Original Shannon and Burpee negatives found in Times archive

Pic: William Field/Kemsley Newspapers/Times Newspapers

Back in January, Malcolm Peel kindly sent me a link to an interesting article in The Times which for a while was not behind a paywall. Sadly, it has now been removed from free-to-view, but if you have a subscription then you will still be able to see it.

The writer, Mark Barnes, has unearthed four original glass negatives and several prints in Times Newspapers photographic archives. These were some of a set of images taken by the photographer William “Billy” Field of several 106 Squadron crews on their return from a raid on Berlin. This was the operation in which Richard Dimbleby of the BBC flew in the squadron commanding officer Guy Gibson’s aircraft. They took off in the late afternoon of Saturday 16 January 1943, returning in the small hours of the Sunday. Some of the airmen are not wearing their flying gear in the photographs and it is daylight, which suggests that the shots were taken later the same day

I have written about these images before, because they appeared in the Daily Express on Tuesday 19 January 1943. However, it would seem that photographer Billy Field must have been actually working for the Sunday Times, as the glass negatives are marked as belonging to “Kemsley Newspapers”, the names of the wartime owners of this newspaper. Quite why the pictures appeared first in another newspaper remains a mystery. Indeed, Barnes doesn’t say whether they ever appeared in the Sunday Times.

According to Barnes, three of the negatives are in good or reasonable condition but the fourth, of Shannon and his crew and shown at the top of this article, was badly damaged. Barnes has digitally repaired the image.

In his article, Barnes correctly identifies the first five correctly: (L-R) Sgt Wallace Herbert (bomb aimer), Sgt Cyril “Joe” Chamberlain (flight engineer), Sgt Arnold Pemberton (wireless operator), Flg Off David Shannon (pilot) and Flg Off Douglas McCulloch (mid-upper gunner). However it is now believed that the sixth man is Sgt John William Donald (“Don”) Robin DFM RAAF, the rear gunner in “Jock” Cassels’ crew, and that the seventh man is Flg Off Frank (not Dave) Whalley, the navigator.

Here is the restored photograph of Lewis Burpee and his crew:

Pic: William Field/Kemsley Newspapers/Times Newspapers

Barnes correctly identifies these men who are (L-R): Sgt Gordon Brady (rear gunner), Sgt William (“Ginger”) Long (mid-upper gunner), Sgt Guy (“Johnny”) Pegler (flight engineer), Flt Sgt Lewis Burpee (pilot), Flt Sgt Edward Leavesley (wireless operator), and Sgt George Goodings (bomb aimer). Leavesley and Goodings both left the Burpee crew before it moved to 617 Squadron. This crew have simulated the “just finished an operation” look by wearing their flying boots and carrying various bits of kit. However, they aren’t in either the flying jackets or one piece suits in which they would probably have been dressed for a high level attack on Berlin on a cold January night.

Although the images have been seen before, I don’t believe that both the name of the photographer and the fact that the negatives still exist are well known, so we have Mark Barnes and his colleagues to thank for another small contribution to Dams Raid history.

Thanks to Malcolm Peel

Gibson in command: rare magazine pictures show his 106 Squadron days

Plt Off James ‘Jimmy’ Cooper at the controls of Lancaster W4118, the famous ‘Admiral Prune’ of 106 Squadron, shown on the front cover of Illustrated magazine, 12 December 1942. [Pic: Clive Smith]

Clive Smith has kindly sent me a three page article from the 12 December 1942 edition of Illustrated magazine which tells the story of a minelaying operation in the autumn of 1942. It was carried out by aircraft from 106 Squadron, then under the command of Wg Cdr Guy Gibson.

The article doesn’t mention Gibson in the text, but he is shown in a photograph on page 5, alongside Gp Capt ‘Gus’ Walker, the commanding officer of the RAF Syerston base. After the article was written, but four days before it appeared in print, Walker was badly injured in an accident on the airfield and lost his arm. (See this post from May 2019.)

Pics: Clive Smith

The magazine notes that the squadron used a number of jokey ‘Admiral’ names and corresponding nose art on its aircraft. This practice had started in 1940 in one of Gibson’s earlier postings, 83 Squadron, invented by a member of this squadron’s ground crew, Douglas Garton (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995, p61). Gibson liked the nicknames and flew a number of aircraft with nautical names in his later career.

Clive Smith has also provided the evidence that Admiral Prune (W4118) was not, as some people have claimed, Gibson’s personal Lancaster. Although he liked flying it there are several examples of operations where it was flown by other pilots while he flew a different Lancaster. Altogether, Gibson only flew it on six operations – a similar number of times to the occasions when it was captained by Sqn Ldr John Wooldridge and Sqn Ldr John Searby (six and seven respectively). Future Dams Raid pilots Flt Lt John Hopgood and Flt Lt David Shannon also each flew it once on a 106 Squadron operation. It was finally lost on 5 February 1943 when it crashed near Lyon in France on an operation targeting Turin. Both port engines had failed. The pilot, Sgt D L Thompson survived and became a PoW, as did one of the two bomb aimers on board, Sgt Peter Ward, and the mid-upper and rear gunners, respectively Sgt Richard Sutton and Sgt J Picken. The rest of the crew, flight engineer Sgt Norman Johnstone, navigator Sgt Frank Darlington, bomb aimer Plt Off George Powell and wireless operator Sgt Wilfred Baker were all killed.