They shall grow not old

My good friend Dom Howard has kindly let me use this video he created a few years ago as the Dambusters Blog’s contribution to Remembrance Day. It shows the crests of all the squadrons who made up Bomber Command, to whose fallen members we particularly pay our respects this weekend.

The voice you will hear at the end is that of Sgt Dennis Over, a rear gunner who survived the war. Dennis joined the RAF as soon as he turned 18 and served on 106 and 227 Squadrons. In his later years, he ‘discovered’ the internet and in particular a couple of forums dedicated to Bomber Command. To one of these, the much-missed Lancaster Archive Forum, he contributed more than a thousand posts, full of experience, wisdom and wit.

Dennis died on 4 October 2015. He grew old, but many of his comrades did not, and he never forgot them. May they all rest in peace. 

 

Maltby “Bear mascot”: Family cannot authenticate

Sqn Ldr David Maltby (left) with Wg Cdr Guy Gibson, photographed at RAF Scampton in July 1943. [Pic: IWM TR1122]

The following comment has been made by the grandsons of Sqn Ldr David Maltby:

“It has come to the attention of the Maltby family that a forthcoming auction by East Bristol Auctions features a toy teddy bear called Pinnie the Wooh which allegedly belonged to Sqn Ldr David Maltby DSO DFC, the pilot of AJ-J on the Dams Raid.

It is asserted that this toy bear is authenticated by a typed label which was authored by Ettrick Maltby, David’s father. The label has not been signed by him so the handwriting cannot be compared to the many handwritten letters of which he was the author.

David Maltby’s son, John Maltby and his two grandsons, are alive and well. Having lost his father, John was educated as a boarder at the school, Hydneye House, owned and run by his grandfather Ettrick. Other family members were also at the school, which closed in 1969. The family wish to state that such a personal item would have been retained by the family, that they care for his items deeply, and have never considered selling or profiteering from such an item.

Ettrick and Aileen Maltby had eight other grandchildren besides John, most of whom visited Hydneye when young. None of them can recall any such item being in the school.

The Maltby family are aware that this item was presented for auction on a previous occasion, on which matter they commented similarly at the time. As a family, they are therefore unable to authenticate this item.

They are making this comment in the hope that it will come to the attention of anyone thinking of purchasing this item. They would prefer this item, and any other similar item which might come up for sale in the future, be carefully authenticated and if appropriate preserved as part of a publicly-accessible museum or collection, and that any fees which might arise be donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund in honour of all who lost their lives.”

What happened to the Dams Raid Lancasters: a definitive list

Lancaster ED825/G, one of the 23 Type 464 aircraft built for Operation Chastise. This was given the code AJ-T and was slated to be the spare. Because ED915/G AJ-Q was found to be faulty while preparing for take-off, Joe McCarthy and his crew eventually flew this aircraft on the raid, and attacked the Sorpe Dam. [Pic: IWM ATP 11384C]

Frank Pleszak has done a great service to other Dams Raid researchers by compiling a definitive list of the fate of the 23 aircraft built for Operation Chastise. These were all constructed over a period of two months in 1943 as a variation of the production run of Model BIII Lancasters taking place at the Avro headquarters factory at Chadderton, with final assembly at Woodford, both in Greater Manchester. The special model was given the name of Type 464 (Provisioning).

In total 23 Lancaster Type 464 conversions were produced. Nineteen of these flew on the Dams raid and eight were lost, leaving fifteen. None were ever fully returned to standard Lancaster BIII configuration (although some were part-modified) as it was too difficult or too costly to refit the bomb bay doors and mid-upper turret.

Over several days in August 1943 nine of the aircraft were used for trials with forward-rotating Upkeep mines at the Ashley Walk bombing range in the New Forest. During the trials ED765 was caught in the slipstream of others as it flew in close formation and crashed. The pilot (Flt Lt William Kellaway) and bomb aimer were seriously injured while the rest of the crew had more minor injuries.

Over the following six months some of the aircraft were used on occasional operations, as well as for training and other trials. On 10 December 1943, on an operation to drop supplies to members of the SOE, ED825 and ED886 were both lost. The crews were skippered by Wrt Off G Bull and Flg Off Gordon Weeden. Weeden and all his crew were killed, but Bull and four of his crew managed to bale out and were captured. The final wartime loss of a Dams Raid Lancaster occurred on 20 January 1944 when ED918 crashed on a night training flight near Snettisham in Norfolk. The pilot, Flt Lt Thomas O’Shaughnessy, was killed along with his bomb aimer.

