The boys who bombed Berlin: Shannon and Burpee together in Express

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Pic: Chamberlain family

I wrote last year about the selection of David Shannon’s Dams Raid crew, and how four men who had previously flown with him in 106 Squadron were transferred to 617 Squadron at the end of March 1943. These were flight engineer Cyril Chamberlain (known as Joe to his friends and family), wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, and air gunners Douglas McCulloch and Bernard Holmes. In the event, none of them ended up in Shannon’s crew and by the end of April 1943, they had been assigned to other duties.
Cyril Chamberlain’s family have now contacted me and sent me pages from his logbook and some other interesting material. Included was the press cutting seen above, from the Daily Express of 19 January 1943. Bomber Command had mounted two raids against Berlin on 16 Januaryand again on 17 January – the first two attacks on the German capital for 14 months. Part of the force on both nights had come from 106 Squadron, and two of its crews were singled out for mention in the press. By coincidence, both pilots and some of their crews would take part in the Dams Raid four months later.
David Shannon was one of the 12 106 Squadron pilots who captained crews on the first trip, on 16 January, and his crew was later photographed. The press cutting shwn above was annotated by Chamberlain some time after the war. On the left hand side of the cutting you can see the men he identified: bomb aimer Wallace Herbert, flight engineer Joe Chamberlain, wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, skipper David Shannon, mid upper gunner Mac Maccoulh [sic – should be McCulloch], rear gunner Dave Lilley, navigator Dave Whalley [sic – should be Frank Whalley].
I have not seen this picture before, so it is helpful to have so many of Shannon’s then crew identified. However, there is a mystery about the man named as the rear gunner, Dave Lilley. The rear gunner on Shannon’s 16 January 1943 trip to Berlin is identified in the squadron operations record book as Bernard Holmes, and this is confirmed by Holmes’s own logbook, which is in the possession of his son, Robert. Robert also says that the man in the picture is not his father. Furthermore, there is no trace of anyone called Lilley in the squadron operations record book at that time.
A possible explanation is that the photograph would not seem to have been taken immediately after the raid but on the following day, as the men are wearing battledress tunics rather than flying jackets or suits. So Holmes might not have been present when the call came for the crew to reassemble, and another man from another crew was called in to make up the seven. His name, however, is unlikely to have been David Lilley.
This theory is supported by the fact that the crew on the right hand side of the cutting would appear to have been photographed while still in their flying kit.
This is the crew captained by the then Flt Sgt Lewis Burpee. Burpee flew as one of the nine 106 Squadron crews on the second sortie, on 17 January. Of the crew Chamberlain names only the pilot ‘P/O Burpee’ and the flight engineer ‘John Peglar’. These men have all been identified by Lewis Burpee himself on a print which is in the possession of his family. (See this post from June 2015.) They are, left to right: Gordon Brady (rear gunner), William (‘Ginger’) Long (mid upper gunner), Guy (‘Johnny’) Pegler (flight engineer), Lewis Burpee (pilot), Edward Leavesley (wireless operator), and George Goodings (bomb aimer). Leavesley and Goodings both left the Burpee crew before it moved to 617 Squadron.
There are only six men in this shot, which does not include Burpee’s navigator on the day. In fact, this was the squadron navigation leader, Flt Lt Norman Scrivener.
Thanks to the Chamberlain family for pictures.

Alex Bateman verdict: jail inevitable

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Alex Bateman arriving at court, Friday 13 January. [Pic: Gavin Rodgers/Pixel8000]

Alex Bateman was told today that he will be sent to jail after being found guilty of the theft of a wartime Royal Canadian Air Force logbook. As the verdict was delivered, he bowed his head and closed his eyes. The judge then said that he had ‘lied through his teeth’ and ordered him to be remanded in custody before returning for sentence on Friday 3 February.

q12-2017-logbookPhotocopy of the first two pages of the missing logbook. This was introduced in evidence very near the end of the trial by Alex Bateman himself. It is thought that he made this copy before selling or otherwise disposing of the original. [Pic: Metropolitan Police.]

