Record number of Canadian Dambuster families gathered in Alberta

Dambuster families gather in Nanton, Alberta. Back row, left to right:  Larry Heather (Earnshaw family), Dianne Young (Fraser family), Peter Brosinsky (Earnshaw family),  Charlene Brosinsky (Earnshaw family), Shere Fraser (Fraser family), Kerry O’Brien-Larsen (O’Brien family), Jim Heather (Earnshaw family), Doris Fraser (Fraser family), Tamara Sutherland (Sutherland Family), Hartley Garshowitz (Garshowitz family), Joan Norris, Tom and Cathy Sutherland (Sutherland family), Marilyn McDowell (McDowell family), Bryce Ramlo, Erin Ramlo and Karen Ramlo (McDonald family)
Front row, left to right: crouching/sitting:  Joe McCarthy (McCarthy family), Emily, Kathy and Rob Taerum (Taerum family), Ted Barris, author. [Pic: Hartley Garshowitz]

A record number of Canadian Dambuster families gathered at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta last weekend. They came from all parts of Canada and Washington State, USA, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid in which their relatives took part. Many of them died on the raid.

Most later gathered under the wing of the museum’s Lancaster aircraft, which has been specially reconfigured and painted in 617 Squadron’s colours as a further tribute. Not all the families are present in the photograph above, so for completeness they are listed below.

Charles Brennan, flight engineer in AJ-M. Granddaughter, Andrea Davids from Calgary, and her son Mark.

 

Harlo Taerum, navigator in AJ-G. Nephew, Rob Taerum, Rob’s wife Kathy, and their daughter Emily Taerum from Calgary.

 

Lewis Burpee, pilot of AJ-S. Son, Lewis Burpee from Ottawa.

 

 

Don MacLean, navigator in AJ-T. Son, Jim MacLean from Toronto.

 

 

Ken Earnshaw, navigator in AJ-M. Nephews and nieces, Jim Heather of Vulcan, Alberta; Margaret Danielson from Edmonton with her daughter Clarissa Danielson Hall and son-in-law Scott Hall; Larry Heather from Calgary; Charlene Brosinsky and Peter Brosinsky from Bashaw, Alberta.

Abram Garshowitz, wireless operator in AJ-B. Nephew, Hartley Garshowitz from Hamilton, Ontario.

 

Floyd Wile, navigator in AJ-B. Nephew, Don Lightbody and his wife Carolee Lightbody from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 

Percy Pigeon, wireless operator in AJ-W. Son Greg and Greg’s wife Louise from Williams Lake, British Columbia.

 

Grant McDonald, rear gunner in AJ-F. Nephew, Bryce Ramlo, his wife Karen and their daughter Erin Ramlo from Mayne Island and Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

John Fraser, bomb aimer in AJ-M. Widow, Doris Fraser from Langley, BC, daughter Shere Fraser from Blaine, Washington, and niece Dianne Young from Calgary.

 

James McDowell, rear gunner in AJ-K. Daughter, Marilyn McDowell from Burlington, Ontario.

 

Revie Walker, navigator in AJ-L. Son, John Walker, John’s wife Amy and their daughter Kenzie from Calgary.

 

Gordon Brady, rear gunner in AJ-S. Niece, Sheila Robbins and her husband Graham from Beaumont, Alberta.

 

Joe McCarthy, pilot of AJ-T. Son, Joe McCarthy jr. from Blaine, Washington.

 

 

Harry O’Brien, rear-gunner in AJ-N. Daughter, Kerry O’Brien-Larsen from St. Albert, Alberta.

 

Fred Sutherland, front gunner in AJ-N. Son, Tom Sutherland, his wife Cathy, from Fort McMurray, Alberta, and their daughter Tamara Sutherland from Edmonton, Alberta; daughter, Joan Norris and her husband Hugh of Calgary. Fred Sutherland still lives in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, but chose not to attend this event himself.

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Album return brings Dambuster families together

Shere Fraser, daughter of John Fraser, and Ken Heather, nephew of Ken Earnshaw, embrace after the Earnshaw family photograph album is returned. [Pic: Shere Fraser]

A battered wartime photograph album containing 290 prints was returned to its rightful owners on Saturday. The ceremony took place at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta and brought together the families of two Canadian crewmates, John Fraser and Ken Earnshaw, who had served together for several months in the RAF’s 50 Squadron before being transferred to a new outfit, 617 Squadron, to undertake the Dams Raid in May 1943. Their aircraft had been shot down as it attacked the Möhne Dam: Earnshaw died as it crashed, but Fraser was able to bale out, and became a prisoner of war.
In the late 1990s, both families had separately sent material, including the airmens’ RCAF logbooks, to London-based researcher Alex Bateman to help him in his work. However, he had failed to return the material when asked, and then claimed that the items had been stolen from his home. After a long campaign by John Fraser’s daughter, Shere Fraser, Bateman had been prosecuted for the theft of the Fraser logbook, and he is now serving a two year prison sentence. Earnshaw’s logbook is still missing.

