Exclusive film of Lancaster flyover, 9 September 2011

Lots of technical reasons why it’s taken a week to get this up on YouTube, but here it is.

I have never been so close to a Lancaster flypast before, and what caught me by surprise was how low it flew and how quickly it passed. Although we knew the direction in which the aircraft would come, and were prepared for it, the first pass happened so quickly that no one caught it on video. Luckily we were better prepared for the second and third approaches, and my son was able to catch just 22 seconds worth altogether.

Great turnout for Kent Dambuster salute

Crowds at the graveside of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry

The country’s only flying Lancaster couldn’t make an appearance, but a couple of hundred people were not deterred, and made Saturday’s tribute to the crew of Dams Raid Lancaster AJ-J in Wickhambreaux, Kent, a very special occasion.

The village churchyard contains the grave of pilot David Maltby, whose body was the only one recovered from the North Sea when the aircraft he was flying crashed on 15 September 1943. Every year, local people gather to commemorate David and the rest of his crew, who have no known grave. This year, we were privileged to be joined by representatives of the families of three of other crew members, John Fort (bomb aimer), William Hatton (flight engineer) and Victor Hill (front gunner).

As well as the graveside tribute, a small exhibition took place in the Village Hall, which was opened by the Sheriff of Canterbury, Cllr Hazel McCabe.

Obviously, people were disappointed that the Lancaster was prevented from flying by high winds (foreshadowing Monday’s gales in the wake of Hurricane Katia) but that did not prevent a very impressive turnout, and a poignant and moving service, led by the Vicar, the Revd Chris Wilkinson.

Many thanks to all who came, and to Revd Chris Wilkinson, the Wickhambreaux Parish Council, the Village Hall Committee, the Sheriff of Canterbury and the Rose Inn for their help.

Peter Fort, great nephew of Flg Off John Fort, his two daughters, and Rene Hopkins, sister of Sgt William Hatton.

Valerie Ashton, daughter of Flt Sgt Victor Hill.

George Foster, nephew of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry

The Vicar of Littlebourne, Revd Chris Wilkinson, conducting the graveside tribute. Photo: Ady Kerry

Charles Foster, nephew of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry

Change of plan!

Update from Wickhambreaux, Kent, 2.30pm, Friday 9 September.

It’s a fine dry afternoon here, with the weather a bit cloudy, but apparently the forecast for this weekend is for high winds. The BBMF have just contacted me to say that all flying for this weekend has been cancelled. This means that the Lancaster flyover planned for tomorrow (Saturday) has been called off. The aircraft is currently at Manston — 20 or so miles away — and it is likely to fly over us here late this afternoon, so local people will be able to see it. I will post some pictures on the blog as soon as I have them.

However, we are going ahead with the exhibition opening followed by the ceremony at David Maltby’s graveside. If you have made plans to come here, please do. Local children have been tidying the grave, and a large local crowd is expected. The families of several of David Maltby’s crew will be here and it will be a great tribute to them.

Second update: 6.00pm

We’ve just had three passes by the BBMF Lancaster – see the picture below.

Lancaster flyover, Wickhambreaux, Kent, Saturday 10 September

This year, the annual commemoration of Dambuster David Maltby and his crew, which takes place in Wickhambreaux, Kent, has an extra ingredient – a flypast by the UK’s only flying Avro Lancaster.

The event takes place on Saturday 10 September, a few days before the 68th anniversary of the crew’s final flight, on an aborted raid on the Dortmund Ems canal on 14 September 1943. A small exhibition describing the lives of all the crew members will be opened in the Village Hall at 11.30am. This will be followed by an act of commemoration at David Maltby’s graveside, in the churchyard, starting at 12.15pm. The flyover will take place at 12.40pm, weather permitting.

Members of the families of David Maltby, William Hatton and Victor Hill will all be present, and anyone interested is welcome to attend.

Wow! Good morning and welcome!

I can only attribute it to the Dambusters double header shown on BBC2 last night, but I have just seen the biggest ever single “spike” in views of this blog. Nearly 1300 people found their way here yesterday, and a further huge number this morning, so if you are amongst them, then welcome. This is, as far as I know, the only regularly updated Dambusters blog or website anywhere on the whole interwebnet. I like to think that it’s a good source for information about 617 Squadron’s wartime exploits, and all the things that have flowed from the fact that the Squadron was responsible for the RAF’s single most famous bombing operation of the Second World War.
In the 30 months I have been running this blog, I can tell you that the most searched-for information has always been “Dambusters remake”. Thousands of people want to know when this will come out. (For the benefit of people new to this, a remake of Michael Anderson’s 1955 classic has been on the cards since 2006 – it is being produced by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, from a script by Stephen Fry, the well known National Treasure. The film was to be directed by Christian Rivers, though there are some reports that he has now left his native New Zealand to work on other projects in the USA.)
The answer as to when the remake will come out, as I write in October 2010, is that we simply don’t know. Jackson’s outfit, Wingnut Films, has a code of secrecy akin to that of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals, and all we can say is that he will tell us in his own good time.
Finally, you might ask what are my credentials for writing this stuff. I’ve spent all my working life as a writer, editor and designer, but I have a family interest in the Dambusters. My uncle was David Maltby, pilot of the fifth aircraft to attack the Möhne Dam on 17 May 1943, dropping the bomb which caused its final breach. (He is played in the 1955 film by none other than George Baker, then an unknown young actor.) Sadly, David was killed four months after the Dams Raid, along with all his crew, when their aircraft crashed after being recalled from an aborted attack on the Dortmund Ems canal. In 2008, I wrote a book about David, his life, and the lives of his crew and the effect that their deaths had on all their families which is, as they say, available in all good bookshops – or online here.
I’d welcome your comments, news and any other information you want to share.
You can get in touch with me here.

