Len Eaton and Charlie Williams photographed together in training

Air Gunners 44 Course IMG_1997 960px

44 Course Air Gunnery training at No 14 OTU, 10 April 1942. [Pic: Susan Paxton]

On this day 78 years ago nineteen Lancaster aircraft took off from RAF Scampton on what would become known as the Dams Raid. Two of the wireless operators had, in fact, gone through part of their training together, as this photograph shows. It depicts a group of wireless operator/gunners taken in April 1942 at RAF Cottesmore, while they were in No 14 Operational Training Unit.

The two were Flt Sgt Len Eaton, wireless operator in AJ-T, piloted by Joe McCarthy, and Plt Off Charlie Williams DFC, wireless operator in AJ-E, piloted by Norman Barlow. The photograph was pasted into a scrapbook belonging to Williams, which is amongst his papers held in the John Oxley Library, part of the State Library of Queensland, Australia. 

The nature of wartime service in the RAF makes it quite likely that there were a number of other previous encounters of this kind between the men who were brought together in March and April 1943 to take part in this historic operation, but this is one of the few which have documentary proof. 

Eaton returned safely from the Dams Raid, and went on to fly with McCarthy on another 34 operations until he was taken off operations in July 1944. He received the DFM for his service. Williams, however, was not so lucky. He and all the other members of Barlow’s crew were killed when they collided with a power line near Haldern in Germany. They died shortly before midnight on 16 May 1943. 

The names of all the 26 men in the photograph are listed below, along with what is known about them at present. The research has been done by Susan Paxton and Alan Wells, who would welcome any further information. 

Top Row:
Weir: Sgt Allen Weir RAAF, Cloncurry, Qld, Australia. KIA 2 June 1942.
Pugh: Possibly Canadian.
Livingstone: Nothing known.
Moir: Sgt Colin Moir RAAF, Marrickville NSW. Survived the war. Almost certainly the last survivor of this photograph: he died just last month on 20 April 2021, at the age of 100.
O’Keefe: Sgt Ralph O’Keefe, born in Canada, but serving in the RAF. KIA June 1942.
McLeod: Possibly Australian.
Lawlor: Nothing known.
Quance: Sgt Peter Quance RAAF, born in Birmingham, England, but his family emigrated and he enlisted in Sydney, Australia. KIA June 1943.

Middle row:
Radermeyer: Sgt Ignatius Rademeyer, Rhodesia. Later PoW and survived the war.
Degen: Sgt Lawrence Degen. Survived the war, and died in 2008.
Gallagher: Sgt Francis Gallagher RAAF, born 1914, Guyra, NSW, Australia. KIA January 1943.
Eaton: Sgt Leonard Eaton, born 16 March 1906, Manchester. Survived the war, and died in 1974.
Black: Possibly Australian.
Taylor: Possibly Canadian.
Robson: Sgt Wallace Robson RAAF. Australian. KIA June 1942.
Barrett: Nothing known.
Hunt: Sgt Edmund Hunt RAAF, Rockdale, NSW, Australia. KIA 30 June 1942.
Royal: Nothing known.

Bottom row:
Little: Plt Off Harvey Little, from Wetheral, Cumberland. KIA 31 May 1942.
Powell: Nothing known
Wood: Possibly Australian.
Grey: Plt Off Charles Gray. Survived war.
Gillenland: Plt Off Harold Gilleland, from London. KIA December 1942.
Williams: Plt Off Charles Williams, born 19 March 1909, Townsville, Qld, Australia. KIA 16 May 1943.
Newround:  Plt Off Alec Newbound RAAF. Born in 1917 in Swallowcliffe, Wiltshire. Emigrated to Australia and enlisted in Melbourne. Survived war.
Agley: Possibly Flt Sgt Leonard Agley, from Bradford. Survived war.

