David Shannon’s changing crew

Holmes1Plt Off Bernard Holmes, rear gunner in David Shannon’s crew in 106 Squadron. Holmes completed a full tour with Shannon, and was brought to 617 Squadron at Scampton in March 1943. Three weeks later, he was transferred out. Later in the war he joined 77 Squadron and flew on 13 further operations. [Pic: Robert Holmes]

At the end of February 1943, David Shannon finished his tour of operations in 106 Squadron with a trip to St Nazaire. This was the 36th sortie in a run which stretched back to June 1942, shortly after his 20th birthday. During his tour, he had generally flown with a core crew made up of Danny Walker, navigator, Wallace Herbert, bomb aimer, Arnold Pemberton, wireless operator, Douglas McCulloch, mid upper gunner and Bernard Holmes, rear gunner. Over the course of the tour Shannon flew with a number of different flight engineers and/or second pilots, but in the last few months Sgt Cyril Chamberlain became the regular flight engineer.
An enforced change happened in November 1942, when Danny Walker came to the end of his own tour. He was posted to No 22 OTU as an instructor and thereafter a number of different navigators filled in for him. These included the experienced Norman Scrivener and Winston Burnside, both of whom also navigated for Guy Gibson in this period.
Shannon’s last operation in 106 Squadron on 28 February appears to have coincided with the end of the tours of Herbert, Pemberton, McCulloch and Holmes. Under normal circumstances, the crew would have broken up and all would have been sent on instructional duties for a period of six months. Shannon, however, wanted to carry on flying and somehow arranged a transfer to 83 Squadron at RAF Wyton, a Pathfinder outfit. It was there that he got a telephone call from Gibson, asking him to join him at Scampton where he was forming a new squadron.
Chamberlain, Herbert, Pemberton, McCulloch and Holmes were apparently all still at Syerston, waiting for new postings. Consideration was obviously given to reconstituting Shannon’s 106 Squadron crew, since Chamberlain, Pemberton, McCulloch and Holmes were all transferred to the new 617 Squadron at Scampton on or about 25 March 1943. Herbert appears either not to have been asked or to have declined the offer. Also, Shannon’s old crew member Danny Walker was specifically sought out to fill the post of navigator, and was brought over to Scampton from No 22 OTU at Wellesbourne Mountford.
It is not clear exactly what happened next. Shannon undertook two testing flights on 28 and 31 March, but he only recorded the names of the other pilots with whom he flew (Flt Lt Dierkes on 28 March, Flt Lt John Hopgood on 31 March). His next flight wasn’t until 6 April, when he did a 5 hour cross country and bombing trip. This was repeated, over a different route, two days later on 8 April. On both of these flights, a five man crew is recorded. This consisted of Walker and McCulloch, both from his 106 Squadron days, two new names – bomb aimer Len Sumpter and flight engineer Robert Henderson, plus Larry Nichols, a wireless operator borrowed from Melvin Young’s crew.
After the war, Len Sumpter described how he and Henderson were recruited to the squadron. At that stage, he had completed 13 operations in 57 Squadron, based at Scampton. Then his pilot was grounded with ear trouble and the crew were broken up. He and his erstwhile crewmate Henderson knew that a new squadron was being formed in the next two hangars, and heard that Shannon was looking for a bomb aimer and a flight engineer, so they sought him out. “We looked him over and he looked us over – and that’s the way I got on to 617 Squadron.” (Max Arthur, Dambusters: A Landmark Oral History, Virgin 2008, p18.) No date is given for this “interview”, but it must have occurred sometime between 31 March and 6 April.
Sumpter goes on to say that the crew didn’t get their own wireless operator until the end of April. He didn’t know – or didn’t mention – that there were three members of Shannon’s old crew, including wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, kicking their heels on the ground.
On 11 April, Shannon’s logbook records the first flight of a new crew member, rear gunner Jack Buckley. He had been transferred from No 10 OTU, where he was working as an instructor. He was an experienced gunner and had been commissioned, having completed a full tour of operations with 75 (New Zealand) Squadron. Albert Garshowitz (misspelt as Gowshowitz) from Bill Astell’s crew was the borrowed wireless operator on this occasion.
Two days later, on 13 April, a complete squadron crew list was compiled, under the title “Order of Battle”. This is preserved in a file in the National Archives (AIR14/842). It shows Shannon’s crew as: Henderson, flight engineer, Walker, navigator, Sumpter, bomb aimer, McCulloch, mid upper gunner and Buckley, rear gunner. The position of wireless operator is left blank. Flg Off McCulloch is also listed as A Flight Gunnery Leader. Four names are listed as ‘spares’, amongst whom are the other three members of Shannon’s 106 Squadron crew: Pemberton, Holmes and Chamberlain.
Another two days later, on 15 April, Douglas McCulloch attended an Aircrew Selection Board. He must therefore have previously applied for remustering. However, he returned to the squadron and flew on more training flights with Shannon on 19 and 21 April. He was eventually posted to No 13 Initial Training Wing on 1 May.
On 17 April, Bernard Holmes and Arnold Pemberton’s time at 617 Squadron ended, with them both being recorded as being posted to No 19 OTU at Kinloss. There is no record of the destiny of Cyril Chamberlain. Holmes’s son Robert recalls that his father apparently told his wife at the time that he and Pemberton were bored and frustrated through not being kept busy, and asked for a transfer.
Eleven days later, on 24 April, another squadron crew list was published. The Shannon crew now shows two changes. The wireless operator position has been filled by Flg Off Goodale DFC and the mid upper gunner has the handwritten name of Sgt Jagger in a space which had been left blank by the typist. The A Flight gunnery leader is now shown as Flg Off Glinz (from Norman Barlow’s crew). There are no longer any names listed as spares (National Archives: AIR14/842). This date coincides with Goodale’s first appearance in Shannon’s logbook. It is notable that Brian Jagger’s name may appear here, but in fact he did not fly with Shannon until 4 May.
Both men came with a deal of experience. Brian Goodale had a completed full tour and was recruited from No 10 OTU, where Jack Buckley had also been an instructor. Brian Jagger came from 50 Squadron. He had previously flown with John Fraser and Ken Earnshaw, two Canadians in John Hopgood’s crew, and they may have been instrumental in getting him on board.
On this date, David Shannon’s Dams Raid crew was finally established, and they would fly together for the next few months. Quite why three members of his crew from 106 Squadron were earlier brought over to Scampton but never used remains a mystery.
Later in the war, after a spell as an instructor, Bernard Holmes returned to operations with 77 Squadron, and joined a crew skippered by Wg Cdr J D R Forbes, the squadron CO. He remained there until the end of hostilities. He had married his wife Margaret in 1940, and they had two sons, born after the war. The family emigrated to South Africa in 1952, and he died there in 1979.

