgess online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Entry at Aircrew Remembered website

KIA 16.05.43

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 Philip Burgess 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.

14 thoughts on “Dambuster of the Day No. 66: Philip Burgess

  1. Susan Paxton March 5, 2014 / 5:28 pm

    I think the 37 operations he was credited with have to be wrong; I’m suspecting 17 might be the correct number. He joined 61 Squadron in late January, and if we can use Charlie Williams’ logbook for February as an example, he might have been getting 9-10 ops a month, so Feb-March he might have had 17 when he followed Williams to 617. Hopefully the family still have Phil’s logbook and we might be able to pin this down.

  2. Gloria nee Burgess May 26, 2014 / 9:28 pm

    Hi, my family name is Burgess and originated from Lydd, many family members are buried in Lydd churchyard, I stopped by there the other day and noticed Philips memorial, my grandad was named Tom, I wonder if we are related? It would be lovely to find out.

    • Susan Paxton May 27, 2014 / 11:24 am

      Gloria, was your grandfather named Carroll Thomas Burgess? If so, he was Philip’s brother.

  3. Phyllis Frost nee Burgess May 28, 2014 / 1:31 am

    Gloria, Was your Great -Grandfather Cecil Burgess and was your Grandfather Thomas Burgess a traindriver for the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railways ? If that is so then you are related to Philip. Thomas was my Dad’s brother

    • Gloria nee Burgess May 28, 2014 / 12:54 pm

      Hi, thanks for that info, just need to check with the family.

    • Phil Harding November 14, 2014 / 6:08 pm

      I am the Secretary of the alumni orghnaisation of The Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone, UK, which Philip Burgess attended as a pupil. On 6th december 2014, at our annual reunion, we will be unveiling a special memorial to Phil. We would love to hear from any family members and would make them most welcome.

      • Susan Paxton November 14, 2014 / 8:14 pm

        Phil, several of Philips’s relatives are in contact on this site and a few others with me. If you could leave your email address or phone number so they could get more information, that would be great.

      • jenni rowland January 9, 2015 / 4:30 pm

        Hi Phill
        It’s Jenny (Rowland) from the ski centre!
        Phill Burgess was my dad’s step brother
        My aunty Mo , has many memories
        I have only just got envolved with Phill’s history
        So am busy catching up


  4. Susan Paxton July 21, 2014 / 4:48 pm

    Just got a list of Philip’s ops with the Woodward crew in 61 Squadron; he flew 13 ops with them total, one an RTE, starting with Hamburg on 30 January and ending with Munich on 9 March. Probably had a couple more as a supernumerary after Woodward finished, but haven’t chased those down yet.

  5. Phyllis frost January 10, 2015 / 10:38 am

    Hello Jenni,
    My name is Phyllis Frost (nee Burgess). Philip was my dad Ernest Burgess cousin. I am doing the Burgess Family Tree and was wondering if you could help me out with any information on the Rowland family and after Philips parents death how they come to adopt him. I know they had the rock and sweet shop in Folkstone but nothing else about them.Also any information ,Photos etc.

  6. Clive Rowland Hickman March 11, 2015 / 1:47 pm

    We should all be thankful for the sense of duty and service these brave men had in defending this country. On 7th May of this year (2015) we celebrate VE day which commemorates our victory over a German attempt to create a single European State. Some say it is a coincidence that the day also falls on election day. We shall remember those who died to keep us free. Thank you Phil. Clive Rowland Hickman (Phil Burgess was my step-uncle adopted by my grandfather Raymond Rowland).

    • Phyllis Frost March 12, 2015 / 5:44 am

      Hi Clive, I was wondering if you could give me more information on how Philip came to be adopted by your Grandfather and at what age. When Philip was enrolled at Harvey Grammar School he was enrolled by his aunt Gertrude Lewis nee Burgess. I would love to hear any information you have about Philip. He was my second cousin. Regards Phyllis Frost nee Burgess.
      You can contact me through my e-mail address if you like

      • Clive Rowland Hickman March 12, 2015 / 8:59 am

        Hi Phyliss, I have almost no knowledge about Philip and only knew about him through my grandmother, Elizabeth Rowland, who died more than 30 years ago. I see you have a reply from my cousin, Jenny Rowland, who may have more information. I would be very interested to know more myself as people like Philip are heroes and I wonder what they would make of our country today with so much given away. I was never told about Philip’s brother and understood my grandparents only adopted one child (Philip). Clive

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