Update on “Gibson letter” to Liddell family

10.45pm UK time: Big result!

Blog reader Arthur Rayner has been in touch, informing me that the “letter from Guy Gibson” about which I blogged this afternoon has now been removed from eBay. Arthur has been in touch with the vendor, who told him that he had “no idea” that the letter might be a fake, and that he had purchased it earlier this year from Alexander Autographs in the USA. He sent the link to this company’s auction site, which you can see here. As you can see, the purchaser paid the sum of $2813 (£2259 according to today’s exchange rate) for the fake letter.

Alexander Auctions has been trading in Maryland, USA, since 1991 and prides itself on its reputation. According to its website it is “a leading auctioneer of fine historic autographs, documents, militaria from all conflicts, and relics.” It has “a renowned reputation as being one of the premier auctioneers of historic autographs and collectibles in Northeast [USA], with our customer base extending across the country and around the world. Our goal is to deliver history into the hands of collectors – it’s how we’ve built our reputation. Thorough research and careful cataloging of items by a professional staff, the utilization of the latest technologies and a priority on customer service, Alexander Historical Auctions can stand behind every piece we sell.”

A badly-executed fake letter concerning the RAF’s most famous Second World War bombing operation must somehow have got through Alexanders’ “thorough research”. I like to think that it wouldn’t have got into a sale from a similar UK-based operation, but past experience suggests that this confidence may be misplaced.

Alexander Auctions have actually had six other Dambusters-related items for sale in the last year, although only one has been sold. The items that came up are:

Correspondence (mainly collected by Alan Cooper)
Estimate $750. Did not sell.

Wooden Lancaster model made for Sgt Stephen Burns
Estimated $600-$700. Did not sell.

Various photographs and signed first day covers
Sold for $50

Letter from Sgt Stephen Burns to family
Estimate $300-$400. Did not sell.

Letter from Flg Off Geoff Rice from Stalag Luft III to family
Estimate $200-$300. Did not sell.

Gauntlets owned by Sgt Stephen Burns
Sold for $1169

Some of these items have been on sale at UK auction houses in the last couple of years. See these items (lot number 1021) sold by DNW for £7000 in May 2016.) It’s not clear whether they were all placed with Alexanders by one particular vendor. Whoever it was that sold the “Liddell” letter probably made a tidy profit. But this would have been eclipsed by the eBay vendor if he had achieved the asked-for price of £14,995 – a cool 575% on the price he paid!

 

“Gibson letter” to Liddell family is fake

A really poor item, purporting to be a letter from Guy Gibson to the family of Jack Liddell, has recently gone on sale on eBay at the preposterous price of £14,995.

It is being offered for sale by a dealer from Sudbury called rcmlez, who seems to have been a dealer only since July 2019, specialising mainly in football-related items.

Even though my observations are based solely on examining the photograph of the item, I have no hesitation in saying that it is a fake. There are a number of reasons behind my decision.

1. Stationery
There are a number of examples of the 56 letters sent from Guy Gibson to members of 617 Squadron who went missing on the Dams Raid still in existence. Four are shown above. In all cases, the letters were typed on a sheet of plain paper, approx 9 × 7 inches, with a royal crest blind-stamped at the top. The fake letter would seem to be on a smaller sheet, probably the traditional writing pad size of approx 5 12 × 7 inches, with an RAF crest printed in blue at the top. This stationery was widely available at RAF stations, particularly in officers’s messes, and was commonly used for personal letters.

2. Layout
The genuine letters were typed by several different typists on a number of machines. However, they all follow a standard layout: each paragraph is indented by the same number of tabs  and there is a line space between them. (The number of tabs seems to vary, which indicates that several different typists were responsible.) In the fake letter, the paragraphs are not separated and the indents differ throughout. This may well be because the paper is a smaller size and therefore the faker had to save space in order to get the text onto one page. This is further exemplified by the very small margins, with the typing extending to the very edge of the paper.

3. Text
In all the genuine letters to non-pilot aircrew there is a reference to the skills and ability of the pilot, with Gibson assuring the recipient that the pilot would have done everything possible to ensure the safety of his crew (the wording varies). This is missing in the fake letter, presumably because of the space issue mentioned above.

4. Closing salutation and signature
In the genuine letters, these all follow the same format. The word “Yours” is typed. Gibson has handwritten “Very Sincerely” and followed this with a signature. In some examples he has added a further message. Underneath the typing reads

Wing Commander
Commanding, 617 Squadron, RAF
_______________________

The fake has the typed words “Very Sincerely”. There follows a poorly-executed fake signature, the typed words “Wing Commander,” and the impression from a rubber stamp “O/C 617 Sqdn.” This rubber stamp has never been seen on any genuine wartime correspondence from any commanding officer of 617 Squadron.

5. Name and address of recipient
This is the clincher!  The fake letter has the wrong name and address for the recipient. Jack Liddell’s father had died in the 1920s, leaving his mother with two small children. By the time Jack joined the RAF she had remarried and used a different surname, and she was known by this surname in 1943 at the time of Jack’s death. Moreover, she and the rest of her family were living at a different address in Weston-super-Mare at this time. (The correct surname and address are known to me, but I have decided not to release them publicly. Similarly, I have chosen not to show large resolution versions of the genuine letters, in the hope that this will make it slightly harder for anyone wanting to produce a better-faked version in the future. It is sad that I have to do this, but such is the nature of the world.)

If this letter was genuine, it would be very valuable but I doubt that it would be worth as much as £14,950. In my view, the item now on sale is completely worthless and I would advise anyone thinking of buying it to back off.

[Thanks to Stephen Murray for the tip]

Act of Remembrance

IMG_0756 lores

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.”

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.

Air gunner anon lores

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.