The logbook was lent to him for his research in 1996 by Doris Fraser, the widow of Flt Sgt John Fraser, the bomb aimer in AJ-M, the aircraft piloted by John Hopgood on the Dams Raid. This was the second Lancaster to attack the Möhne Dam on the night of the raid, and it was shot down with the loss of five of the crew. Fraser and the rear gunner were able to bale out of the burning aircraft, but were captured and became prisoners of war. After the war Fraser returned to Canada and joined the forestry service. He was killed in a flying accident in 1962.
Mrs Fraser’s daughter, Shere Fraser Lowe, asked him to return the valuable document in 2003. At first, Bateman went along with her request but then concocted a series of ruses in the hope she would think that it had been accidentally lost. He posted a deliberately damaged envelope to her address in Canada, so that she would think the item had been lost in the post. Then he claimed it had been found again, and finally that it had been stolen in a burglary at his home.
He also forged a Christmas card, which he said had received from Mrs Fraser in 1996, which told him to ‘keep the logbook, you might find it useful’.

q12-2017-xmascardPic: Metropolitan Police

It emerged during the trial that in early 2003 he had also accepted a formal police caution over the theft of some 70 documents from the Public Record Office (now the National Archives) in Kew.
Judge John Dodd QC said: ‘I cannot see any alternative to a custodial sentence. The length of the sentence which I consider absolutely inevitable, is now something I have to reflect on.’
He did, however make one final offer to Bateman. ‘He has lied through his teeth to this jury,’ he said. ‘He has done something dreadfully cruel, I think he has it in his power to tell the truth, and if he does choose to tell the truth and restore the original document that will help him enormously.’
During the trial, Bateman admitted never telling Mrs Fraser how much the item was potentially worth, but said: ‘I didn’t [tell her] at any point because I don’t see the monetary value in it. I only see the value of the information.’ He then added: ‘I don’t collect Dambusters memorabilia.’
However, his eBay account reveals that he has, in fact, publicly sold some small value items in recent years such as signed Christmas cards and an invitation to the premiere of The Dam Busters film in 1955.
In May 2016, Bateman was jailed for 12 months for making indecent images of children. He completed six months of this sentence, before being released on licence for good behaviour while in prison.

Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of the late Flight Sergeant John Fraser’s missing RAF log book should contact Acting Detective Sergeant Henry Childe on 020 8345 4552 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Daily Mirror report
Evening Standard report
Daily Telegraph report
Daily Mail report

 

Alex Bateman on trial: Day Four

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John and Doris Fraser on their wedding day, 29 April 1943. [Pic: Fraser family]

