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.