Copy of portrait of Gibson by William Rothenstein, with a personal inscription for Michael Gibson.
Last Friday was the 70th anniversary of the death of Guy Gibson, killed on active service near Steenbergen in Holland. Edwina Towson has kindly sent me some pictures taken at a small exhibition of Gibson family material which is running for another few days in the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry. If you are in the area, you might want to look in and see it. The items have been in the possession of Gibson’s brother Alick, his wife Ruth and their son Michael.
Gibson’s cufflinks, given to him by his parents when he joined the RAF.
The most interesting items are three letters all of which would appear to have been written in late 1944. The final one is dated 18 September, the day before he died, and could have been the last personal letter he wrote.
The letter reads:
My Dear Old Alick
I haven’t heard from you for ages now and think it is about time we knocked back a can of beer together.
if you could give me the name of your nearest airfield I would try to get down.
I’m pretty busy at the moment doing the odd op – and planning others but wish to hell I were in France.
Are you a Lt. Col. yet?
Drop me a line old timer.
The knowledge that this might be the last personal letter he ever wrote adds a degree of poignancy to the somewhat banal words. The old timer and his young brother would never meet again.
The exhibition runs until Wednesday 1 October.
[All photos © Edwina Towson]
There will be a Dam Busters Commemoration in Lincoln Cathedral on the afternoon of Friday 17 May 2013 with the added bonus of a fly past by the Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. This event is entry by ticket only and there are 1000 free tickets available to the public to apply for (two only per household).
Tickets can only be applied for by post, and are on a first come, first served basis. Write to the address below enclosing a stamped addressed envelope and your contact details (telephone number/email address).
Dam Busters Cathedral Event
St Rumbold Street
Lincoln LN2 5AB
Please do not call or email to reserve tickets. Only postal requests with stamped addressed envelopes will be processed, due to the high demand expected. Tickets will be sent out in March and will include further details of the event.
See the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage website for more details.
It now looks as though there will be a number of events in May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Dams Raid. I am collating a list at the moment, but in the meantime I will be happy to advertise things as and when they are notified to me.
Here is some news from Herne Bay in Kent, the nearest town to Reculver, which was the site of several test drops of the “bouncing bomb” by the RAF in 1943. These took place under the active supervision of Barnes Wallis, and he is now remembered by a statue on the seafront, shown above. There will be a “full town” commemoration on Sunday 19 May. The organisers are hoping that the BBMF Lancaster will be able to participate, as it did in a similar event ten years ago, but this is not yet confirmed.
I am sorry to have to report that there will not be a graveside tribute to Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his crew this year. David Maltby is buried in St Andrew’s church in Wickhambreaux, Kent (pictured above). His body was the only one recovered after their aircraft crashed into the North Sea on 15 September 1943, after an operation to bomb the Dortmund Ems canal was called off.
For many years the tribute was organised by the East Kent branch of the RAF Aircrew Association, with the support of local members of the Maltby family. However, this branch has now been disbanded, with their standard being laid up at the Spitfire and Hurricane Museum in Manston (see newspaper cutting below). The Maltby family is very grateful to them for leading the tribute over the last many years, and sends every best wish to the individual members.
Regular readers of this blog will recall that last year’s tribute by the RAF’s last flying Lancaster to David Maltby and his crew had to be called off because of adverse weather conditions. We very much hope that the Lancaster will fly over Wickhambreaux in September 2013, the 70th anniversary of their final flight.
The Annual Public Meeting of the Barnes Wallis Memorial Trust takes place this week.
This year sees the 125th Anniversary of Barnes Wallis’ birth and this year’s meeting will include three talks relating to his life:
• Barnes Wallis at Home – his daughter, Mary Stopes-Roe
• Barnes Wallis, the citizen – Richard Morris, biographer of Guy Gibson and Leonard Cheshire
• Barnes Wallis and Warriors – Robert Owen, Official Historian, No. 617 Sqn Aircrew Association
The talks will all be held on 28 June 2012 at Howden School of Technology, Derwent Road, Howden, E. Yorks DN14 7AL, starting at 7 pm.
Admission is free, but a retiring collection will be held in aid of the Barnes Wallis Memorial Trust and Howden School.
Tomorrow, 16th May, is the 69th anniversary of Operation Chastise, the Dams Raid. The first aircraft, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow , took off from RAF Scampton at 2128, quickly followed by three colleagues. One of these, AJ-K, flown by Plt Off Vernon Byers, was the operation’s first of eight losses, shot down just over two hours later on the Dutch coast.
The Möhne Dam was breached at about 0049 on Sunday 17th May 1943, and the Eder Dam at 0150. Altogether, 53 aircrew were killed and three more taken prisoner. On the ground, there were 1294 casualties at the Möhne and 47 more in the Eder valley.
These are sobering figures, which we should remember when we commemorate the raid.
It is, however, fitting that Wg Cdr Guy Gibson, 617 Squadron’s commanding officer, is being remembered on the anniversary of his greatest achievement in the home village of his maternal grandparents, Porthleven in Cornwall. As his own parents lived in India, Gibson spent part of his childhood in the village, and by all accounts had a very happy time there. A new bronze plaque will be unveiled, and there will be representatives of the RAF present and, weather permitting, a flypast.
Hat tip: Graeme Stevenson
More from the remarkable collection of Dom Howard.
- 617 Squadron 25th anniversary service 1968
- 617 Squadron trip to Derby programme 1980
- 617 Squadron 40th anniversary service 1983
- Mick Martin memorial service, 1989
You can see these items in full here.