A number of publications are producing special editions or features to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. Amongst these are the monthly magazine Britain at War, whose April number 2018 devoted some 24 pages to the event.
Much of the text covers familiar ground, but there was a slightly different angle in an article by an academic from the University of Hull, Victoria E Taylor. In it she discussed how the ‘iconic operation’ has become ‘woven into the fabric of British folklore’. This has given it a slightly unfortunate position in popular culture, she argues. ‘… the gung-ho, “Boy’s Own” narrative of the Dams Raid – while valid and understandable – is not always sensitive to the immense sorrow that the operation provoked. The psychological distress of certain “Dambusters” over the 53 Allied airmen killed (and three captured) is not often fully considered. The same can particularly be said of the 1294 victims of the resulting floods.’
These are valid points, and ones which should be considered by those who are often tempted to treat the raid as some sort of game (going to an England football match dressed in a fake RAF uniforms and singing Ten German Bombers, for instance). These days, there is much better understanding of the effects of war on its participants, whether ‘winners’ or ‘losers’, so it should come as no surprise that some of those who took part in the Dams Raid suffered from mental stress later on in their lives.
To their credit, the organisers of most of the official events which will commemorate the 75th anniversary recognise this, and there won’t be much mindless triumphalism. And it is significant that there will also be an event in Germany itself, at the Eder Dam, which will bring together people from the nations which opposed each other in the war itself. Also significant is the ongoing interest by the people of Haldern in the memorial at the crash site of Norman Barlow and his crew.
The April 2018 edition of Britain at War, which includes Victoria Taylor’s article, is still available online.
[Victoria Taylor has asked me to point out that she was not responsible for the captions on the photographs which accompany her article. In particular, the one which identifies the unmistakeable figure of Les Munro, with a New Zealand flash on his shoulder, as Joe McCarthy!]