Appeal launched to fund AJ-A memorial in Netherlands

The crew of AJ-A: (L-R) Sqn Ldr Melvin Young (pilot), Sgt David Horsfall (flight engineer), Flt Sgt Charles Roberts (navigator), Sgt Lawrence Nichols (wireless operator), Flg Off Vincent MacCausland (bomb aimer), Sgt Gordon Yeo (front gunner), Sgt Wilfred Ibbotson (rear gunner).

For many years a small group of Dutch citizens, headed by Jan van Dalen, have looked after the graves of the Dams Raid crew of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young in the General Cemetery of the small coastal town of Bergen. The crew were aboard Lancaster ED887, AJ-A, on the Dams Raid on 16-17 May 1943, and all seven members lost their lives when they were shot down on their return journey.

AJ-A had been the fourth aircraft to drop its Upkeep mine at the Mohne Dam and had caused a small breach. A few minutes later AJ-J dropped another mine, causing the final breach and the dam’s collapse. Young had flown on to the Eder Dam in order to take over command if anything should happen to Guy Gibson on the attack there, but in the event had nothing to do. He then set course to return home and reached the Dutch coast just before three in the morning. Then, out over the sea, he hit disaster when the gun battery at Wijk-aan-Zee fired at the rapidly disappearing Lancaster. At that stage, the aircraft was well past the last gun battery and only a few hundred yards from safety. The battery later reported shooting down an aircraft at 0258, which was almost certainly AJ-A.

The wreckage of AJ-A, photographed shortly after the Dams Raid in 1943.

Over the next few weeks, the sea yielded up the victims. Part of the wreckage was washed ashore and the first bodies – those of Melvin Young and David Horsfall – floated up on 29 May. They were buried in the General Cemetery at Bergen two days later, and were joined by the bodies of the other five which were washed up over the next thirteen days.

The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation has now been formally established to commemorate all members of 617 Squadron who lost their lives in the war. As part of this work, the Foundation plans to erect a memorial plaque to the crew of AJ-A on the seafront at Castricum-aan-Zee, which they are hoping to unveil at the time of the 75th anniversary of the crew’s burial in Bergen cemetery in late May 2018. Members of the families of the crew of AJ-A have already said that they hope to be present for this occasion.

The cost of this project is estimated to be in the region of €3500-4000. If you would like to make a donation to the Foundation to help pay for the memorial, you can do so using the PayPal link below. (You don’t need to have a PayPal account in order to make a payment – any credit card can be used.) Your donation will be gratefully received and will be acknowledged at the unveiling ceremony.



 

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Dambuster mothers identified

Premiere mothers
Thanks to Alex Bateman, I’m now able to list the mother of four of the Dams Raid aircrew who attended the Premiere of The Dam Busters and were presented to Princess Margaret. They appear in the Pathé News report of the occasion.
The mothers are: top left, Mrs Florence Hatton, mother of Bill Hatton; top right, Mrs Nellie Knight, mother of Les Knight; bottom left, Mrs Dorcas Roberts, mother of Charlie Roberts; bottom right, Mrs Elizabeth Nicholson, mother of Vivian Nicholson.

Dambuster of the Day No. 24: Charles Roberts

Robertsportrait

Flt Sgt C W Roberts
Navigator
Lancaster serial number: ED887/G
Call sign: AJ-A
First wave. Fourth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing small breach. Aircraft shot down on return flight.

Charles Roberts was born in 1921 in Cromer, Norfolk, and had been a trainee accountant before the war. He enrolled in the RAF in 1940, and had initially been selected for training as a pilot. He was sent out to Rhodesia for training at an Elementary Flying Training School. Like many would-be pilots, he ended up qualifying as a navigator.
Back in England he met up with his future colleagues at 1660 Conversion Unit. They came together in January 1943 but, as was common practice, had to wait until March to be given an experienced pilot, who arrived in the shape of Melvin Young. Unlike some of his colleagues, he appears never to have flown on any operations before the Dams Raid, a lack of experience he shared with Vivian Nicholson, the navigator of David Maltby’s aircraft, flying alongside him. Inexperienced he may have been, but he doesn’t appear to have made any significant errors on the flight to the Möhne Dam, as Young, Maltby and Shannon maintained formation throughout the trip.
During AJ-A’s run in to attack the dam, Roberts’s role was to stand in the cockpit looking out of the starboard blister at the reflection of the two lights set so that when they touched the aircraft was at the correct height of 60 feet above the water. He would have called ‘up’, ‘down’ or ‘steady’ during the approach as the pilot adjusted the height.
On the return journey, Roberts set the correct course for one of the three approved routes home, and it was on the last leg of this that AJ-A met its fate.
Roberts was engaged to a WAAF who worked at Scampton packing parachutes.
He is buried with the rest of the crew in Bergen General Cemetery.

More about Roberts online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

KIA 17 May 1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Arthur Thorning, The Dambuster who Cracked the Dam, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002