Dambuster John Hopgood’s last Christmas, 1942


Flt Lt John Hopgood DFC & Bar. [Pic: Lincolnshire County Libraries]

As Christmas 1942 approached, the 21 year old Flt Lt John Hopgood was officially on rest from operational duties. He had completed a first tour of 47 operations at the end of November, and had been recommended for a Bar to his DFC. At this time he was still attached to 106 Squadron, testing new equipment and doing some instruction. On 22 December he wrote to his mother, Mrs Grace Hopgood:

Christmas here promises to be a gay affair. I am all set for 2 Christmas dinners, one in the mess at luncheon and one with some very charming people who have a lovely house near the ‘drome in the evening and shall have to starve on the 23rd [sic]!!

Two days later, on Christmas Eve, he took five of his crew up in a Lancaster. They paid a Christmas greeting flight to the homes of all six men on board in the traditional RAF way, ‘beating them up’ at very low altitude. In her house in Shere, Surrey, Grace Hopgood heard the approaching noise and was able to run into the garden in time to see the Lancaster pass overhead.
On New Year’s Day, Hopgood wrote again:

Yes, that was me flying around on Christmas Eve about lunchtime. I saw several people in the garden – but there’s not more than few split seconds to pick out faces at that speed! I had great fun flying around to each member of my crew’s home and sort of sending Christmas wishes to all. …
Christmas here was of course a very gay affair. As is the age old custom we (the officers and NCO’s) all served the airmen’s lunch – and a jolly good one it was too. Then we had our own lunch (not quite so good) and settled down to a very gay party in our mess in the evening. Next day the weather was again very bad and so we were able to have another Christmas dinner with those local people I spoke about in my last letter. It really was a grand meal – champagne and lovely old port and then lovely hot rum punches. They really are extraordinarily kind to we RAF. They threw another enormous party last night (New Years Eve) and we all really had a grand time.

Fate would decree that this was in fact Hopgood’s last ever Christmas. He would die in the early hours of 17 May 1943, making the second bombing run at the Möhne Dam. AJ-M, already damaged by flak from earlier in the night was hit again, and it crashed on the far side of the dam. Hopgood’s heroic efforts to gain height meant that two of his crew were able to bale out. They never forgot the young pilot who saved their lives. The remaining five are buried together in the Rheinberg War Cemetery.

Letter extracts quoted above from Jenny Elmes’s excellent book, M-Mother, the biography of her uncle, John Hopgood (History Press, 2015).

Season’s greetings from the Dambusters Blog to all our readers!

May your bells ring out for Christmas Day


Best wishes for the festive season to all the readers of this blog, wherever the boys in the NYPD Choir* are singing for you.
I have had a great year working on this blog, with two particular highlights. The first was travelling to Germany to take part in the unveiling of the memorial to the Dams Raid crew of AJ-E, in the company of relatives of six of the crew who died on that night. Thanks once again to Volker Schürmann and the rest of the local German community who instigated the memorial and made us so welcome. The second was the completion of the 133 Dambuster of the Day biographies in August, which I hope means that at last every single man who took part in the Dams Raid gets his own small place in history marked for ever.
I look forward to another year of providing a lot more Dambuster information. Have a very good Christmas and a happy New Year.

*And in memory of the late great Kirsty MacColl.

The final entry, and a new complete website

DotD 1 133

In early April 2013, I started writing my profiles of all 133 aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid, with the aim of posting them at the rate of one a day for nineteen weeks. The scheduled closing date was therefore sometime in August of that year.
Some two years later, I have at last reached the end of the course, with the rather cursory biography of Arthur Buck published below. Even though this is one of the shorter biographies, I hope that it at least does justice to my intention, which was to give each of the men who took part in the raid the dignity of their own entry. Too often, their names are lumped together in the appendices at the end of a book, sometimes with their names misspelt and their family details incorrectly recorded.
I am sure that there are still mistakes in my biographies, but because they are online rather than in a book I can correct and update the entries as and when more information emerges. So if you spot anything that is wrong or can provide further details, then please contact me.

Complete DB screengrab

As a further service to one and all, the complete list appears on my brand new website, completedambusters.com. This is a list of all the 133 aircrew who took part in the raid, and each has a link back to the individual profile. I hope that this too proves a useful resource for the future.

“Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit!”

dam busters poster

If you live in the UK and can receive Channel 5, you may like to know that it is showing The Dam Busters again this afternoon. TV screenings of the film usually lead to a spike of new visitors to this blog, so I’d like to welcome you if you have turned up here for the first time as a result of watching it.
The purpose of this blog is to keep people up to date with Dambusters news – information about who took part in the raid, news of commemorative events (the 70th anniversary took place in May 2013) and other bits and pieces, such as the very slow progress on the remake of the original film. This is in the hands of Peter Jackson, of Hobbit fame, and will apparently be proceeding when this series of three films have been concluded. (See this series of posts for an update.)
You might like to know that we are about halfway through a series of profiles of each of the 133 aircrew who took part in the raid. (The full list can be found here and you can see photographs of each of them in this pictureboard, assembled by the BBC with help from this blog.)
If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button further down the page. Or you can get a link to updates by following us on Twitter, @DambustersBlog – if that’s your thing.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


Pic: James Barker, freedigitalphotos.net

Although things are a little quiet right now, it’s been a great year for the Dambusters Blog – many thousands of new readers, and a record number of posts. The main event of course was the 70th anniversary of the Dams Raid, and the interest that this generated was almost overwhelming.
So – greetings of the season to all readers! And many thanks to all of you, especially those who have taken the trouble to add your comments or contact me by email.
I promise that things will get busier in the New Year, and that the Dambuster of the Day articles will finally reach a conclusion. The last one will be No. 133, Sgt Arthur Buck. (By one of those odd coincidences, I actually met a great nephew of Arthur Buck at Scampton on the day of the anniversary, but omitted to get his details from him. So if you are him, or know him, then please get in touch!)