Dambuster of the Day No. 77: Harvey Weeks

Weeks

Pic: Weeks/Douglas family

Flt Sgt H A Weeks
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED921/G

Call sign: AJ-W

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged by flak on outward flight. Returned to base with mine intact.

Harvey Alexander Weeks was born in 1919 in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. Chilliwack is a large town some 60 miles from Vancouver.
After joining the RCAF and qualifying as an air gunner, he crewed up with Canadian pilot Marcel Cuelenaere during training, along with his future Dams raid colleague Jimmy Clay. This crew joined 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa in October 1942. The Cuelenaere crew had completed almost 30 operations together in March 1943 when their pilot reached the end of his tour. This coincided with the call for volunteers for the new 617 Squadron, which Les Munro and most of his crew had decided to accept. Because Munro’s rear gunner was one of those who declined the invitation, Weeks volunteered to take his place, even though Munro told him and Clay that operations with the new squadron would be ‘probably special, probably dangerous’.
Weeks settled in with his new crew, although he suffered from being jammed into his turret when it was damaged by a plume of water when Les Munro flew too low on a trial drop on 12 May 1943. On the raid itself he was isolated from the rest of the crew when the intercom was severed by flak over Vlieland, and it was only when Percy Pigeon clambered through to the rear of the aircraft that everyone knew he was all right.
The Munro crew’s next operation was some two months later, an attack on an Italian power station. Over the next 11 months, Weeks went on to complete more operations than anyone else in the crew – a total of 60, made up of 33 under Munro’s captaincy and 27 done previously in 97 Squadron.
He was commissioned in November 1943, and received the DFC in June 1944. After being taken off operations, Weeks went to 1690 Bomber Defence Training Flight where Munro had been posted as CO. He returned to Canada after the war.
Harvey Weeks died in Chilliwack, BC, in April 1992.

Survived war.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003
James Holland, Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the German Dams 1943, Bantam 2012

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.

Advertisements

Dambuster mothers identified

Premiere mothers
Thanks to Alex Bateman, I’m now able to list the mother of four of the Dams Raid aircrew who attended the Premiere of The Dam Busters and were presented to Princess Margaret. They appear in the Pathé News report of the occasion.
The mothers are: top left, Mrs Florence Hatton, mother of Bill Hatton; top right, Mrs Nellie Knight, mother of Les Knight; bottom left, Mrs Dorcas Roberts, mother of Charlie Roberts; bottom right, Mrs Elizabeth Nicholson, mother of Vivian Nicholson.

Five Fly to London

RCAF Premiere lores

Pic: Greg Pigeon

Greg Pigeon, son of Percy, has kindly sent me some material from his late father’s collection. It includes this interesting press cutting from an unnamed Canadian newspaper, undated but obviously published in May 1955.
The five Dams Raid participants still serving in the RCAF were all flown to London to attend the Royal Premiere of The Dam Busters. They were Ken Brown, Joe McCarthy, Donald MacLean, Percy Pigeon and Revie (Danny) Walker.
The text of the article contains a number of mistakes, perhaps reflecting the fact that the raid was not so well recalled by Canadians 12 years after it took place. It states that “13 Lancasters” were directed to attack the “Moehne, Eder and Serpex Dams” and implies that all were breached. It also underestimates the casualties – “five of the 13 Lancasters did not return to base”.

Dambuster of the Day No. 76: William Howarth

William Howarth

Pic: Howarth family

Sgt W Howarth
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED921/G

Call sign: AJ-W

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged by flak on outward flight. Returned to base with mine intact.

William (Bill) Howarth was born in Oldham, Lancashire on 29 August 1921. His father was also named William Howarth, and he was a warehouse foreman in the cotton industry. His mother was Lily Howarth (nee Martin), and she worked as a cotton operative. Howarth went to Higginshaw School, Oldham, and on leaving school worked as a grocer’s manager.
He joined the RAF in 1941, and was eventually selected for Air Gunner training, which he completed in August 1942. He crewed up with Les Munro, Jock Rumbles and Percy Pigeon at the end of September 1942, during heavy bomber training. Frank Appleby also joined the crew at the same time. These five would serve together uninterrupted for another 20 months.
Like his colleagues, he had completed some 20 operations with Munro by the time they volunteered for transfer to the new 617 Squadron. On the Dams Raid, he was positioned in the front gun turret and afterwards agreed with his captain that the damage to AJ-W was caused by land-based ‘light flak guns’. Howarth went on to complete more than 50 operations with Munro by the time the crew were taken off operational duties in July 1944. He was recommended for the DFM in April 1944. The citation read:

Flight Sergeant Howarth has completed 41 operational sorties as Air Gunner and many of these have been against the most heavily defended targets in Germany and Italy. He has operated continuously since January 1943, and his last 20 sorties have been carried out against objectives in occupied Europe whilst operating with a special duties squadron. During these operations, his exceptional coolness and marked ability as an Air Gunner has materially assisted his Captain in pressing home the attacks against opposition. Flight Sergeant Howarth’s marked enthusiasm for operations and his outstanding devotion to duty merit the highest praise. He is therefore strongly recommended for the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal. (10 April 1944).

Howarth was commissioned in June 1944. He spent the remainder of the war in various training roles, rising to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, and acting as Gunnery Leader in several different establishments. He left the RAF in June 1946 and returned to his former job in the grocery trade for a short time, before joining the Prudential Assurance Company in 1947 where he worked until retirement.
He married Doris Hall, a munitions worker, on 3 July 1943, and they had three sons, one of whom died in infancy. During both his working life and his retirement he was actively involved in fundraising for the Leonard Cheshire Homes.
Bill Howarth died on 12 January 1990, and was cremated at Hollinwood crematorium, Oldham.
[Thanks to David Howarth and Kevin Bending for help with this article.]

