Faith and hope at Scampton, 1943

RAF SCAMPTON Chapel in base WWII Revd Don HulbertsThe chapel at RAF Scampton, 1942. [Pic: Stephen Murray]

The spiritual needs of the Allied forces during the Second World War were met by a large number of clergy who volunteered to serve as chaplains for its duration. One of these was Rev Donald Hulbert, Rector of a Suffolk parish, who became the Anglican padre at RAF Scampton in 1942. His wife, Vi Hulbert, a musician and a woman with a strong faith of her own, moved with him to live in two rooms in a builder’s house in a nearby village. The base’s chapel can be seen in the wartime pciture shown above.
They stayed at Scampton for about two years, a period which covered the five and a half months 617 Squadron was present, and were there when the Dams Raid took place. Some thirty years later, Vi Hulbert wrote a short pamphlet called Reflections of a Parson’s Wife. Stephen Murray has kindly sent me a copy of this, along with some other wartime photographs.

Vi Hulbert cover

Mrs Hulbert’s account of the period is very short, but is worth recording. She was responsible for the flower arrangements on the day of the visit to Scampton by the King and Queen on 27 May 1943.
Vi Hulbert p14Donald and Vi Hulbert can be seen together in this picture. Note that she is wearing a ‘sweetheart’ RAF wings brooch.

Vi and Donald hulbert

Among the other interesting pictures in Stephen Murray’s collection is this shot of Scampton CO, Gp Capt Charles Whitworth. The officer on the right is Wg Cdr Everett Briggs, a First World War RAF officer who re-enlisted in the later conflict and who worked on administrative matters at Scampton. The name of the airman on the left is not known. The picture was taken in the vegetable garden on the base, and a couple of men can be seen at work in the background.
RAF Scampton Group Capt John Whitworth 1942 A

All pics courtesy Stephen Murray.

Dams Raid crews remembered at Reichswald

Reichswald graves 2016Pics: Mitch Buiting

Twenty-seven of the 53 Allied aircrew who died on the Dams Raid on 16/17 May 1943 are buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. They came from the four crews captained by Henry Maudslay, Bill Astell, Norman Barlow and Warner Ottley.
Last weekend, local photographer Mitch Buiting took new pictures of all their graves in a special tribute for the 73rd anniversary of the operation. They are shown in a composite picture above, and can be seen individually on his Wargraves Photographers Facebook page.
Mitch Buiting is one of the many photographers who do great work for the project. You can find out more about this here.

A quiet wood in Germany

IMG_6612Pic: Wim Govaerts

One year ago last weekend, a bronze plaque was unveiled on the edge of a quiet wood near the little town of Haldern in Germany. It is a memorial to the seven men in the crew of AJ-E, who took off from RAF Scampton on the Dams Raid on 16 May 1943, and who died at this spot when their aircraft collided with a power line and crashed.
The memorial was the initiative of Volker Schürmann and his colleagues in the Haldern local history society. Those of us who were present remember it with affection and gratitude, and look forward to continuing the friendships formed on that day for many more years to come.

Burns archive and clothing goes to auction

Photo: Dix Noonan Webb

Sgt Stephen Burns, the young rear gunner in Geoff Rice’s crew, spent several hours on the night of the Dams Raid soaked in a disgusting mixture of Elsan contents and seawater after their aircraft nearly came to grief over the sea. Flying in the second wave and tasked with attacking the Sorpe Dam, AJ-H had crossed the narrow neck of Vlieland at 2259 exactly on track. Past the danger point, Rice gained altitude briefly to check position and then went low again to turn south-eastwards towards the Ijsselmeer. The bright moon shining on the water made height difficult to judge and flight engineer Edward Smith was about to warn Rice that the altimeter was reading zero when there was a huge jolt. Instinctively Rice pulled upwards and felt another ‘violent jolt’.
AJ-H had hit the water twice. The first impact had torn the mine free and sprayed water up through the bomb bay. The second had forced the fixed tail wheel up through the fuselage and demolished the Elsan lavatory just in front of the rear turret. A revolting mixture of its contents, disinfectant and sea water had poured into the turret and immersed gunner Stephen Burns up to his waist. His shout of ‘Christ, it’s wet back here!’ was pretty understandable.
Burns flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations they undertook between the Dams Raid and December 1943, and was promoted to Flight Sergeant. However, the crew’s luck ran out on 20 December when they were hit by flak 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, and they were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium.
As with many families, the Burnses kept their son’s effects and letters safe and the collection has rarely been seen outside the family. Amongst other things it contains his dress uniform, the gloves which were rescued from his final crash by Belgian civilians and given to his brother after the war, his logbook and several interesting letters.

Lot 1021xxbPhoto: Dix Noonan Webb

The material is now coming up for auction next week at Dix Noonan Webb, and should make a good sum. Once again, I express the hope that if possible it should be made available to the public, but I know that this may not happen if there are private collectors around with deep pockets.

UPDATE 18 May 2016: This material sold at auction for £7,000.

Burns family photo Photo: Dix Noonan Webb

Hat tip: Edwina Towson

More about Stephen Burns here.

Seventy-three years on, the fifty-three who died

Chastise dead
Seventy-three years ago this coming Monday, on 16 May 1943, nineteen Lancaster aircraft from the RAF’s 617 Squadron took off from RAF Scampton on what would become the Allied forces most famous single bombing operation of the Second World War. Their task was to attack and destroy the great hydroelectric dams of the Ruhr and Eder valleys and thereby cause massive disruption to the industrial heartland of the Third Reich.
The method for attacking these dams had been conceived by the engineer Dr Barnes Wallis. For most of the dams this involved dropping a spinning depth charge from a low flying aircraft at a precise distance from its wall. The momentum imparted to the bomb would therefore bounce it across the surface of the water and then, when it reached the wall, it would sink below the surface and explode.
This precision low level attack was completely different from the Allies normal bombing operations, which involved dropping explosives and incendiaries from a great height, and it needed aircrew with a high level of skill and determination. Twenty-one crews were chosen for the raid and undertook specialised training during April and May 1943. Nineteen of these crews were finally selected.
The nineteen crews of seven were mainly British, but of the total of 133 men who took part in the Dams Raid there were 30 Canadians, 13 Australians, 2 New Zealanders and one American, who had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. They are all listed on the Complete Dambusters website, where the entries link back to each man’s individual profile posted here over the last three years.
Fifty-three men from eight crews died on the raid, and they are pictured above. But we should not forget that the official casualty figures also show that 1,294 people died as a result of the Möhne Dam’s collapse with 47 more lost in the Eder valley. 749 of the dead and missing in the Möhne area were listed as ‘foreigners’, of whom 493 were Ukrainian women labourers, ordered back to their camp for safety when the air raid warnings sounded.