A cup of tea with William Hatton’s sister

The interwebnet has become such an integral part of most of our lives that we sometimes forget how much help it gives those of us seeking to make connections. Some two years ago, shortly after I had started writing this blog, I posted an appeal for information about the descendants of William (Bill) Hatton, who had flown on the Dams Raid as the flight engineer in David Maltby’s Lancaster, AJ-J. I thought nothing more of it until one day earlier this year when my phone rang. On the other end of the line was a lady who introduced herself as Rene Hopkins, and who turned out to be Bill’s younger sister.
We spoke for ages, and Rene was able to confirm for me the names of their other sister and brother (both now dead) and lots of other family information. The only photo I have of Bill was, she told me, taken near the family home in Wakefield, by the local newspaper when he came home on leave after the Dams Raid.
We finally met a few weeks ago, and spent a very civilised few hours drinking tea in a hotel. I was able to take a few (very fuzzy) pictures of Rene holding the only photo which exists of all the Maltby crew, taken some 67 years ago in the Algerian heat, when they spent a few days in Blida after a bombing raid on some Italian power stations.

Flg Off Robert Urquhart’s Logbook

pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada

Over on the Key Publishing Aviation Forum member Simon Spitfire has posted images of Flg Off Robert Urquhart’s logbook, which I reproduce below. (If I have infringed anyone’s copyright, please inform me.)

Urquhart was the navigator in Henry Maudslay’s AJ-Z, which was shot down on the way home, after being damaged in the attack on the Eder Dam. He was Canadian, and had a DFC for completing a tour of operations in 50 Squadron.

67 years on

This year, 2010, 16 May will fall on a Sunday. On another Sunday 16 May, in 1943, 133 aircrew in 19 Lancaster aircraft took off from RAF Scampton on what would prove to be the RAF’s most famous bombing operation of the Second World War, the attack on the dams of the Ruhr. Two of the targets were breached and many millions of gallons of water were discharged, causing mayhem in the area and disrupting the German war machine for many months.
However, the cost in lives was very high. On the ground, 1,341 people died – troops defending the dams, civilians living nearby, prisoners working in forced labour camps. Of the aircraft that took part, eight did not return and 53 of their crews died. The other three were captured.
On this 67th anniversary of the raid, we show pictures of the gravestones of six of the pilots and links to pictures of their crews.
Thanks to Lyndon Harper for the use of his pictures.
Flt Lt Bill Astell, buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
Flt Lt Norm Barlow, buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
Plt Off Lewis Burpee, buried Bergen op Zoom War Cemetery
Flt Lt John Hopgood, buried Rheinberg War Cemetery
Sqn Ldr Henry Maudslay, buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
Plt Off Warner Ottley, buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
The other members of these crews can be seen in a post on the WW2Talk Forum, as below:
I do not, at present, have access to any pictures of the graves of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young and his crew, who are all buried together in Bergen General Cemetery in Holland. Anyone who can help me with pictures is asked to contact me.
Plt Off Vernon Byers’s aircraft was shot down in the Waddenzee area off the coast of Holland. Of this crew, the only body recovered was that of the rear gunner, Sgt James McDowell, and he is buried in Harlingen General Cemetery in Holland. I would also welcome any pictures of his grave.