In Charlie Williams Country, part II

Bannockburn today. The central part of the house directly ahead is original. The section to the left is partly filled-in and partly more recent construction. This includes the kitchen, which likely was originally separate from the house.

Guest post: more from Susan Paxton’s recent trip to Queensland, Australia, in the footsteps of Flg Off Charlie Williams. Here she visits the home where the Williams family lived from 1933.  Text and all new photos by Susan Paxton.

When Horace Edward Williams lost his place as manager of Telemon Station, he had to act quickly. At 69 years of age, likely he had been looking forward to a pleasant retirement once his sons Doug or Charlie took his place, but any promises his former employer had made were now moot. Horace made Townsville, on the coast, his temporary base of operations, and set to work looking for a new opportunity. One day, he spotted this advertisement in a local paper:

Under Instruction from THE UNION TRUSTEE COMPANY OF AUSTRALIA LIMITED, Executors and Trustees in the Estate of William Charles Reed deceased; Solicitors to the Estate, Messrs. Marsland & Marsland, MESSRS. DALGETY &. COMPANY LIMITED, HUGHENDEN, in conjunction with the QUEENSLAND PRIMARY PRODUCERS’ CO- OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION LIMITED, TOWNSVILLE, will offer by PUBLIC AUCTION AT CENTRAL HOTEL LOUNGE, HUGHENDEN, on SATURDAY 21st OCTOBER, 1933, at 11 a.m.
SITUATED – Approximately 80 miles south-easterly from Prairie Railway

A long description of the property followed making it sound paradisiacal. Horace knew better. When he’d first arrived in Queensland as a 16-year-old immigrant he’d worked for his uncle James Tolson at a property adjacent to Bannockburn, Uanda. He was well aware that the area was arid and, unlike Telemon, extremely isolated. The nearest towns were Prairie and Torrens Creek – both specks on the railroad that ran inland from Townsville through Charters Towers and on west – to the north, and Muttaburra and Aramac to the south, only slightly larger and even farther away. Horace also knew that, run very carefully and with the minimum of paid help, Bannockburn could be made to turn a tidy profit. While too arid for lambing, wethers (castrated male sheep) would put on high quality wool eating the available forage. Organizing a syndicate with two friends who were in the shipping industry in Townsville, Horace assembled enough capital to buy the place.

For Charlie and Doug, any hopes that they had had of becoming station managers pretty much ended at Bannockburn. They became station hands, nothing more; the work of the place fell entirely onto them, with only one hired hand. Perhaps what it meant to Charlie in particular comes from his photo albums. His photos of Telemon are full of fun, of visits to and from neighbors, trips to Townsville and Sydney, parties, picnics, often with amusing captions. There are only four or five snaps from Bannockburn, all of them views of the house, with no captions at all other than “Bannockburn.”

The Williams family put a great deal of effort and money into Bannockburn and indeed almost immediately had the place earning its way and providing enough income to make further improvements. Horace had the small and bare homestead enlarged, added stands to the shearing shed, had new bores drilled, bought more sheep. But with the coming of war, at least one of his sons was more than eager to get away from the place and its unrelenting drudgery and tedious isolation. So it was in late January 1941 that Charlie Williams walked down the steps, into a car, and was off to the railroad station at Torrens Creek. He would never return.

Telemon today is a ruin; Bannockburn is a working station owned and run by Bill and Amy Dart, with their children Cameron, Malcolm, and Ruby. In the Williams’ day it was a sheep station; the Darts run cattle, sturdy Droughtmaster breeds.

While the interior of Bannockburn has changed a good deal, this is almost certainly original and gives an impression of the rather spare house the Williams family moved into.

The shearing shed at Bannockburn. The reason for the height of the building above ground is two-fold; it made it easier to load bales of wool directly into the bed of a truck, and if rain started during shearing the sheep would be driven under the building and penned in to stay dry, since wet sheep cannot be sheared.

The interior of the shearing shed, which Bill Dart uses today to store hay. The prefabricated iron construction is notable.

