Dambusters Blog hits the million!

 

At about 10pm BST today, the Dambusters blog registered its millionth hit. I can’t be sure exactly who was the visitor who took us over the magic figure, but it seems likely to have been someone from the UK who ended up on our front page having followed a Google search. By an amazing coincidence, this event occurred nine years to the day since the first ever post, which was published at 8.35 am on 7 May 2008.


Checking back through the daily statistics (which through the wonders of WordPress are still available to me) I see that I got just 4 hits on that first day. But within nine days, I had got to a total of 163 which, I recall, I was pretty chuffed with at the time. The fact that this occurred on 16 May 2008, the 65th anniversary of the Dams Raid, probably explains the upwards bump.

So why are people still so interested in the Dams Raid, even though most of the people who now access the blog have no first-hand memory of the war? I think the reason may be because although the raid itself is the stuff of legend, it also represents a bigger story: that of the ‘greatest generation’ who fought tyranny, came through the years of austerity which followed, and built a better society in which all could flourish. There have been many sharp turns and setbacks since, some still on-going, but no one would argue that the world is in a better place than it was in 1939.

The fascination with the Dambusters themselves is because the Dams Raid combined so many different things which contributed to the war effort – a revolutionary new weapon, supreme airmanship skills and raw courage in pressing home an attack under fire. The fact that it was then immortalised in what is now regarded as one of the best ever British war films just adds to its mystique.

So if you are one of the people who contributed to our million hits – either as a regular visitor or just someone who fetched up here after a random search – many thanks for being here for the ride. It’s been a privilege to serve you all this time, and I hope to carry on doing so for the foreseeable future. Per ardua ad astra!

[I should add a word of thanks to WordPress, who have provided the blogging software and the hosting since 2008. This is all for free, except for the ongoing cost of registering and using a .com domain name. In my opinion, they provide by far the easiest to use blogging software, and a huge range of off-the-shelf designs. And I have no connection at all with the company!]

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Dambuster John Hopgood’s last Christmas, 1942

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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.

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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

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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.
Charles

*And in memory of the late great Kirsty MacColl.

The final entry, and a new complete website

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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!”

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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.