Dams Raid medical officer dies, aged 97

Dr M Arthurton

Dr Malcolm Arthurton joined the RAF as a medical officer in 1942. [Pic: Arthurton family]

Dr Malcolm Arthurton, who was 617 Squadron’s Medical Officer at the time of the Dams Raid, has died, aged 97.
Dr Arthurton was born in London in April 1918 and trained at Westminster Hospital Medical School. After qualifying, he was commissioned into the RAF as a medical officer and was posted to RAF Scampton in 1943.
The low level flying training which was being undertaken by the crews brought a steady stream of patients complaining of air sickness to the young doctor’s door. He decided to check out the effects for himself, and flew with Henry Maudslay on an exercise on 25 April 1943. The weather was gusty and severe buffeting at low level caused Arthurton to record in his logbook: ‘Low flying experience. Weather bumpy. Airsick after ½ hour.’ Thereafter, he was reported to be more sympathetic to requests for the appropriate medication.
Having presumably taken a dose of this, on 14 May he flew with Maudslay again on the full dress rehearsal of the raid at Uppingham and Colchester Reservoirs. ‘We took off at 2150 hours and flew for four hours. I have not the foggiest notion where we were nor exactly what we were doing … people said very little and I did not embarrass them with very difficult questions as I realised there was something in the wind.’ (John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, 2002, p.116)
He recalled seeing Barnes Wallis after the raid, and noted how distressed he was by the loss of life.
Later in the war, he served in the Balkans and was mentioned in dispatches in 1944.
After demobilisation he completed paediatric training  and worked in this branch of the profession. He became a consultant paediatrician in Yorkshire, first in Dewsbury and then Bradford, and was very popular with his young patients, staff and junior doctors, many of whom kept in touch.
After retirement he became a director of Martin House Children’s Hospice in Wetherby, Yorkshire and served there for 10 years.
He moved to Cartmel in Cumbria in 1994, and was active in the local community. He was predeceased by his wife of 45 years, Eve, in 1995 and leaves two daughters, one a mathematician, the other a consultant geriatrician, and two grandchildren.

John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, 2002
Robert Owen, Henry Maudslay, Dam Buster, 2014
Obituary in Westmorland Gazette

In the spotlight

Dam Busters Sing Soldier

Every Dambuster aficionado knows that some scenes in the 1955 film The Dam Busters were fictionalised or embellished for dramatic effect. One of the most famous of these is when Guy Gibson and Bob Hay are seen at a musical in London, and notice how the spotlights are trained from either side to highlight the singer. This gives Gibson the idea of using the intersecting beams from two aircraft Aldis lamps to enable it to fly at a fixed low altitude. (The real story is that the mechanism was devised by Benjamin Lockspeiser, a scientist at the Ministry of Aircaft production, who remembered that a similar solution had been tried out by RAF Coastal Command earlier in the war.)
This scene was obviously filmed in a real theatre – the historian John Ramsden reckons it might have been the London Coliseum – with a real singer and chorus line. The performers, however, do not appear in the credits, and likewise there is no acknowledgement of the writers of the music and lyrics which are performed on the stage while our heroes ponder their logistical problems.
Over the last few years there has been the occasional comment on this blog wondering if readers could come up with the words to the song, and also the names of the writers. After much careful deliberation and repeated listening, the consensus is that the lyric is:

Sing, soldier, as you march along
Sing, sailor, sing a shanty song
Let the sound float around everywhere
Soon the pilots will pick up the air
Boom-tarara! Sing, worker, make a cheerful sound
Let it ring, have your fling, like the birdies in the spring
And sing, everybody, sing!
Sing, soldier, as you march along
Sing, sailor, sing a shanty song
Let the sound float around everywhere
Soon the pilots will pick up the air
Boom-tarara! Sing, worker, make a cheerful sound
Sweet music makes the wheels go round

But still no one has yet come up with the names of the writer or composer. However, this blog’s good friend, Ray Hepner, has hit on another clue. He was recently watching a 1943 film called Variety Jubilee, which has been rereleased on DVD.


This stars a number of popular music hall stars such as Marie Lloyd and George Robey as themselves. Amongst the lesser known acts was a man called Slim Rhyder, whose speciality was cycling tricks. In this film, he comes on and does a turn, while the ‘Sing Soldier Sing’ music is performed by the orchestra alone, without a vocal. But once again, there is no credit given in the film to the writers.
So we now know that the song was around in 1943, and could therefore even have been performed in front of real life RAF wartime personnel. The references in the lyrics to soldiers, sailors, pilots and workers would also lead one to think that they were written during the war.
It is quite likely that sometime in the future someone who knows the answer to this mystery will google the lyrics and come across this post. If that is you, then please get in touch!
[Thanks to Ray Hepner]

Listing for Variety Jubilee on IMDB and Wikipedia.