At the Albert Hall, for one night only

Pic: Delfi/Wikimedia Commons

I have realised that I haven’t yet written about the gala showing of The Dam Busters at the Albert Hall on 17 May, even though it’s now more than three weeks after the event. I had a very small walk-on role in the preliminary festivities, and I hope the fact that the composite picture of all 133 men from 617 Squadron was projected onto the screen behind me while I spoke was enough of a tribute to all of the men who took part in the raid.

It was great pleasure to meet members of several Dambuster families for the first time, and I hope that this network will grow in strength. Many more families also made contact with me during the other events of that week. It was also a pleasure to meet Sally Scott, the granddaughter of Michael Anderson, who read an extract from his memoirs about the making of the 1955 film.

Revelation of the night for me was Elizabeth Gaunt, née Wallis, saying that she had actually played a small non-credited speaking part in the 1955 film, as a laboratory technician in the sequence at the giant water tanks in the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. Her appearance, when it came round 40 minutes or so into the film itself, drew a big cheer from the audience.

A bucket collection was taken for the RAF Benevolent Fund as the audience left the hall.

Eder Dam ceremony brings nations together

A remarkable event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid took place at the Eder Dam in Germany on 17 May. It was organised by the local Dambusters Museum Germany, directed by Herr Oliver Köhler.

Representatives of the services from the wartime Allied countries saluting during the ceremony.

Minister of Justice, Ms Eva-Kühne Hörmann, representing the regional government of Hesse.

Group Captain Smith speaking on behalf of the British Embassy.

Herr Stegner, representative of local Liberal Party, Waldeck.

Rev Downes, military chaplain, British army.

Band of the Royal Artillery, British army.

Plaque placed on the Eder Dam.

Herr Oliver Köhler, Director, Dambuster Museum, Germany.

All pictures © Wim Govaerts. 


Anniversary events at the RAF Museum

The RAF Museum’s Lancaster. Events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid will be held beneath its wings. [Pic: Geograph/Carlisle Kid]

The RAF Museum in Hendon, North London, has four free events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. The first two need prebooking.

The Legend of the Dambusters Raid
Wednesday 16 May, 2pm

Under the wings of the Lancaster in the main exhibition hall.
Free to attend
Billed as an insightful look at the Dambusters Raid from 1943 and the story of the most famous raid by Bomber Command in the Second World War.
Tickets can be reserved here.

A Legacy of a Dambuster
Thursday 17 May, 2pm

Under the wings of the Lancaster in the main exhibition hall.
Free to attend
The legacy of one Dambuster, John Hopgood, and how his family are building dams in Africa. This talk is in partnership with the WaterAid charity. The speaker is Jenny Elmes, niece of John Hopgood, and author of his biography, M-Mother.
Tickets can be reserved here.

Dambuilding and Dambusting!
Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 May, 11am – 3pm

Free activity, just drop in
Families can come and be inspired by the legacy of the Dambuster John Hopgood and build sand dams. Artists Silvia Krupinska and Danny Saul are making an interactive art installation that visitors will be able to build and engage with. There will be multiple layers, textures and sounds for families to experience. This activity has been commissioned by the WaterAid charity, in partnership with the RAF Museum.

Lancaster Flypast
Saturday 19 May, 5.30pm
The BBMF Lancaster will fly over the Museum. This will be one of the few opportunities in the London area to see it, so arrive early and have your cameras at the ready. Please be aware that flypasts are subject to suitable weather conditions both at the museum and at its take-off site.

The aura of the Dams Raid

A number of publications are producing special editions or features to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. Amongst these are the monthly magazine Britain at War, whose April number 2018 devoted some 24 pages to the event.

Much of the text covers familiar ground, but there was a slightly different angle in an article by an academic from the University of Hull, Victoria E Taylor. In it she discussed how the ‘iconic operation’ has become ‘woven into the fabric of British folklore’. This has given it a slightly unfortunate position in popular culture, she argues. ‘… the gung-ho, “Boy’s Own” narrative of the Dams Raid – while valid and understandable – is not always sensitive to the immense sorrow that the operation provoked. The psychological distress of certain “Dambusters” over the 53 Allied airmen killed (and three captured) is not often fully considered. The same can particularly be said of the 1294 victims of the resulting floods.’

These are valid points, and ones which should be considered by those who are often tempted to treat the raid as some sort of game (going to an England football match dressed in a fake RAF uniforms and singing Ten German Bombers, for instance). These days, there is much better understanding of the effects of war on its participants, whether ‘winners’ or ‘losers’, so it should come as no surprise that some of those who took part in the Dams Raid suffered from mental stress later on in their lives.

To their credit, the organisers of most of the official events which will commemorate the 75th anniversary recognise this, and there won’t be much mindless triumphalism. And it is significant that there will also be an event in Germany itself, at the Eder Dam, which will bring together people from the nations which opposed each other in the war itself. Also significant is the ongoing interest by the people of Haldern in the memorial at the crash site of Norman Barlow and his crew.

