Twenty of the aircrew decorated for the Dams Raid line up outside Buckingham Palace on 22 June 1943. Left to right: Leonard Sumpter, Harlo “Terry” Taerum, Jack Buckley, Fred “Spam” Spafford, Richard Trevor Roper, David Maltby, Edward “Johnny” Johnson, Harold “Mick” Martin, Dudley Heal, Guy Gibson, Sidney Hobday, David Shannon, Bertie “Toby” Foxlee, Joseph McCarthy, Stefan Oancia, John Fort, Daniel Walker, Leonard Chambers, Douglas Webb, George “Jock” Chalmers. [Pic: Peter Humphries]
Flt Sgt G A Chalmers
Lancaster serial number: ED886/G
Call sign: AJ-O
Third wave. Only aircraft to attack Ennepe Dam. Mine dropped successfully, but failed to breach dam.
George Alexander Chalmers was born on 12 February 1921 in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. As a Scot, he was often known by the nickname “Jock”. He was educated at Aberdeen Academy before working briefly at a local Crosse & Blackwell factory. He joined the RAF in 1938 as a boy entrant.
He qualified as a wireless operator/air gunner before the outbreak of war, and was posted first to 10 Squadron in Dishforth. Early in the war, he took part in leaflet-dropping operations over Germany. In August 1940 he transferred to 7 Squadron and later that year to 35 Squadron, where he completed a first tour of operations during 1941.
After about a year in various training jobs, he asked to go back on operations and was posted to RAF Scampton. He was posted in as a supernumerary, without a crew, and told Mick Martin that he would prefer to be allocated to an all-NCO crew if possible. Martin was a bit taken aback by this (perhaps knowing that there were very few of these in the new squadron) but it turned out that Bill Townsend was without a wireless operator, so Chalmers was fitted in there. Townsend’s crew did not remain all-NCO for long – by the time of the Dams Raid, Lance Howard had been commissioned, and Townsend followed shortly afterwards.
On the raid, Chalmers was conscious that he stood “watching history from the astrodome, although everything happened so quickly (at 100ft) that incidents came and went almost before the mind could appreciate them”. When they reached the Ennepe Dam, Chalmers started the rotation of the mine, which caused the aircraft to shudder violently, so everyone was very relieved when it was released. Chalmers himself was able to watch the subsequent explosion from the astrodome.
He was awarded the DFM for his role on the Dams Raid, where the citation noted that he had by then flown on 44 operations. He was commissioned himself at the end of June 1943, shortly after attending the investiture in London. There he was flattered when the Queen, who was conducting the investiture, identified him as coming from Peterhead.
Townsend and some of his crew finished their tour in September 1943, but the irrepressible Chalmers carried on. He flew first with the new squadron CO, Leonard Cheshire, but then transferred to the crew of Plt Off Bernard “Bunny” Clayton, an experienced pilot who had been posted from 51 Squadron to 617 Squadron in July 1943 with a CGM and DFC to his name.
He finally came off operations in July 1944, at the same time as all of the other Dams Raid personnel still flying in 617 Squadron. He was awarded the DFC later in the year, having flown in 66 operations. The citation concluded: “Throughout his long and arduous operational career, this officer has displayed outstanding courage and devotion to duty.”
Chalmers stayed on in the RAF until 1954, on an extended service commission. When he left, he joined the Ministry of Defence in Harrogate, working on the technical specifications for RAF services, and developed a specialist knowledge of aircraft refuelling procedures.
George Chalmers retired in 1984. He had married his wife Alma during the war, and they had nine children. He died on 6 August 2002.
More about Chalmers online:
Obituary in the Daily Telegraph
Survived war. Died 06.08.2002
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 George Chalmers 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.
I must confess that even after all these years it wrankles that the flight engineers were largely ignored when it came to the honours scattered over the survivors.
Perhaps that’s because I spent 24 years as an RAF flight engineer and have always reverred these crews – all of them.