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

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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

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.

Two crash site tributes on anniversary of Dams Raid

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The AJ-E memorial near Haldern, Germany. (Pic: Volker Schürmann)

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The AJ-Z memorial near Emmerich am Rhein, Germany. (Pic: Curt Fredriksson)

The tributes shown above at the crash site memorials for AJ-E and AJ-Z were left by local people on the 78th anniversary of the Dams Raid, 17 May 2021. I am sure that all readers of this blog are very grateful to those who are responsible for installing and maintaining these memorials. (Many apologies to all concerned for not posting these pictures earlier.)

AJ-E was piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC, an Australian who had previously completed a tour of operations in 61 Squadron. While flying at low level towards an attack on the Sorpe Dam, their aircraft hit electricity wires near Haldern and crashed at 2350. All on board were killed.

AJ-Z was piloted by Sqn Ldr Henry Maudslay DFC, commander of 617 Squadron’s B Flight, who had previously completed a tour of operations in 44 Squadron. His aircraft was brought down by flak, returning towards the coast after dropping its mine at the Eder Dam. All on board were killed.

The fourteen men from both crews are now buried in Reichswald Commonwealth War Cemetery, shown below in another photograph by Curt Fredriksson.

We should never forget that as well as the 53 men from Britain and the Commonwealth who died on the Dams Raid another 1,341 lost their lives as a result of the destruction caused by the bombing. 

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Pic: Curt Fredriksson

William Long’s Eastleigh birthplace

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Pics: Eastleigh and District Local History Society

Lyndon Harper has kindly sent me two historic photos showing the house in Eastleigh in which William Long, front gunner in Lewis Burpee’s crew in AJ-S on the Dams Raid, was born. The house, now demolished, was at 166 Desborough Road, a long terrace of houses near the centre of the Hampshire town. William Charles Arthur Long was born here on 11 September 1923, the older of the two sons of William and Ethel Long. His father was described as a baker on his birth certificate.

By 1926 the family had moved to Bournemouth, to a house in Northcote Road, and it was while living there that their second son, Peter George Frank Long, was born in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Boscombe, on 2 February 1926. William Long Sr was described as a “baker and confectioner (assistant)” on Peter’s birth certificate.

Very little more is known about William Long, beyond the fact that his nickname was “Ginger”, which would suggest that he had red hair. He volunteered to join the RAF in October 1941, shortly after his 18th birthday, although he didn’t get posted to an Aircrew Reception Centre until April 1942. He was sent for air gunner training, and was then posted to 106 Squadron in September 1942.

Long flew on two operations, on 17 October with Sgt Lace on the Le Creusot raid and 8 December with Flg Off Healey to Turin, before joining Lewis Burpee on 20 December. He then flew on all the twenty-one further operations flown by Burpee in 106 Squadron, as well as a single trip to Berlin on 16 January with Flt Lt Wellington. He was therefore only five operations short of completing his first tour, after which he would have been due a well-earned rest, when he was killed on the Dams Raid on 17 May 1943, at the age of 19.

As an addendum to this information, Clive Smith has kindly sent me a recently digitised photograph from the IWM collection. It was obviously taken at the same time as a better known image which was released to the press in January 1943 as one of the “crews who bombed Berlin” and has therefore been widely reproduced. According to recent research in The Times archive, it was taken by William Field. Left to right are Gordon Brady, William Long, Guy Pegler and Lewis Burpee, all of whom flew on the Dams Raid. The two on the far right are Eddie Leavesley and George Goodings, who had both finished their tours before Burpee and the other three were transferred to 617 Squadron in March 1943.

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Pic: IWM CH008483

On the record: Barnes Wallis memorial service


William Wallis is a great nephew of Barnes Wallis, and was 16 when he died in 1979. He attended both his funeral in his local church and the later memorial service, which was held in St Paul’s Cathedral. William has kindly sent me photographs of the orders of service for these events and he also has an LP record of the memorial service, the cover of which is shown above.

In an email, he described the St Paul’s event: “I was 16 at the time of the service and my recollections of such an auspicious occasion were tempered by my age. I recall being very annoyed at having to wear my school uniform and that I sat behind Prince Charles, finding his growing bald spot very amusing.”

The front covers for both services are shown below:

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William Wallis is the grandson of Barnes Wallis’s brother, Lt Col Charles Robinson Ashby Wallis, who served in the First World War in the artillery (being gassed at both Passchendaele and Ypres) and later the Royal Air Corps. William’s father, Charles David Ashby Wallis, was the oldest of his children and died in 2018 aged 92.

