Bernard “Bunny” Clayton: 617 Squadron pilot with 82 operations from three tours

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Left to right: Plt Off Bernard “Bunny” Clayton, Sqn Ldr David Maltby, Flt Lt Harold “Mick” Martin. Photographed at RAF Scampton, July 1943. [Pic: IWM Collections, CH11048]

The loss of eight crews on the Dams Raid meant that 617 Squadron needed a swift injection of new personnel in order to function properly. One of those who arrived in July 1943 was Plt Off Bernard Clayton, known from his schooldays as “Bunny”. He was only 23, but had completed two tours of operations and been decorated with both the CGM and DFC.

Clayton was born on a farm in North Yorkshire on 7 December 1919, the oldest of seven children. He went to the King James Grammar School in Knaresborough, where he met a boy called Ian Robinson who became a close friend. Both got jobs after leaving school but then at the outbreak of war both volunteered for the RAF. Called up at different times, from then on their paths rarely crossed. Robinson became an observer, serving first in the Far East before returning to the UK. Clayton qualified as a pilot, and went on to fly a full tour in both 9 and 51 Squadrons, with a spell of training in between. 

It was after starting a second spell as a training instructor that Clayton was posted on his own to 617 Squadron. He then travelled over to his previous operational outfit, 51 Squadron, and persuaded all six of the crew who had flown with him on his previous tour to accompany him. They went on to play a pivotal role in rebuilding the squadron after the September 1943 attack on the Dortmund Ems canal when one crew was lost on an aborted attack, and five more the following day when it finally went ahead. Clayton and his crew flew a total of 31 more operations before being taken off operations for a third and final time in July 1944. Clayton received the DSO for this final tour. 

Halfway through this final tour, in February 1944, Flg Off George Chalmers joined Clayton’s crew as the wireless operator. He had been in Bill Townsend’s crew on the Dams Raid, and had won the DFM for his role in attacking the Ennepe Dam. He was also withdrawn from operations in July 1944, having notched up a total of 66 operations. 

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George Chalmers DFC DFM [Pic: Anthony Eaton]

Clayton stayed on in the RAF after the war, transferring to Transport Command. In 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded the divided city of Berlin in East Germany, and so what became called the Berlin airlift was organised – transport aircraft flying in a narrow corridor to provide supplies. Clayton became one of the many pilots undertaking this difficult exercise, undertaking a total of 94 trips. He then transferred to RAF Manby for more training duties. Sadly, on 19 March 1951, he lost his life in the crash of a Handley Page Hastings at RAF Strubby. Another officer was piloting the aircraft that day. 

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You can read much more about the life and career of Bunny Clayton and his school friend Ian Robinson in an interesting book about the pair, Two Friends: Two Different Hells by A.E Eaton. It is available at £10 including p&p on special offer from the writer, who you can contact by email at

Six Dambusters photographed for 1993 reunion

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Pic: Ray Hepner

Among the many fascinating items in Ray Hepner’s collection of Dams Raid artifacts are a number of press cuttings from down the years. This great article from the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine is just one. It was taken sometime in early 1993, and appeared in the magazine on 9 May 1993, the week before the 50th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
The picture shows (left to right) Dudley Heal, Edward (“Johnnie”) Johnson, Jimmy Clay, David Shannon, Basil Feneron and George Chalmers lined up in front of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster at RAF Coningsby.
The caption to the picture doesn’t say this but the article which accompanies it does note the sad event which occurred between the photograph being taken and its publication a few weeks later: the death on 8 April 1993 of David Shannon, something which rather put a dampener on the anniversary events.
Time has marched on since then, and now all these gentlemen are no longer with us. But it is nice to see them all together in the autumn of their years, for one last time.