This single-cylinder diesel motor was used to turn the drive belts for the shears and other equipment. Although taken down, most of the pulleys and other equipment are still stacked around the shed.

The shearer’s quarters, now used for storage. The chimney marks the kitchen.

This old water trough dates from the Williams’ time. The remains of the tank it was once attached to are visible behind it. The bare patch gives an indication of the size of the tank; Bill Dart told me it takes decades for plants to regrow in this area when the roots have been killed.

The last sheep at Bannockburn! The Darts found this now-elderly resident on the road when it was a baby and they saved and raised it.

This monument in Torrens Creek remembers Jack Bunt, “A man of courage and integrity,” the local mailman whose long, lonely route took him every Monday to Bannockburn, where he delivered the letters Charlie Williams was writing home. The fence beyond marks the site of the railroad station from which Charlie left to report to the RAAF.

Once again, my visit was made possible by Helen Williams-Brown, who was my patient companion in my pilgrimage. Bill and Amy Dart and their children Malcolm and Ruby (oldest son Cameron was away at school) were our unfailingly pleasant and very interesting hosts for our overnight stay at Bannockburn.

In Charlie Williams country

Guest post.
Long time friend of this blog Susan Paxton has recently been to Queensland, Australia, on a trip to find out more about the life of Flg Off Charlie Williams DFC, wireless operator in the AJ-E crew which took part in the Dams Raid.
Text and all new photos by Susan Paxton.

Telemon in the early 1930s. The poinciana tree to the right; in the garden Mrs Williams and daughter Sheila. Possibly H.E. Williams standing to left. Fenced rain gauge in the foreground. Photo taken by Charlie Williams. [Pic: Williams family]

On the morning of 25 March 1919, Matthew Macalister, the elderly manager of Telemon Station, located in Flinders Shire not too far, in bush terms, from Hughenden in Queensland, stepped out to walk to the shearing shed, promising to return for lunch. When he did not, someone went to check on him and found that he had never arrived. Word was sent to neighboring Marathon Station and a search effort hastily organized. All through the night the search went on, but it wasn’t until 8 am that a drover found Macalister where he’d fallen, dead of a heart attack or stroke.

Local writer “Bill Bowyang” noted in his regular column “Along the Track,” printed in the Townsville Daily Bulletin, “…the owners of Telemon will seek afar for the man to fill his place.” But in fact the owners of Telemon did not have to search far at all, for, from a nearby station they also owned, Tamworth, they tagged the manager, Horace Edward Williams, to take Macalister’s place. H.E. Williams brought with him his wife Helene, his daughter Sheila, and his two sons, Doug and Charlie.

Charles Rowland Williams, future DFC, had just turned ten when his family moved to Telemon, widely felt to be one of the finest sheep stations in Queensland, with 60,000 acres of freehold. Situated on a low hill above the Flinders River floodplain, the station homestead was beautifully located, but too small. Horace immediately set about improvements, starting by jacking the existing single-storey house up. A concrete floor was poured and a first storey built under, creating a house that was both spacious and, for the bush, elegant. Shady verandas encircled most of the first and second storeys; a spreading poinciana tree grew in the front. Stone walks were laid and gateposts marked the entrance; the usual scatter of station outbuildings spread out to one side and behind, along with a water tank on an iron stand to provide piped water. It was here that, for the next fourteen years, Charlie Williams would live and learn his trade as a station manager.

Good things do not last. In the spring of 1933 Telemon was sold, and the Williams family lost their place. The house likely sat empty for a time since Telemon was merged with adjacent Marathon. In 1948 the Stewart-Moore family bought Telemon to add to their property, Dunluce, and for several years lived there until they decided it was more practical to live at the Dunluce homestead, closer to the new Flinders Highway and the existing railroad. For a few years into the 1960s a boundary rider lived in the house; it must have been a lonely existence. Finally, the house was left to the elements.