The two Wallis brothers spent many happy holidays in Dorset with their families, as
this 2008 article in Dorset Life written by their children, first cousins Charles D A Wallis and Mary Stopes Roe recalls. As the article says:
“… both brothers had a love for the Dorset countryside; so after the war, when Barnes and family took their summer holiday in Dorset, the two families would get together. Barnes rented a field between Corfe and Swanage under Nine Barrow Down as a camping site. …
He took pleasure in keeping the camp trim and well-ordered, and in making sure that the younger ones knew how to pitch tents, deal with sanitary matters, see to guy ropes and take weather precautions. The sound of his Wellington boots clumping round the tents on wet and windy nights as he checked the ropes was unforgettably comforting. He took part in the daily chores, joking, singing and inventing games. When he washed up, plates would be tossed to the person drying up, and from him or her to the person stacking away. The larder cabinet was strung up on a tree trunk, and a barrel of cider (‘It’s cheaper by the barrel!’) carefully raised to allow for easy pouring.”

In retirement, Charles R A Wallis dedicated himself to his local community of Gillingham in Dorset and its church which he was instrumental in refurbishing. As a keen historian he started a local museum which is still open today as part of the Gillingham museum. Sadly, in 1962 he drowned while staying in Cornwall, trying to save a swimmer in trouble. He dived in to the sea and although himself a fit man who was a strong swimmer both he and the other swimmer lost their lives. He was posthumously recognised with the highest award for bravery by the Royal Humane Society.

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Charles R A Wallis, as a young army officer, photographed in 1916. [Pic: Wallis family]

Despite this tragedy, Barnes and Molly Wallis stayed close to his brother’s family, and their four great nephews were frequent visitors to their house in Effingham.

Barnes and Molly Wallis, photographed at their house in Effingham in the 1970s with their great nephews. From left, Matthew, William, Robert and Andrew Wallis. [Pic: Wallis family]

New photograph of William “Ginger” Long

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Blog reader Tony Penman has kindly sent me a wartime formal picture of Sgt William Long which I have never seen before. Long was the front gunner in Lew Burpee’s crew in AJ-S on the Dams Raid. He had flown with Burpee since December 1942, clocking up 23 operations with him.

The photograph appears to have a formal signature by the photographer, dated 1942. The reverse has an inscription in different handwriting, obviously composed by someone who knew him personally:

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“William Long
Long Road Bournemouth was named after him for bravery in the M. Dam Raid during last war where he lost his life.
He was a most wonderful wonderful boy”

The claim about the naming of the road needs further investigation. Google Streetview reveals it to be houses that look as though they could have been built in the 1950s, but local historians might be able to verify this. Long himself was born in Eastleigh, but the family certainly moved to Bournemouth before the war. Any further information will be gratefully received.

Len Eaton and Charlie Williams photographed together in training

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44 Course Air Gunnery training at No 14 OTU, 10 April 1942. [Pic: Susan Paxton]

On this day 78 years ago nineteen Lancaster aircraft took off from RAF Scampton on what would become known as the Dams Raid. Two of the wireless operators had, in fact, gone through part of their training together, as this photograph shows. It depicts a group of wireless operator/gunners taken in April 1942 at RAF Cottesmore, while they were in No 14 Operational Training Unit.

The two were Flt Sgt Len Eaton, wireless operator in AJ-T, piloted by Joe McCarthy, and Plt Off Charlie Williams DFC, wireless operator in AJ-E, piloted by Norman Barlow. The photograph was pasted into a scrapbook belonging to Williams, which is amongst his papers held in the John Oxley Library, part of the State Library of Queensland, Australia. 

The nature of wartime service in the RAF makes it quite likely that there were a number of other previous encounters of this kind between the men who were brought together in March and April 1943 to take part in this historic operation, but this is one of the few which have documentary proof. 

Eaton returned safely from the Dams Raid, and went on to fly with McCarthy on another 34 operations until he was taken off operations in July 1944. He received the DFM for his service. Williams, however, was not so lucky. He and all the other members of Barlow’s crew were killed when they collided with a power line near Haldern in Germany. They died shortly before midnight on 16 May 1943. 

The names of all the 26 men in the photograph are listed below, along with what is known about them at present. The research has been done by Susan Paxton and Alan Wells, who would welcome any further information. 

Top Row:
Weir: Sgt Allen Weir RAAF, Cloncurry, Qld, Australia. KIA 2 June 1942.
Pugh: Possibly Canadian.
Livingstone: Nothing known.
Moir: Sgt Colin Moir RAAF, Marrickville NSW. Survived the war. Almost certainly the last survivor of this photograph: he died just last month on 20 April 2021, at the age of 100.
O’Keefe: Sgt Ralph O’Keefe, born in Canada, but serving in the RAF. KIA June 1942.
McLeod: Possibly Australian.
Lawlor: Nothing known.
Quance: Sgt Peter Quance RAAF, born in Birmingham, England, but his family emigrated and he enlisted in Sydney, Australia. KIA June 1943.

