Appeal launched to fund AJ-A memorial in Netherlands

The crew of AJ-A: (L-R) Sqn Ldr Melvin Young (pilot), Sgt David Horsfall (flight engineer), Flt Sgt Charles Roberts (navigator), Sgt Lawrence Nichols (wireless operator), Flg Off Vincent MacCausland (bomb aimer), Sgt Gordon Yeo (front gunner), Sgt Wilfred Ibbotson (rear gunner).

For many years a small group of Dutch citizens, headed by Jan van Dalen, have looked after the graves of the Dams Raid crew of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young in the General Cemetery of the small coastal town of Bergen. The crew were aboard Lancaster ED887, AJ-A, on the Dams Raid on 16-17 May 1943, and all seven members lost their lives when they were shot down on their return journey.

AJ-A had been the fourth aircraft to drop its Upkeep mine at the Mohne Dam and had caused a small breach. A few minutes later AJ-J dropped another mine, causing the final breach and the dam’s collapse. Young had flown on to the Eder Dam in order to take over command if anything should happen to Guy Gibson on the attack there, but in the event had nothing to do. He then set course to return home and reached the Dutch coast just before three in the morning. Then, out over the sea, he hit disaster when the gun battery at Wijk-aan-Zee fired at the rapidly disappearing Lancaster. At that stage, the aircraft was well past the last gun battery and only a few hundred yards from safety. The battery later reported shooting down an aircraft at 0258, which was almost certainly AJ-A.

The wreckage of AJ-A, photographed shortly after the Dams Raid in 1943.

Over the next few weeks, the sea yielded up the victims. Part of the wreckage was washed ashore and the first bodies – those of Melvin Young and David Horsfall – floated up on 29 May. They were buried in the General Cemetery at Bergen two days later, and were joined by the bodies of the other five which were washed up over the next thirteen days.

The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation has now been formally established to commemorate all members of 617 Squadron who lost their lives in the war. As part of this work, the Foundation plans to erect a memorial plaque to the crew of AJ-A on the seafront at Castricum-aan-Zee, which they are hoping to unveil at the time of the 75th anniversary of the crew’s burial in Bergen cemetery in late May 2018. Members of the families of the crew of AJ-A have already said that they hope to be present for this occasion.

The cost of this project is estimated to be in the region of €3500-4000. If you would like to make a donation to the Foundation to help pay for the memorial, you can do so using the PayPal link below. (You don’t need to have a PayPal account in order to make a payment – any credit card can be used.) Your donation will be gratefully received and will be acknowledged at the unveiling ceremony.



 

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Dambuster of the Day No. 27: Gordon Yeo

 

Poster for an exhibition about Gordon Yeo, mounted in his home town of Barry to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dams Raid

Sgt G A Yeo
Front gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED887/G
Call sign: AJ-A
First wave. Fourth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing small breach. Aircraft shot down on return flight.

Born in Barry, Glamorgan, in 1922, Gordon Yeo was the youngest member of Melvin Young’s crew. He had joined the RAF in 1941 and wanted to be a pilot. Having been initially posted to Elementary Flying School in Canada, he eventually qualified as a gunner.
After crewing up with David Horsfall, Lawrence Nichols and Wilfred Ibbotson at 1660 Conversion Unit at RAF Swinderby, he flew with them on an operation to Berlin on 16 January 1943, with Plt Off V Duxbury as their pilot. By the time the crew moved to 57 Squadron at Scampton in mid March, Melvin Young had become their pilot and Charles Roberts their navigator.
On 25 March, they were posted across the base into the fledgling 617 Squadron and the young gunner would have met a few with much more experience than him. But he would also have found several more, like him, with very few operations under their belts.
Yeo wrote several letters to his parents during his time on 617 Squadron, and they give us some insight into how hard they trained, and what they did in their spare time. Melvin drove the crew into Lincoln on a day off from training to watch a parade which was part of the city’s ‘Wings for Victory’ week. This reminded the crew of their skipper’s chequered history.‘We had a good laugh at the blokes all dressed up in flying clothes and sitting in the dinghy. [Melvin Young] had a good laugh at them because he had detailed them.’ Later, he told his parents about Young’s determined efforts to ensure they were trained hard: ‘You say you want to know the name of our skipper, well here it is, S/Ldr H M Young, he is not so bad lately, I expect that is because we are getting used to him, but he is the cause more or less of us not getting leave.’
The Lancaster’s front gun turret was not used during most war time operations, but on the Dams Raid it was manned as the modification for the special mine had necessitated the removal of the mid upper turret. So Yeo would have used it to fire directly ahead of him at the Möhne’s gun emplacements as Young kept the aircraft steady in its bombing run.
In the months after the raid, Gordon Yeo’s mother must have written to Henry Young, Melvin Young’s father, as his reply to her dated 13 July 1943 shows. He ends his letter with the sad words: ‘With many thanks for your kind sympathy which I feel too for all those who have suffered the same loss.’

Young letter1small

Young letter2small

Two families, united in grief. Almost 1400 more people lost their lives that night, and their families would also be suffering in the same way.

 

More about Yeo online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

KIA 17 May 1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Arthur Thorning, The Dambuster who Cracked the Dam, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002