In March 2019 my search for CharIie Williams brought me to Telemon, almost exactly 100 years since the Williams family arrived. What is left is saddening. Sometime probably in the 1980s, unheard by human ears, the house collapsed, and all of the outbuildings have followed suit. The hill is crowned with shapeless piles of broken, weathered wood, and the paddock around is littered with scattered corrugated iron sheets blown here and there by the occasional storms. Now and then a landmark can be spotted; the iron frame that supported the water tank, the flagstone walkway, one of the gateposts.

Telemon, March 2019

It is quiet there; the only sounds are the wind, the lowing of cattle, the sudden sound of disturbed locusts whirring away. Possibly if one had time to sit on the rocky ground, back against the one standing gatepost, and just listen, you might hear voices, or music. There was life here once; Charlie’s photo albums show costume parties, tennis matches, New Year’s celebrations, boating on the waterholes. The local papers record how the town folk from Hughenden would come here to play cricket against the country dwellers. Now, it is silent.
Charlie Williams, killed on 16 May 1943 in the raid on the dams, is buried a world away, in Germany. I suspect some of his heart remains here.

The remaining gatepost and traces of the flagstone path to the front door, with the house beyond.

The iron posts were adapted from bore casings and once supported the upstairs veranda

One of the few identifiable features, the large post leaning to the right here stood in the living room.

Charlie Williams, aged about 20, photographed on a trip to Townsville. [Pic: Williams family.]

My visit to Telemon was made possible by Helen Williams-Brown, who accompanied me on a whirlwind tour of what I insisted on calling “Charlie Williams country”; by Jack Stewart-Moore, whose property Dunluce subsumes the old Telemon ruin and who gave us permission; and by his manager Mark Williams, who was our gracious guide to the site.

Canberra Last Post Ceremony to honour Charlie Williams

One of the most imposing buildings in the Australian capital of Canberra is the Australian War Memorial, which honours the 102,815 men and women who appear on its Roll of Honour. Carved in stone, these are the names of all those who have died over the years while serving in the country’s armed services.
A Last Post Ceremony takes place at the memorial every evening, as it closes for the day, honouring a single person from the Roll. The event is live streamed on the Memorial’s Youtube and Facebook sites, and consists of a short tribute, wreath-laying and the playing of Flowers of the Forest and the Last Post.
This coming Saturday, 3 June, the man honoured will be Flg Off Charlie Williams DFC, the wireless operator in Norman Barlow’s crew on the Dams Raid. (You can see his profile here.)
The service will take place at 1655 local time in Canberra (0755 BST). See the live stream here, and the list of forthcoming names here.

Update, Saturday 3 June: Video of the ceremony honouring Charlie Williams.

[Thanks to Susan Paxton for the tip.]

