Pic: Lincolnshire Library Services
Sgt J Guterman DFM
Lancaster serial number: ED910/G
Call sign: AJ-C
Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Jack Guterman was born in Ramsgate, Kent, on 1 August 1920, the older of the two children of Jack and Jane Guterman. His family then moved to Guildford. His father, an accountant, served on the Western Front in the First World War, and came from a Jewish family who had fled Poland in the 1890s, while his mother was of Irish descent. Guterman went to Sandfield Primary School and on to Guildford Royal Grammar School in 1931. He left school in 1937 and studied at art school in Andover, where his tutor was the artist Dick Hosking. He then went to work in his father’s accountancy practice.
When the war came, he volunteered for the RAF and was selected for training as an air observer. He went on to qualify as a wireless operator/air gunner, and finished his training in the autumn of 1941.
Guterman had great potential as an artist, and hung his own oil paintings and drawings on the walls of the various rooms he lived in during his RAF career. He took his paints and drawing materials from base to base and carried on producing quality work. He also loved literature and music, and collected records and books. He wrote regularly to his family, sending them a remarkable series of letters with details of concerts he had heard on the radio, accounts of how his artistic work was progressing, witty pen portraits of his RAF colleagues and vivid descriptions of the countryside over which he had flown.
He was posted to 207 Squadron in February 1942, and started operational flying in June 1942. Along with navigator Plt Off Jack Barrett he joined the crew of Flt Sgt Anthony Walters, and they flew on some nineteen operations together before going first to a conversion unit and then back to 207 Squadron to a new crew skippered by Bill Ottley.
He became good friends with Ottley, and they shared a room together in their quarters at RAF Bottesford. They spent much of their spare time talking about the arts and listening to music. Guterman’s last operation in 207 Squadron was on 8 March 1943, on a trip to Nuremburg. With this he finished his tour and could have opted to go to a training unit for at least six months. He was also recommended for a DFM, of which part of the citation read:
In both capacities [as air gunner and wireless operator], he has consistently shown the greatest enthusiasm, determination and efficiency. In the capacity of air gunner, Sergeant Guterman displays a fine fighting spirit, welcoming every opportunity to use his guns against the enemy. On one occasions when returning from Kassel, he successfully attacked light gun and searchlight positions from a low level. His courage, reliability and perseverance have made this airman a most valuable member of aircrew.
Unfortunately the award did not come through before the Dams Raid, and the medal was sent to his family after the war.
Although he could have gone on an instructional role in an OTU, Guterman wasn’t enthusiastic at the prospect: ‘Ugh! Ugh!’, he wrote to his sister on 18 February, and followed this up on 4 March with the news that he was to be posted to a ‘wretched training station in the Lincoln vicinity’. He managed somehow to postpone this transfer, so he was still at Langar when Ottley and his crew were nominated for a transfer to 617 Squadron. As they did not have a regular wireless operator, Guterman must have volunteered to join up with his old comrades, and was posted along with them.
Naturally, he took his painting and drawing materials. He told his family that he had been allocated a room in one of Scampton’s ‘married quarters’ which he shared with a ‘Scots lad’. In a later letter, he referred to him as ‘Johnnie’, so this was probably his crewmate Thomas Johnston. One day, when workmen arrived to paint the outside of the quarters they noticed through the window the display on the walls and enquired what they were. Johnston told them that they were ‘works of art’: ‘fleeting fancies materialised in a fleeting form’, a description which left the workmen somewhat baffled.
During the training in the run up to the Dams Raid Guterman somehow found quite a lot of time in which he could paint. He began work on a painting which he called ‘Gethsemane’. In a letter to his sister which is dated ‘early May’ he told her how excited he was by the work he had done so far on the project:
My ‘Gethsemane’ is progressing and flavours of Fra Angelico, the Italian Primitive especially in the ‘flora’ parts. I get so thrilled about it that I cannot get it out of my mind and rush back to do odd things to it throughout the day. I believe it will turn out to be my chef-d’oevre.[sic]
The finished painting was among the large collection of works which were sent back to the family. He didn’t however mention it in his last letter home, sent to his sister and dated 16 May. Instead he described a trip to Lincoln the day before, in which he had bought three records and studied some art books in the reference library. All in all, he concluded, he was discovering ‘some most quaint corners which each help to raise my opinion of the town’. The letter concluded: ‘I’m boring myself so I don’t know about you! Fond Love Zak.’
As AJ-C’s wireless operator, Guterman received the message from Group HQ to attack the Lister Dam at 0231 on the morning of 17 May 1943. A second message, sent a minute later, ordering them to go to the Sorpe instead was never acknowledged. By then the aircraft had been hit by flak, and was about to crash in flames.
Jack Guterman and his comrades were originally buried by the Germans in Hamm, but were reinterred after the war in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.
Thanks to Kevin Bending and the Guterman family for help with this article.
More about Guterman online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
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 Jack Guterman 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.
Thank you so much for all this valuable information. I am fortunate to have a small, powerful, rather bleak painting byJack Guterman, which he gave to his art tutor, Dick Hosking (a graduate of the Royal College of Art in the 1930s); during WW2 the latter was responsible for the Art College in Andover, where Jack attended art classes. They clearly formed a close bond. The painting was kindly given to me by Dick Hosking;s daughter, Sarah, together with a long, poignantly despairing letter written by Jack to Dick Hosking in October 1942.