Hatton, Hill and Maltby Dambuster families paying respects

Members of three Dambuster families came together earlier this week to mark the anniversary of the deaths of their relatives. Pictured above are (far left) William Castle, nephew of Sgt William Hatton, (third from left) Rene Hopkins (sister of Sgt William Hatton) and (second from right) Valerie Ashton (daughter of Flt Sgt Victor Hill). They are gathered at the graveside of Sqn Ldr David Maltby, in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent for the annual commemoration of the deaths of this Dams Raid crew after an aborted raid on the Dortmund Ems Canal in the early hours of 15 September 1943. David Maltby’s body was the only one recovered after their aircraft went down – those of the rest of the crew were never found, and they are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. The accident may have been caused by a collision with a Mosquito of 139 Squadron returning from a completely separate raid on Berlin, but this has never been proved.
The commemoration was organised by the East Kent branch of the RAF Aircrew Association, whose chairman, John Addley, is on the far right.

Local hero

Photo: Kevin Lancey

This story has only a tangential connection to 617 Squadron, as it concerns an RAF Wireless Operator/Air Gunner who died some nine months before the Squadron was even formed. The picture above, probably taken in January 1942, shows a crew in 97 Squadron at about the time they were about to fly their first operation as a newly formed unit. Most of them were newly qualified as aircrew but the pilot, Plt Off David Maltby, third from the right in the greatcoat, and next to him, second from the right, wireless operator Sgt Eric Grimwood had already flown four operations together in November/December 1941 when David Maltby was still flying as a 2nd pilot.

The others are, on the left, left to right, Sgt Max Smith (navigator), Sgt Lyle Humphrey (gunner) and Sgt Harold Rouse (bomb aimer). On the far right is Sgt Harvey Legace (gunner) and crouching in the hatch is Sgt George Lancey (2nd pilot).

The aircraft they are standing beside is an Avro Manchester, but these were soon to be phased out of front line service in favour of the more powerful, and safer, Lancaster. 97 Squadron was only the second squadron to be given Lancasters. This crew, Crew No 21, flew about another ten operations together between February and June 1942, and was then disbanded when David Maltby came to the end of his first ‘tour’, and was posted away from 97 Squadron.

Some of the crew carried on flying together as George Lancey had by then qualified as a first pilot, and took over his own aircraft. Eric Grimwood was however allocated to the crew of Flg Off WA McMurchy RCAF. Sometime on the night of 26/27 July 1942 they took off on an operation over Hamburg and were lost over the sea. This is the relevant entry in WR Chorley’s magisterial Bomber Command Losses:

Lancaster I R5487 OF-V Op: Hamburg. T/O 2303 from Woodhall Spa. Presumed lost over the sea. One body, that of Sgt Barraclough, was found and he was buried on 12 September 1942, in Klovdal Cemetery, Sweden. Since 1945 his remains have been taken to Kviberg Cemetery. His companions have no known graves. F/O W.A.McMurchy RCAF(+), F/S J.P.Doyle RCAF(+), P/O K.J.Williams(+), Sgt E.N.Grimwood(+), F/S J.G.Richardson(+), Sgt T.A.Grey(+), Sgt O.Barraclough(+).

A sad end, but not untypical of the fate of so many crews. Seven families in Canada and Britain received the dread knock of the telegram boy.

There is a further mystery about Eric (Grim) Grimwood – no one seems to know who his family was. His entry at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission doesn’t even name his parents, which would suggest that the RAF had no record of them. He is, however, commemorated on the Banstead war memorial so at some time he must have had family in this small community in Surrey, but no one now there knows who they were.

memorial_bp2

The final irony is that while five of the seven aircrew in the top picture survived the war, Maltby and Grimwood, who flew together before the rest of the crew were assembled, both died in the North Sea some 15 months and a few hundred miles apart.

If anyone has any information about Eric Grimwood or his family, please contact me.

Correction: Banstead Local History Group have contacted me to say that they now know that Eric Grimwood was the son of Frederick and Edith Mary (née Minton) Grimwood, and that his birth was registered in Southwark in 1922. They are still trying to track down other members of the family.