Dambuster of the Day No. 84: James McDowell


Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada

Flt Sgt James McDowell
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED934/G

Call sign: AJ-K

Second wave. Shot down on outward flight and crashed into sea.

James McDowell was the third Scottish-born member of the crew of AJ-K. He was born in Glasgow on 13 August 1910, the son of John and Agnes McDowell. His father was killed in the First World War, so in 1924 his mother, grandmother and the five McDowell children emigrated to Canada, and took up residence in Port Arthur, Ontario.

McDowell worked first for the Coca Cola company in Port Arthur and was also involved in a local pipe band. He married Dorothea Edna Craig in 1932, and they had two daughters, Darleen and Marilyn. They then moved north of Port Arthur where he found work as a gold miner, ending up at the MacLeod Cockshutt mine in Geraldton between 1935 and 1941.

Jimmy McDowell joined the RCAF in 1941 and moved back to Port Arthur. After training as an air gunner, he was sent to England and underwent further training before being crewing up with fellow Canadian Vernon Byers, and being posted to 467 Squadron in February 1943.

The crew’s first operation together was “Gardening” in the Silverthorne area on 9 March, and they would undertake just two further operations before transferring to 617 Squadron on 24 March.

When the crew was given some leave in early May 1943, McDowell and Byers, the two Canadians, travelled to Antrobus in Cheshire, to spend it with the family of their crewmate John Wilkinson. They were all there for Wilkinson’s 21st birthday on 2 May.

Two weeks later, they had just flown over Texel island on the way to the Sorpe Dam when a shot from behind brought down their aircraft, and it crashed into the Waddenzee, 18 miles west of Harlingen. The wreckage has never been located but James McDowell’s body was eventually released by the elements from its rear turret and on 22 June 1943 it was found floating in the Vliestrom channel south of Terschelling, near buoy No. 2. He was buried the next day in Harlingen General Cemetery, and remains there today. His comrades are all commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

[Thanks to Darleen and Mike Taylor for their help with this article.]

More about McDowell online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Byers crew on Aircrew Remembered website

KIA 16.05.1943.

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

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 James McDowell 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.

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