Dutch group seeking funds for memorial at AJ-S crash site

The crew of AJ-S. Left to right: Lewis Burpee (pilot), Guy Pegler (flight engineer), Thomas Jaye (navigator), Leonard Weller (wireless operator), James Arthur (bomb aimer), William Long (front gunner), Gordon Brady (rear gunner). 

At 0011 on 17 May 1943, the night of the Dams Raid, Plt Off Lewis Burpee and his crew left RAF Scampton at 0011, but never made it as far as the German border. While still over Holland, and approaching the gap between the heavily defended airfields at Gilze Rijen and Eindhoven, the aircraft strayed off course. It climbed slightly, probably in an effort to determine its exact position, but was then caught in searchlights and hit by flak. At 0200, it crashed on the edge of Gilze Rijen airfield, six miles south west of Tilburg. Its mine exploded on impact, demolishing a large number of buildings and doing damage estimated at 1.5 million guilders.

The demise of the Burpee crew was seen by both Stefan Oancia, bomb aimer in AJ-F, a minute or so behind, and Douglas Webb, still further back in the front turret of AJ-O. Their last minutes were also seen by a German witness, a Luftwaffe airman based at Gilze Rijen called Herbert Scholl, interviewed after the war by the author Helmuth Euler. He was of the opinion that AJ-S was in fact not hit by flak at all, but was dazzled by a searchlight beam hitting it horizontally. The pilot tried to fly even lower, and then hit some trees.

The next morning, Scholl went to the crash site and saw that it was a total wreck. Only the rear turret and tail unit were intact, and he saw rear gunner Gordon Brady’s body, which didn’t appear to have any sign of injury. He noticed that Brady was scantily dressed, wearing thin uniform trousers and lace up shoes with holes in the soles. (Helmuth Euler, The Dams Raid through the Lens, After the Battle, 2001, p.106.)

After the crash, only the bodies of Burpee, Brady and Weller were positively identified. The other four were buried in a communal grave. They were interred by the Germans at Zuylen Cemetery, Prinsenhage. After the war, all seven bodies were transferred to the War Cemetery at Bergen-op-Zoom.

For many years, the crash site has been barred to the public, as Gilze Rijen airfield is still in active use by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. However, a local group, headed by local campaigner Sander van der Hall, has now secured permission to build a memorial, and are seeking crowd-funding to help with the project.

The memorial will be unveiled on 4 May, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, PA474, will perform a flypast.

Please help the campaign group by making a donation at its crowd-funding page. (Please note that the organisers are changing the picture on this page, which shows another crew!) Further information on this page (mainly in Dutch).


Dambuster of the Day No. 112: Gordon Brady

JosephBrady01Pic: Burpee family

Wrt Off J G Brady
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED865/G

Call sign: AJ-S

Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Joseph Gordon Brady, known to his family as Gordon, was born in the small town of Ponoka, Alberta, Canada, on 16 April 1916. Ponoka lies in the middle of the province, between Edmonton and Calgary. His parents, Michael and Anna Brady, were both born in the USA, but had moved to Canada and become naturalised. Brady was one of four children and attended the local schools, before taking up employment working in a drug store in 1934. When the war came, after a period as a field ambulance truck driver, he volunteered for the RCAF, and joined up in March 1941. He was selected for air gunner training, and eventually arrived in Britain a year later. After more training, he was posted to 16 OTU at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, and arrived on the same day, 23 June 1942, as Lewis Burpee. The two Canadians were quick to crew up together. Brady was one of the crew on board when Burpee had an accident in a Wellington on 27 August. His starboard engine seized and he made a poor forced landing at Church Lawford, but avoiding numerous construction obstacles. He was criticised for his choice of emergency airfield, but exonerated over the accident itself.
Burpee and Brady were posted to 106 Squadron together, and had been joined by Guy Pegler in the latter stages of training. Their first operational trip together as a crew was on a “Gardening” operation to the Silverthorn area on 16 November 1942.
Thereafter Brady flew on every single trip made by Burpee, and was promoted to Flight Sergeant in December 1942 and Warrant Officer in February 1943. He would have had no hesitation in going along with his skipper on the transfer to 617 Squadron, even though they were both very near the end of their tours.
Brady had also been noticed by Guy Gibson, who recommended him for a commission on 10 May 1943, describing him as “smart and efficient”. By contrast, Scampton station commander Gp Capt Charles Whitworth, whose recommendation was also needed, was not so impressed. Brady had been “nervous and agitated at interview”. However, he went along with Gibson: “W/C Gibson however has known him for some time and gives a good account of him. I forward his recommednatioin on the strength of his CO’s report.”A week later, it was all too late, and a note on Brady’s file merely says “Recommenndation cancelled”.

Brady commission DSCN0060 lores
The recommendation for a commission on Brady’s RCAF file. [National Archives of Canada]

Gordon Brady died along with his comrades when AJ-S came down in flames on the edge of Gilze-Rijen airfield on 17 May 1943. As was often the case in these kind of crashes, a witness noticed that his body had been thrown out of the rear turret by the impact, and didn’t appear to have any sign of serious injury. He was scantily dressed, wearing thin uniform trousers and lace up shoes with holes in the soles. (Helmuth Euler, The Dams Raid through the Lens, After the Battle, 2001, p.106.)
After the crash, only the bodies of Burpee, Brady and Weller were positively identified. The other four were buried in a communal grave. They were first interred by the Germans at Zuylen Cemetery, Prinsenhage, but after the war all seven bodies were exhumed and reburied in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery.

More about Brady online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Aircrew Remembered page about Burpee crew

KIA 17.05.43

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.

New picture of Lewis Burpee and three other Dambusters

Burpee sqd106 smal

Joel Joy continues to unearth interesting new material about the Canadian Dambusters. He has recently got permission from the family of Plt Off Lewis Burpee to publish this picture of his crew, taken while he was on 106 Squadron.
Alex Bateman has kindly identified all the personnel present:

Left to right:
Sgt Joe Brady (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Bill Long (Mid Upper Gunner)
Sgt Guy Pegler (Flight Engineer)
Flt Sgt Lew Burpee (Pilot)
Flt Sgt Eddy Leavesley (Wireless Op)
Sgt George Goodings (Bomb Aimer)

The photo was taken on 106 Squadron at Syerston, on 18 January 1943 after a night trip to Berlin.  The Lancaster is W4842 ‘ZN–H’.

Brady, Long, Pegler and Burpee went on to 617 Squadron in March 1943, and were four of the crew of AJ-S on the Dams Raid. They were all killed when they were shot down near Gilze Rijen in Holland, and are buried together in Bergen Op Zoom war cemetery. There are full details of Burpee’s 26 previous operations on the Air Force Association of Canada website. (In alphabetical order, scroll down to Burpee.)