Act of Remembrance

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The Reichswald Forest War Cemetery lies in a wooded area in north west Germany, near the town of Kleve and not far from a massive road bridge across the Rhine. It is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in Germany – the last resting place for 7672 men who fought with the Allied services in the Second World War. Of these, 3915 flew with the various air forces.
Amongst these lie 32 Dambusters, making this quiet spot the place on earth where there are the most Dams Raid veterans buried. Twenty-seven of the 53 who died on the Dams Raid itself are now interred here (Bill Astell and his crew, Norman Barlow and his crew, Henry Maudslay and his crew, and Warner Ottley and the six of his crew who were killed). Five more men, all by then flying in the crew of Sqn Ldr George Holden and killed on the fateful Dortmund Ems Canal raid on 17 September 1943, also lie here.
The Dambuster graves are in groups in different parts of the cemetery. Seven of them lie together in one row, not far from the edge. This is the crew of AJ-E: Norman Barlow, pilot; Leslie Whillis, flight engineer; Philip Burgess, navigator; Charlie Williams, wireless operator; Alan Gillespie, bomb aimer; Harvey Glinz, front gunner and Jack Liddell, rear gunner. And on 18 May this year it was at their graves that we first paid our respects, coming as we had from the unveiling of a new memorial at their crash site near Haldern, about 30km away.
This was an experienced crew, all of whom had served together in 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston. Three were in their 30s, and six had been commissioned as officers. Unfortunately all this experience came to nought when their aircraft, targeted with an attack on the Sorpe Dam, collided with a high tension electric pylon on the edge of a small wood, and crashed in flames. They were all killed instantly and their bodies were then taken to Dusseldorf North cemetery for burial. After the war, like many other Allied aircrew from other parts of Germany, their remains were exhumed and reinterred in Reichswald Forest.
Although the gravestones were all produced to a standardised format, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission allowed each family to choose a quotation or dedication to appear at the foot of the stone. Not all took this opportunity but when they did, it’s their words which frequently produce the lump-in-throat moment as you walk between the lines of stones.
The AJ-E men each have something added.
Harvey Glinz’s stone has the simplest dedication: “Always remembered”. Leslie Whillis and Philip Burgess have similar quotations. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” is the usually quoted version which appears in the King James Bible version of St John’s Gospel. This appears on Burgess’s stone, while Whillis’s has the variation: “Greater love hath no man than this, he gave his life for his friends.” Charlie Williams’s grave bears words which seem to encapsulate the emotions his family must have felt by the death in a faraway cold land of a country boy from an Australian sheep farm: “He gallantly died renouncing all the things that he loved”. The age of the youngest man to take part in the Dams Raid, Jack Liddell, is alluded to by his family: “ In the prime of his youth he died that we might live”. Norman Barlow, the only one to be both a husband and a father, is remembered for the former achievement, if not the latter: “ In loving memory of my husband who gave all for his country”. And Alan Gillespie’s stone reads: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them”.
These last words are, of course, taken from Laurence Binyon’s famous poem, “For the Fallen”. Its fourth stanza will be read out many times this week:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

And every time the audience or congregation repeat the last four words, we should think not just of these seven men, nor just the 53 who died on the Dams Raid, nor even of the 55,000 men of Bomber Command who died in the Second World War, but of the countless millions who have died in conflict before and since. Each of these was someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother. “My subject is war and the pity of war.”
“We will remember them.”

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Jack Liddell’s mystery friend

Regular readers of this blog will know the story of Jack Liddell, the youngest man to take part in the Dams Raid. Born in Weston-super-Mare on 22 June 1924, he was still only 18 when he was killed when AJ-E, piloted by Norman Barlow, crashed near Haldern in Germany shortly before midnight on 16 May 1943. He was the rear gunner in this aircraft.
Despite his youth, Liddell was a Bomber Command veteran, with a full tour of 30 operations in 61 Squadron to his credit. Rather than go on an inter-tour break in an instructional role he volunteered to join 617 Squadron and train for the Dams Raid.

