Dambuster John Hopgood’s last Christmas, 1942


Flt Lt John Hopgood DFC & Bar. [Pic: Lincolnshire County Libraries]

As Christmas 1942 approached, the 21 year old Flt Lt John Hopgood was officially on rest from operational duties. He had completed a first tour of 47 operations at the end of November, and had been recommended for a Bar to his DFC. At this time he was still attached to 106 Squadron, testing new equipment and doing some instruction. On 22 December he wrote to his mother, Mrs Grace Hopgood:

Christmas here promises to be a gay affair. I am all set for 2 Christmas dinners, one in the mess at luncheon and one with some very charming people who have a lovely house near the ‘drome in the evening and shall have to starve on the 23rd [sic]!!

Two days later, on Christmas Eve, he took five of his crew up in a Lancaster. They paid a Christmas greeting flight to the homes of all six men on board in the traditional RAF way, ‘beating them up’ at very low altitude. In her house in Shere, Surrey, Grace Hopgood heard the approaching noise and was able to run into the garden in time to see the Lancaster pass overhead.
On New Year’s Day, Hopgood wrote again:

Yes, that was me flying around on Christmas Eve about lunchtime. I saw several people in the garden – but there’s not more than few split seconds to pick out faces at that speed! I had great fun flying around to each member of my crew’s home and sort of sending Christmas wishes to all. …
Christmas here was of course a very gay affair. As is the age old custom we (the officers and NCO’s) all served the airmen’s lunch – and a jolly good one it was too. Then we had our own lunch (not quite so good) and settled down to a very gay party in our mess in the evening. Next day the weather was again very bad and so we were able to have another Christmas dinner with those local people I spoke about in my last letter. It really was a grand meal – champagne and lovely old port and then lovely hot rum punches. They really are extraordinarily kind to we RAF. They threw another enormous party last night (New Years Eve) and we all really had a grand time.

Fate would decree that this was in fact Hopgood’s last ever Christmas. He would die in the early hours of 17 May 1943, making the second bombing run at the Möhne Dam. AJ-M, already damaged by flak from earlier in the night was hit again, and it crashed on the far side of the dam. Hopgood’s heroic efforts to gain height meant that two of his crew were able to bale out. They never forgot the young pilot who saved their lives. The remaining five are buried together in the Rheinberg War Cemetery.

Letter extracts quoted above from Jenny Elmes’s excellent book, M-Mother, the biography of her uncle, John Hopgood (History Press, 2015).

Season’s greetings from the Dambusters Blog to all our readers!

13 thoughts on “Dambuster John Hopgood’s last Christmas, 1942

  1. Anthony (Tony) Knight December 22, 2016 / 1:09 pm

    What a difference to today’s generation, many of whom haven’t done a day’s work at 21 years of age and here is Hopgood completing 47 operations !

  2. Marianne Oancia Wyatt December 22, 2016 / 3:39 pm

    such very young men lost their lives for our freedom.
    God Bless them all.

  3. Graeme Jensen December 22, 2016 / 4:22 pm

    When reading this one cannot help thinking of all people, military and civilian who at various times have spent their last Christmas Eve in a war zone. Those of us who avoided that situation should consider them if we are disssstified with our lot in life.

  4. Graeme Jensen December 22, 2016 / 4:29 pm

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Charles. This time next year I hope to be somewhere in Europe/UK after attending my sons’ wedding in Poland. I will definitely be visiting the AJ – E memorial

    Sent from my iPhone

  5. Graeme Jensen December 22, 2016 / 4:30 pm

    I was also going to say O would like to catch up with you. Cheers Graeme

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. Mike Farrier December 22, 2016 / 6:49 pm

    What a lovely charming, festive feel to your blog Charles. A wonderful memory of such a fine young man and all those who served their country back in that awful conflict.
    Here’s to all of the lads and lasses of our current armed forces. Wishing them and all your readers the very best for Christmas and the New Year 2017.

  7. Nigel Favill December 22, 2016 / 9:20 pm

    Another excellent article Charles, here is to wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year ..2017 lets hope will be a rewarding.

  8. Peter harrison December 22, 2016 / 11:38 pm

    M mother is a fine read for all those who have been captivated by Operation Chastise. It gives a heart warming insight into the thoughts of a fine young man. When I look back to myself as a 21 year old I cannot begin to envisage being able to do the things that John Hopgood and his like did. Their achievements should never be forgotten. Keep up the good work Charles and all the best for 2017

  9. David William Howarth, and the extended family of the late Bill Howarth,air gunner of W Willy on the dams raid December 23, 2016 / 12:00 pm

    Merry Christmas Charles, to you and all your readers.Thanks again for your excellent bog. Keep it up

  10. Susan Paxton December 24, 2016 / 2:54 pm

    Charlie Williams was there too, at Syerston, with 61 Sqn. He reported in a letter home that the drinking started at 11:00 am. One hopes there wasn’t too much spillage on the airman at lunch!

    “I got up for breakfast and we all started to drink about 11 A.M., and at 12 o’clock we all went over to the airmen’s mess where we served them their Xmas dinner…but we got through it OK…. We all drank a fair bit during the afternoon and were all in good form when the party commenced that night at 8 P.M.”

  11. Richard Hickmott December 26, 2016 / 10:26 pm

    Very touching.

    FWIW John Hopgoodlived in Shere, Surrey, about 6 miles from my abode. As you can imagine, with Wallis’s house just around the corner from my village there’s a lot of good banter from a generation that knew the family.

  12. Guy Burrell January 6, 2017 / 5:21 pm

    I believe that this brave man should have been awarded The Victoria Cross for his actions at The Mohne.

  13. robin john howard January 9, 2017 / 12:43 pm

    This is so moving it is almost unbelievable what he &his generation did at so young an age
    I also agree a posthumous V .C WOULD BE A WORTHY GESTURE , why does it take so long
    to honour those brave young men ,shame on our Governments &the shameless system that treated them so badly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.