Dambuster of the Day No. 116: Herbert Hewstone

Hewstone brothersHerbert Hewstone (left) and his brother Joe Hewstone. Both served in the RAF during the Second World War. [Pic: Gordon L Hewstone.]

Sgt H J Hewstone
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED918/G

Call sign: AJ-F

Third wave. Second aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully, but failed to breach dam.

Herbert John Hewstone was born on 24 July 1909 in Stepney, London. He was one of the seven children of George and Lydia Hewstone. The family owned a general store in the area. Hewstone was generally known as Bert to his family, but in the RAF he went by the nicknames of both “Harry” and “Hewie”.

He joined the RAF at the start of the war, but it wasn’t until 1942 that he began aircrew training, qualifying as a wireless operator/air gunner in June 1942. He was posted to 19 OTU in Kinloss at the end of August, and quickly crewed up with Ken Brown, Steve Oancia, Grant McDonald and Dudley Heal. They were posted together first to Coastal Command and then after final heavy bomber training on to 44 Squadron at Waddington in February 1942. By this time, Don Buntaine and Basil Feneron had joined them.

After six operations, Brown’s crew were posted to 617 Squadron for training on a secret operation. Before leaving 44 Squadron, they were told how important their role would be in their new posting, and that they would be the “backbone”of the new squadron. After taking a look around at some of the other new recruits, Hewstone said to his captain: “Skip, if we’re the backbone of this squadron, we must be damn close to the ass end.” [Although as a Londoner, he is more likely to have said “arse” than “ass”.]

Hampered by mist, Brown and his bomb aimer Steve Oancia found it difficult to get the correct line of attack at the Sorpe Dam until Brown remembered a similar situation during training, trying to land at RAF Wigsley. He had solved the problem by dropping flares at pre-arranged intervals, then using them on the next approach. Hewstone was given the task of dropping them, and the tactic worked.

Hewstone went on to fly on all of the Brown crew’s subsequent operations in 617 Squadron until it disbanded in March 1944. He was posted to 26 Operational Training Unit, where he served as an instructor for the remainder of the war. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant before being demobbed.

Herbert Hewstone had married Rose Jones in 1938, and they had two children. He died in Havering on 28 May 1980.

Thanks to Gordon L Hewstone for help with this article.

Survived war. Died 28 May 1980.

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 Herbert Hewstone 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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