Vincent MacCausland: letters and images

Nearly two years ago, I published a post about an interview with the sister of Vincent MacCausland which I had found online. This was printed in his hometown paper, the Prince Edward Island Guardian, on the 65th anniversary of the Dams Raid. Now a lot more material about him has come to light.
MacCausland was the bomb aimer in Dinghy Young’s crew in Lancaster ED887, AJ-A, and was therefore responsible for dropping the fourth mine of the night, the one which caused the initial small breach in the Möhne Dam, later broken completely by David Maltby and his crew.
Joel Joy has been collecting further information about MacCausland, and has come up with a number of new bits of information and photographs which he has kindly allowed me to publish here.
Vincent MacCausland joined the RCAF in 1940, and after training as an observer and then a bomb aimer completed a first tour in 57 Squadron. He received a commission and appears to have returned to 57 Squadron, which had by then moved to RAF Scampton, for a second tour in March 1943. He was then drafted into a crew of newly qualified personnel allocated to the experienced pilot Melvin Young, when their original bomb aimer was found to be unsuitable. Young was the commander of 57 Squadron’s C Flight, and when the call came out for experienced crews to join the new 617 Squadron to undertake a special secret operation, the entire flight was moved across the base. These were the crews captained by Melvin Young, Geoff Rice, Bill Astell and Sgt Lovell. (The last was only to stay a few days, and were transferred back to 57 Squadron.)
Intensive training followed. Young was put in charge of A Flight, which gave him a number of extra responsibilities, including organising much of the training schedules.
One of the remarkable discoveries made by Joel Joy is that some of Vincent MacCausland’s letters home are in a Canadian archive, the Canadian Letters and Images Project, based in Vancouver. They go back to 1940, when he first joined the RCAF.
Only one, written on 17 April 1943, survives from this period. In it he writes:
You are perhaps wondering what I am doing here. There is really no need to feel over anxious to know that I am back again for my second tour. I really was due back six months after Sept of 41 and had the privilege of joining a well experienced crew and on aircraft that one dreams about. To tell you the honest truth I would not have taken this on had I believed it was a doubtful move. I came up here a couple of days ago (Apr 14th) and we are on revision and conversion for the next month before going over with a few bundles for the squareheads I know that you will be feeling most anxious during those few months ahead but the time will soon pass and I know that God will be especially with us as were blessed in that first tour. I hope that we shall be writing at least two to three times per week and if you do the same, it will be much happier for us all.
Sadly, the blessings that were bestowed on him in his first tour would not follow him to his second. Having been so instrumental in the destruction of the Möhne Dam, Young was detailed to act as Gibson’s deputy at the Eder. After it too was blown by Knight’s successful mine drop, Gibson, Shannon, Knight, Maudslay and Young set off for home. Unfortunately the latter two – the squadron’s two flight commanders – didn’t get back. AJ-A was shot down crossing the Dutch coast near IJmuiden, and crashed into the sea. The bodies of all its crew were washed ashore during the following two weeks.
All seven are buried in the cemetery near Bergen.
Two more contemporary items are shown here. These are the missing and death notices published in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The first of these, from June 1943, gives the names of all the Canadians who went missing on Operation Chastise (including John Fraser, who was later discovered to have baled out and been sent to a PoW camp). The second, from December, gives the list of those confirmed dead.
Post edited, November 2010. The correct number for the aircraft AJ-A piloted by Sqn Ldr HM Young on the Dams Raid was ED887/G.

Dambuster Sgt Lawrence Nichols

Some of the most interesting things I have found out since I started serious Dambuster research are the pieces of information about some of the less well known participants in the Dams Raid. It’s extraordinary how little is known about many of the 133 aircrew who took part. Fifty-three men died on the raid and another 32 later on in the war, so it’s perhaps understandable that not a lot is known about them. Many of the 48 who survived the war lived out quiet lives, with few people knowing that they had taken part in such an iconic event.
In this blog, I have posted material that I have come across on the internet about some of the less well known participants, and I want to keep on doing so. Here is the latest: an undated local newspaper clipping about Lawrence Nichols, the 33 year old Currys shop manager from Northwood, Middlesex who became the wireless operator in ‘Dinghy’ Young’s aircraft, AJ-A, and who died along with his colleagues when it was shot down on the way back from the Eder dam. Like David Maltby, the experienced pilot Young had been allocated a new and relatively untested crew, most of whom had only flown on one operation. All seven are now buried in the cemetery in Bergen in the Netherlands, along with about 250 other Allied aircrew. There is more about Lawrence Nichols here.

