Dambusters at the Albert Hall

BBC screengrab

The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance takes place on Saturday 9 November at 9.15pm and will be broadcast live on BBC1 for UK viewers. This year it will feature a tribute to the 133 aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid, and use the pictureboard created in conjunction with this blog as part of the video sequence.
An iPlayer link will follow here on Sunday after transmission. (See here, about 5 minutes in:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03hwbvv/Royal_British_Legion_Festival_of_Remembrance_2013/ ).
If you know of any other Remembrance Day tributes to Dambusters, then please get in touch.

Dambusters at the bar

Les Munro Dambusters Inn IMG_9916

Les Munro autographing the pictureboard at the Dambusters Inn, Scampton, May 2013. [Pic: Heather Allsworth/Nigel Favill]

A grand display of pictures of all the 133 aircrew from the Dams Raid can now be seen in the comfort of the Dambusters Inn in Scampton village, a few miles from the airfield which was the base for the raid itself. It represents a lot of hard work by Heather Allsworth and Nigel Favill, who live locally.
It is arranged in three sections, as can be seen in the photograph above taken during a visit by Les Munro. On the left are the crews who did not return, including the three men taken POW. In the middle above a painting by Keith Aspinall is Guy Gibson and his crew. On the right hand side are the crews who returned, together with the medals they were awarded for the raid.
Heather and Nigel should be congratulated for putting together this now complete collection. It’s open for all to see during pub licensing hours. A pint for me, and a glass of white wine for the lady.

BBC Dambusters Pictureboard completed!

Pictureboard complete small

Great news from the BBC. Photographs of all 133 aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid have now been obtained for the News Online pictureboard which was launched on the 70th anniversary last May. A big hat-tip to the BBC’s Greig Watson and his team, who took on the work. Several pictures were added in the first flush of publicity after the anniversary, but the last five subjects were surprisingly elusive.
Then your humble scribe had a bright idea, and tracked down the identity card pictures of all of them in the unpublished papers of the late Harry Humphries, 617 Squadron’s first adjutant. Thanks are due to his son, Peter Humphries, for making them available both to this blog and the BBC.
Many thanks also to all the families, individual researchers, libraries and archives who have provided photographs. A full list is on the BBC website.
There is more information on how the pictures were tracked down in this article from BBC Lincolnshire.

Dams Raid peaks interest

DAM_7267 lores

BBMF Lancaster over the Derwent Dam, 16 May 2013 [Pic: Andy Chubb]

An interesting insight into why the recent Dambuster anniversary flyover at the Derwent Dam was a rather low key affair has appeared in this recent blog post written by Jim Dixon. He is the Chief Executive of Peak District National Park Authority and was therefore involved in the complicated discussions which took place between his authority, the two local councils, Severn Trent Water, the RAF, the police and everyone else who seemd to express an interest.
The RAF explained to him the significance of the events around this anniversary and that the main commemorative events would be in Lincolnshire. This was partly to accommodate considerable media interest but mainly because the last Dams Raid survivors were now too frail to travel extensively on the days around the celebration.

A plan was then put in place led by Severn Trent Water with support from Derbyshire Police, Derbyshire County and High Peak Borough Councils, Mountain Rescue and the National Park rangers. Contrary to some unworthy reports in the media, there was no attempt to stop the flyover and the plans to restrict access were only a sensible precaution to prevent mayhem and allow visitors safe access. At no time were the RAF’s plans restricted.

He was right to be cautious. Having arrived early himself on the day, he found that:

The first visitors to the valley had camped overnight and our rangers had been on site at 4.00 am when more people began to arrive. All car parks and lay-bys in the valley were full by 10.00 and there was a huge amount of traffic in the Bamford and A57 areas. Our careful and cautious approach had proved to be right.

Just before it arrived in the Derwent valley itself, the BBMF Lancaster had paid another important, very personal tribute nearby to two men who died on the night of the Dams Raid. It had flown over the Peak District town of Chapel en le Frith, whose war memorial commemorates two local men – Flt Lt Bill Astell, pilot of AJ-B, and Sgt Jack Marriott, flight engineer in Henry Maudslay’s AJ-Z.
There must be something in the High Peak air (or perhaps it’s that local Buxton water). It seems to encourage some very interesting local blog writers, who have written about these two local Dams Raid participants, and also taken many photographs.
As well as the local Chapel News, there is Cllr Anthony McKeown (who has an extensive Flickr portflio of pictures), writer Uphilldowndale (‘Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England’) and, most remarkably, self-confessed ex-southern softie Carah Boden who actually lives in Bill Astell’s old house. She writes:

I feel both extraordinarily privileged and very moved. It was to this house, in this quiet Derbyshire village, that he returned having been awarded his DFC for fortitude in Libya, to rest and recuperate prior to his involvement in the Dambusters’ Raid. It was a place he loved, as confirmed to me by his sister Betty in a brief correspondence we enjoyed before her own death a few years ago. She said how happy they had all been living here and that, indeed, the only sadness was that their beloved brother died in action while they still lived here.
Edmund Bradbury, member of the British Legion and long-term resident of Chapel-en-le-Frith, worked tirelessly to bring together today’s commemoration of Bill Astell who died just 53 days after Edmund was born. The sun shone on Chapel’s market place – site, too, of the War Memorial where William Astell’s name is etched in the stone like too many other fallen comrades of the First and Second World Wars. A message was read out from Her Majesty the Queen; flags were raised and lowered; a lone trumpet played The Last Post; a minute’s silence was held and its end marked by the Revalle; hymns were sung, prayers were said and readings given; wreaths were laid and the Chapel Male Voice Choir sang the famous Dambusters’ March. BBC and ITV news were both there filming and interviewing and military and local dignitaries were joined by a good crowd of invitees and passers by.