Thanks to Robert Holmes, Clive Smith, Robert Owen and Nigel Favill for their help with this article.

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Dambuster of the Day No. 39: Brian Goodale

Goodale

Pic: Simon Goodale

Flg Off B Goodale DFC

Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED929/G
Call sign: AJ-L
First wave. First aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately but no breach caused. Aircraft returned safely.

David Shannon’s crew was only finalised three weeks before the Dams Raid with the arrival at Scampton on 20 April 1943 of wireless operator Brian Goodale. The crew’s members came from quite disparate backgrounds but nevertheless they worked well together and became an important part of the backbone of the squadron. Dedicated fighters in the air, they were serious revellers on the ground, and thereby added greatly to squadron morale. Goodale, tall and thin with a slight bent and thus known widely by his nickname ‘Concave’, was described by his colleague Len Sumpter as being ‘a bit of a character with a drink in his hand’.
Goodale was born on in Kent on 12 June 1919 and joined the RAF at the outbreak of war. After training as an observer, he became a wireless operator/air gunner and served a full tour of 28 operations in the Whitleys of 51 Squadron, starting in September 1940. During this time, he received the DFC and was commissioned. Then, after a period instructing, he was summoned to Scampton to join 617 Squadron when the call came to find an experienced wireless operator for the Shannon crew.
Some of the escapades in which Goodale were involved after the Dams Raid have passed into Squadron folklore. Prominent among them is the trip by train from Lincoln to London for the investiture at Buckingham Palace, where he had to be locked in a lavatory after a drunken trouser-removing incident. Fortunately, Adjutant Harry Humphries managed to retrieve them, crumpled and dusty, before anyone became too offended. Many of these incidents were recorded by Paul Brickhill in his 1951 book The Dam Busters – items which add to its period charm.
Goodale became the squadron’s Signals Leader in September 1943 and carried on flying on operations with Shannon for another nine months until he was posted out to another training centre. He was awarded a bar to his DFC. He stayed in the RAF after the war and retired as a Squadron Leader in 1961. He then had a career in business, including five years working for the armaments manufacturers Short Brothers in Northern Ireland.
Brian Goodale died in 1977 in Bury St Edmunds, and is buried in All Saints Church, Hawstead, Suffolk.

Survived war. Deceased.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Harry Humphries, Living with Heroes, Erskine Press 2003

Flog It flayed by Dambuster son

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.