Johnny Johnson remembering old comrade Les Knight

Johnny Johnson’s tribute to fellow Dambuster Les Knight. [Pic: Melvin Chambers]

Guest post by Melvin Chambers

On Monday 4 May, the Dutch Remembrance Day, the last surviving Dambuster Johnny Johnson sent an RAF-themed Roundel wreath to the Netherlands to be placed on fellow Dambuster Les Knight’s grave in the village of Den Ham.

Johnny sent the wreath as honorary president of a veteran’s self-help group called Group 617, a self-help group in the UK. Set up and run by military veterans, its chairman Russ Taff Kitely said Johnny cares deeply about the comrades he lost during the war. He also cares deeply about today’s veterans who suffer traumas. The group currently helps more than 60 veterans in need.

As sunset approached four vintage aircraft from the Egmond Vintage Wings group (based at Hoogeveen Airport) paid a personal tribute to Les Knight with a fly-past and Missing Man tribute. The formation flew above Den Ham where Knight sacrificed his life to save the village from disaster and to save his crew, who all survived the war.

Lead pilot Tom Wilps said : “It was too good an opportunity not to bring out this personal tribute from us pilots to an extraordinary pilot. We know of Les Knight’s great sacrifice and took into account the position of his monument in our flight plan to honour him.”

The sky was absolutely clear and the four aircraft performed their tribute as villagers came out of their homes and watched in surprise.

Johnny Johnson’s handwritten inscription reads: “Sincere thanks for your contribution to 617 Squadron and particularly your care for your crew.”

The wreath being laid by Les Knight Charity committee member Hans Dekker on behalf of Johnny Johnson. [Pic: Melvin Chambers]


At the going down of the sun… four vintage warbirds make a personal fly-past salute to Les Knight [Pic: Egmond Vintage Wings]

Nine things you may not know about the Dams Raid

The only photograph taken of a Lancaster in the air on the day of the Dams Raid. [IWM CH18006]

Tomorrow, Saturday 16 May, will be the 77th anniversary of the day in 1943 when nineteen Lancasters of RAF 617 Squadron took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to attack the dams in the Ruhr and Eder valleys. Of the 133 aircrew who participated in what would come to be called the Dams Raid, just 80 survived. Thirty-two more died before the end of the war, leaving 48 men.

Here are nine things that you may not know about the men who took part.

1. Neither of the flight commanders (Melvin ‘Dinghy’ Young and Henry Maudslay) had met Guy Gibson before 617 Squadron was formed. Both were shot down on their return flights.

2. Of the 19 flight engineers who flew on the raid, four were Scottish.

3. Five of the six men who made up Guy Gibson’s Dams Raid crew flew on just one operation with him in their whole careers. These were John Pulford, Harlo Taerum, Fred Spafford, George Deering and Richard Trevor-Roper.

4. Ray Wilkinson, rear gunner in Bill Townsend’s crew, was the only man to take part in both the Dams Raid and the final successful attack on the Tirpitz on 12 November 1944.

5. The front gunner in David Shannon’s crew, Brian Jagger, was the son of the portrait painter David Jagger and the nephew of the sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger, designer of the Royal Artillery war memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London. A David Jagger self-portrait was recently sold for £221,000 at auction.

6. Four men who flew on the raid had pregnant wives waiting at home. Two were killed (Lewis Burpee and Charles Brennan). The two others, David Maltby and Richard Trevor-Roper would both die soon after their own sons were born (Maltby on 15 September 1943, Trevor-Roper on 31 March 1944).

7. Two members of the crew of Lancaster AJ-P were knighted later on in their lives: pilot Mick Martin and navigator Jack Leggo.

8. The pilot of AJ-C, Warner ‘Bill’ Ottley, and his wireless operator Jack Guterman were good friends from their time in 207 Squadron and both had extensive classical music record collections which they played in the room they shared. Both died when AJ-C was shot down, and Ottley’s record collection was donated to his school, Hurstpierpoint College.

9. Canadians Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas grew up in the same town of Hamilton, Ontario, and had played schoolboy rugby in the same league. They met by chance again in the UK while training and joined the same crew. They both died when AJ-B, piloted by Bill Astell, crashed into a pylon near Marbeck in Germany. [There is a theory that the game they played together was Canadian or American football, but both men put down ‘rugby’ as a sporting interest on their RCAF application forms.]

Further information about all the 133 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.