The April 2018 edition of Britain at War, which includes Victoria Taylor’s article, is still available online.

[Victoria Taylor has asked me to point out that she was not responsible for the captions on the photographs which accompany her article. In particular, the one which identifies the unmistakeable figure of Les Munro, with a New Zealand flash on his shoulder, as Joe McCarthy!]


Lancaster will fly over Ladybower Dam on Dams Raid 75th anniversary – official


The BBMF Lancaster flying over the Ladybower Dam in 2008. [Pic: MoD/Wikimedia]

The worst-kept secret of the events to commemorate the 75th anniversary off the Dams Raid is out! It has been officially confirmed today that the BBMF Lancaster will perform a flyover at the Ladybower Dam in the Peak District’s Derwent valley on Wednesday 16 May at approximately 12.05pm. In April and May 1943, the reservoir and dam were one of the training locations used by 617 Squadron in the run up to the Dams Raid.

The Lancaster will fly over RAF Scampton and then move on to the Derwent valley. It will perform two passes over the dam before going on to fly over Chatsworth House, the Rolls Royce plant in Derby and the Eyebrook reservoir in Leicestershire.

The authorities are keen to inform you that this event is of course weather-dependent, and in the event of cancellation due to inclement conditions there will not be another date.

Traffic congestion is expected to be very high, and members of the public are urged to use public transport if possible as private car parking will be very restricted. Previous events at the dam have resulted in traffic jams lasting up to six hours. Note that the nearest rail station is at Bamford, 2 miles from the dam (wear walking boots).

Check this information from the Peak District National Park and this from Derbyshire County Council.

There is more information on the BBMF Facebook page. This does not say which base the Lancaster will be using on the day, but it is likely to be its home station of RAF Coningsby.

Fred Sutherland unveils portrait in Alberta

Great to see a new photograph of Fred Sutherland, looking well. Last Thursday, in his home town of Rocky Mountain House in Alberta, Canada, Fred unveiled a new portrait of himself, painted by Dan Llewelyn Hall. This is one of the 133 portraits painted by Dan to honour all the men who took part in the Dams Raid.

On the raid, Fred Sutherland was the front gunner in AJ-N, piloted by Les Knight, and was thus in a prime seat when the Eder Dam was breached by his aircraft’s mine.

All the portraits in Dan’s series will be unveiled at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln at 2.00pm on Sunday 13 May. All are welcome to this event. The exhibition will then move to London and will be on display at Prospero World, 4 Farm Street, London W1J 5RB from 16-20 May. Admission is free. although a donation to the four charities benefitting from the exhibition will be appreciated.

Report from BBC in Canada about the unveiling
Report from Canadian broadcaster CBC 

Dams Raid 75th anniversary: updated calendar of events

Here is a list of events organised to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid in May. It will be updated again nearer the time of the actual anniversary, which falls on 16/17 May.

Friday 4 May 2018, 12.30pm. Gilze-Rijen Air Base, Netherlands. Unveiling of memorial to the crew of AJ-S, piloted by Plt Off Lewis Burpee, which was shot down on the edge of this airfield on the Dams Raid. The crew are buried in the nearby Bergen-op-Zoom war cemetery. Weather permitting, there will be a flypast by the BBMF Lancaster at a time to be confirmed.
More details here.

Saturday 12 May 2018. Woodhall Spa. The 617 Squadron Association Annual Dams Dinner will be held at the Petwood Hotel, Woodhall Spa, for members of the Association and invited guests.

Sunday 13 May 2018, 10.00am. Woodhall Spa. 617 Squadron Association Annual Wreath-laying Ceremony and Service, 617 Squadron War Memorial, Royal Square, Woodhall Spa. Members of the public welcome.

Sunday 13 May 2018, 11.30am. Woodhall Spa. Service of dedication and unveiling of the new Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust memorial at the former airfield at RAF Woodhall Spa. Service taken by Air Vice Marshal Venerable Robin Turner CB DL, retired Chaplain-in-Chief of the RAF. The memorial will be unveiled by Wg Cdr John Bell MBE DFM Ld’H, President of 617 Sqn Association, who flew with both 619 and 617 Sqns from the airfield in 1943/44.

Sunday 13 May 2018, 2.00pm. International Bomber Command Centre, Canwick Hill, Lincoln. Unveiling by Dambuster family members of the 133 portraits ‘Dambusters Reunited’ by Dan Llywelyn Hall. More details here.

Wednesday 16 May, 9.28pm to Thursday 17 May, 6.15am. RAF Cosford, Shropshire.  University of Birmingham Air Squadron (UBAS) charity march around RAF Cosford airfield. Nineteen teams of seven, representing the nineteen Lancaster bombers and their crew, will walk laps of the airfield overnight between 9.28pm on 16 May and 6.30am on 17 May – the first take-off and last landing times of the raid. Other volunteers, supporters and participants are welcome and encouraged to join in and do as little or much as they choose. In aid of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and organised by UBAS. More details here.