The fourth day of Alex Bateman’s trial for the theft of the logbook of Dams Raid bomb aimer Flt Sgt John Fraser began with defence counsel Samantha Wright producing a photocopy of the document which has been the centre of attention in the case. This overnight development, which the judge, Judge John Dodd QC, would later call an ‘astonishing revelation’, looked rather mundane when shown to the case participants in Courtroom 2 in Wood Green Crown Court: a set of black and white photocopies in an ordinary plastic wallet.
The copy had been located overnight in a filing cabinet in his storage unit, Bateman told prosecuting counsel Max Hardy. The copy had been made in about 2003, he said. I suggest that you made this copy before selling the logbook, said Hardy. Bateman replied, ‘No.’
The judge then asked: ‘At the close of evidence two days ago, you said “I never copied it”. Was that a mistaken answer or a lie?’ Bateman replied: ‘It was not a lie.’ ‘Has anyone ever asked you if you have a copy?’ the judge continued. ‘No, I have never been asked,’ he replied. ‘If you hadn’t been asked, then that copy would have remained in your filing cabinet,’ the judge then observed.
Max Hardy then began his closing statement to the jury by asking them to imagine how they would feel if he had borrowed an item of value from them, and then proceeded to sell it. ‘It is very, very likely that the reason why Mr Bateman doesn’t have the logbook any more is because he sold it.’ he said. ‘But the trial is not about whether he sold it, but whether he stole it,’ he went on.
He suggested that Bateman had engaged in a long and convoluted charade: a demonstration of good faith, in the hope that John Fraser’s daughter, Shere Fraser Lowe, would accept that the document had been lost in the post.
Another act in the charade had been the Christmas card, Hardy continued. The defence had offered no evidence against the handwriting expert whose ‘strong opinion’ was that the writing was by someone different from the person who had written the other cards. The message it contained, bluntly blurting out ‘Just keep the logbook’, was designed with one purpose in mind: to put an end to the request for its return from Shere Fraser Lowe.
Bateman had also claimed that he found Ms Fraser Lowe’s behaviour ‘intimidating’. This was not a case where heavies had been sent around with baseball bats, but a perfectly reasonable request for a meeting, Hardy observed.
The charade went on, Hardy said. There had been an email, allegedly written in May 2003 and purportedly from the late ‘John Fraser’ himself. This had alluded to Bateman’s ‘difficulties with the Public Record Office.’ ‘But who knew about that in 2003?’ Hardy asked.
The final act in the charade had been the ‘burglary’ at his home. A desperate situation called for desperate measures. Bateman needed to create a situation where the logbook was gone for good. The burglary gave him a chance to say once and for all, that he couldn’t return it because it was gone.
Hardy concluded by saying that Bateman was a grown man who knew perfectly well what he was doing. And he regretted that he had to say to the jury that Bateman had been dishonest throughout.
In her summary speech, defence counsel Samantha Wright told the jury that Bateman had not stolen the logbook. He had no intention to keep it forever, and at no time did he refuse to return it. ‘It had gone missing,’ she said, ‘because it had been stolen in a burglary.’
Bateman has a passionate interest in Dambusters research, she said, but he did not himself collect Dambusters memorabilia. He had built his knowledge with dedicated research, sending hundreds of letters over 30 years. ‘The information is its own reward,’ she added. 
She went through many of the other incidents which had occurred. When it came to the burglary, she pointed out that there was nothing in the police report to say that it was anything other than a genuine burglary.
Altogether, Bateman was nervous and suspicious of Shere Fraser Lowe’s motives in asking for the return of the logbook, she said. Fraser Lowe was the ‘driving force’ in getting the logbook back. There was nothing sinister in that, but she was emotionally involved in the issue.
Following counsels’ summaries, the judge summed up the case. It was important, he said, to keep emotion outside. You are entitled to draw inferences from evidence – that is no more than common sense – but you must not indulge in speculation. 
The burden was on the prosecution to make you sure of someone’s guilt, he said, and if you’re sure, you convict. The law says that theft occurs if a person dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another person with the intention to permanently deprive them of it.
The judge went through the evidence in detail, reminding the jury that the central figure was John Fraser, who he described as a ‘brave young man’ who had been part of the Canadian contribution in the war against Hitler, and flown as a bomb aimer on the Dams Raid. He noted that there was a poignant last line in the recently uncovered copy of the logbook, in someone else’s handwriting: ‘Missing’. [Although it would subsequently emerge that Fraser had been captured after his aircraft was shot down on the raid, and he would see out the rest of the conflict as a prisoner of war.]
When it came to the sudden disclosure by Bateman that all long he had possessed a copy of the logbook, the judge said this was an ‘astonishing revelation’, considering what he had said before. His account of the circumstances may be a palpable untruth. But whatever it is, he added, and whether or not it assists you in your deliberations, only you can decide.
The jury of seven women and five men retired at 12.20pm to consider their verdict. At 4.15pm, the judge called them back in and told them that if they needed further time they should come back in the morning. He warned them not to discuss the case with each other outside the jury room, or with family and friends.
The case continues tomorrow.

Alex Bateman on trial: Day Three

50 sqn Schofield crew

Flt Sgt John Fraser is second from the left in the back row in this photograph taken while he was serving in 50 Squadron. Next to him, third from left, is fellow Canadian Ken Earnshaw, who went with him to 617 Squadron. Earnshaw also joined John Hopgood’s crew, and died on the Dams Raid.  His logbook was allegedly stolen from Alex Bateman’s house in June 2003, at the same time as that of John Fraser. 

