Wednesday’s dam flight likely to be called off, but may take place on Thursday

Tomorrow’s flight down Derbyshire’s Derwent valley by the BBMF Lancaster is likely to be called off, official BBMF sources say. However, Dambusters Blog understands that there is a possibility that the flight is simply being postponed, and may take place on Thursday 17 May – but only if weather conditions allow.

More information to follow.


Blue plaque for Doug Webb to be unveiled on 17 May

PIC: Yahya El Droubie

Seventy five years and four hours after his aircraft landed at Scampton after the Dams Raid, exhausted and with his bullet trays empty, Douglas Webb, the front gunner of AJ-O is to be honoured with a blue plaque on the house where he was born, 158 Richmond Road, London E11.

The plaque will be unveiled on Thursday 17 May at 10.00am. All welcome.

Historic Garbas-Garshowitz pose recreated for Dams Raid 75th anniversary

The nephews of Dams Raid veterans Frank Garbas and Albert Garshowitz recreated a historic wartime photograph in Canada shortly before leaving for England for the anniversary commemorations. Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, the two young men had been childhood friends playing football and rugby for the same team. Both separately joined the RCAF shortly after the outbreak of war and then, after completing training, their paths crossed later as crews were being finalised for heavy bomber operations. Keen to renew their friendship, they joined the same crew, piloted by an Englishman, Max Stephenson.

Sadly Stephenson was killed when flying on another operation, so the crew were posted to 57 Squadron, based at RAF Scampton, with a new pilot, Flt Lt Bill Astell. After flying on a number of operations together, the  whole crew were posted to a new squadron which was being formed at the same station. This was 617 Squadron.

Austell and his whole crew died when their aircraft, AJ-B, flying as part of the First Wave of the Dams Raid to attack the Mohne and Eder Dams, collied with a pylon near Marbeck in Germany.

After the war,  Paul Morley, nephew of Frank Garbas, and Hartley Garshowitz, nephew of Albert Garshowitx, each started their own independent research into their uncles’ roles in the Dams Raid. Realising the connection, they made contact with each other and have been friends since. They travelled together last week to attend the UK ceremonies, but before embarking they posed for a joint photograph in front of VERA, the only flying Canadian Lancaster, which is based in their home town of Hamilton.

Full story in Hamilton Spectator

[Thanks to Lisa Morley]

Doncaster vandals steal Fraser plaque

The vandalised memorial stone in a Doncaster park. [Pic: Heather Allsworth]

In April 1943, Canadian airman Flt Sgt John Fraser was allowed special leave for one day from training for the Dams Raid in order to get married. His wife Doris came from Doncaster, and they had met while John was stationed at nearby RAF Finningley.

More than sixty years later, in July 2003, to honour of John and Doris Fraser, Doncaster Council decided to instal a bronze plaque in a local park, next to a tree which was planted in his memory by a group of people including Doris Fraser, her daughter Shere and two of the Fraser grandchildren. Representatives of the current 617 Squadron were also present to honour one of the squadron’s founder members.

Yesterday, Shere Fraser revisited the park and found, to her horror, that the plaque had been wrenched from the memorial stone and removed, presumably for a few pounds worth of scrap metal. Local police and local press have been informed, and if anyone has any further information they are asked to contact the authorities.

Below: the plaque photographed at the time of its installation.

Anniversary events at the RAF Museum

The RAF Museum’s Lancaster. Events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid will be held beneath its wings. [Pic: Geograph/Carlisle Kid]

The RAF Museum in Hendon, North London, has four free events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. The first two need prebooking.

The Legend of the Dambusters Raid
Wednesday 16 May, 2pm

Under the wings of the Lancaster in the main exhibition hall.
Free to attend
Billed as an insightful look at the Dambusters Raid from 1943 and the story of the most famous raid by Bomber Command in the Second World War.
Tickets can be reserved here.

A Legacy of a Dambuster
Thursday 17 May, 2pm

Under the wings of the Lancaster in the main exhibition hall.
Free to attend
The legacy of one Dambuster, John Hopgood, and how his family are building dams in Africa. This talk is in partnership with the WaterAid charity. The speaker is Jenny Elmes, niece of John Hopgood, and author of his biography, M-Mother.
Tickets can be reserved here.

