Goodman to feature on R4 Last Words this week

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To mark what has been a sad few days for the friends and families of RAF 617 Squadron, a tribute to the late Benny Goodman will be broadcast on Radio 4’s Last Word programme on Friday 23 July. In it, presenter Matthew Bannister will interview the 617 Squadron Association historian Dr Robert Owen, who was a friend and colleague of Benny’s for more than 40 years. 

As others have said this week, Benny was not only a hero who was at special risk as a Jewish pilot flying wartime missions over Germany, he was a true gentleman and a lovely, rounded human being. Those who met him were fortunate to enjoy his company for so many years.

Last Word will go out at 4.00pm tomorrow, Friday 23 July, and is repeated on Sunday at 8.30pm. It will also be on BBC Sounds thereafter, which should be available outside the UK for his many friends in other countries. See this link for details.

Benny Goodman: What The Papers Say


Benny Goodman at the RAF Museum in Hendon, September 2020. [Pic: RAF Museum]

Benny Goodman’s death earlier this week has been covered on a number of news websites, amongst whom are the following:

Daily Telegraph (behind paywall)

The Times (behind paywall)

Daily Mirror

Daily Mail

The Sun

Daily Express

I’ve been through all those which are available to me.

The Gold Star for effort goes to the Telegraph, whose text had no obvious errors.

Sadly, the same can’t be said of the rest of the class. The Sun referred to Benny as “the last wartime pilot” from 617 Squadron. The Mail called him “the last surviving pilot” and went on to say that Johnny Johnson is the “last wartime member” of the squadron. The Mirror described him as “the last wartime member of the famous Dambusters squadron” and the Express called him the “last pilot”.

None of these statements are true: The last wartime pilot from 617 Squadron still with us is Flg Off Arthur Joplin, living in a retirement home in New Zealand. And as well as him and Johnny Johnson, who will turn 100 in November, there are several more wartime aircrew veterans from 617 Squadron still alive.

The saddest contribution to the Roll of Shame was probably that of the Express. This is the rather pathetic wreck of a newspaper which at one time dominated Fleet Street with a vast raftful of reporters. Its writers included legends such as James Cameron and Sefton Delmer, its editors were the likes of Arthur Christiansen and Bob Edwards. From the 1930s to the 1960s it prided itself on its coverage and circulation. The modern day writer who fills the legends’ shoes, Defence Editor John Ingham, wrote just 94 words in his contribution and compounded this paucity by including a photograph purporting to be Benny with his crew but which is, in fact, a photograph taken in 1942 of a crew from No 9 Squadron (published on this blog on 29 March 2011).

Express screenshot

This screengrab of a photograph from the Express website is in fact a 9 Squadron crew. It is the one skippered by Plt Off Charles McDonald RCAF, photographed in late 1942. Left to right: Sgt Frank Charlton, flight engineer; Flt Sgt Cyril Paley, bomb aimer; Flt Sgt Maxwell Coles, wireless operator; Sgt Victor Hill, mid-upper gunner (who flew on the Dams Raid in May 1943, in the crew of Flt Lt David Maltby); Flt Sgt Victor Nunn, navigator; Plt Off Charles McDonald, pilot; Flg Off John Crebbin, rear gunner. [Picture: Joe Paley]

If you come across any more obituaries please let me know. 

Sqn Ldr “Benny” Goodman


Pic: 617 Squadron Association

I am sorry to have to report the death earlier today at the age of 100 of Sqn Ldr Lawrence Seymour (“Benny”) Goodman, the last surviving British wartime pilot in 617 Squadron.

Benny was well known for his service in 617 Squadron at the latter end of the war, but in fact he had volunteered to join the RAF at the outbreak of war in 1939 aged 18 and was mustered as a pilot in early 1940.

Benny was born in London on 24 September 1920, and educated at Herne Bay College in Kent. After enrolling in an electrical engineering course, he then worked in his father’s film and advertising business. When the war began he joined the RAF and served as a ground-based gunner before being selected for aircrew training. After initial flying training in England, he was then shipped off to Canada for final training, receiving his flying badge in April 1942. He was retained in Canada for a while (to his frustration) as a flying instructor, part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan but at last returned to the UK in late 1942, although he was lucky to survive his ship being torpedoed mid-Atlantic.