On the third day of his trial for the theft of a logbook belonging to Doris Fraser, the widow of Dams Raid bomb aimer Flt Sgt John Fraser, Alex Bateman has repeatedly claimed that he felt ‘intimidated’ by her daughter, Ms Shere Fraser Lowe.
He had posted a padded envelope containing the logbook and a tape cassette, which attached to a piece of card, to Ms Fraser Lowe’s address in Canada. When it arrived the package had a slit in the bottom, and the logbook was missing.
He claimed that he then located the logbook in his local sorting office, and told Ms Fraser Lowe in an email. Ms Fraser Lowe and her mother then offered to make a special trip to London in order to retrieve the logbook, but Bateman then asked Ms Fraser Lowe to stop contacting him.
Bateman told prosecuting counsel Max Hardy: ‘I started to get suspicious that Doris Fraser had no knowledge of what her daughter was doing. I wanted to hear from Doris that she knew what was happening. Shere Fraser Lowe was fixated on the logbook, and we had already agreed that we would meet in May’ [in order to hand it over].
‘I had another issue going on in my life, and her calls were quite incessant,’ he added. ‘Then she said she would fly over specially to collect it. I felt that was a strange way of doing things.’
Hardy then asked Bateman about the posting of the envelope. He claimed that it had been posted in Harrow between 5 and 8 February, but could not explain why the postmark was that of Greenford Mail Centre on 12 February. ‘I have never been to Greenford,’ he said. The envelope was reused, but to secure it he had used staples and parcel tape. It was undamaged when he posted it, he added.
When Ms Fraser Lowe told him that the logbook was missing, he made enquiries in the Harrow postal sorting office. He was told that it had been found but he had no records of any communication with the sorting office, other than that he may have signed some sort of receipt.
Asked today by Hardy if he had a copy of the logbook, Bateman said he did. ‘Could you collect this copy from your home?’ Hardy asked. Bateman answered, ‘Yes’. Hardy pointed out that he had been asked before if he had a copy, and he had said no.
Hardy then asked about the Christmas card which Bateman had claimed had been sent to him by Doris Fraser in 1996. [Forensic expert Nicola Thomas had examined the writing and her statement had been read out on the previous day.] ‘Did you write that card?’ he asked. Bateman replied, ‘No, I didn’t.’ ‘You know that the writing has been subject to expert analysis?’ he was asked. ‘If that card was not written by Doris Fraser, can you suggest who might have written it?’ Bateman said that he could not.
Earlier Bateman had been asked by the judge, Judge John Dodd QC, why if the logbook was at his home in May, he did not return it to the family when they were in the UK. ‘I took advice from my solicitor,’ Bateman replied, ‘and I can’t remember why not.’
The judge made a further intervention at the close of cross-examination by prosecuting counsel. He returned to the subject of a photocopy of the logbook, and asked Bateman again if he was now saying that he did have one. Bateman said that he might have it. All his possessions were currently in storage, he explained.
The judge then adjourned the case until the morning, to allow him time to retrieve the item and bring it to court.
The case continues.

Story in Daily Mirror

Alex Bateman on trial: Day Two

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Alex Bateman leaving Wood Green Crown Court today. Pic by Gavin Rodgers/Pixel8000

Alex Bateman accepted a formal police caution in 2003 in a case involving the theft of documents from the Public Record Office [now the National Archives] between 1990 and 2001, a court was told today by a police officer, Det Sgt Henry Childe. No further action was then taken on the matter. Bateman is on trial at Wood Green Crown Court for the theft of a Royal Canadian Air Force logbook from Mrs Doris Fraser, the widow of Dams Raid bomb aimer, Plt Off John Fraser.
In his own evidence regarding the arrest of Bateman in 2015 and the subsequent search of his house, Det Sgt Childe also told the court that he had asked Bateman if he still had the logbooks. To this he replied ‘I don’t have them. I don’t know where they are.’
Earlier the court was read a statement from an expert forensic documents investigator, Nicola Thomas. She had compared a single Christmas card which had a handwritten message ‘Please keep the logbook. You might find it useful’ with four other cards written by Doris Fraser. The single card had rudimentary similarities with the other four, Thomas said, but there were also ‘significant and consistent differences in size, spacing and alignment.’ She had a strong view that someone other than Doris Fraser had written and signed the single card, ‘making some attempt to imitate her signature and possibly also her writing.’
Later, Bateman gave evidence in his own defence. He had developed an interest in the history of the Second World War as a child, he told the court. He began writing to veterans asking for autographs, using a copy of Who’s Who from his school library to gain their addresses. This led to him starting research on the men who took part on the Dams Raid, and he ended up with signatures from more than 40.
He then began seeking out information about those who had died on the raid or subsequently, and had written letters to local newspapers covering the areas where the men had been born or lived. One such letter had been to a newspaper in Vancouver Island, home after the war of John Fraser and his family.
Over the years, he had acquired a large collection of documents, and had helped a number of writers, publishers and filmmakers with their work. He was now at work on a series of five volumes, which would together form a comprehensive account of the Dams Raid. When asked whether he made a living from this work he said ‘No’. His financial situation was ‘low’ and he had lived ‘effectively rent-free’ in the family home with his mother all of his life, until it had been sold after her death in 2015. At this point in his evidence, Bateman broke down and had to take a few minutes to compose himself.
Later, he told the court he had been given two other Dambuster logbooks, those of Sgt Gordon Yeo and Flg Off Ken Earnshaw. This was well known, he said, to other Dambuster enthusiasts.
He went on to describe how he had posted the Fraser logbook back to Ms Shere Fraser Lowe, Doris Fraser’s daughter, in a used padded envelope fastened with staples and parcel tape. Asked if he had himself slit the envelope open, he said, ‘No’. He wasn’t sure how he had been told that when it arrived, Ms Fraser Lowe had found that the logbook was missing, but he said he felt ‘panicked’ when he heard the news. He then made enquiries with the sorting office and could identify the logbook when it was found there. He retrieved it from the sorting office, but had no evidence to show that this had occurred.
He then told Ms Fraser Lowe that he had found the logbook, and offered to hand it over to her mother in person when the two were going to be in England ten or eleven weeks later for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
At this point, he said, he was rather suspicious as to why Ms Fraser Lowe had taken over the correspondence with him. She was quite intimidating, he said, and thought that she had telephoned him on several occasions, not just twice, which is what she had said in her evidence. He found the idea of meeting Doris Fraser to hand over the logbook if she flew to London especially to collect the book very stressful. ‘Something was stressing me out at the time,’ he said, but whatever it was, he could’t remember.
As the day’s proceedings drew to a close, the judge, Judge John Dodd QC, asked him why he hadn’t made a photocopy of the logbook before returning it. Bateman replied that it was probably because he had no money for copying.
The case continues.

