Families gather to open new AJ-A memorial

Members of the families of the crew of AJ-A join with Jan and Macy van Dalen and John Bell of the 617 Squadron Association after the unveiling of the memorial at Castricum aan Zee on the Dutch coast. This was the aircraft piloted by Sqn Ldr Melvin Young on the night of the Dams Raid. It was the fourth to attack the Mohne Dam and caused the initial breach which led to its collapse.

The monument was unveiled by Belinda Brown, cousin of front gunner Gordon Yeo, the youngest member of the crew and Geoffrey Sturr, nephew of Melvin Young, the pilot.

Two Dambuster daughters. Left, Jill Owen (née Nichols), daughter of Sgt Laurie Nichols, and Angela McDonnold (née MacCausland) daughter of Flg Off Vincent MacCausland.

The Young and Ibbotson families in the cemetery in the nearby town of Bergen where the crew is buried.

Len and Sandra Brown, representing the family of Charles Roberts.

The family of Gordon Yeo.

Angela McDonnold (née MacCausland)

Photos: 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation/Dambusters Blog

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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.



 

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

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 Walpole Roberts was born on 19 January 1921 in Northrepps, a village near Cromer in Norfolk. He was the only son of Charles Augustus and Dorcas Roberts. Their marriage broke down when he was very young, and his father moved to Devon. Roberts was brought up by his mother and grandmother, educated at the village school before entering the nearby Paston School, famous as the alma mater of Lord Nelson.
Roberts enrolled in the RAF in 1940, and was 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.
He then crewed up with Lawrence Nichols and John Beesley in 10 Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon in July 1942. The crew was skippered by Graham Bower. On 10 and 13 September, Roberts flew on two operations with Bower, trips to Düsseldorf and Bremen. The crew moved on to 1660 Conversion Unit later that year. Although the crew took part in a raid on Berlin on 16 January 1943, after Bower’s departure, Roberts was replaced as navigator by an instructor, Flt Lt V. Blair. Melvin Young joined the Conversion Unit later, in early March, and took over the old Bower crew there.
The full crew were then transferred to 57 Squadron at Scampton on 13 March. On 25 March, they were all reposted to the new 617 Squadron.
Roberts was one of the most inexperienced navigators to fly on the Dams Raid, but he acquitted himself well on the flight to the Möhne Dam, as the trio of Young, Maltby and Shannon maintained formation throughout the trip. Roberts was engaged to Irene Mountney, a WAAF who worked at Scampton packing parachutes.
AJ-A was shot down at the last moment of danger shortly after they had passed over the Dutch coast. On 19 May, Charles Roberts’s body was the first of those of the crew of AJ-A to be washed ashore, and he was buried two days later 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, Cassel 2002

Further information about Charles Roberts and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.