Barnes Wallis exhibition in Goole

Should you find yourself in the East Riding town of Goole in the next few weeks (and why wouldn’t you want to go there?) then head on down to Goole Museum and take a look at the free exhibition about the work of Barnes Wallis, which opens today. As the press release explains, Wallis was responsible for many other invention, often overlooked, beside the so-called ‘bouncing bomb’:

Widely celebrated for his wartime work on the Wellington bomber and the so-called ‘bouncing bomb’ used on the ‘Dambusters’ raid on the Ruhr dams, his other successes have often been overlooked.  During the mid-1920s, Barnes Wallis was based at Howden, working on the successful R100 airship project there. The Yorkshire Howden connection is the starting point for this exhibition, which also covers not only his military work, but his subsequent investigations into supersonic flight, and projects as diverse as the Parkes Telescope in Australia, de-icing systems for Arctic trawlers, and lightweight calipers for polio victims.

The exhibition runs until the end of January – an ideal day trip for the holiday season!

The Dams Raid: contemporary report in The Times

It may well vanish behind a paywall again shortly, but at the moment you can read The Times’s contemporary accounts of the Dams Raid. The page available is from 19 May 1943, two days after the raid. The previous day’s papers had carried the first reports, but the story was to dominate the news agenda for several more days to come – fed by the Air Ministry’s public relations officers, who had become highly skilled at releasing information in several stages.

Richard Todd, 1919-2009

In the early 1950s, Richard Todd was halfway through a seven-year contract with Associated British Pictures when its director of productions, Robert Clark, bought the film rights to Paul Brickhill’s book The Dam Busters. Todd was already an established star, having received an Oscar nomination for The Hasty Heart in 1949, and playing Robin Hood in the Walt Disney movie of the same name. Clark wanted a vehicle for Todd, and the physical resemblance between Todd and the character he was chosen to play, Wg Cdr Guy Gibson, obviously helped him in the choice.
What is perhaps surprising, given that Todd is now remembered for his roles in ‘war’ films, is that The Dam Busters was in fact his first such part. (He was to be seen in naval uniform in The Yangtse Incident (1957) and played various army officers in D Day, Sixth of June (1956), Danger Within (1959), The Long and the Short and The Tall (1960), and The Longest Day (1962) before ‘rejoining’ the RAF and director Michael Anderson in Operation Crossbow (1964).) In The Longest Day, he played the role of Major John Howard, who commanded the glider force at Pegasus Bridge, and had a scene opposite another actor playing himself, an officer in the 7th Light Infantry (Parachute Battalion), who was amongst the first to meet Howard at the bridge. (Todd’s account of his real life role on D Day is here.)
Most of the obituaries (Telegraph BBC) single out Todd’s part in The Dam Busters as the highlight of his career, and he certainly took great pride in being remembered for the role, regularly turning up for reunions, other events and signings. It was, as American critics of the time pointed out, his ‘characteristic British understatement’ which made his portrayal of Gibson so memorable. His own war experiences must have contributed to his decision to play his ‘war’ roles in such a way – he was determined never to demean or trivialise the memory of the actual war and its casualties.
[Information from John Ramsden, The Dam Busters, Tauris 2003.]
Update: Further obituaries Guardian Guardian pictures Times Independent

The sinking of the Lutzow

As I have said before, this blog is mainly concerned with events in 617 Squadron round about the time of the Dams Raid, but occasionally strays into other events during the war. This is another example!

Flg Off Joe Merchant joined 617 Squadron as a bomb aimer towards the end of the war, and was in the crew piloted by Flt Lt Gordon Price on one of the squadron’s last wartime operations (and the last one in which it sustained casualties). He dropped the Tallboy bomb which blew a hole in the German pocket battleship Lutzow. You can read the story, written by Joe Merchant’s son Vivian here.

More news from Stephen Fry on Dambusters remake

New Zealand TV reporter Kate Rodger caught up with Stephen Fry at the launch in London of The Lovely Bones, and received a 30 second update on progress on the Dambusters remake. (If you want to see the video you’ll need the latest version of Adobe Flash player, BTW.) Fry confirmed that the project is still very much going ahead, although the financing etc needs a little ‘finessing’. So, no sign of back burnering, at the moment, it would seem.

[Hat tip Dave Homewood, Historic Aviation Forum.]