The album and loose photos, contained in a Metropolitan Police evidence bag. [Pic: Shere Fraser]

During a search of Bateman’s home, the police found Ken Earnshaw’s photograph album hidden in a wardrobe. It was confiscated, and entrusted to Shere Fraser to bring back to Canada to hand over to the Earnshaw family.
Also present were relatives from two other Dambuster families – Rob Taerum, nephew of Harlo Taerum, navigator in AJ-G, and Joe McCarthy Jr, son of Joe McCarthy, pilot of AJ-T. Afterwards, the engines on the Museum’s Avro Lancaster bomber were fired up in their honour.
L-R: Rob Taerum, Shere Fraser, Jim Heather, Joe McCarthy. [Pic: Jim Heather]

Dambuster of the Day No. 3: Harlo Taerum

Taerum1

Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada

Plt Off H T Taerum
Navigator
Lancaster serial number: ED932/G
Call sign: AJ-G
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.

Harlo Torger Taerum was born in Milo, Alberta on 22 May 1920, the oldest son of the four children of Guttorn and Hilda Taerum. His father was Norwegian, and had emigrated to Canada as a young man. He died in a drowning accident when Harlo was 10.
Despite this tragedy, Harlo was a brilliant student at school. Soon after he left the war started. When he heard how his father’s people were being treated in their homeland by the invading Germans, he joined the RCAF. After training in both Canada and Britain, he began operational service with 50 Squadron in January 1942, at first flying on Hampdens, but then moving onto Manchesters and finally Lancasters.
By the end of the year he had completed a full tour of operations and was assigned to the squadron’s conversion unit as an instructor. But he continued to fly on operations, including two to Berlin with pilot Mick Martin. It may have been Martin who mentioned both him and bomb aimer Fred Spafford to Guy Gibson at the time of the formation of 617 Squadron, and the pair were quickly slotted into the CO’s crew.
Nicknamed Terry, he got on well with Gibson who regarded him as ‘one of the most efficient navigators in the squadron’ and he received the DFC for his work on the raid. The squadron received huge public attention, and Taerum became one of its stars, making speeches at the Avro factory and Wings for Victory events. ‘Can you imagine me giving a speech? We were just about mobbed for autographs afterward,’ he wrote to his mother. When Gibson left the squadron and went to North America on his speaking tour, he met Harlo’s mother in Calgary. In front of the press, he praised the work her son had done on the raid. The local press went ecstatic, with headlines reading ‘Terry Got Dam Busters to the Job W/C Gibson Tells His Mother Here and ‘Modest Dam Buster Hero Gets Enthusiastic Welcome. Gibson’s modesty was noted as he: ‘spoke little of the escapades which won for him the VC, DSO and Bar, and DFC and Bar. Rather, this young airman, probably the most famous hero yet to emerge from the present war, led the conversation to the splendid job Canadian fliers are doing and to his, “great pal,” Flying Officer Harlo “Terry” Taerum DFC, of Calgary.’
A few days later Gibson spent several hours at the Taerum residence. Mrs Taerum showed him a treasured album with letters and photographs about Harlo, and had it autographed. She summed up her experience by saying that it was one of the proudest and happiest times of her life.
Four days later a telegram arrived. Taerum was one of four of Gibson’s Dams Raid crew who had flown with the new squadron CO, George Holden, on a disastrous raid on the Dortmund Ems canal on 16 September 1943. Five of the eight 617 Squadron crews were shot down, and thirty-three lives were lost. Taerum is buried in Reichswald Forest Cemetery.
In a tragic postscript for the Taerum family, Harlo’s brother Lorne, a gunner just 18 years old, was also killed while serving in the RCAF. His Lancaster was shot down by a fighter on his very first operation in February 1945. The Taerums were one of the three families who lost a son who took part in the Dams Raid and another son serving elsewhere in Bomber Command during the war.

More about Taerum online:
Bomber Command Museum of Canada: Harlo “Terry” Taerum
Bomber Command Museum of Canada: My Son: A First Class Man
Video tribute on Monumental Canadians website
Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing

Decoration awarded for Operation Chastise: DFC
KIA 16 September 1943
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.

Sources:
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 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 Harlo Taerum 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.