Act of Remembrance

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The Reichswald Forest War Cemetery lies in a wooded area in north west Germany, near the town of Kleve and not far from a massive road bridge across the Rhine. It is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in Germany – the last resting place for 7672 men who fought with the Allied services in the Second World War. Of these, 3915 flew with the various air forces.
Amongst these lie 32 Dambusters, making this quiet spot the place on earth where there are the most Dams Raid veterans buried. Twenty-seven of the 53 who died on the Dams Raid itself are now interred here (Bill Astell and his crew, Norman Barlow and his crew, Henry Maudslay and his crew, and Warner Ottley and the six of his crew who were killed). Five more men, all by then flying in the crew of Sqn Ldr George Holden and killed on the fateful Dortmund Ems Canal raid on 17 September 1943, also lie here.
The Dambuster graves are in groups in different parts of the cemetery. Seven of them lie together in one row, not far from the edge. This is the crew of AJ-E: Norman Barlow, pilot; Leslie Whillis, flight engineer; Philip Burgess, navigator; Charlie Williams, wireless operator; Alan Gillespie, bomb aimer; Harvey Glinz, front gunner and Jack Liddell, rear gunner. And on 18 May this year it was at their graves that we first paid our respects, coming as we had from the unveiling of a new memorial at their crash site near Haldern, about 30km away.
This was an experienced crew, all of whom had served together in 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston. Three were in their 30s, and six had been commissioned as officers. Unfortunately all this experience came to nought when their aircraft, targeted with an attack on the Sorpe Dam, collided with a high tension electric pylon on the edge of a small wood, and crashed in flames. They were all killed instantly and their bodies were then taken to Dusseldorf North cemetery for burial. After the war, like many other Allied aircrew from other parts of Germany, their remains were exhumed and reinterred in Reichswald Forest.
Although the gravestones were all produced to a standardised format, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission allowed each family to choose a quotation or dedication to appear at the foot of the stone. Not all took this opportunity but when they did, it’s their words which frequently produce the lump-in-throat moment as you walk between the lines of stones.
The AJ-E men each have something added.
Harvey Glinz’s stone has the simplest dedication: “Always remembered”. Leslie Whillis and Philip Burgess have similar quotations. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” is the usually quoted version which appears in the King James Bible version of St John’s Gospel. This appears on Burgess’s stone, while Whillis’s has the variation: “Greater love hath no man than this, he gave his life for his friends.” Charlie Williams’s grave bears words which seem to encapsulate the emotions his family must have felt by the death in a faraway cold land of a country boy from an Australian sheep farm: “He gallantly died renouncing all the things that he loved”. The age of the youngest man to take part in the Dams Raid, Jack Liddell, is alluded to by his family: “ In the prime of his youth he died that we might live”. Norman Barlow, the only one to be both a husband and a father, is remembered for the former achievement, if not the latter: “ In loving memory of my husband who gave all for his country”. And Alan Gillespie’s stone reads: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them”.
These last words are, of course, taken from Laurence Binyon’s famous poem, “For the Fallen”. Its fourth stanza will be read out many times this week:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

And every time the audience or congregation repeat the last four words, we should think not just of these seven men, nor just the 53 who died on the Dams Raid, nor even of the 55,000 men of Bomber Command who died in the Second World War, but of the countless millions who have died in conflict before and since. Each of these was someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother. “My subject is war and the pity of war.”
“We will remember them.”

Dambuster Memorial unveiled as many pay tribute

IMG_6611Pic: Wim Govaerts

Several hundred people gathered on Sunday 17 May 2015 on the edge of a small wood in Haldern, north western Germany, to pay tribute to the crew of Dams Raid Lancaster AJ-E, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC. This was the spot where the aircraft crashed shortly before midnight on the night of 16 May 1943, en route to attack the Sorpe Dam.
Some of Norman Barlow’s letters home to his mother in Australia were read out during the ceremony. In one, written on 3 May 1943, he told her about the new aircraft he had been assigned for the Dams Raid. “I have just got a brand new machine. “E” for Edward or Elsie or Elliott. I hope I am as lucky as I was with “G” for George”.
And then, just 12 days later and the night before died, he sent love to everyone back at home, including his daughter, then four years old: “I must close now and have a bath and get a little shut eye whilst I can.  So keep your chin up Mother dear it can’t last forever. Your loving son Norman xxxx.”
Sadly, E-Edward would not turn out to be not a lucky machine for Norman and his crew, and they were all killed instantly in the crash. For seventy years, the site was not marked in any way, but then in 2013 local historian Volker Schürmann began a campaign to have a permanent memorial established. He organised a public appeal which succeded in raising the funds, after many generous donations from supporters from around the world. There were further donations of materials from the local community, and the farmer on whose land the aircraft crashed was kind enough to make a space available.
Relatives and representatives of five of the crew travelled to Germany, and unveiled the memorial. Wreathes were also laid by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, by other organisations, and by the local community. A guard of honour was provided by the Haldern Fire Brigade, and musical tributes were played by the Haldern Brass Band.
Huge thanks go to all the people of Haldern who donated to and supported the memorial, and to all those who travelled to Germany to take part in the ceremony.

