Blue plaque on Marriott family house in Chinley


Middleton House, New Smithy: the family home of the Marriott family in the Peak District. [Pic: Frank Pleszak.]


[Pic: Frank Pleszak.]

I am much looking forward to seeing Frank Pleszak’s new biography of Jack Marriott, the flight engineer in Henry Maudslay’s crew on the Dams Raid. Before joining Maudslay, Marriott had flown on 23 operations with 50 Squadron, in Flg Off Drew Wyness’s crew, and had been awarded the DFM. At this stage of the war, it was rare for flight engineers to be awarded this honour. He flew another three operations with Maudslay before the crew were transferred to 617 Squadron in March 1943.

While researching Marriott’s story, Frank spent some time uncovering the background to how a plaque came to be erected at Middleton House in the village of New Smithy.  It had been lived in by the Marriott family.

Frank takes up the story: “It seems that after Jack’s father had died Middleton House continued to be occupied by Jack’s sister May Hawkesley. By the 1950s the house had become unsuitable and she wanted to be nearer to the centre of Chinley and its services. She arranged for a house swap with Chinley resident Graham Hadfield who once in occupation modernised the house, including removing the rear staircase and replacing it with an upstairs bathroom.  Graham eventually sold the house to the present owner Raymond Ball in 1978. Sometime after moving in Raymond was in discussion with his neighbours and the topic of the previous occupants of Middleton House and of Jack’s involvement in the Dambusters was raised. Realizing the significance of the house Raymond felt that a fitting memorial should commemorate the short life of the Dambuster that had spent his early life there. So in 2012, at his own expense, he had a local blacksmith create the plaque which he duly erected by his front door.”

9781399097468 smallFrank Pleszak’s book, The High Peak Dambuster, is to be published by Airworld in March. See here for details.

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.]

AJ-Z memorial to be unveiled in May

The crew of AJ-Z, killed returning from the attack on the Eder Dam, 17 May 1943. L-R: Henry Maudslay, Jack Marriott, Robert Urquhart, Alden Cottam, John Fuller, William Tytherleigh, Norman Burrows. [Collage of pics: © Dambusters Blog]

The memorial to the Dams Raid crew skippered by Henry Maudslay will be unveiled on 17 May 2019, near where they were shot down in the early morning of 17 May 1943, seventy-six years ago. The event has been organised by local researcher Marcel Hahn.

On the Dams Raid, Henry Maudslay and his crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, had been spectators at the Möhne Dam when it was breached. The three Lancasters still with bombs on board were directed to go to the Eder dam. The attacking force quickly realised that the dam presented a much more difficult target. The lake is smaller and set in a deep valley, meaning that there is a much shorter approach which starts with a very tricky steep dive from over the Waldeck Castle. This is followed by a sharp turn to port. Given the geography, the Germans had obviously discounted the idea of an aerial attack, since there were no gun batteries in the vicinity.

David Shannon in AJ-L was the first to try an attack, and made three or four passes without releasing his mine. It was very difficult to get down to the right height after the dive, and then turn. Then Gibson told Maudslay to try, and he found it just as hard, so Shannon had another go. Two more dummy runs followed until, at last, he got the angle and speed right and dropped his mine. It bounced twice, hit the dam wall and exploded sending up a huge waterspout. At the later debriefing his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’ but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.

Maudslay had another attempt but then something went wrong. His mine was released too late, hit the parapet and exploded. Although his aircraft was beyond the dam by the time this occurred, it may have been damaged, since his later progress home was slower than would be expected. Some reports say that something was seen hanging down below the aircraft, perhaps caused by hitting trees on the run in.

Gibson saw that AJ-Z had fired a red Very light signal after passing over the dam wall and called Maudslay on the radio: ‘Henry – Henry. Z-Zebra – Z-Zebra. Are you OK?’ Nothing was heard, so he repeated the call. This time Maudslay’s voice could be heard, although the signal was faint: ‘I think so. Stand by …’ This signal – confirmed by members of Shannon’s and Knight’s crews – was the last voice contact anyone made with AJ-Z.

In fact they would stay airborne for a further fifty minutes. At 0157, some twenty minutes after they had dropped their mine, wireless operator Alden Cottam sent a ‘Goner 28B’ message back to base, which indicates that they were making progress. At about 0230, they had reached the Rhine. The turning point on the return route was supposed to be at the town of Rees, but Maudslay headed 20 miles north of this towards Emmerich, which was defended by several Heimat light flak anti-aircraft batteries, largely manned by non-military personnel. Some of the outbound force had in fact passed over the town a few hours earlier so the batteries were on alert for the opportunity to fire on any returning crews. When AJ-Z was heard approaching Emmerich it came within range of the batteries on the south and east edges. They fired on the aircraft, and although it turned to the right to try and avoid the flak, either an engine or a fuel tank was hit, as there was a burst of flame. The aircraft lost height and crashed in a field at 0236 close to the hamlet of Osterholt, between the German town of Klein Netterden and the Dutch town of ’s Heerenberg. The following morning, German officials recovered seven bodies from the wreckage. Two were identified as Alden Cottam and Jack Marriott, but the rest were recorded as unidentified. All seven were buried in the Northern Military Cemetery at Düsseldorf, and were reburied after the war in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Reichswald Forest.