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His personal effects were returned to his family after his death, and amongst them was this photograph of a fellow air gunner. The Liddell family do not know who this man is, and they have asked for our help in identifying him.
There is no clue on the photograph itself, other than an embossed stamp saying “Searle/Market Place/Hyde”. This was a well known firm of photographers in Hyde, Greater Manchester.
We can say for certain that the man did not take part in the Dams Raid. Nor is he Jack Liddell’s regular air gunner partner in 61 Squadron, Sgt George Culham.
The man himself is obviously quite young, and it must have been taken after he had completed his training as he is wearing his AG brevet, and has his sergeant’s stripes. He is also wearing an unusual belt.
Any help gratefully received. Please leave a comment in the space below, or contact me by email.

Thanks for help to Patricia Gawtrey, Susan Paxton and Alan Wells.

Dambuster Memorial unveiled as many pay tribute

IMG_6611Pic: Wim Govaerts

Several hundred people gathered on Sunday 17 May 2015 on the edge of a small wood in Haldern, north western Germany, to pay tribute to the crew of Dams Raid Lancaster AJ-E, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC. This was the spot where the aircraft crashed shortly before midnight on the night of 16 May 1943, en route to attack the Sorpe Dam.
Some of Norman Barlow’s letters home to his mother in Australia were read out during the ceremony. In one, written on 3 May 1943, he told her about the new aircraft he had been assigned for the Dams Raid. “I have just got a brand new machine. “E” for Edward or Elsie or Elliott. I hope I am as lucky as I was with “G” for George”.
And then, just 12 days later and the night before died, he sent love to everyone back at home, including his daughter, then four years old: “I must close now and have a bath and get a little shut eye whilst I can.  So keep your chin up Mother dear it can’t last forever. Your loving son Norman xxxx.”
Sadly, E-Edward would not turn out to be not a lucky machine for Norman and his crew, and they were all killed instantly in the crash. For seventy years, the site was not marked in any way, but then in 2013 local historian Volker Schürmann began a campaign to have a permanent memorial established. He organised a public appeal which succeded in raising the funds, after many generous donations from supporters from around the world. There were further donations of materials from the local community, and the farmer on whose land the aircraft crashed was kind enough to make a space available.
Relatives and representatives of five of the crew travelled to Germany, and unveiled the memorial. Wreathes were also laid by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, by other organisations, and by the local community. A guard of honour was provided by the Haldern Fire Brigade, and musical tributes were played by the Haldern Brass Band.
Huge thanks go to all the people of Haldern who donated to and supported the memorial, and to all those who travelled to Germany to take part in the ceremony.

Pictures below by Wim Govaerts and Mitch Buiting.

IMG_6365 Banner depicting the crew of AJ-E. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6396Volker Schürmann being interviewed by British Forces Broadcasting Service reporter, Rob Olver.

IMG_6388Items from the wreckage of AJ-E, found locally by Marcel Hahn. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6462Welcome from Bernhard Uebbing, Chair of Heimatverein Haldern, the local history society. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6481Volker Schürmann outlined the background to the project. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6494Charles Foster gave a brief history of the Dams Raid and its historical significance. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6509Trish Murphy, a friend of Norman Barlow’s daughter Adrianne since their schooldays in Melbourne, read from Norman Barlow’s last letters home. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9274Rob Holliday, whose wife Sara is a cousin of bomb aimer Plt Off Alan Gillespie, gave an account of the lives of all the crew members of AJ-E. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6550The first wreath was laid by Group Captain Steve Richards of the RAF. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6553Lt Colonel David Sexstone and a colleague laid the second wreath on behalf of the Royal Canadian Air Force. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9289Wreath laid in memory of Norman Barlow by Trish Murphy, with assistance from Jacqui Kelly and Aisling Foster. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

Rework_9293Wreathes laid in memory of Philip Burgess by Carole Marner, followed by Jenny Rowland. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

Rework_9298Wreath laid in memory of Alan Gillespie by Sara and Rob Holliday (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6558Wreath laid in memory of Charlie Williams by Helen Brown. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

Rework_9306Wreath laid in memory of Jack Liddell by Patricia and Mike Gawtrey. (Pic: Mitch Buiting)

IMG_6471Music for the occasion was provided by the Haldern Brass Band. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6685A guard of honour was provided by the Haldern Fire Brigade. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6665The five sets of relatives and representatives, joined by Volker Schürmann and Charles Foster. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6678The full RAF and RCAF delegations, photographed after the ceremony. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

IMG_6583AJ-E, honoured and remembered, 17 May 2015. (Pic: Wim Govaerts)

 