BFI page on The Dam Busters

The British Film Institute is a treasure trove of material for anyone interested in the history of cinema, and much of it is now online. Check out, for instance, its page on Michael Anderson’s classic film, and you will find links to stills, other stuff about the cast and crew, and a wonderful, slightly sniffy, contemporary review from the BFI’s own Monthly Film Bulletin, which ends:

The film is over-long (the flying sequences include some repetition) and the music score is, regrettably, very blatant; but despite these drawbacks, a mood of sober respect is maintained.

Little did the reviewer know how popular the ‘blatant’ musical score would become.

My favourite piece of Dam Busters trivia derives from the scene shown above, showing on the left the great Robert Shaw, later to star in no less a movie than Jaws, where he ends up meeting a spectacularly gory end. Here he plays flight engineer Sergeant John Pulford, which means he gets to sit alongside Richard Todd, playing Guy Gibson, for a large section of the film but has very few words to say. Their on-screen interaction is thought to be a pretty accurate reflection of the real life relationship between Pulford and Gibson.

This could be serious. Jackson denies putting Dambusters on ‘back burner’

This could be bad news, folks. In a throwaway remark in an interview with the well-respected Hollywood Reporter, Peter Jackson and his Wingnut Films colleagues apparently let it be known that the Dambusters remake is now on the back burner, ‘fearing it might be “too English.” The (British) Independent’s LA correspondent, Guy Adams, has picked up on this serious news today and elicited a further comment from a Jackson spokesman:

Peter Jackson’s spokesman just returned my call. The film remains “in development,” but does not have a date to begin shooting. Mr Jackson denies saying that the Dambusters story was “too English” in his Hollywood Reporter interview. Instead he claims to have described it as “very English.”

Too English? Very English? Nearly a third of the aircrew who took part in the Dams raid were not British citizens, and Jackson himself is supposed to be consulting the last of the pilots left alive, his fellow Kiwi Les Munro.

This could be serious – or it could just be a way of pushing things back in the schedule a year or two.

(Hat tip George!)

Remembrance Day, 2009

Poem by Ann Stevenson in The Guardian, Saturday 7 November, 2009. I can’t find it in the online version, so I am reproducing it in full here.

After the Funeral
by Anne Stevenson
For Sally Thorneloe, in memory of Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, killed in Afghanistan, 1 July 2009
Seeing you lost in that enormous hat,
Your face rigid with grief, I thought of how
In love with life you used to be, so much that
“Happy” seemed to be a word kept warm for you.
Seeing you stunned there in the camera’s eye,
Forbidding your chin to undermine your lip,
I knew the knife in you was asking why?
Oh, ceremony couldn’t answer it.
Though they were trying desperately to give
History’s unspoken underside a face,
A frame, words and reason to believe
The afterlife is ordered – like the place
In which, beside his flag-draped coffin, you
Acted, like him, the role you’d been assigned to.

Professor John Ramsden, RIP

RamsdenbkI was shocked and saddened by the news of the death of Professor John Ramsden, from cancer at the comparatively young age of 62. (Another obituary here.) Just the evening before I had read a chapter of his excellent book about the relationship between Britain and Germany, Don’t mention the war. This is essential reading for anyone who thinks that many Brits need to develop a more mature relationship between ourselves and our German partners and colleagues. Ramsden lists many ways in which the histories of our two countries are intertwined (many pubs called the King’s Head, for instance, are named after Frederick the Great of Prussia) and provides a counterblast to the puerile nonsense frequently peddled by the redtop press and the likes of Jeremy Clarkson.
But it is as the author of the wonderful book on The Dam Busters in the British Film Guide series that Ramsden should be respected and mourned by anyone interested in the subject of this blog. It’s a short book, but an invaluable guide to the film itself, to the times when it was made and to the reaction to it over the half-century since.