Dambuster of the Day No. 123: George Chalmers

Buck Palace group ©PH loresTwenty of the aircrew decorated for the Dams Raid line up outside Buckingham Palace on 22 June 1943. Left to right: Leonard Sumpter, Harlo “Terry” Taerum, Jack Buckley, Fred “Spam” Spafford, Richard Trevor Roper, David Maltby, Edward “Johnny” Johnson, Harold “Mick” Martin, Dudley Heal, Guy Gibson, Sidney Hobday, David Shannon, Bertie “Toby” Foxlee, Joseph McCarthy, Stefan Oancia, John Fort, Daniel Walker, Leonard Chambers, Douglas Webb, George “Jock” Chalmers. [Pic: Peter Humphries]

Flt Sgt G A Chalmers
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED886/G

Call sign: AJ-O

Third wave. Only aircraft to attack Ennepe Dam. Mine dropped successfully, but failed to breach dam.

George Alexander Chalmers was born on 12 February 1921 in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. As a Scot, he was often known by the nickname “Jock”. He was educated at Aberdeen Academy before working briefly at a local Crosse & Blackwell factory. He joined the RAF in 1938 as a boy entrant.

He qualified as a wireless operator/air gunner before the outbreak of war, and was posted first to 10 Squadron in Dishforth. Early in the war, he took part in leaflet-dropping operations over Germany. In August 1940 he transferred to 7 Squadron and later that year to 35 Squadron, where he completed a first tour of operations during 1941.

After about a year in various training jobs, he asked to go back on operations and was posted to RAF Scampton. He was posted in as a supernumerary, without a crew, and told Mick Martin that he would prefer to be allocated to an all-NCO crew if possible. Martin was a bit taken aback by this (perhaps knowing that there were very few of these in the new squadron) but it turned out that Bill Townsend was without a wireless operator, so Chalmers was fitted in there. Townsend’s crew did not remain all-NCO for long – by the time of the Dams Raid, Lance Howard had been commissioned, and Townsend followed shortly afterwards.

On the raid, Chalmers was conscious that he stood “watching history from the astrodome, although everything happened so quickly (at 100ft) that incidents came and went almost before the mind could appreciate them”. When they reached the Ennepe Dam, Chalmers started the rotation of the mine, which caused the aircraft to shudder violently, so everyone was very relieved when it was released. Chalmers himself was able to watch the subsequent explosion from the astrodome.

He was awarded the DFM for his role on the Dams Raid, where the citation noted that he had by then flown on 44 operations. He was commissioned himself at the end of June 1943, shortly after attending the investiture in London. There he was flattered when the Queen, who was conducting the investiture, identified him as coming from Peterhead.

Townsend and some of his crew finished their tour in September 1943, but the irrepressible Chalmers carried on. He flew first with the new squadron CO, Leonard Cheshire, but then transferred to the crew of Plt Off Bernard “Bunny” Clayton, an experienced pilot who had been posted from 51 Squadron to 617 Squadron in July 1943 with a CGM and DFC to his name.

He finally came off operations in July 1944, at the same time as all of the other Dams Raid personnel still flying in 617 Squadron. He was awarded the DFC later in the year, having flown in 66 operations. The citation concluded: “Throughout his long and arduous operational career, this officer has displayed outstanding courage and devotion to duty.”

Chalmers stayed on in the RAF until 1954, on an extended service commission. When he left, he joined the Ministry of Defence in Harrogate, working on the technical specifications for RAF services, and developed a specialist knowledge of aircraft refuelling procedures.

George Chalmers retired in 1984. He had married his wife Alma during the war, and they had nine children. He died on 6 August 2002.

More about Chalmers online:
Obituary in the Daily Telegraph

Survived war. Died 06.08.2002

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

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 George Chalmers 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.

Dambuster obituaries

I have been scouring the interwebnet for online material about the aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid for a project I will be unveiling shortly, but in the meantime, I thought I would share the fruits of part of my research. So far, I have come across these online postwar obituaries:

Ken Brown
George Chalmers
Edward (Johnnie) Johnson
David Rodger
Danny Walker

Thanks to a helpful library subscription, I have also come across four other earlier obituaries which are not generally available in online sources, but can be turned up in newspaper archives. These are of:

Basil Feneron
Harold (Mick) Martin
David Shannon
Paul Brickhill

(I know the last of these did not take part in the Dams Raid himself, but I thought his obituary might be of interest.) I have posted these four obituaries on my other website, and you can see them here.

If you can add any further online or offline material to these links then I would be glad to hear from you.