Dam Busters final tribute to beloved Australian musician

Richard Gill. [Pic: Sydney Morning Herald]

Graeme Jensen, an old friend of the Dambusters Blog, has alerted us to this lovely story from Sydney, Australia.

Richard Gill was a well-known and much-loved musician, conductor and educator who had spent decades bringing music into the lives of generations of Australians. And, over the years, he had frequently told friends and associates that his favourite piece of music was Eric Coates’s Dam Busters March.

He became seriously ill with cancer some time ago, and so some colleagues decided to organise a special concert on Monday 5 November, the day after his 77th birthday, as a tribute to the work he had done over the years. Knowing that Gill would not be able to attend, it was arranged that it would be beamed live to his home. The concert quickly sold out.

However, as it became clear the conductor might not live even until the concert to witness the celebration, Sydney Symphony Orchestra associate principal trumpet Paul Goodchild decided to organise a spontaneous concert for his mentor. He told local news outlets that he expected 15-20 people to turn up outside Gill’s house in the Sydney suburbs on the morning of Saturday 27 October.

Instead, more than 70 people – including a police brass band – arrived to play for Gill, who was inside with his family and his close friend Kim Williams by his side.

“This was the perfect way of saying thank you, goodbye and a great tribute to somebody who has made so much of a difference, to not only the lives of musicians, but to everybody who really listens to music,” Goodchild said.

The musicians played The Dam Busters March as their tribute. Williams says that when applause broke out after they’d played the piece, Gill opened his eyes and smiled.

He died the following morning.

The impromptu concert was filmed by flautist Jane Rutter. The video below should work, but if it doesn’t, you can see it in this report from the Business Insider Australia website.

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Jackson’s Dambusters film effectively cancelled

Buried deep in the recently-published book Anything You can Imagine, Ian Nathan’s new doorstep-sized biography of Peter Jackson and his Tolkien-inspired film trilogies, are two tiny mentions of the projected remake of The Dambusters. The first remark occurs in a description of the director as a ‘military aviation buff’ who possesses a fine collection of antique aircraft and who ‘came close to remaking The Dambusters.’ A footnote explains that in 2008 the remake was to be directed by Christian Rivers from a script by Stephen Fry but that the ‘financing would eventually fall through’. The second mention is some 300 pages later, where Jackson is described as at one point starting to ‘develop a new version of  The Dambusters… but it failed to secure funding.’

And that’s it. It is now more than a decade since Jackson acquired the rights to remake Michael Anderson’s 1955 film. At first, he invested significant funds – commissioning a script from Stephen Fry, getting full size models of Lancaster aircraft built in China, and buying several possible props and other artifacts. These included the original wooden bomb sight used by Plt Off John Fort on the Dams Raid. I can now reveal that Jackson was the anonymous bidder who paid more than £40,000 for this when it was sold at auction in January 2015. A member of his staff attended the auction in person, taking instructions over the phone while the sale was going on.

At various times over the last ten years, Jackson has said that the Dambusters project was still going ahead. The last of these statements was issued as recently as the summer of 2016. However these positive thoughts contrast with what would seem to have been recognised as reality inside his camp well before this time.

Nathan’s book is based on many interviews with Jackson and his entourage, and his remarks would not have been published in this form without Jackson’s knowledge, even if not his specific authorisation. What is significant is Nathan’s use of the past tense on both occasions, and we can therefore assume that the Dambusters remake has, to all intents and purposes, now been cancelled.

So this is how it ends. The remake project, which started in 2005 with a big bang and loud fanfares when David Frost bought the film rights from the Brickhill family, ends with the whimper of a couple of sentences in a book about a fantasy film series. A sad day but, to misquote another film set in wartime: ‘we’ll always have Michael Anderson’s original film.’ Maybe that’s how it should be.

[Hat tip to commenter RdS who drew my attention to Ian Nathan’s book.]

Den Ham tributes to Les Knight

Seventy-five years ago last Sunday, the Australian pilot Les Knight died when the aircraft he was flying crashed on the outskirts of the Dutch village of Den Ham. The other seven men in his 617 Squadron crew survived by baling out at low altitude. Over two days last weekend Knight was commemorated in a series of events which brought many local people together with the families of the men who flew with him on his final fatal operation.

A further report will follow later this week, but in the meantime, here are a selection of photographs which gave a flavour of the events. (Photographs courtesy of Wim Govaerts, Harmen Paalman and Herman van der Schuur.)