He then undertook further heavy bomber training, where he displayed superlative flying skills. This led to him being selected as one of the few ab initio pilots for 617 Squadron, a special initiative by the AOC of 5 Group, Air Vice Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane, and he joined the squadron in August 1944.

After a “second dickey” trip on 18 August, his first operation with his own crew was an attack on Brest on 27 August. He went on to complete 30 operational missions before the cessation of hostilities, dropping Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs on numerous targets. These included the attack on the battleship Tirpitz on 29 October 1944 and on Hitler’s “Eagle’s nest”, 617 Squadron’s final operation of the war on 25 April 1945.

After compulsory demobbing in 1945, Benny joined 604 Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force, flying Spitfire XVIs from RAF Hendon as a reservist. He rejoined the RAF in 1949 during the Berlin Airlift, initially flying Hastings in Transport Command and finally retiring in 1963 after a tour on Canberra PR7s.

During his 21 years of service, he flew over 3,500 hours in 22 different aircraft types. He continued to fly as a private pilot until he was over 90 years old.

After his retirement, Benny was a great supporter of reconciliation with Germany, becoming a long-standing friend of the city of Arnsberg, whose viaduct he had collapsed on 19 March 1945 with a Grand Slam bomb. He also promoted diversity through the RAF Museum’s Hidden Heroes programme and contributed to the RAF’s oral history. He was also a longtime supporter of the 617 Squadron Association, attending the last dinners held in 2019.

Benny is survived by his son.

Funeral arrangements are yet to be confirmed, but it is hoped that there will be a memorial service at the Central Church of the RAF, St Clement Danes, in a few months’ time.

Lawrence Seymour Goodman, born 24 September 1920, died 18 July 2021.

New photographs of Neville Whitaker

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Pic: Boothman family.

Lynn Boothman has kindly sent me a photograph of the wedding of her parents Bill and Janet Boothman, at which the best man was her mother’s friend, Neville Whitaker. The wedding took place shortly after the war started, on 16 September 1939. In the photograph, Whitaker is standing second from the left, and the bride and groom are fourth and fifth from the left. The picture was taken outside the Whitewell Hotel, Whitewell, Lancashire, where the reception was held. The marriage ceremony had taken place earlier in St Michael’s Church, Whitewell, which is nearby. Lynn recalls that, on a much later visit to the hotel, her mother informed the staff that the reception had cost 1/6d a head.

Whitewell is a small historic village in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. Janet Boothman, née Slater, had been the only teacher in the Whitewell village school before her marriage, and because of the war continued in this position for some time after. Bill Boothman was a gamekeeper on the local estate, which at the time was owned by the Towneley family, and the Boothmans lived in a cottage on the estate. The photograph below was taken when Whitaker visited them at their home.

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Left to right: Bill Boothman, unknown, Janet Boothman, Neville Whitaker. [Pic: Boothman family]

In another photograph, he is shown cycling near the Boothmans’ cottage:

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Pic: Boothman family.

Arthur Neville Whitaker, the bomb aimer in the Vernon Byers crew in AJ-K, was one of the handful of men in their thirties who took part in the Dams Raid, having been born in Blackburn on 8 September 1909. He went to Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School Blackburn, and then studied accountancy. After qualifying, he moved to a job in a firm of musical instrument makers in Blackpool, and played football for a local team, Thornton Cleveleys FC.

When the war started, Whitaker first joined the army, switching to the RAF in May 1941. He was selected for aircrew training and qualified as an observer and then as a specialist bomb aimer. In November 1942, he joined 467 Squadron in the crew of Sgt Herbert Vine, but later switched to Vernon Byers’s crew. In total, he had flown on just eight operations before being posted to 617 Squadron at the end of March 1943. 

At some point, Whitaker gave the Boothman family this formal photograph of himself in RAF uniform. 

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Pic: Boothman family.

Whitaker died along with the rest of the Byers crew, shortly before 11pm on Sunday 16 May 1943. They were shot down near Texel island off the Dutch coast, and AJ-K plunged into the Waddenzee. The body of rear gunner James McDowell was the only one recovered, and the rest of the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede memorial. A further memorial to the whole crew will be unveiled near McDowell’s grave in Harlingen cemetery when restrictions are lifted. 

Thanks to Lynn Boothman for the use of pictures and further information.