Rice logbook and medals a hit on Antiques Roadshow

Geoff Rice’s Dambuster story makes its second appearance in this blog in 24 hours after his daughter, Pam Quick, turned up on last Sunday’s BBCTV Antiques Roadshow. She had brought along her father’s logbook and medals, and told his story to expert Mark Smith.

Smith was mightily impressed with her account and described the logbook as the ‘”Holy Grail” of Bomber Command logbooks. He then valued the collection (which is not for sale, by the way!) at £20,000.

UK viewers can watch the whole show again on iPlayer. The Rice item is right at the end, about 53 minutes in.

AJ-H “Damage Report Form” sold on eBay is not genuine

My attention was recently drawn to an item which came up for sale recently on eBay, shown above. This purports to be a wartime form recording the damage suffered by the Lancaster ED936 AJ-H flown by Plt Off Geoff Rice on the Dams Raid. As most regular readers of this blog will know, this aircraft made an early return to base after flying too low over the sea near the Dutch coast and colliding with the water. The impact was severe enough to damage the aircraft quite badly and tear off the bomb it was carrying.

This is the description which appeared on the eBay website. The item was offered for sale by a dealer called 230ocu, who lives in Kent and has been an eBay dealer since 2003. After five bids it was sold for £425.53.

The only other information on the eBay listing was a series of seven photographs of the item. I must emphasise that the commentary which follows is based on an examination of these photographs, and not of the item itself. Here are the two photographs which show the whole item, front and back.

The eBay item is said to be a form entitled “Report on Flying Accident or Forced Landing attributable to Enemy Action”, with the reference number 765(C). However this immediately flags up a problem since there is no evidence that any such form with this exact title and number existed in the second world war period.

As is well known, several of the aircraft used on the Dams Raid suffered damage before returning to base. However, there are no examples of a similar form being used for any of the other aircraft on this operation.

I posted a query about this form on the RAF Commands Forum and none of the experts who read the post could recall seeing a form of this name. There are samples of many of the RAF’s WW2 forms on this site, and those in the 765 series are as follows:

Form 765(A): “Operational Statistical Summary”
Form 765(B): “Operational Statistical Summary, (Non-Operational Flying Units)”
Form 765(C): “Report on Flying Accident or Forced Landing not attributable to Enemy Action”
Form 765(D): “Return of Ammunition Expended” (for fighter squadrons)
Form 765(E): “Weekly Summary of Squadron Expenditure”

It will be noted from the above that there is a genuine Form 765(C), which is the same number as displayed on the eBay item. However, there is absolutely no evidence that there was ever a variation of the genuine form, let alone one with the same reference number. Indeed, if there was such a thing, one would expect it to have been given a new number.

This is an example of the genuine Form 765(C), taken from RAF Commands:

Pics: RAF Commands

Close examination of the genuine form revealed some interesting similarities to the eBay version, and suggested how it might have been put together. The top one-third of the eBay form appears to be identical in typographical arrangement and spacing to the top half of page 1 of the genuine form, sections 1 and 2 (with two important differences which we will come to next). The middle third of the eBay form is identical to section 5 on page 2 of the genuine form. And the bottom third of the eBay form is identical to section 12 on page 4 of the genuine form.

The two important differences are: (1) In removing the word “NOT” from the second line of the heading the line has not been re-centred on the page. (2) All the lines of dots (known in the printing trade as ‘dot leaders’) which appeared in the original form to show the typist or writer which sections have to be filled in have been removed.

I can demonstrate the similarities between the two forms by using my own computer software to make up a replica of the eBay form using the four separate pages of the genuine form. I used Photoshop to erase the typing and dot leaders and InDesign to assemble the relevant sections into a single page. I’ve deliberately left the differences in colour in the erasures and background so that you can see how the different sections are slotted together.

It is noticeable that I was able to re-create the eBay form entirely from the genuine form, with no new typesetting required. I believe that this cannot be a coincidence, and therefore that the eBay form was created in a similar manner.

The fact that the dot leaders are missing in the eBay version suggests that the person who assembled its artwork had to delete them because they were typed over.