Dambuilding and Dambusting!
Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 May, 11am – 3pm

Free activity, just drop in
Families can come and be inspired by the legacy of the Dambuster John Hopgood and build sand dams. Artists Silvia Krupinska and Danny Saul are making an interactive art installation that visitors will be able to build and engage with. There will be multiple layers, textures and sounds for families to experience. This activity has been commissioned by the WaterAid charity, in partnership with the RAF Museum.

Lancaster Flypast
Saturday 19 May, 5.30pm
The BBMF Lancaster will fly over the Museum. This will be one of the few opportunities in the London area to see it, so arrive early and have your cameras at the ready. Please be aware that flypasts are subject to suitable weather conditions both at the museum and at its take-off site.

John Wilkinson remembered in home village of Antrobus

Above: A new blue plaque in Antrobus Village Hall commemorating John Wilkinson.

The small Cheshire village of Antrobus was the birthplace and home of Sgt John Wilkinson, wireless operator in Vernon Byers’s AJ-K on the Dams Raid. The village held a special weekend of commemorative events on 6 and 7 May including a display at the War Memorial in the church, exhibitions about John Wilkinson, the Dambusters and Farming in the War. A special blue plaque was unveiled in the Village Hall.

Highlights included a special Flypast by a Dakota from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight to salute John Wilkinson and a display of model aircraft including an 11 foot Lancaster Bomber by the Liverpool Model Aircraft Society. The events also raised £1000 for the RAF Benevolent Fund.

Above: The BBMF Dakota performing a flyover salute to the commemorations

The newly re-formed 617 Squadron sent a special message to the organisers: ‘We’d like to offer the Squadron’s thanks [to the Village] for celebrating John’s life and remembering his sacrifice. 617 Squadron is very proud of its history and it’s so good to see others doing such good work to keep it alive.’

Many of Wilkinson’s relatives still live in the area. June Morris, Wilkinson’s niece, said on their behalf: ‘It was a very lovely fitting tribute to our late uncle.’

Below: Susan Sinagola of Antrobus presents a photograph of John Wilkinson to Mrs Phoenix of Antrobus Village School.

Burpee and Arthur families at AJ-S memorial unveiling

Lewis Burpee Jr unveiling the memorial to the crew of AJ-S, killed on the Dams Raid, on 17 May 1943. Pic: Peter van Kaathoven

A memorial to the Dams Raid crew piloted by the Canadian Lewis Burpee was unveiled on Friday near the site where they crashed at Gilze Rijen airfield in the Netherlands. It was attended by a number of local dignitaries and representatives of the RAF, as well as members of the families of Lewis Burpee himself and of his bomb aimer, James Arthur. The BBMF Lancaster PA474 flew over the memorial before landing at the airfield as part of its goodwill tour of the Netherlands.

Burpee was a Canadian, born in Ottawa on 5 March 1918. He had two other Canadians in his crew, rear gunner Gordon Brady from Ponoka, Alberta, and bomb aimer James Arthur from Toronto. Arthur had only joined Burpee’s crew in his previous squadron in March 1943, and had flown on just one operation with his skipper. He was one of the four children of the Rev Alfred and Dora Arthur. His father was an Anglican priest, with a parish in the Toronto suburbs.

The memorial is made up of a large piece of crankshaft from one of the crashed Lancaster’s engines. It has seven pistons, once for each of the AJ-S crew, and is faced with an engraved plaque. It was unveiled on Friday by Burpee’s son, also called Lewis Burpee, who was born on Christmas Eve 1943, seven months after his father’s death.

After the unveiling this group gathered near PA474, seen in the background. Above, left to right: Sander van der Hall, organiser of the memorial appeal; Maureen Burpee; Lewis Burpee Jr; Rev Dom Luke Bell, nephew of James Arthur; Sqn Ldr Andy Millikin, OC BBMF; Air Cdre Chris Lorraine, retired RAF officer; Jonathan Bell and Julian Bell, nephews of James Arthur. Pic: Peter van Kaathoven

More details on the memorial’s Facebook page.