Pictures below by Wim Govaerts and Mitch Buiting.

IMG_6365 Banner depicting the crew of AJ-E. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6396Volker Schürmann being interviewed by British Forces Broadcasting Service reporter, Rob Olver.

IMG_6388Items from the wreckage of AJ-E, found locally by Marcel Hahn. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6462Welcome from Bernhard Uebbing, Chair of Heimatverein Haldern, the local history society. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6481Volker Schürmann outlined the background to the project. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6494Charles Foster gave a brief history of the Dams Raid and its historical significance. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6509Trish Murphy, a friend of Norman Barlow’s daughter Adrianne since their schooldays in Melbourne, read from Norman Barlow’s last letters home. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9274Rob Holliday, whose wife Sara is a cousin of bomb aimer Plt Off Alan Gillespie, gave an account of the lives of all the crew members of AJ-E. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6550The first wreath was laid by Group Captain Steve Richards of the RAF. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6553Lt Colonel David Sexstone and a colleague laid the second wreath on behalf of the Royal Canadian Air Force. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9289Wreath laid in memory of Norman Barlow by Trish Murphy, with assistance from Jacqui Kelly and Aisling Foster. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

Rework_9293Wreathes laid in memory of Philip Burgess by Carole Marner, followed by Jenny Rowland. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

Rework_9298Wreath laid in memory of Alan Gillespie by Sara and Rob Holliday (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6558Wreath laid in memory of Charlie Williams by Helen Brown. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9306Wreath laid in memory of Jack Liddell by Patricia and Mike Gawtrey. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6471Music for the occasion was provided by the Haldern Brass Band. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6685A guard of honour was provided by the Haldern Fire Brigade. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6665The five sets of relatives and representatives, joined by Volker Schürmann and Charles Foster. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6678The full RAF and RCAF delegations, photographed after the ceremony. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6583AJ-E, honoured and remembered, 17 May 2015. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)


Good news for Dambuster memorial appeal

AJ-E crew lores
A piece of good news to cheer us all at this festive season. This blog’s good friend Volker Schürmann has recently informed us that the appeal for funds to erect a permanent memorial at the site where Norman Barlow and his crew crashed on the night of the Dams Raid has succeeded. The stone for the memorial is now being quarried and the plaque is being designed. The memorial will be officially unveiled at a ceremony at 11.00am on Sunday 17 May 2015, the 72nd anniversary of the Dams Raid, and the crash.
The crash occurred on farmland, a few kilometres from Haldern, a small community in Rees in the state of North Rhine Westphalia. Lancaster ED927, code name AJ-E, had been the first aircraft to take off on Operation Chastise, leaving RAF Scampton at 2128 on Sunday 16 May 1943. Just over two hours later, flying at about 100 feet, it struck a pylon. It may have been hit by flak a few moments before. The crew of seven were all killed, and are now interred in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. They were:
Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC (pilot)
Plt Off Leslie Whillis (flight engineer)
Flg Off Philip Burgess (navigator)
Flg Off Charles Williams DFC (wireless operator)
Plt Off Alan Gillespie DFM (bomb aimer)
Flg Off Harvey Glinz (front gunner)
Sgt Jack Liddell (rear gunner)
It is thought that members of the families of at least four of the crew will be attending the unveiling of the memorial.
More details will follow. Members of the public will be welcome to attend.
Many thanks are due to Volker Schürmann and his colleagues for organising the memorial.

Appeal launched for AJ-E Dambuster memorial

AJ-E crew lores
The crew of AJ-E. Left to right: Norman Barlow, Leslie Whillis, Philip Burgess, Charles Williams, Alan Gillespie, Harvey Glinz, Jack Liddell.