Now let us now look at the eBay form in more detail. The next illustration contains my comments both on the typographic anomalies of the form itself (which I have dealt with above) and the text which has been typed onto it, which I will discuss below.

In the section entitled “All Occupants of Aircraft”, which should be numbered as section 4 but is not numbered at all, the names and initials are correctly listed. However, the heading says “Nationality to be quoted if not British”, and there is no mention of the fact that two of the crew (Gowrie and Thrasher) were Canadian.

The fourth section, where service numbers should be listed, has been left blank. I cannot recall ever seeing a service document where a request for service numbers has not been completed.

Turning to the section where the damage is recorded, there are a number of things to note. First, this section has no heading, something which is very unusual for an official form. One would expect it to say something like “Summary of Damage”. The text itself begins with a description of the operation (information that would be recorded on other official documents, rather than here) but there is no mention of the actual damage incurred by the aircraft both at the time of impact with the water and subsequently when landing without a tailwheel. It is known that there was substantial damage to the bomb bay and fairings, but this is not mentioned, let alone recorded in detail.

There is also no reference to the official Category of Damage. This was the normal phrase used in assessing an aircraft which had been in an accident, and would have been self-evident from even a cursory inspection of the aircraft on 17 May. Since the aircraft was on an operational flight and the incident occurred over enemy occupied territory it can be certain that the damage would have been ascribed as F (B) (i.e. a Flying Incident/Battle Damage).

The errors and misspellings in the typing of the text are noted by the vendor, who says that this was common in documents from this era. However, there are many more in this item than one would expect in a document which is likely to have been typed by someone with proficiency as a typist.

As I said at the outset of this article, I have only been able to examine the photographs which appeared on the eBay auction site. If it were possible to look at the actual document, I would expect to see evidence that it was printed by letterpress on paper of a type that was manufactured in the 1940s. I suspect that there would be no such evidence. My research suggests that it has been printed by offset litho, or even by a digital method, by creating artwork from a genuine Form 765(C) constructed in a similar method to the one I have demonstrated above.

In conclusion, I will say that I am quite satisfied that the form which was sold on eBay on 27 September 2019 is not a genuine wartime artifact.

Thanks to Mark Peoples, Dennis Burke, Nigel Favill, Susan Paxton and Dr Robert Owen for help with this article.

Dambuster of the Day No. 85: Geoffrey Rice

Plt Off G Rice

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

Geoffrey Rice was born on 4 January 1917 in Hinckley, Leicestershire, the son of Frederick and Anne Rice. He went to Hinckley Grammar School and was then apprenticed in the hosiery trade. Rice joined the RAF in 1941 and was selected for pilot training, which he undertook in Canada. He qualified as a pilot in February 1942 and was commissioned.

He was posted to 19 Operational Training Unit at RAF Kinloss in July where he crewed up with three of the men who would make up his Dams Raid crew, Richard Macfarlane, Bruce Gowrie, and John Thrasher. They moved on to 1660 Conversion Unit at RAF Swinderby in October 1942 to complete heavy bomber training. Here, Edward Smith and Thomas Maynard joined the crew.

On 9 December 1942, the crew was posted to 57 Squadron at RAF Scampton to begin their operational career. This started on New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1942. On 15 March, after the crew had undertaken nine operations, they were transferred to the squadron’s new C Flight, under the command of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young.

By 25 March the flight comprised five crews, captained by Melvin Young, Bill Astell, Geoff Rice, George Lancaster and Ray Lovell. It was decided to post the whole flight over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission. Rice and his crew had actually gone on leave the day before, and they did not find out about the transfer until they returned to base on 1 April. Rice and his crew protested at the transfer, but to no avail.

However the crew had gelled as an effective unit and the training for the secret operation went well. They achieved impressive scores in bomb aiming exercises and were chosen to fly in the second wave, tasked with attacking the Sorpe Dam.

AJ-H took off from Scampton at 2131 and all went well for the first hour and a half of flying time. They crossed the narrow neck of Vlieland at 2259 flying very low and exactly on track. Past the danger point, Rice gained altitude briefly to check position and then went low again to turn south-eastwards towards the Ijsselmeer. The bright moon shining on the water made height difficult to judge and flight engineer Edward Smith was about to warn Rice that the altimeter was reading zero when there was a huge jolt. Instinctively Rice pulled upwards and felt another ‘violent jolt’.

