50 Squadron photograph shows 16 Dambusters together

Pic: Frank Pleszak

Of the 133 men who flew on the Dams Raid in May 1943, some 26 had previously flown in one of the RAF’s crack bomber squadrons, 50 Squadron based at RAF Skellingthorpe. Of these, Flt Lt Mick Martin DFC and his mainly Australian crew had finished a tour in October 1942, and had gone on to instructional duties. In February 1943 most of the rest were still based at Skellingthorpe, when the photograph seen above was taken. So this represents the largest single group of Dams Raid participants pictured together before the raid.

A recent post on a Friends of Skellingthorpe Facebook page led to the identification of a number of men in the group photograph. Thanks are due to the people who participated in this, and to Christina Spencer who originally posted the picture.

As of 7 October 2020, the following 16 men have been identified [Ranks and decorations as of 16 May 1943]:

Maudslay crew (AJ-Z on Dams Raid)
Sqn Ldr Henry Maudslay DFC (pilot)
Sgt Jack Marriott DFM (flight engineer)
Flg Off Robert Urquhart DFC (navigator)
Flg Off William Tytherleigh DFC (front gunner)

Knight crew (AJ-N)
Plt Off Les Knight (pilot)
Sgt Ray Grayston (flight engineer)
Flg Off Sydney Hobday (navigator)
Flt Sgt Robert Kellow (wireless operator)
Flg Off Edward Johnson (bomb aimer)
Sgt Fred Sutherland (front gunner)
Sgt Harry O’Brien (rear gunner)

Gibson crew (AJ-G)
Plt Off Harlo Taerum (navigator)
Flt Lt Richard Trevor-Roper DFM (rear gunner)

Hopgood crew (AJ-M)
Flg Off Kenneth Earnshaw (navigator)
Flt Sgt John Fraser (bomb aimer)

Shannon crew (AJ-L)
Sgt Brian Jagger (front gunner)

It is believed that the following were still at Skellingthorpe at the time, but they are yet to be identified in the picture:
Sgt Norman Burrows (rear gunner, AJ-Z)
Wrt Off Alden Cottam (wireless operator, AJ-Z)
Plt Off John Fuller (bomb aimer, AJ-Z)
Plt Off Frederick Spafford (bomb aimer, AJ-G)

Please get in touch if you can spot any of these.

[Thanks to Frank Pleszak, Shere Fraser McCarthy, Tamara Sutherland and Jim Heather for help with this.]

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.

Dambuster of the Day No. 63: Henry O’Brien

O'Brien IWM detail

Harry O’Brien in 617 Squadron, July 1943

Sgt H E O’Brien
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED912/G

Call sign: AJ-N

First wave. Third aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately causing final breach.

Henry Earl O’Brien, known as Harry, was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada on 15 August 1922. He volunteered for the RCAF soon after he turned 18, and was selected for gunnery training. On arriving in the UK and further training, he crewed up with Les Knight and the rest of his colleagues, and they were all posted to 50 Squadron at the same time. He flew on 23 operations with Knight between September 1942 and March 1943.
Like his colleagues, O’Brien hugely admired his pilot. Knight was ‘the coolest and quickest thinking person I have ever met. And, in my opinion, the most knowledgeable person on the squadron with respect to his job.’
O’Brien weighed about 210lb, and was too big for the harness to which his parachute should have been clipped while he was in his turret. According to Fred Sutherland, his fellow Canadian, the pair had a reputation for being the sloppiest guys on the squadron. In fact, they were actually very disciplined and never reported unfit for duty.
On the Dams Raid, jammed into his position in AJ-N’s rear turret, O’Brien noticed how bright the moonlight made the landscape, and could see farmhouses, rivers, canals and even individual people on the ground.
By the time they got to the Eder, the crews were aware of its extreme difficulty and the fact that the dawn was not too far away. O’Brien was one of those who heard Henry Maudslay’s final words on the radio to Gibson, and noted that his voice sounded faint, unnatural and almost dehumanised. This miade him quite nervous during the run in towards the dam that the mine, when dropped, might explode under the aircraft like it had done for Maudslay.
However it didn’t. It bounced perfectly, a testament to Knight’s skill at lining up the tricky approach. To his joy O’Brien had what he described as a ‘front centre’ view of the dam’s destruction: ‘our aircraft was standing on its tail for the climb out… Simultaneously the dam broke and a column of water rose vertically behind us.’ It was a feeling of exquisite pleasure that they had broken the dam, he recalled.
There was one almost fatal moment to come on the way home. As they crossed the Dutch wall defences, Knight came within a few feet of hitting a giant concrete block, but it was only O’Brien who saw just how close they got to it.
Four months later, on their final flight together, O’Brien was one of the two crew members who were captured after baling out over Holland. He spent the rest of the war as a PoW, and returned to Canada after his release.
Harry O’Brien and his wife Marlene had eight children, the first of whom was called Leslie in honour of his pilot, Les Knight. He died on 12 September 1985 in Edmonton, Alberta.

Survived war.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, Dambusters, TimeWarner 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.