Eight crews from 617 Squadron were lost on the night of the Dams Raid, 16/17 May 1943. Of these two, AJ-A piloted by Sqn Ldr Melvin Young and AJ-K piloted by Plt Off Vernon Byers were lost over the sea, but the other six crashed on dry land in Germany or the Netherlands.
Three of the crash sites are commemorated with a plaque or other memorial:

AJ-B: Flt Lt William Astell
AJ-M: Flt Lt John Hopgood
AJ-C: Plt Off Warner Ottley

An appeal has now been launched to add another memorial to this list. Lancaster ED927, call sign AJ-E, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC, crashed into a electricity pylon on some farmland near Haldern, at about 2350 on 16 May 1943, killing all on board. Haldern is a community in the district of Cleves, in the lower Rhine area.
The plan, to erect a memorial stone and bronze plaque on this site, is being organised by Volker Schürmann, a local historian, who is looking to raise €750 (about £620) to cover the cost. We are therefore looking for 150 donations of €5.
By way of thank you, donors will receive a colour souvenir postcard featuring pictures of the finished stone in place and portraits of all the AJ-E crew. It is hoped that we can arrange for a descendant of one of the crew to be present when the stone is unveiled, and, of course, all donors will also be warmly welcomed.

You can donate to the appeal via Paypal here:
Make a Donation Button

If you would prefer to make a donation by cheque or bank transfer, contact me and I will give you details of how you can do this.
Below is a picture of the site where the memorial will be erected.
two oaks 2 lores

Dambuster of the Day No. 67: Charles Williams


Flg Off C R Williams DFC
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED927/G

Call sign: AJ-E

Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Charles Rowland Williams was born on 19 March 1909 in Townsville, Queensland. He was the middle child of the three surviving children of sheep station manager Horace Williams and his wife Hedwige or Helene (she used both names). His mother seems to have decided to travel to Townsville in order to have the baby. At the time of his birth the family lived in Winton, but then lived at a series of other sheep stations before moving to Telemon, a station near Hughenden, when he was 10 years old. This was a small settlement in inland Queensland, some 250 miles west of Townsville. Australian country districts did not have elementary schools in those days so Williams was tutored at home until he went to Townsville Grammar School as a boarder at the age of 12.

Leaving school at 16, he went home to work on the station his father managed. He also became a skilled mechanic and took up building wireless sets and photography as hobbies. The great crash of the early 1930s led to his father losing his job so, as part of a syndicate, the family bought their own station which they had to work hard to build up.

Like many young men of his generation, Williams had long wanted to fly and took some flying lessons at the aero club in Townsville. When war came, he was already 30 years old. Both he and his brother could have avoided military service on the grounds that their elderly father was ill, and could not run the property on his own but they both joined the army reserve. They agreed between themselves that Doug as the elder should remain in the army so that he could stay in Australia to take responsibility for the family, but younger brother Charlie should volunteer for the air force.

In February 1941, some seventeen months later, Williams began his training. He was posted to Sydney, and then on to a training school in rural New South Wales. By then almost 32, he was mustered as a wireless operator/air gunner. After training, he was commissioned and then posted to England.

He arrived in Bournemouth in November 1941, a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. This traumatic event had another, often overlooked, consequence besides bringing the USA into the war. The Australian government quickly realised how exposed their country was to possible invasion by the Japanese and many aircrew under training were kept back in case they were needed at home.

Caught in a training bottleneck, Williams remained at Bournemouth until being assigned to No 1 Signals School at Cranwell in the middle of February, and then to 14 OTU at Cottesmore in the first week of April. However, his operational experience began very suddenly, when the unit was required to send several Hampdens on the first Thousand Bomber Raid, on Cologne on 30 May 1942. He was also sent on the later raids on Essen and Bremen.

By September, he was ready for operations and had arrived at 61 Squadron at Syerston, as wireless operator in a Lancaster crew skippered by Flg Off Brian Frow, an experienced pilot, who went on to survive the war and rise to the rank of Air Commodore. Their first operation was a raid on Munich and they flew on seven more before Frow finished his tour.