Taking off on the Dams Raid

IWM Collections CH18006

This is one of the pictures in my new book, The Complete Dambusters. It is a photograph taken by official Air Ministry photographer Flg Off W. Bellamy of a Lancaster taking off on the Dams Raid on the night of 16 May 1943. As it is a single aircraft, it is probably one from the Second Wave, possibly the first to leave the ground: Norman Barlow and his crew in AJ-E.

There has been some discussion on the veracity of this picture, since there is no sign of the Upkeep weapon underneath the Lancaster as it leaves the ground. However, it is likely that either the photographer or a darkroom operative was instructed to paint out the weapon for security reasons. At the angle from which this picture was taken, the weapon would have appeared between the struts of the undercarriage. The painting out has been done rather crudely – if there was nothing underneath the aircraft, daylight would be visible through the struts. (You can see an example of this in this picture of a parked Lancaster, left.)

Bellamy’s ‘dope sheet’ (his handwritten list of shots taken that day which was sent to his bosses at the Air Ministry) actually lists two pictures: ‘One of the “Lancs” taking off for the raid as night falls’ and ‘A “Lanc” takes off as night falls’. It’s not known which of these two shots this is. The dope sheet itself is in the Imperial War Museum’s photographic archive, and was reproduced in Herman Euler’s book The Dams Raid through the Lens, After the Battle 2001, p210.

It’s here: Complete Dambusters on sale from 8 May

Great excitement at Blog HQ in the last few days when an advance copy of my new book The Complete Dambusters arrived! As I write, fleets of lorries are travelling across Europe bringing stock to bookshops far and wide, so expect to see copies on the shelves (or in your favourite online shop) sometime next week.

I will be in the Lincolnshire area from Saturday 12 to Monday 14 May, so if you would like to get a copy direct from me, then please get in touch. I will also be at the Royal Albert Hall for the gala screening of The Dam Busters on the night of Thursday 17 May, and will have copies of the book available. Families of Dams Raid veterans who are coming to this event are invited to meet up in the Berry Bros and Rudd bar (near Albert Hall Door 1) from 6pm. (A few tickets for this event are still available and can be booked via the Albert Hall box office.)

To whet your appetite, here are a couple of spreads from the book:


The aura of the Dams Raid

A number of publications are producing special editions or features to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. Amongst these are the monthly magazine Britain at War, whose April number 2018 devoted some 24 pages to the event.

Much of the text covers familiar ground, but there was a slightly different angle in an article by an academic from the University of Hull, Victoria E Taylor. In it she discussed how the ‘iconic operation’ has become ‘woven into the fabric of British folklore’. This has given it a slightly unfortunate position in popular culture, she argues. ‘… the gung-ho, “Boy’s Own” narrative of the Dams Raid – while valid and understandable – is not always sensitive to the immense sorrow that the operation provoked. The psychological distress of certain “Dambusters” over the 53 Allied airmen killed (and three captured) is not often fully considered. The same can particularly be said of the 1294 victims of the resulting floods.’

These are valid points, and ones which should be considered by those who are often tempted to treat the raid as some sort of game (going to an England football match dressed in a fake RAF uniforms and singing Ten German Bombers, for instance). These days, there is much better understanding of the effects of war on its participants, whether ‘winners’ or ‘losers’, so it should come as no surprise that some of those who took part in the Dams Raid suffered from mental stress later on in their lives.

To their credit, the organisers of most of the official events which will commemorate the 75th anniversary recognise this, and there won’t be much mindless triumphalism. And it is significant that there will also be an event in Germany itself, at the Eder Dam, which will bring together people from the nations which opposed each other in the war itself. Also significant is the ongoing interest by the people of Haldern in the memorial at the crash site of Norman Barlow and his crew.

The April 2018 edition of Britain at War, which includes Victoria Taylor’s article, is still available online.

[Victoria Taylor has asked me to point out that she was not responsible for the captions on the photographs which accompany her article. In particular, the one which identifies the unmistakeable figure of Les Munro, with a New Zealand flash on his shoulder, as Joe McCarthy!]