Christmas greetings 1942 style, from Dambuster Cyril Anderson

Card image © Dominic Howard
I don’t know if any Christmas cards signed by other Dams Raid participants survive from the latter part of the war, but this pre-Dams Raid ones does. It was sent by Sgt Cyril Anderson to his wife Rose in December 1942, when Cyril was still training as a pilot. He was then based at RAF Finningley.
In February 1943, Cyril went on to join 49 Squadron and had flown 7 operations before being transferred to 617 Squadron on 25 March, along with his crew. On the raid, his aircraft AJ-Y was part of the third wave, the mobile reserve, and was eventually dispatched to the Sorpe Dam. He encountered heavy flak en route and had a problem with a malfunctioning rear gun. So at 0310, with dawn approaching and the valleys filling with mist, he turned back still short of the target. He landed at Scampton at 0530, with his mine still on board.
Guy Gibson was not pleased with the fact that he had returned without dropping the mine and, taking no notice of the other extenuating circumstances, sent Cyril and his crew back to 49 Squadron. They completed another 15 operations before being shot down by a German fighter and killed on a raid on Mannheim on 23/24 September 1943.
One interesting feature on Cyril’s card is its atmospheric photograph. There are other cards featured in this posting on the Lancaster Archive.
On a personal note, I’d like to wish all readers of this blog a very happy Christmas and a good New Year. I know from my WordPress stats that there are now several thousand of you, and I hope you will continue to find the blog interesting and informative. Charles Foster

The Dams Raid dams today

Great account and brilliant photos by Damien Burke of a trip to all three dams involved in Operation Chastise, as well as the Rheinberg and Reichwald War Cemeteries.
These war cemeteries are an incredible sight, with long rows of identical headstones, each one beautifully carved with a name, a rank and a number – a testament to the individual buried below. As Damien says they really bring home the real sacrifices which are often forgotten when the huge numbers of people killed are mentioned.

David Maltby tribute at Wickhambreaux, 14 September 2009

The annual tribute to Sqn Ldr David Maltby DSO DFC and his crew took place at David Maltby’s graveside in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent, on Monday 14 September. The largest turnout for several years brought together the East Kent branch of the Aircrew Association, who organise the event, the Maltby family, members of the public and, for the first time, the Littlebourne branch of the British Legion.

D Maltby grave 14.9.09

Wickhambreaux tribute, Monday 14 September

All members of the public are welcome to join members of the East Kent RAF Aircrew Association and the Maltby family at David Maltby’s grave in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent, at 11.30am on Monday 14 September 2009.
This annual event, commemorating the lives of all of David’s crew, takes place on the anniversary of their last operational flight. Weather permitting, local flyers led by David Maltby’s nephew George Foster will be conducting a flypast and poppy drop.

All members of the public are welcome to join members of the East Kent RAF Aircrew Association and the Maltby family at David Maltby’s grave in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent, at 11.30am on Monday 14 September 2009.

This annual event, commemorating the lives of all of David’s crew, takes place on the anniversary of their last flight. Weather permitting, local flyers led by David Maltby’s nephew George Foster, will be conducting a flypast and poppy drop.

The crew who flew on that last flight, in Lancaster JA981, was the same as that which had flown on the Dams Raid, almost exactly four months previously:

Sqn Ldr David Maltby DSO DFC (pilot) Baldslow, Sussex
Flt Sgt Vivian Nicholson DFM (navigator) Sherburn, Co Durham
Plt Off John Fort DFC (bomb aimer) Colne, Lancashire
Flt Sgt Antony Stone (wireless operator) Winchester, Hampshire
Sgt William Hatton (flight engineer) Wakefield, Yorkshire
Flt Sgt Victor Hill (front gunner) Berkeley, Gloucestershire
Sgt Harold Simmonds (rear gunner) Burgess Hill, Sussex

Warrant Officer John Welch (mid upper gunner) Chesham, Buckinghamshire, seconded from 218 Squadron, flew as an extra gunner.

DSCN2217(Picture shows the Aircrew Association’s 2007 tribute.)

