Flg Off Brian Goodale was the wireless operator in David Shannon’s crew on the Dams Raid. As were most of Shannon’s crew, he was a bit older and more experienced than his pilot, and already had a DFC for completing a tour of operations. He had an unusual nickname, which is explained the first time he appears in Paul Brickhill’s 1951 book, The Dam Busters: ‘Brian Goodale, the wireless op, was so tall and thin and bent he was known universally as “Concave”.’ (p.80).
He makes other appearances in the book, most notably as the victim of a debagging prank in the train to London, the day before the 33 aircrew decorated for the Dams Raid received their awards at Buckingham Palace. To preserve his modesty in the presence of several WAAF officers, the partially dressed Goodale was shut in a train lavatory while the adjutant Harry Humphries persuaded the men playing cards in another compartment to return his trousers.
Brian Goodale stayed on in the RAF after the war, rising to the rank of Squadron Leader. He was a frequent attender of 617 Squadron reunions, and his copy of The Dam Busters became a treasured possession, containing the autographs of many of his erstwhile comrades.
When he left the RAF in 1961, he worked first for Plessey. In the late 1960s he became sales manager of the aircraft and armaments manufacturer, Short Brothers and Harland, who were based in Newtownards, Northern Ireland. This necessitated a family move to this small town, 10 miles from Belfast at the top of the picturesque Strangford Lough.
Before this move took place, Brian Goodale stayed at a small hotel in the town called the Devonshire Arms. At some point in this stay, he lent his signed copy of The Dam Busters to the landlord. As his son, Simon Goodale, says: ‘My father was always lending the book to people who were interested in it, but up till then they always gave it back.’
The Goodale family – Brian, his wife and their two teenage boys – settled into a house in the town and Simon went to a local school. According to Simon, when his father went back to the hotel to look for his book: ‘The landlord at first said that he had lent it to somebody else and then said that he had lost it.’ He went back several more times in the years that followed, but each time the landlord told him the same story.
Years passed. The Goodales moved back to England, after five years living in Newtownards, and then in 1977 Brian Goodale died of cancer aged just 57. Simon assumed that the book was lost and never thought about it until one day recently a colleague told him that he had seen a TV programme about his father. He dismissed this information at first, thinking that he was talking about a rerun of The Dam Busters film, or something similar, but the colleague persisted, telling him that his father was mentioned by name.
The programme turned out to be a repeat of an episode of the auction-based series ‘Flog It’ where BBC experts ‘invite the public to have their ‘antiques and family heirlooms valued for free at one of our valuation days. If you’re interested in selling them, our experts will consider putting them into auction and flogging them for you. You could end up on television and with a tidy sum in your pocket.’
On this particular episode a woman called Vanessa Farnham turned up with the ‘lost’ signed copy of The Dam Busters, and told the interviewer that she had known ‘Concave’ Goodale when he had stayed at her parents’ hotel in Northern Ireland. He had left the book behind, she said, when he went off without paying his bill. She had had the book for sometime, but had now decided to sell it. The experts advised her that it was certainly worth several hundred pounds.
The book duly went for auction in September last year, as I noted on this blog at the time. Vanessa Farnham had contacted the blog to tell us about the auction, saying that the book ‘was owned by Brian Goodale’. She wrote again after the auction saying the book had sold for £900, less commission. She was sad to see it go, she said, because she had just got to know it. ‘However,’ she added ‘our little story of Concave is now “out there” ’.
When Simon Goodale saw the repeat of the programme, he was greatly concerned that his father was portrayed as someone down on his luck who had left a hotel bill unpaid. He points out that the family lived in Newtownards for five years, and that Brian Goodale had an important job with a well known local firm. The local press had carried several articles about him, so the idea that he could not be traced about an unpaid bill was absurd. He also knew that his father had been annoyed that his book, which he had lent to the landlord in good faith, had apparently been mislaid.
Simon has now persuaded the BBC to remove the Flog It episode from the iPlayer facility and is seeking an apology from the newspapers which ran a similar story about his father. However, he accepts that he is unlikely to get the book back, since it was bought in good faith by a collector in Deal.
UPDATE, 5 April 2011: I informed Vanessa Farnham that I was publishing this story, and she sent me the following comments: ‘This is obviously a difficult situation as it is one person’s version of events against another’s… I was about 17 when Brian Goodale stayed in our Hotel and have a distinct memory of him. As I said in the programme he was a very “special chap”. I remember he was returning to collect his family to return to N. Ireland. However he did leave and did not take his belongings nor did he settle his bill. I clearly remember standing in his room thinking how strange as I had really liked him and I remember thinking how big his shoes were as I packed his stuff… We never saw Brian again! the book stayed on the bookshelves of our subsequent hotels and certainly wasn’t “mislaid” and has a stamp from the Gull Cottage Hotel clearly visible in the front cover. So anyone could have taken it over the years. My Dad was not a literary man, nor a war hero, but he was a well known and respected Businessman in Newtownards, he was President of the local Rugby Club and a member of the Lions Club, the book was never secreted. The fact that Brian returned “again and again” is not as I remember it as I was fond of him and would have recalled this.It was no way implied that Brian was down on his luck, just that it was a Mystery. I am very sad that this has happened.’
FURTHER UPDATE, 7 April 2011: In her earlier email, Mrs Farnham also informed me that her brother is the same age as Simon Goodale, and was in the same form at school.
Simon Goodale has written to me again, commenting on her statement. He says: “As I have stated before there is no reason why my father would have not paid the bill — he was a well paid businessman and if the story was really true why didn’t Mrs Farnham’s father alert the police? After all it was during the troubles and my father was in the armoured car business. Aren’t landlords supposed to alert the police if somebody goes missing from a hotel? The last time my father stayed in the hotel was when I and my mother stayed there while waiting for our furniture to arrive from England, not as she is saying. I do recall Mrs Farnham’s brother being at the same school, but surely this just supports my side of things that my dad did not disappear, and he was known to be in Newtownards. Nobody in their right mind would have left this very personal book behind, it just doesn’t add up and simply would not, and did not, happen in the way Mrs Farnham says.”
Mrs Farnham’s comment in the earlier update would indicate that the so-called “unpaid bill” incident refers to the time that Brian Goodale stayed on his own in the hotel, before his family came over to Newtownards from England. However, as Simon says, his mother and father and himself all stayed there again some time later, when they had moved over to Northern Ireland, but were waiting for the furniture to arrive.
Mrs Farnham has no explanation as to what happened to the book while the Goodale family were in the hotel on a second visit. Nor can she say why her father failed to contact Mr Goodale about his uncollected belongings, when he must have known he was working for one of the town’s big employers.
This story has caused great distress to the Goodale family, and an apology for this would seem to be the least that should be offered.