Alex Bateman on trial: Day One

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Flt Sgt (later Pilot Officer) John Fraser, bomb aimer in AJ-M on the Dams Raid. [Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada]

The trial of Alex Bateman for the theft of a logbook belonging to Doris Fraser, the widow of Flt Sgt John Fraser, the bomb aimer in John Hopgood’s Dams Raid crew, began on Monday 9 January at Wood Green Crown Court.
The RCAF logbook had been returned to John Fraser after the war, but following his death in a plane crash in Canada in 1962, his widow had put it aside. In 1996, she offered to help Bateman when she read a newspaper article about his research and sent it to him to help. By this, she said in a statement read out in court, she believed that she was helping to honour his memory.
Relations between the pair remained friendly for a number of years thereafter, and they exchanged Christmas cards.
In late 2002, however, Mrs Fraser’s daughter Shere Fraser Lowe started her own research into her father’s wartime career. By coincidence she had been informed of Bateman’s interest in the Dams Raid by another Dambuster relative, she told the court in evidence by video link, and shortly afterwards she became aware of the logbook’s existence.
When she first contacted Bateman herself, he sent her a friendly letter and returned some documents, but did not mention the logbook, she said. In a later email, however, Bateman wrote: ’regarding the logbook, yes, I do have it and was going to mention it to you … I’ll put the log in the post in the next few days and let you know.’
A Jiffy bag postmarked 18 February 2003 arrived in the mail, but there was a slit in the bottom, and there was no logbook inside. It contained a cassette taped to a piece of card, which also had a letter stapled to it. This read: ‘Dear Shere, here as promised is the log book of your father – I know you will find it of interest and it’s a pleasure to return it to its rightful owners.’
Prosecution barrister Max Hardy told the jury of seven women and five men: ‘It’s the prosecution’s case that this was a ruse – it was Mr Bateman pretending to return the logbook to Shere Lowe.’
Fraser Lowe told the court that she immediately telephoned Bateman in London. He emailed her shortly afterwards saying that there was ‘good news… the book has been found in our sorting office. I will pick it up later today and give it to you when we meet.’
Fraser Lowe told the court that she offered to fly to London herself the following week, but Bateman said that he would not be available. He would, however, see her in May 2003 when Fraser Lowe and her mother planned to travel to the UK for the 60th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
After this exchange, the Fraser family instructed a British firm of solicitors to demand the return of the logbook, but it never materialised.
then, before the planned reunion, Bateman produced a Christmas card purportedly from Mrs Fraser gifting him the logbook and asked Ms Fraser Lowe not to phone him anymore.
The Christmas card read: ‘Dear Alex, thank you for your letter but please keep the logbook, you might find it useful. All the very best for the New Year, Doris Fraser.’
Mr Hardy said: ‘This reveals Mr Bateman’s true intention in this case which was to keep that logbook for himself saying it had been gifted to him.
‘That whole envelope thing was to try and say he had sent it to her, but perhaps he had second thoughts about saying it had fallen out in the post.’
The court was told that a handwriting expert would say that there was strong evidence that the Christmas card was written by someone other than Mrs Fraser. Mrs Fraser was herself adamant in her sworn statement she did not write the card. ’It has been faked,’ she said.
The Fraser family then took their story to the press, and the Sunday Express approached Bateman for a comment. An article appeared on 28 June 2003, but the day before on Saturday 27 June 2003, Bateman reported a burglary at his address and claimed that the logbook was among the items stolen.
The case continues, and is expected to last for another 2-3 days.

Report in the Daily Mail