The Burgemeester (Mayor), Ms Annelies van der Kolk, welcoming guests. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

The local Juliana brass band, under conductor René Bos. (Pic: Herman van der Schuur)

Several local children read tributes that they had written themselves. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Matthew Neuhaus, the Australian Ambassador to the Netherlands, laid a wreath at the memorial marking the spot where Knight’s Lancaster crashed. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Plt Off Ali RAF saluting the wreath laid on behalf of the British embassy. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

A Royal Netherlands Air Force Officer saluting the wreath laid on his force’s behalf. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

After laying his own tribute, Les Knight’s cousin Graham Simpson spoke to some of the local children. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Flypast by three aircraft from the RNAF air display team. (Pic: Herman van der Schuur)

Den Ham resident Lucas Kamphuis, who heard Knight’s aircraft crash at about 0400 on 16 September 1943, and visited the site at first light the same morning. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

After the wreaths were laid, a queue of villagers formed, wanting to pay their own respects and leave a rose at the memorial. It took more than 15 minutes for them all to do so. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

The Australian flag flying over the memorial. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Melvin Chambers, organiser of the Remembering Dambuster Les Knight event, paying his own respects. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

The service in the village church on Sunday 16 September featured a reading by Graham Simpson. (Pic: Harmen Paalman)

Local scouts holding floral tributes at the cemetery where Les Knight is buried. (Pic: Harmen Paalman)

Members of the families of Les Knight, Robert Kellow, Sydney Hobday, Edward (“Johnnie”) Johnson and Les Woollard gathered at the graveside of Les Knight. (Pic: Harmen Paalman)

(Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Remembering Les Knight

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Driving through the small Dutch village of Den Ham this afternoon I couldn’t help seeing the large number of houses with this poster in the window. It is part of the RememberingDambusterLesKnight commemoration which is going on this weekend to mark the 75th anniversary of Les Knight’s epic final flight. On 16 September 1943, flying at only 100ft en route to attack the Dortmund Ems canal, his Lancaster hit some trees and was severely damaged. He jettisoned his bomb and gained enough height to allow his crew to bale out. All seven successfully left the aircraft. Realising that he was going to hit the ground, he then piloted his stricken aircraft away from the village of Den Ham and attempted to crash-land in a nearby field. Unfortunately he hit a bank and the aircraft broke up, leading to his death.

The local people have never forgotten his efforts to avoid the civilian deaths which would surely have occurred if he had crashed in their village. This afternoon, there was a turnout of several hundred people at an event near the spot where he came down. Tomorrow, there will be a church service followed by wreath-laying at his grave in the village’s cemetery.

Further report to follow.

More Canadian Dambusters families meet in Ontario

Left to right: Jim MacLean (MacLean family), Hartley Garshowitz (Garshowitz family), Cathie Somers (Glinz family), Milton Lewis (Garshowitz family), Bernie Wyatt (Oancia family), Marilyn McDowell (McDowell family), Paul Morley (Garbas family). [Pic: Hartley Garshowitz]

More Canadian Dambuster families gathered together in Ontario at the weekend, for a second event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. This took place at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario, which is the home of Canada’s only flying Lancaster aircraft. Six families were represented, including those of Harvey Glinz, Stefan Oancia and Frank Garbas, who weren’t able to get to the gathering two weeks ago in Nanton, Alberta.

The picture above shows the attendees in front of the Lancaster, which is now carrying the code letters AJ-B, the same as that used on the Dams Raid by the crew captained by Flt Lt Bill Astell. This included two men from Hamilton, Ontario – Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas.

Dambuster Double signed book

‘Unique’ is a pretty overworked adjective these days, but here is something that I am confident is exactly that. It is a copy of my book, The Complete Dambusters, and it has been signed on the title page by both of the last two men alive who took part in the Dams Raid, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson and Fred Sutherland.

I am very honoured that they both took the time to sign it, and I thank the members of both families who helped make this possible.

Fraser family donate stolen logbook damages to Bomber Command Museum

At the 75th Dams Raid anniversary event in Nanton last week (see post below), Mrs Doris Fraser and her daughter Shere made a substantial donation to the hosts, the Bomber Command Museum of Canada. The donation was part of the money confiscated from the assets of Alex Bateman, who was convicted in 2017 of the theft of Flt Sgt John Fraser’s logbook.

Commenting afterwards, Shere Fraser wrote: ‘We wanted to use the money for good, turning what was once tears to smiles. I felt victory last year returning Ken Earnshaw’s photo album to his family, and this weekend it brought us tremendous happiness to use the damages money to honour the courage and memory of 617 Squadron.’