Three were used after the war, in August and December 1946, in an mission which was given the name Operation Guzzle: the disposal of the remaining 37 live Upkeep mines in the Atlantic Ocean about 280 miles west of Glasgow. The eleven Type 464 Lancasters which survived the war were all finally scrapped in 1946-7.

Here is Frank Pleszak’s list:

You can read Frank’s full post on his blog here.

Dam Busters film pilot meets Queen

Ken Souter is in the flying helmet on the left of this shot from his own collection. Picture taken during the shooting of flying sequences for The Dam Busters. Pic: The Sun

Dom Howard tipped me off about this recent story in The Sun.

Flt Lt Ken Souter was one of the RAF pilots who flew the Lancasters used in the 1955 film The Dam Busters. He had served in North Africa during the war and in the Malaya Emergency afterwards before being selected to fly the aircraft, which were taken out of storage and hired out to the film company at the princely cost of £130 each per hour.

Now 100 years old, Ken and his wife Brigitta live in a Haig Housing veterans’ retirement home in south London, which was recently visited by the Queen. According to The Sun they met, and then chatted about the card she sent him for his 100th birthday. But then Ken forgot to mention his place in cinema history to the monarch!

The flying re-created for the film was almost as dangerous as that undertaken on the raid itself, Ken later told the newspaper:

“The director wanted two aeroplanes to fly very low over the water and then climb up the side of a mountain. As we flew up the mountain, we were getting lower and lower to the ground. There was nothing we could do about it. We were on maximum power and maximum climb and the ground was coming up fast. We couldn’t climb any more and I thought, ‘This is it’.
How we managed to scrape over the top of that mountain I’ll never know. It was very dodgy but we ­survived. We were flying lower than we had ever flown before, even ­during wartime, and I had arguments with the film company about it.
I kept telling them we were going to be killed, but they insisted.”

Despite the danger, Ken Souter and his colleagues didn’t get any extra money for their work on the film, having to rely only on their normal RAF pay. However, they can be assured that they have their own special place in cinema history, even if Ken forgot to tell the Queen about it.

Thanks to Dom Howard.

Update on “Gibson letter” to Liddell family

10.45pm UK time: Big result!

Blog reader Arthur Rayner has been in touch, informing me that the “letter from Guy Gibson” about which I blogged this afternoon has now been removed from eBay. Arthur has been in touch with the vendor, who told him that he had “no idea” that the letter might be a fake, and that he had purchased it earlier this year from Alexander Autographs in the USA. He sent the link to this company’s auction site, which you can see here. As you can see, the purchaser paid the sum of $2813 (£2259 according to today’s exchange rate) for the fake letter.

Alexander Auctions has been trading in Maryland, USA, since 1991 and prides itself on its reputation. According to its website it is “a leading auctioneer of fine historic autographs, documents, militaria from all conflicts, and relics.” It has “a renowned reputation as being one of the premier auctioneers of historic autographs and collectibles in Northeast [USA], with our customer base extending across the country and around the world. Our goal is to deliver history into the hands of collectors – it’s how we’ve built our reputation. Thorough research and careful cataloging of items by a professional staff, the utilization of the latest technologies and a priority on customer service, Alexander Historical Auctions can stand behind every piece we sell.”

A badly-executed fake letter concerning the RAF’s most famous Second World War bombing operation must somehow have got through Alexanders’ “thorough research”. I like to think that it wouldn’t have got into a sale from a similar UK-based operation, but past experience suggests that this confidence may be misplaced.

Alexander Auctions have actually had six other Dambusters-related items for sale in the last year, although only one has been sold. The items that came up are:

Correspondence (mainly collected by Alan Cooper)
Estimate $750. Did not sell.

Wooden Lancaster model made for Sgt Stephen Burns
Estimated $600-$700. Did not sell.

Various photographs and signed first day covers
Sold for $50

Letter from Sgt Stephen Burns to family
Estimate $300-$400. Did not sell.

Letter from Flg Off Geoff Rice from Stalag Luft III to family
Estimate $200-$300. Did not sell.