The strange tale of how Johnny became George

This is a rare picture of one of the specially modified Lancasters (given the cumbersome name of ‘Type 464 Provisioning’) used on the Dams Raid. It was taken at RAF Scampton after the war, sometime in 1947. At this stage it was carrying the code YF-A, signifying it was part of the ‘Scampton Station Flight.’
This was the last of the many codes this aircraft had used over the previous four years. For this is Lancaster ED906, which had been flown by David Maltby on the Dams Raid in May 1943, when it was coded AJ-J. After that raid, it wasn’t used again in operations until, in the autumn, it was converted back to standard Lancaster form, with a normal bomb-bay mechanism but no doors, and given the code KC-J. It was then flown by 617 Squadron’s Flt Lt BW Clayton on five operations between 11 November 1943 and 4 January 1944.
This is where things start getting complicated because it was then converted back to ‘Dambuster’ type, and given another new code, AJ-G, which of course was the code carried by Guy Gibson’s completely different Lancaster (ED932) on the Dams Raid.
At some point in 1944 it was flown to RAF Metheringham where it was used as a spare aircraft by members of the station staff. One of these was Sqn Ldr Johnny Meagher who was attached to 106 Squadron as an instructor in his six month break between operational tours. As one of his crew has recently recalled:
My second skipper S/Ldr. Johnny Meagher became an instructor pilot attached to 106 squadron Metheringham for his 6 months rest period after his first tour with 61 squadron. AJ-G was parked there as tour expired in its dambuster configuration. Johnny used it regularly for pilot training, familiarisation flights & as a general hack for shuttling the CO & others around & picking up off base crews etc.
ED906 was then taken to Coningsby and finally into storage at 46 Maintenance Unit in Lossiemouth.
After the war, ED906 was one of the three Dambuster aircraft brought out of storage and used in Operation Guzzle, the disposal of the ‘Upkeep’ revolving mines used in the Dams Raid. There were some 37 of these weapons left over, and each had to be individually dumped into the sea just beyond the edge of the Atlantic shelf some 280 miles west of Glasgow. This took place between August and December 1946. It may well have still carried the AJ-G code at this stage. After Guzzle it was then recoded YF-A.
It was ‘struck off charge’ (i.e. released for scrapping) on 29 July 1947.
[Some information in this article from Alex Bateman’s posts on Lancaster Archive.]
pic-lanc-ED906
This is a rare picture of one of the specially modified Lancasters (given the cumbersome name of ‘Type 464 Provisioning’) used on the Dams Raid. It was taken at RAF Scampton after the war, sometime in 1947. At this stage it was carrying the code YF-A, signifying it was part of the ‘Scampton Station Flight.’
This was the last of the many codes this aircraft had used over the previous four years. For this is Lancaster ED906, which had been flown by David Maltby on the Dams Raid in May 1943, when it was coded AJ-J. On the raid, it answered to the call sign ‘J for Johnny’. It wasn’t used again in operations until, in the autumn, it was converted back to standard Lancaster form, with a normal bomb-bay mechanism but no doors, and given the code KC-J. It was then flown by 617 Squadron’s Flt Lt BW Clayton on five operations between 11 November 1943 and 4 January 1944.
This is where things start getting complicated because it was then converted back to ‘Dambuster’ type, and given another new code, AJ-G, which of course was the code carried by Guy Gibson’s completely different Lancaster (ED932) on the Dams Raid, when its call sign was ‘G for George’.
At some point in 1944 it was flown to RAF Metheringham where it was used as a spare aircraft by members of the station staff. One of these was Sqn Ldr Johnny Meagher who was attached to 106 Squadron as an instructor in his six month break between operational tours. As one of his crew has recently recalled:
My second skipper S/Ldr. Johnny Meagher became an instructor pilot attached to 106 squadron Metheringham for his 6 months rest period after his first tour with 61 squadron. AJ-G was parked there as tour expired in its dambuster configuration. Johnny used it regularly for pilot training, familiarisation flights & as a general hack for shuttling the CO & others around & picking up off base crews etc.
ED906 was then taken to Coningsby and finally into storage at 46 Maintenance Unit in Lossiemouth.
After the war, ED906 was one of the three Dambuster aircraft brought out of storage and used in Operation Guzzle, the disposal of the ‘Upkeep’ revolving mines used in the Dams Raid. There were some 37 of these weapons left over, and each had to be individually dumped into the sea just beyond the edge of the Atlantic shelf some 280 miles west of Glasgow. This took place between August and December 1946. It may well have still carried the AJ-G code at this stage. After Guzzle it received its final code, YF-A.
It was ‘struck off charge’ (i.e. released for scrapping) on 29 July 1947.
[Some information in this article from Alex Bateman’s posts on Lancaster-Archive forum.]