AJ-H had hit the water twice. The first impact had torn the mine free and sprayed water up through the bomb bay. The second had forced the fixed tail wheel up through the fuselage and demolished the Elsan lavatory just in front of the rear turret. A revolting mixture of its contents, disinfectant and sea water had poured into the turret and immersed gunner Stephen Burns up to his waist. His shout of ‘Christ, it’s wet back here!’ was pretty understandable.

Everyone else was shaken up, but by some miracle the aircraft and crew had survived. Rice flew on for a minute or two while the damage was assessed and it was confirmed that the mine had been lost. Then he turned for home. The anti aircraft batteries on both Vlieland and Texel were waiting for him and sprayed flak across the gap between the two islands but he sped underneath the fire.

There was nearly another tragedy as they reached Scampton. The hydraulic fluid in the undercarriage had been depleted, so it had to be manually lowered with an air bottle. This took 20 minutes during which time Rice was circling the airfield at 1000 feet. Uncertain whether the flaps would then work, another warning message was sent to the control tower, and the crew prepared for an emergency landing. Rice and Smith remained in their seats while the rest sat with their backs to the main spar, facing aft. They were just about to make their approach when suddenly Les Munro’s AJ-W, which had lost its radio, flew in below them and landed on the main runway. Rice held off, and touched down a few minutes later.

The next day, Gibson quizzed him over the cause of the loss of his mine, but took no further action. He knew from his own experiences in training how difficult it could be to judge an aircraft’s height when flying low over water.

Rice flew on the operations to Italy in July and August, and was then selected for the very dangerous attack on the Dortmund-Ems canal with the new 10,000lb ‘thin case’ bomb in September 1943. Of the eight pilots who flew on that raid, only Geoff Rice, Mick Martin and David Shannon survived. In appalling weather conditions, Rice spent 70 minutes searching for the target but was eventually ordered home by Martin, who had taken over temporary command of the operation. He jettisoned his giant bomb over the Waddensee.

On 11 November he took part in an attack on the Antheor viaduct, and later that month was awarded the DFC. The citation singled out his work at the Dortmund-Ems canal, praising his ‘great determination and courage.’

On 20 December, eight 617 Squadron crews, led by the new CO Leonard Cheshire, were sent on an operation to attack an armaments factory in Liège in Belgium. Geoff Rice and his Dams Raid crew were amongst them. The target marking wasn’t visible so Cheshire ordered the crews to return with their bombs. However, Rice and his crew were unlucky and were shot down by night fighter pilot Hauptmann Kurt Fladrich 14,000ft above Merbes-Le Chateau. The last thing Rice remembered was giving the order to bale out. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded.

Rice appears to have been thrown clear, protected by the pilot’s armoured seat. Somehow he had deployed his parachute. However, all his colleagues died as the aircraft crashed. Their bodies were found near the crash site, but Rice regained consciousness in a wood, his parachute snagged in a tree, and with a broken wrist. The first people he met were three farm labourers, who took him to the Resistance. His wrist was set in plaster by a friendly doctor, and he spent the next five months on the run.

Unfortunately, he was then betrayed to the secret police and became a PoW, ending up at the notorious Stalag Luft III, scene of the Great Escape. As the Russian army approached, the prisoners were forcibly moved, but were eventually liberated by the Americans.

Rice was repatriated after the war, and left the RAF in 1947. He went on to work for Shell BP and was very active in setting up the 617 Squadron Association. He died in Taunton, Somerset on 24 November 1981 and was cremated at Taunton crematorium. His ashes were buried in the churchyard in the village of Aller, where he had lived for a number of years.

More about Rice online:
Report in Leicester Mercury about the awarding of a ‘green plaque’.

Survived war. Died 24.11.81

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Nigel Press, All My Life, Lancfile Publishing 2006
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003
Chris Ward, Andy Lee and Andreas Wachtel, Dambusters: The Definitive History, Red Kite 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Further information about Geoff Rice and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.