Members of the Maudslay and Marriott families are expected to attend the unveiling of the memorial, which will take place at 1430 on Friday 17 May. Other families and distinguished guests will be confirmed nearer the time. Members of the public are welcome to attend. The location is shown in the map below. Refreshments will be served afterwards in the MU-Cafe, also shown on the map.

Marcel Hahn can be reached by email here and also on the event’s Facebook page.

Dambuster of the Day No. 44: Jack Marriott

Pic: Marriott family

Sgt J Marriott DFM
Flight engineer

Lancaster serial number: ED937/G
Call sign: AJ-Z

First wave. Second aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine overshot. Aircraft damaged, and shot down on return flight.

Jack Marriott was born on 19 January 1920 in the small village of New Smithy in the Derbyshire Peak District, and went to the local village school at Chinley. He was a factory worker in a local bleach works before the war. At its outbreak, he joined the RAF and worked as ground crew.

As soon as the opportunity arose for experienced mechanics to retrain as heavy bomber flight engineers Marriott volunteered and after training was posted to 50 Squadron at Skellingthorpe on 25 August 1942. There he quickly gained a good reputation and was seen as setting a very high standard. He had amassed twenty three operations in the crew of Flg Off Drew Wyness before joining Henry Maudslay’s crew on an operation to Hamburg on 4 March. They flew together on three further operations before they were posted to 617 Squadron on 25 March 1942.

When Marriott left 50 Squadron, his CO recommended him for a DFM citing his ‘efficiency and enthusiasm for operational flying and his determination in helping to hit the targets’ as meriting the award. Sadly, it was only confirmed in July 1943, after his death, but was reported in the local press.

Marriott is buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

More about Marriott online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Chinley School photo from the 1920s

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Further information about Jack Marriott 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.

Dams Raid peaks interest

DAM_7267 lores

BBMF Lancaster over the Derwent Dam, 16 May 2013 [Pic: Andy Chubb]

An interesting insight into why the recent Dambuster anniversary flyover at the Derwent Dam was a rather low key affair has appeared in this recent blog post written by Jim Dixon. He is the Chief Executive of Peak District National Park Authority and was therefore involved in the complicated discussions which took place between his authority, the two local councils, Severn Trent Water, the RAF, the police and everyone else who seemd to express an interest.
The RAF explained to him the significance of the events around this anniversary and that the main commemorative events would be in Lincolnshire. This was partly to accommodate considerable media interest but mainly because the last Dams Raid survivors were now too frail to travel extensively on the days around the celebration.

A plan was then put in place led by Severn Trent Water with support from Derbyshire Police, Derbyshire County and High Peak Borough Councils, Mountain Rescue and the National Park rangers. Contrary to some unworthy reports in the media, there was no attempt to stop the flyover and the plans to restrict access were only a sensible precaution to prevent mayhem and allow visitors safe access. At no time were the RAF’s plans restricted.

He was right to be cautious. Having arrived early himself on the day, he found that:

The first visitors to the valley had camped overnight and our rangers had been on site at 4.00 am when more people began to arrive. All car parks and lay-bys in the valley were full by 10.00 and there was a huge amount of traffic in the Bamford and A57 areas. Our careful and cautious approach had proved to be right.

Just before it arrived in the Derwent valley itself, the BBMF Lancaster had paid another important, very personal tribute nearby to two men who died on the night of the Dams Raid. It had flown over the Peak District town of Chapel en le Frith, whose war memorial commemorates two local men – Flt Lt Bill Astell, pilot of AJ-B, and Sgt Jack Marriott, flight engineer in Henry Maudslay’s AJ-Z.
There must be something in the High Peak air (or perhaps it’s that local Buxton water). It seems to encourage some very interesting local blog writers, who have written about these two local Dams Raid participants, and also taken many photographs.
As well as the local Chapel News, there is Cllr Anthony McKeown (who has an extensive Flickr portflio of pictures), writer Uphilldowndale (‘Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England’) and, most remarkably, self-confessed ex-southern softie Carah Boden who actually lives in Bill Astell’s old house. She writes:

I feel both extraordinarily privileged and very moved. It was to this house, in this quiet Derbyshire village, that he returned having been awarded his DFC for fortitude in Libya, to rest and recuperate prior to his involvement in the Dambusters’ Raid. It was a place he loved, as confirmed to me by his sister Betty in a brief correspondence we enjoyed before her own death a few years ago. She said how happy they had all been living here and that, indeed, the only sadness was that their beloved brother died in action while they still lived here.
Edmund Bradbury, member of the British Legion and long-term resident of Chapel-en-le-Frith, worked tirelessly to bring together today’s commemoration of Bill Astell who died just 53 days after Edmund was born. The sun shone on Chapel’s market place – site, too, of the War Memorial where William Astell’s name is etched in the stone like too many other fallen comrades of the First and Second World Wars. A message was read out from Her Majesty the Queen; flags were raised and lowered; a lone trumpet played The Last Post; a minute’s silence was held and its end marked by the Revalle; hymns were sung, prayers were said and readings given; wreaths were laid and the Chapel Male Voice Choir sang the famous Dambusters’ March. BBC and ITV news were both there filming and interviewing and military and local dignitaries were joined by a good crowd of invitees and passers by.

‘We are simply guardians of stone and mortar for a moment in time, before we too have to move on,’ she concludes. ‘But in the meantime it is a privilege to be able to inhabit this place which he, too, called home.’
How true, how true.