Good news for Dambuster memorial appeal

AJ-E crew lores
A piece of good news to cheer us all at this festive season. This blog’s good friend Volker Schürmann has recently informed us that the appeal for funds to erect a permanent memorial at the site where Norman Barlow and his crew crashed on the night of the Dams Raid has succeeded. The stone for the memorial is now being quarried and the plaque is being designed. The memorial will be officially unveiled at a ceremony at 11.00am on Sunday 17 May 2015, the 72nd anniversary of the Dams Raid, and the crash.
The crash occurred on farmland, a few kilometres from Haldern, a small community in Rees in the state of North Rhine Westphalia. Lancaster ED927, code name AJ-E, had been the first aircraft to take off on Operation Chastise, leaving RAF Scampton at 2128 on Sunday 16 May 1943. Just over two hours later, flying at about 100 feet, it struck a pylon. It may have been hit by flak a few moments before. The crew of seven were all killed, and are now interred in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. They were:
Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC (pilot)
Plt Off Leslie Whillis (flight engineer)
Flg Off Philip Burgess (navigator)
Flg Off Charles Williams DFC (wireless operator)
Plt Off Alan Gillespie DFM (bomb aimer)
Flg Off Harvey Glinz (front gunner)
Sgt Jack Liddell (rear gunner)
It is thought that members of the families of at least four of the crew will be attending the unveiling of the memorial.
More details will follow. Members of the public will be welcome to attend.
Many thanks are due to Volker Schürmann and his colleagues for organising the memorial.

Dambuster of the Day No. 70: Jack Liddell

Jack_Liddell
Sgt J R G Liddell
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED927/G

Call sign: AJ-E

Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Jack Robert George Liddell was the youngest man to take part in the Dams Raid. He was born on 22 June 1924 in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, the son of Robert and Winifred Liddell. His father died when Jack was a young boy and his mother remarried, so he had one sister and two further half-sisters. He was educated at Weston’s Walliscote Road School, and then took up work in the butchery trade. One day in May 1941, his sister, Sheila Fenwick, recalls him dressing in a suit, saying he was going to Bristol for the day. When he returned, he told his family that he had volunteered for the RAF. She was not surprised as, like so many other young men of his age, he was ‘flying mad’. He must have lied about his age, since he was still only 16.
Liddell was selected for air gunner training, which he completed in May 1942. In September, he was posted to 61 Squadron as the rear gunner in a crew captained by Flt Sgt John Cockshott. This crew completed a full tour of 30 operations together, and as a gesture of thanks to their pilot, they bought him a silver tankard. They weren’t able to get it engraved, but they gave him specific instructions to do this at the end of the war and the wording that should be used.
Cockshott rose to the rank of Squadron Leader and in July 1944 he started a second tour, with 617 Squadron. He was the pilot who dropped the second ever Grand Slam, and was involved in the attacks on the Tirpitz and other big targets. He received a bar to his DFC for this second tour. He moved to the USA after the war, and died in 2010. According to his daughter, the tankard was one of his most prized possessions.

Cockshott IMG-20130509-00046
[Pic: Jackie Von Urff]
After completing his tour with Cockshott, Liddell was posted to a training flight as an instructor, but within a week he was called back to fly in the crew being put together by Norman Barlow, which would transfer to 617 Squadron. He was, of course, a much more experienced gunner than his crewmate, Harvey Glinz, but it was the officer Glinz who was chosen to be the A Flight gunnery leader.
Jack Liddell had still not reached his nineteenth birthday when he climbed into the rear turret of AJ-E in the early evening of 16 May 1943. On a night when many young aircrew died, he has the dubious distinction of being the youngest of all. Like his comrades, he was first buried by the Germans in Dusseldorf Cemetery, but now lies in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Reichswald Forest.

Footnote: All the crew of AJ-E came from 61 Squadron, but only Leslie Whillis and Alan Gillespie had previously flown with Norman Barlow. The rest had mainly flown with three other 61 Squadron pilots, Ian Woodward, William Dierkes and John Cockshott. All of these would survive the war, and if their crews had stayed with them their chances of survival would have been higher. Such was the sad lottery by which so many casualties were chosen.

More about Liddell online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Entry at Aircrew Remembered website

KIA 16.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.

Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Eric Fry, An Airman Far Away, Kangaroo Press 1993

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.