Gauntlets owned by Sgt Stephen Burns
Sold for $1169

Some of these items have been on sale at UK auction houses in the last couple of years. See these items (lot number 1021) sold by DNW for £7000 in May 2016.) It’s not clear whether they were all placed with Alexanders by one particular vendor. Whoever it was that sold the “Liddell” letter probably made a tidy profit. But this would have been eclipsed by the eBay vendor if he had achieved the asked-for price of £14,995 – a cool 575% on the price he paid!

 

“Gibson letter” to Liddell family is fake

A really poor item, purporting to be a letter from Guy Gibson to the family of Jack Liddell, has recently gone on sale on eBay at the preposterous price of £14,995.

It is being offered for sale by a dealer from Sudbury called rcmlez, who seems to have been a dealer only since July 2019, specialising mainly in football-related items.

Even though my observations are based solely on examining the photograph of the item, I have no hesitation in saying that it is a fake. There are a number of reasons behind my decision.

1. Stationery
There are a number of examples of the 56 letters sent from Guy Gibson to members of 617 Squadron who went missing on the Dams Raid still in existence. Four are shown above. In all cases, the letters were typed on a sheet of plain paper, approx 9 × 7 inches, with a royal crest blind-stamped at the top. The fake letter would seem to be on a smaller sheet, probably the traditional writing pad size of approx 5 12 × 7 inches, with an RAF crest printed in blue at the top. This stationery was widely available at RAF stations, particularly in officers’s messes, and was commonly used for personal letters.

2. Layout
The genuine letters were typed by several different typists on a number of machines. However, they all follow a standard layout: each paragraph is indented by the same number of tabs  and there is a line space between them. (The number of tabs seems to vary, which indicates that several different typists were responsible.) In the fake letter, the paragraphs are not separated and the indents differ throughout. This may well be because the paper is a smaller size and therefore the faker had to save space in order to get the text onto one page. This is further exemplified by the very small margins, with the typing extending to the very edge of the paper.

3. Text
In all the genuine letters to non-pilot aircrew there is a reference to the skills and ability of the pilot, with Gibson assuring the recipient that the pilot would have done everything possible to ensure the safety of his crew (the wording varies). This is missing in the fake letter, presumably because of the space issue mentioned above.

4. Closing salutation and signature
In the genuine letters, these all follow the same format. The word “Yours” is typed. Gibson has handwritten “Very Sincerely” and followed this with a signature. In some examples he has added a further message. Underneath the typing reads

Wing Commander
Commanding, 617 Squadron, RAF
_______________________

The fake has the typed words “Very Sincerely”. There follows a poorly-executed fake signature, the typed words “Wing Commander,” and the impression from a rubber stamp “O/C 617 Sqdn.” This rubber stamp has never been seen on any genuine wartime correspondence from any commanding officer of 617 Squadron.

5. Name and address of recipient
This is the clincher!  The fake letter has the wrong name and address for the recipient. Jack Liddell’s father had died in the 1920s, leaving his mother with two small children. By the time Jack joined the RAF she had remarried and used a different surname, and she was known by this surname in 1943 at the time of Jack’s death. Moreover, she and the rest of her family were living at a different address in Weston-super-Mare at this time. (The correct surname and address are known to me, but I have decided not to release them publicly. Similarly, I have chosen not to show large resolution versions of the genuine letters, in the hope that this will make it slightly harder for anyone wanting to produce a better-faked version in the future. It is sad that I have to do this, but such is the nature of the world.)

If this letter was genuine, it would be very valuable but I doubt that it would be worth as much as £14,950. In my view, the item now on sale is completely worthless and I would advise anyone thinking of buying it to back off.

[Thanks to Stephen Murray for the tip]

Rice logbook and medals a hit on Antiques Roadshow

Geoff Rice’s Dambuster story makes its second appearance in this blog in 24 hours after his daughter, Pam Quick, turned up on last Sunday’s BBCTV Antiques Roadshow. She had brought along her father’s logbook and medals, and told his story to expert Mark Smith.

Smith was mightily impressed with her account and described the logbook as the ‘”Holy Grail” of Bomber Command logbooks. He then valued the collection (which is not for sale, by the way!) at £20,000.

UK viewers can watch the whole show again on iPlayer. The Rice item is right at the end, about 53 minutes in.