In December, Frow was replaced by a New Zealander, Flt Sgt Ian Woodward, another pilot who also survived the war. Philip Burgess would also join this crew in early 1943. By March 1943, Woodward had completed his tour, but Williams had to do one more as he had missed a couple of operations back in January through illness. He flew on a trip to Berlin, and his CO signed off his logbook as tour complete. He wanted to return to Australia, as his father was seriously ill, which would probably mean he would need to do a second tour. If he went on the normal six-month inter-tour break that would only delay things.

Also, he had broken off his engagement to his Australian fiancée (they hadn’t been in touch for several months) as he had become involved with another woman in Nottingham, Gwen (‘Bobbie’) Parfitt. He wanted to marry her as soon as possible, and then bring her back with him to Australia.

He wrote to his family about his decision:

Yesterday I made a decision which may or may not be wise, I am joining a crew with an Australian as pilot, he, like myself has nearly finished his first tour and when we have finished we are going to another squadron and will carry on with our second tour without any rest, the second tour now consists of 20 trips and we believe when we have finished our operations we will have a much better chance of being sent home, and with the summer coming we should finish in three or four months, and I think it is better to do that than have to come back on operations after having been off for six months.

The Australian pilot and the new squadron he mentions in this letter were of course Norman Barlow and 617 Squadron. And so it was that his fate was sealed, for a few weeks later they were leading the second wave of the Dams Raid over Haldern in Germany when they hit the fateful electricity pylon.

Like several other Dams Raid participants Williams had been recommended for a decoration, in his case the DFC, but it was not awarded until after his death. It was eventually presented to his mother. The news that he had broken off his first engagement had not reached Australia by the time of the Dams Raid, so his first fiancée, Millie McGuiness, was contacted by the Australian authorities when his death was confirmed. Eventually his new fiancée, Bobbie Parfitt, was able to set the record straight.

In his final letter to his family, Williams wrote:

How I wish I could tell you everything I would like to, there is so much I could tell you but until the war is over I cannot tell anyone but I hope in the near future I will be able to tell you some of the amazing things I have seen and experienced.

Because of the delays in the postal service this was the last of the several letters which kept on arriving at home well after his death.

He also wrote and posted a final letter to Bobbie. Timed at 7.30pm, it may be the last written by any of the men who died on the Dams Raid. It reads in full:

Sunday 16th May 7:30 PM
My Darling Bobbie.
Well darling I am very sorry I was unable to get in tonight, I was very disappointed about it also at not being able to contact you at Joans, but I could not ring you after four o’clock as I was too busy, I am almost sure I will be in Monday or Tuesday night, but will phone you and try and let you know.
When I do see you I hope to be able to explain why I have not been able to get in, and I am quite sure that you will then know that it has been absolutely impossible for me to get in during the past two weeks except for the one night I did come in and could not find you.
There is quite a big chance that I may get leave sooner than I expect, and if I do I may not be able to give you more than a few days notice, but will try and let you know as soon as possible, and when I do get that leave I hope you are able to get leave also, so that we can be married.
I will have a lot to tell you when I do see you darling and I can only hope it will be very soon, because I have missed you an awful lot, and it seems ages since I saw you last.
This letter will have to be very short dear as I have very little time, and have work to do, and am only able to let you know that I have not forgotten you.
Cheerio for now darling and believe me when I say I love you very dearly and always will.
All my love dear and kisses

Charlie Williams is buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

Williams file

The stark note on his personnel file confirms his death. [National Archives of Australia]
Thanks to Susan Paxton for help with this article.

More about Williams online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Entry at Aircrew Remembered website
Casualty file on RAAFDB website

KIA 16.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Eric Fry, An Airman Far Away, Kangaroo Press 1993

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Further information about Charlie Williams 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.