Appeal launched for AJ-E Dambuster memorial

AJ-E crew lores
The crew of AJ-E. Left to right: Norman Barlow, Leslie Whillis, Philip Burgess, Charles Williams, Alan Gillespie, Harvey Glinz, Jack Liddell.

Eight crews from 617 Squadron were lost on the night of the Dams Raid, 16/17 May 1943. Of these two, AJ-A piloted by Sqn Ldr Melvin Young and AJ-K piloted by Plt Off Vernon Byers were lost over the sea, but the other six crashed on dry land in Germany or the Netherlands.
Three of the crash sites are commemorated with a plaque or other memorial:

AJ-B: Flt Lt William Astell
AJ-M: Flt Lt John Hopgood
AJ-C: Plt Off Warner Ottley

An appeal has now been launched to add another memorial to this list. Lancaster ED927, call sign AJ-E, piloted by Flt Lt Norman Barlow DFC, crashed into a electricity pylon on some farmland near Haldern, at about 2350 on 16 May 1943, killing all on board. Haldern is a community in the district of Cleves, in the lower Rhine area.
The plan, to erect a memorial stone and bronze plaque on this site, is being organised by Volker Schürmann, a local historian, who is looking to raise €750 (about £620) to cover the cost. We are therefore looking for 150 donations of €5.
By way of thank you, donors will receive a colour souvenir postcard featuring pictures of the finished stone in place and portraits of all the AJ-E crew. It is hoped that we can arrange for a descendant of one of the crew to be present when the stone is unveiled, and, of course, all donors will also be warmly welcomed.

You can donate to the appeal via Paypal here:
Make a Donation Button

If you would prefer to make a donation by cheque or bank transfer, contact me and I will give you details of how you can do this.
Below is a picture of the site where the memorial will be erected.
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Dambusters Declassified discussed

The Dambusters Declassified documentary shown on BBC a couple of weeks ago wasn’t widely reviewed in the national press, but has been the subject of debate on a number of internet forums. One of these discussions, on a forum widely frequented by modern day pilots, had a surprising intervention from the film’s producer, Ian Cundall. Posting under the pretty cool name of ‘TVflyer’ he explained that they only had a short time to fix up the camera shots, so couldn’t get an exterior view of what it felt like to fly only 100 feet above the ground.
He countered the grumbles from some quarters that there was ‘nothing new’ in the programme:

Some of the stories told in the film are well known to aviation historians but – I’d suggest – not to most general viewers who base their knowledge of the raid on the movie.

That’s my view now, some time after transmission. When the programme finished my immediate conclusion was exactly that – there was nothing in it that I hadn’t read or heard about already. But some of the material which was used has only been previously published in pretty obscure books. One example is the story of how shot-down bomb aimer John Fraser was interrogated by the Germans, which to the best of my knowledge has only been discussed in detail in Helmuth Euler’s The Dams Raid through the Lens. It took a certain degree of bravery for his daughter Shere – a doughty defender of her father’s memory – to stand in front of a camera and say that he did reveal some details of how the weapon worked.
The only bit of the documentary which got picked up in the national press was the interview with Margaret Masters, the woman Guy Gibson was seeing in the run up to the Dams Raid. Again, this is well known to aficionados, as she was interviewed at length by Richard Morris for his 1994 biography of Gibson. But she has never spoken on camera before, which led the Mail on Sunday to cobble together a predictably  sensationalist story based entirely on quotes from the programme.
What I think didn’t work was the use of Martin Shaw as a front man for the film. He’s a good enough actor, and has a private pilot’s licence, but I don’t think this necessarily qualifies him to ‘investigate’ on our behalf. There are real experts who could have fronted the programme – one, John Sweetman, appeared as an interviewee – but, of course, they are not as good box office as a hunky middle aged actor in serious spectacles, which he was able to take off several times with a theatrical flourish.
Shaw was also absent for some parts of the film – a woman’s voice could be heard during one of the interviews – and this betrays the fact that some parts were cobbled together from other BBC projects. Long term readers of this blog will know that as far back as June 2009 a BBC South West researcher had contacted me looking for information about the youngest Dambuster, rear gunner Jack Liddell. The last 15 minutes or so of Dambusters Declassified appeared to be made up of this material, tacked onto the end of Martin Shaw’s description of the difficulties of low flying.
Ultimately, it was a serious programme, with some interesting material, and well worth catching again if you can find it on iPlayer or other sources.