Dambuster John Pulford’s crash site remembered

Guy Gibson’s relationship with the crew who flew with him on the Dams Raid is one of the interesting sub-plots of the whole Dambusters story. In contrast to the scene in the 1955 film where his old crew discuss his posting to a new squadron on his own and then unanimously decide to go with him, only one, wireless operator Robert Hutchison, had actually flown with Gibson in 106 Squadron. Hutchison is thought to have recommended navigator Harlo Taerum, who in turn recommended bomb aimer Fred (Spam) Spafford. Both of these had been in 50 Squadron, as had rear gunner Richard Trevor-Roper. These four were all officers, which meant that Gibson would see something of them socially at Scampton, but the final pair, front gunner George Deering and flight engineer John Pulford were both NCOs.
This may be why Gibson had a rather low opinion of both. In his biography of Gibson, Richard Morris writes how in the first draft of Enemy Coast Ahead he described Deering as:

‘pretty dumb’ (tactfully changed to ‘pretty green’ in the published version) ‘and not too good at his guns and it was a bit of a risk taking him’. This was rubbish, as Deering had flown thirty-five operations.

Morris goes on to cite Gibson’s opinion of Pulford, who he described as a ‘sincere and plodding’ Londoner:

Gibson had a low opinion of Pulford, thinking him dull and incapable of independent thought. This may say more about Gibson than Pulford, for Gibson never listened to him long enough to notice that he came from Yorkshire rather than London. In the cockpit of Gibson’s Lancaster there was a distinct air of master and servant. In the fuselage as a whole his crew represented Britain’s class structure in microcosm and the pattern of the Empire beyond. (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin, 1995, p.152.)

Whatever their relationship, the crew were not together for very long, flying just the one operation as a complete crew, the Dams Raid itself. Hutchison, Taerum, Spafford and Deering transferred to George Holden’s crew when he took over command of 617 Squadron, and died with him on the Dortmund Ems Raid on 16 September 1943.

None of the other three survived the war. Trevor-Roper and Gibson died later in 1944, both on operations with other squadrons, but Pulford was still in 617 Squadron when he flew on the operation to bomb the Antheor viaduct in southern France in February 1944. His pilot, Bill Suggitt, landed the aircraft successfully at Ford in Sussex, which they had used as a staging post, but in the short hop home from Ford to Woodhall Spa, they crashed into a hill on the Sussex Downs, near the village of Upwaltham.

For some years local people have been collecting for a proper memorial to Suggitt’s crew, and it was unveiled on 22 August:

Today, 65 years on, the crew of DV382 KC J-Jug will be honoured in a tiny parish church just below the crash site at Upwaltham, West Sussex, after the hamlet of 25 inhabitants raised £10,500 for a memorial.
Relatives of the British, Canadian and Australian victims will attend, along with air attaches from all three nations and 617 Squadron’s current commanding officer.
The white Italian stone ‘Four Nations Memorial’ also remembers seven Americans whose Dakota aircraft crashed across the valley a year later in February 1945.
A Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will complete three circuits overhead at the ceremony, which will also be attended by relatives of the farm workers who were honoured by King George VI for braving flames and exploding ammunition to try to rescue the Lancaster crew.

Today, 65 years on, the crew of DV382 KC J-Jug will be honoured in a tiny parish church just below the crash site at Upwaltham, West Sussex, after the hamlet of 25 inhabitants raised £10,500 for a memorial.
Relatives of the British, Canadian and Australian victims will attend, along with air attaches from all three nations and 617 Squadron’s current commanding officer.
The white Italian stone ‘Four Nations Memorial’ also remembers seven Americans whose Dakota aircraft crashed across the valley a year later in February 1945.
A Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will complete three circuits overhead at the ceremony, which will also be attended by relatives of the farm workers who were honoured by King George VI for braving flames and exploding ammunition to try to rescue the Lancaster crew.

There is a nice tribute page to the crew on the Roll of Honour website. John Pulford’s body was recovered and he was buried in Hull.