‘We are simply guardians of stone and mortar for a moment in time, before we too have to move on,’ she concludes. ‘But in the meantime it is a privilege to be able to inhabit this place which he, too, called home.’
How true, how true.

German reports from Edersee commemoration

Waldeckische Landeszeitung 18_5_2013 img057 crop

The Eder Dam was the scene of one of the best attended German 70th anniversary commemorations of the Dams Raid, with guests including local civic dignitaries, survivors of the raid and RAF representatives.
Here is a link to a five minute TV report, which contains interviews with two women who remember the raid, and footage of the commemoration event.
Below you can find two reports from local newspapers, one of which, the Waldeckischke Landeszeitung,you can also read online.
[Thanks to Michael Schmidt]

Waldeckische Landeszeitung 18_5_2013 img057

Waldeckische Allgemeine 18_5_2013 img056

The Dam Busters: an almost complete picture

BBC pictureboard

Greig Watson and his colleagues at BBC online have been slaving away for the last few weeks trying to get a complete pictureboard of all 133 aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid.
Believe it or not, a display of this type has never been published before, and they deserve huge credit just for taking on the work.
However there are a few gaps, and the Beeb is very keen to find a relative somewhere who can help find a picture of the missing aircrew. All of them are British, so there should be a good chance that together we can complete the jigsaw.
Here are the missing photos:
David Horsfall (Now found!)
John Marriott (Now found!)
Michael Fuller (Now found!)
John Kinnear (Now found!)
Alan Gillespie (Now found!)
Robert Marsden (Now found!)
Jack Barrett (Now found!)
Thomas Johnston (Now found!)
Harry Strange (Now found!)
Daniel Allatson (Now found!
Dennis Powell (Now found!)
Norman Burrows (Now found!)

If you are related to any of these men, or know of a source for a picture of them, please let me know (leave a comment below or send me a private email) , or log onto the BBC site and send them the details.

(I can claim a modest part in this work, having helped the BBC with some of the picture research.)

Not a dry eye

The RAF did us proud last night. Many of you will have watched the sunset ceremony from RAF Scampton televised live on BBC2. As I was there and have been travelling since, I have yet to see the recording but I can tell you that it was a very emotional event. The undoubted highlight was the landing of the BBMF Lancaster, and the few moments as it taxied from the runway right up to the band, who were playing the last few chords of The Dam Busters march. It was perfectly timed, and well worth several rounds of applause.
I’m told that the BBC covered this very well in glorious widescreen TV definition, but to get the real life experience of what it felt like being there, watch this video shot by my sister Sarah on her iPad, now posted on Youtube. This is what it was like on the ground.
(Well done, girl!)


On the road to Scampton

If you are not, like me, lucky enough to have a ticket for the Dambusters 70th anniversary Sunset Ceremony taking place at RAF Scampton at 7pm tonight, then you can watch it live on BBC2 in a special programme being introduced by Dan Snow.
The Lancaster flypast at the Derwent Dam took place earlier today in what looks to have been very pleasant wether conditions. Let’s hope it continues for another few hours!
For an excellent background piece on the raid on the BBC website by Greig Watson, click here and an interactive map of the routes, click here

Let us not forget all those lost this day, 70 years ago

At a commemoration at the Eder Dam tomorrow morning, these words from the present Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron, Wg Cdr David Arthurton, will be read out:

70 years ago today, pilots from No. 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force launched an audacious and daring long range attack against the Eder, Mohne and Sorpe dams. A mission that will forever be etched into the history of the Squadron. But heroism and sacrifice is not the prerogative of the military, and there will have been many such acts that night; most unseen and unrewarded.
So even as we, their successors in No. 617 Squadron, join together today to remember our comrades who flew that mission, we join together with you also to remember all those who were affected by the operation that night – regardless of nationality.
Many years have now passed since that night, and today our two countries have never been so closely linked as they are now. So, while it is important to remember the past, and the sacrifice of all those who lost their lives that day, it is even more important to celebrate our present and future together as close friends and allies.

Whatever event we attend today, or if we see or hear the broadcasts or read the press, we should reflect on these words. Let us hope that we never again see the kind of conflict where swaths of people from many different countries are lost, and mourned for generations by those left behind. Those of us who knew these people should make sure that this lesson is never forgotten.

The Dams Raid in infographic form

RAF infographic

There’s an interesting ‘infographic’ on the RAF’s series of pages about the Dams Raid (Operation Chastise). Very simple presentation, but that’s what good information design is about. I’ve reproduced it in thumbnail form above, but it would make a useful wallchart if it could be printed at a large size. Something for the shops at Hendon and Cosford, perhaps?
Incidentally, the RAF’s own summary of the raid is an excellent article, with plenty of detail.
And, even more fun for Twitter-fiends everywhere, the signals sent to and from the 19 Lancasters on Operation Chastise are being re-created as a Twitter feed in real time on the night of 16 May. However, you will have to stay up most of the night if you want to follow these, as the last aircraft landed at Scampton at 0615 the next morning,