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.
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.