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.