The 16 members of the RCAF who survived the Dams Raid, photographed the following day. John Thrasher is in the back row, sixth from the left. His crewmate Bruce Gowrie is in the front row crouching, fourth from the left. [Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada]
Wrt Off J W Thrasher
Lancaster serial number: ED936/G
Call sign: AJ-H
Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.
John William Thrasher was born on 30 July 1920 in Amherstburg, a small Canadian town in the far south west of Ontario, very close to the border with the USA. His parents, Charles and Irene Thrasher had fifteen children altogether, although two died in infancy. His father worked as a clerk in a liquor store. He was educated at St Anthony’s Primary School and St Rose’s High School, and matriculated in 1938. He worked as a printer’s apprentice for two years, then moved to be a laboratory worker in a soda ash plant.
He enlisted in the RCAF in May 1941, and was selected for Air Observer training, which he completed on 25 September 1941. His CO described him as: ‘Straightforward and assertive. Cautious but fairly aggressive. Quick. Cheerful. Good appearance, and personality. Very good material.’ But by December he had only passed out 20th out of 22, with an average overall mark. In further training it was noted that he was weak on navigation, but had achieved 98% in bombing.
After arriving in the UK, Thrasher was posted to 19 Operational Training Unit at RAF Kinloss in July 1942. It was there that he crewed up with Rice and two more men who would eventually form the AJ-H Dams Raid crew, navigator Richard Macfarlane and Canadian wireless operator Bruce Gowrie. They moved on to 1660 Conversion Unit at RAF Swinderby in October 1942 to complete heavy bomber training.
The crew then flew on nine operations before being posted together from 57 Squadron over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission.
John Thrasher’s bomb aiming skills were severely tested during the Operation Chastise training period, but he acquitted himself well, coming second overall in the bombing practice sessions conducted in the first half of April 1943. On the raid itself, of course, he never had a chance to drop his mine, since it was torn out of AJ-H’s bomb bay over the sea.
Thrasher flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations between the Dams Raid and December 1943, and he received a commission. However, their luck ran out on 20 December when they were shot down 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage.
John Thrasher and his five colleagues were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium.
His brother, Plt Off Charles Thrasher, also joined the RCAF and served as a navigator in the Canadian 424 Squadron, based in Yorkshire and flying Halifaxes. He was awarded the DFC in 1944, with the citation noting his ‘fortitude, courage and devotion to duty.’ He survived the war.
More about Thrasher online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Rice crew burial site, Gosselies cemetery
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Nigel Press, All My Life, Lancfile Publishing 2006
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
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 John Thrasher 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.