Thursday 17 May 2018, 8.30am. The Royal Aeronautical Society, 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ. Time to be confirmed. A symposium to review the origin, preparation, execution and achievements of Operation Chastise. Speakers will include Paul Stoddart, Dr Peter Caddick-Adams, Seb Cox, Eric Grove, Dr Robert Owen, David Jordan and Paul Strong. More details here.

Thursday 17 May 2018, 12.30pm. Ladybower Inn, Bamford, Derbyshire. Charity lunch in aid of The Barnes Wallis Foundation on the 17 May at The Ladybower Inn. Speaker: Peter Rix. The Inn is adjacent to the Howden, Ladybower and Derwent Dams where the squadron trained. Tickets are £35 per head and must be purchased in advance from the Ladybower Inn on 01433 651241.

Thursday 17 May 2018, 6.00pm. Hardwick Avenue, Chepstow, Gwent. Unveiling of blue plaque memorial at childhood home of Dams Raid pilot Bill Townsend DFM. Event organised by Chepstow Town Council. At the conclusion of this event, and if the weather permits, the BBMF Lancaster will perform a flypast at about 6.40pm. This will be one of the few public events where the Lancaster can be observed over the anniversary.

Thursday 17 May 2018, 7.15pm. Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 2AP. Commemorative evening paying tribute to 617 Squadron. Introduced by Dan Snow. Guests will include family members of Dams Raid crew members, former members of 617 Squadron, historian Paul Beaver, plus a ‘bouncing bomb’ experiment and music from the Glenn Miller Orchestra. This event will culminate with a screening of the 1955 film The Dam Busters, directed by Michael Anderson and starring Sir Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd, on a 40ft screen in 4K definition. This event is in support of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. More details here.
The film is also being simulcast at 300 UK cinemas. Tickets for your local showing can be purchased here.

Friday 18 May, 11.00am. Castricum-aan-Zee, Netherlands. Unveiling of the memorial to the crew of AJ-A, the Dams Raid aircraft piloted by Sqn Ldr Melvin Young, which was shot down just off the Dutch coast on its return journey from the Eder Dam. The crew are buried in the nearby Bergen cemetery. More details here.

Further events are expected to be announced between now and May 2018. This list will be updated when these occur. For the latest version of this list click on this link on the blog.

Eder Dam to host international memorial on 75th anniversary

Herr Oliver Köhler of the Dambusters Museum Germany, situated at the Eder Dam, pictured on the dam wall in 2013. [Pic: Harry Foster]

One of the most significant events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid will take place at the Eder Dam in Germany on 17 May. This is being organised by the local Dambusters Museum Germany which is run by local historian Herr Oliver Köhler.

The event will begin at 1100 local time on the wall of the dam, and will be attended by local dignitaries and political leaders, and representatives from the embassies of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and France. The state of Hesse will be represented by the Minister of Justice, Ms Eva-Kühne Hörmann.

Forty-seven people died in the Eder valley when the dam was breached on the night of 16/17 May 1943. There was a much larger number of casualties in the Möhne region: 1294 people died, including 749 ‘foreigners’ of whom 493 were Ukranian women labourers, ordered back to their camp for safely when the air raid warnings were sounded.

Fifty-three men from 617 Squadron died during the raid.

On 17 May 2018, we will remember them all.

Further information from the Dambusters Museum Germany website.

Captured in paint: portraits of all 133 Dambusters to be unveiled

Six of Dan Llywelyn Hall’s portraits of the men who flew on the Dams Raid. Top row, left to right: George Deering, Kenneth Earnshaw, Charles Brennan. Bottom row, left to right: Tony Burcher, Alden Cottam, Floyd Wile

Artist Dan Llywelyn Hall has taken on an ambitious project to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. He is painting a full size portrait of the last British man to take part in the raid, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, and this will be accompanied by smaller pictures of all the other 132 Dambusters. Six of these are shown above.

The complete set of 133 pictures will be on show to the public between 14 and 27 May 2018, at the 4 Farm Street gallery in Mayfair in London (4 Farm Street, London W1J 5RD). Opening hours, Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm. Funds raised during the exhibition will be donated to three charities nominated by Johnny Johnson: The RAF Benevolent Fund, Group 617 in Penarth and the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln.

Dan has a Crowdfunder appeal to raise funds for the exhibition, and anyone who sponsors him can qualify for a range of benefits including etchings and limited edition catalogues.

Dan was born in Cardiff in 1980 and is one of Britain’s most prominent young portrait artists, having been commissioned to paint portraits of both the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge. His work has been exhibited extensively throughout the UK in both solo and group exhibitions in venues such as the Saatchi Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of Wales, Windsor Castle, MoMA Wales and others.

Dams Raid 75th anniversary: first events announced

A 617 Squadron Lancaster dropping a dummy ‘Upkeep’ bomb during testing of the weapon at Reculver in Kent, a few days before the Dams Raid on 16/17 May 1943. [Pics: stills from film in the IWM collection]

The information originally published in this entry is now out of date. For the updated list of events in May 2018 go to this post: Dams Raid 75th anniversary: updated calendar of events.