Middle row:
Radermeyer: Sgt Ignatius Rademeyer, Rhodesia. Later PoW and survived the war.
Degen: Sgt Lawrence Degen. Survived the war, and died in 2008.
Gallagher: Sgt Francis Gallagher RAAF, born 1914, Guyra, NSW, Australia. KIA January 1943.
Eaton: Sgt Leonard Eaton, born 16 March 1906, Manchester. Survived the war, and died in 1974.
Black: Possibly Australian.
Taylor: Possibly Canadian.
Robson: Sgt Wallace Robson RAAF. Australian. KIA June 1942.
Barrett: Nothing known.
Hunt: Sgt Edmund Hunt RAAF, Rockdale, NSW, Australia. KIA 30 June 1942.
Royal: Nothing known.

Bottom row:
Little: Plt Off Harvey Little, from Wetheral, Cumberland. KIA 31 May 1942.
Powell: Nothing known
Wood: Possibly Australian.
Grey: Plt Off Charles Gray. Survived war.
Gillenland: Plt Off Harold Gilleland, from London. KIA December 1942.
Williams: Plt Off Charles Williams, born 19 March 1909, Townsville, Qld, Australia. KIA 16 May 1943.
Newround:  Plt Off Alec Newbound RAAF. Born in 1917 in Swallowcliffe, Wiltshire. Emigrated to Australia and enlisted in Melbourne. Survived war.
Agley: Possibly Flt Sgt Leonard Agley, from Bradford. Survived war.

Bernard “Bunny” Clayton: 617 Squadron pilot with 82 operations from three tours

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Left to right: Plt Off Bernard “Bunny” Clayton, Sqn Ldr David Maltby, Flt Lt Harold “Mick” Martin. Photographed at RAF Scampton, July 1943. [Pic: IWM Collections, CH11048]

The loss of eight crews on the Dams Raid meant that 617 Squadron needed a swift injection of new personnel in order to function properly. One of those who arrived in July 1943 was Plt Off Bernard Clayton, known from his schooldays as “Bunny”. He was only 23, but had completed two tours of operations and been decorated with both the CGM and DFC.

Clayton was born on a farm in North Yorkshire on 7 December 1919, the oldest of seven children. He went to the King James Grammar School in Knaresborough, where he met a boy called Ian Robinson who became a close friend. Both got jobs after leaving school but then at the outbreak of war both volunteered for the RAF. Called up at different times, from then on their paths rarely crossed. Robinson became an observer, serving first in the Far East before returning to the UK. Clayton qualified as a pilot, and went on to fly a full tour in both 9 and 51 Squadrons, with a spell of training in between. 

It was after starting a second spell as a training instructor that Clayton was posted on his own to 617 Squadron. He then travelled over to his previous operational outfit, 51 Squadron, and persuaded all six of the crew who had flown with him on his previous tour to accompany him. They went on to play a pivotal role in rebuilding the squadron after the September 1943 attack on the Dortmund Ems canal when one crew was lost on an aborted attack, and five more the following day when it finally went ahead. Clayton and his crew flew a total of 31 more operations before being taken off operations for a third and final time in July 1944. Clayton received the DSO for this final tour. 

Halfway through this final tour, in February 1944, Flg Off George Chalmers joined Clayton’s crew as the wireless operator. He had been in Bill Townsend’s crew on the Dams Raid, and had won the DFM for his role in attacking the Ennepe Dam. He was also withdrawn from operations in July 1944, having notched up a total of 66 operations. 

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George Chalmers DFC DFM [Pic: Anthony Eaton]

Clayton stayed on in the RAF after the war, transferring to Transport Command. In 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded the divided city of Berlin in East Germany, and so what became called the Berlin airlift was organised – transport aircraft flying in a narrow corridor to provide supplies. Clayton became one of the many pilots undertaking this difficult exercise, undertaking a total of 94 trips. He then transferred to RAF Manby for more training duties. Sadly, on 19 March 1951, he lost his life in the crash of a Handley Page Hastings at RAF Strubby. Another officer was piloting the aircraft that day. 

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You can read much more about the life and career of Bunny Clayton and his school friend Ian Robinson in an interesting book about the pair, Two Friends: Two Different Hells by A.E Eaton. It is available at £10 including p&p on special offer from the writer, who you can contact by email at tony.ae778@gmail.com