Survived war.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
James Holland, Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the German Dams 1943, Bantam 2012

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.

Jackson speaks: Dambusters a ‘wonderful story’ which I will have to do.


peter-jackson-hobbit
Peter Jackson has been giving interviews to mark the end of the process of making The Hobbit trilogy, which combined with the Lord of the Rings make up a series of six films that have taken his company almost fifteen years to complete. Already the films have grossed $4.89 billion in worldwide box office takings and by the time The Battle Of The Five Armies, the finale to The Hobbit trilogy, plays out, the total may reach $6 billion. 

Now, in an interview posted on the Deadline blog, Jackson has admitted that he probably would have started on the remake of The Dam Busters four or five years ago, having handed over directorial duties on The Hobbit to Guillermo del Toro. But del Toro left this project in May 2010 and Jackson stepped back behind the camera, saying that it was important to protect Warner Bros’ investment. He admits that all the time since there has been pressure on him to say what he will be doing next:

I’ve had so many people the last five years come and ask, ‘When are you going to make The Dam Busters? When are you going to make The Dam Busters?’ Honestly, you ask me what I got out of five years of making The Hobbit? It was me feeling like I have to make The Dam Busters, because of the endless people asking, ‘When are you going to make The Dam Busters?… 
[W]e still have the rights, and it’s one in a little pot of movies. We don’t have a next movie nailed down, but certainly The Dam Busters is one of them. There is only a limited span I can abide, of people driving me nuts asking me when I’m going to do that project. So I’ll have to do it. I want to, actually, it’s one of the truly great true stories of the Second World War, a wonderful, wonderful story.

I reckon that’s as near as we have come to a real commitment from Jackson to make the film. But when will it happen? He has a pretty busy schedule: Hobbit 3 is due for worldwide release in December 2014, and then there is the small matter of the second Tintin movie, scheduled for release in 2016, which he is also due to direct. (He did a deal with Steven Spielberg.) He won’t be directing The Dam Busters, but it will surely take up quite a bit of his time so it could fit into his schedule here – before a third Tintin movie, so far untitled.
If The Dam Busters is ever going to get to the clapperboard stage, the next thing to expect would be news that the difficulties with the screenplay have been ironed out, that the director is confirmed (a role earmarked eight years ago for Jackson protegé, Christian Rivers) and, most important of all, that Universal Pictures and Studio Canal are still behind the project. 

Watch this space.

Two to tango

Two Lancs
There was a report on BBC East news last night on the first flight together by both Lancasters. They took off from Coningsby on two occasions and flew several practice manoeuvres. The first scheduled public appearance is at Eastbourne Air Show at 1500, later today and on other days this week. Also at the Combined Ops Show, Flying Proms (Shuttleworth), Herne Bay Air Display and Sywell Great War Airshow later this week.

Dambuster of the Day No. 75: James Clay

Clay crop
Pic: Les Munro

Sgt J H Clay
Bomb aimer

Lancaster serial number: ED921/G

Call sign: AJ-W

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged by flak on outward flight. Returned to base with mine intact.

James Henry Clay was born on 2 February 1911 in North Shields, Tyne and Wear. His parents, Robert and Mary Clay, had 12 children of whom James was the fifth. Robert Clay worked as a stonemason.
After joining the RAF and qualifying as an air bomber, Jimmy Clay crewed up with Canadian pilot Marcel Cuelenaere while training, as did his future Dams raid colleague Harvey Weeks. This crew joined 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa in October 1942. (By the war’s end, Cuelenaere had completed two tours, reached the rank of Squadron Leader and been awarded the DFC and Bar. He returned to Canada and set up a successful law firm.)
Clay was in fact in operation before the rest of his crewmates, having been allocated to the crew of another Canadian pilot, George Lancey, for the famous daylight raid on the Le Creusot works on 17 October 1942. This, however, resulted in an early return with engine trouble.
The Cuelenaere crew were in action together ten days later, and began a run of almost 30 operations together which ended in March 1943, when their pilot reached the end of his tour. This coincided with the call for volunteers for the new 617 Squadron, which Les Munro and most of his crew decided to accept. However, as they were short of a bomb aimer, Clay volunteered to go with them.
Clay settled in with his new crew and was in front row position on the Dams Raid when AJ-W was hit by flak while crossing the Dutch coast. He maintained that the damage came from a flak ship, disagreeing with Bill Howarth and Les Munro who both thought it came from a land-based installation. Clay wrote afterwards: ‘Then we were over Vlieland in the Zuider Zee (Waddenzee) when suddenly a flak ship opened up. None of us in the aircraft saw this vessel although we had, as customary, been keeping a sharp lookout. We must have been a sitting target to the gunners below, a close target silhouetted against the sky.’ John Sweetman quotes this account in The Dambusters Raid (Cassell, 2002) and adds: ‘Perhaps significantly, a detachment of 3/Marine Flak 246 stationed at the western end of Vlieland did report engaging “several Lancaster bombers” between 2257 and 2340 on 16 May.’ (p.180).
Clay’s next operation was some two months later. He received a flesh wound to the nose caused by a bomb fragment when the Munro crew attacked an Italian power station, but flew a little too low over the target. They went on to land in RAF Blida, Algeria. Luckily, he made a recovery from this injury and went on to fly with Munro some 17 more times until May 1944.
He was commissioned in November 1943, and received the DFC in July 1944. The citation said that he had completed 46 operations without a break. He served in various training units until the end of the war and left the RAF in December 1945.
Jimmy Clay returned to Tyneside after the war. He worked as an accountant, and was married with two children. He died in Gosforth on 6 August 1995.

Survived war.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
James Holland, Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the German Dams 1943, Bantam 2012

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.