AJ-K crew to get new Dutch memorial

The crew of AJ-K, shot down on the Dams Raid. L-R: Vernon Byers, Alastair Taylor, James Warner, John Wilkinson, Neville Whitaker, Charles Jarvie, James McDowell. 

Vernon Byers and his crew took off on the Dams Raid from Scampton in AJ-K at 2130 on 16 May 1943, as part of the second wave tasked with attacking the Sorpe Dam. Everything seems to have gone smoothly at first but then, as the official record says, nothing more was heard from him. However, crew members in both Les Munro’s aircraft, a minute ahead of Byers, and in Geoff Rice’s, a minute behind, appear to have witnessed Byers’s last moments. Munro’s bomb aimer Jimmy Clay saw an aircraft on his starboard side, heading towards Texel island, rather than Vlieland, the prescribed route. Rice’s crew saw an aircraft shot down by flak at 300ft ‘off Texel’ at 2257. A post-war Dutch report also stated that an aircraft was seen climbing to about 450ft, having crossed the island.

Despite the fact that he was off course, and had crossed Texel which had more anti-aircraft defences than its neighbour Vlieland, it seems that Byers was very unlucky. The German guns could not depress low enough in order to hit an approaching aircraft flying at just 100ft but because AJ-K had risen a little in height it must have been a speculative shot from behind which hit it and sent it down into the Waddenzee, 18 miles west of Harlingen. Two German units stationed on Texel were credited with the kill. This point is disputed by author Andreas Wachtel, who thinks that it was more likely that 3/Marine Flak 246 unit on the western end of Vlieland was responsible.

Byers and his crew were thus the first to be lost on the Dams Raid and died before midnight on 16 May 1943. Six bodies have never been found, but that of rear gunner Flt Sgt James McDowell must have been detached from the wreckage some time later as on 22 June 1943 it was found floating in the Waddenzee, in the Vliestrom channel, south of Terschelling near buoy No 2. He was buried the next day in Harlingen General Cemetery. McDowell’s six comrades are all listed on the Runnymede Memorial. They are the only ones of the 53 men lost on the Dams Raid who do not have their own graves and, because AJ-K went down over the sea, there is no land-based plaque to commemorate them.

The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation would like to rectify this by unveiling a memorial plaque in Harlingen General Cemetery on 23 June 2020. This will be placed near the grave of James McDowell and unveiled on the 77th anniversary of his funeral, as a tribute to all seven crew members of Avro Lancaster AJ-K. It will be a stone with bronze plaque, similar to the AJ-A memorial in nearby Castricum-aan-Zee, which was also erected by the Foundation . For more information about the AJ-A memorial visit the Foundation website.

The goal is to raise €6,000, to include the memorial stone, a bronze plaque, a bronze 617 Squadron badge, placement of the memorial, foundation and stones around the memorial.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to make it easy for readers to support this very worthwhile cause. This can be found here.

Pic: 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation

James McDowell: new photographs

Top: James McDowell, dressed in flying suit. Bottom: course members. McDowell is on the far left of the row sitting on chairs. Raymond Robinson is 2nd from left in the row behind him, wearing a lopsided hat.
Photographs: Mark Robinson. [Son of Raymond E. Robinson, 460 Squadron, RAAF]

Mark Robinson has kindly sent me some unpublished pictures of Sgt James McDowell, the rear gunner in Vernon Byers’s Lancaster, AJ-K, on the Dams Raid. His father Raymond, an Australian, served as an air gunner in 460 Squadron, but previously was on the same air gunnery course as McDowell in April 1942. This was Air Gunners Course No. 30 held at the No. 5 Bombing and Gunnery School in Dafoe, Saskatchewan, Canada.

James McDowell was born in Glasgow on 13 August 1910, the son of John and Agnes McDowell. His father was killed in the First World War, so in 1924 his mother, grandmother and the five McDowell children emigrated to Canada, and took up residence in Port Arthur, Ontario.

McDowell worked first for the Coca Cola company in Port Arthur. He married Dorothea Edna Craig in 1932, and they had two daughters, Darleen and Marilyn. They then moved north of Port Arthur where he found work as a gold miner, ending up at the MacLeod Cockshutt mine in Geraldton between 1935 and 1941.

Jimmy McDowell joined the RCAF in 1941. After training as an air gunner in Saskatchewan, he was sent to England. He crewed up with fellow Canadian Vernon Byers, before they were posted to 467 Squadron in February 1943. The crew had only undertaken three operations before transferring to 617 Squadron on 24 March.

On the Dams Raid, they had just flown over Texel island on the way to the Sorpe Dam when a shot from behind brought down their aircraft, and it crashed into the Waddenzee, 18 miles west of Harlingen. The wreckage has never been located but James McDowell’s body was eventually released by the elements from its rear turret and was found floating in the Vliestrom channel south of Terschelling near buoy No. 2 on 22 June 1943. He was buried the next day in Harlingen General Cemetery, and remains there today. His comrades are all commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

More Canadian Dambusters families meet in Ontario

Left to right: Jim MacLean (MacLean family), Hartley Garshowitz (Garshowitz family), Cathie Somers (Glinz family), Milton Lewis (Garshowitz family), Bernie Wyatt (Oancia family), Marilyn McDowell (McDowell family), Paul Morley (Garbas family). [Pic: Hartley Garshowitz]

More Canadian Dambuster families gathered together in Ontario at the weekend, for a second event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dams Raid. This took place at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario, which is the home of Canada’s only flying Lancaster aircraft. Six families were represented, including those of Harvey Glinz, Stefan Oancia and Frank Garbas, who weren’t able to get to the gathering two weeks ago in Nanton, Alberta.

The picture above shows the attendees in front of the Lancaster, which is now carrying the code letters AJ-B, the same as that used on the Dams Raid by the crew captained by Flt Lt Bill Astell. This included two men from Hamilton, Ontario – Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas.

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. 84: James McDowell

p_dr_mcdowell

Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada

Flt Sgt James McDowell
Rear gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED934/G

Call sign: AJ-K

Second wave. Shot down on outward flight and crashed into sea.

James McDowell was the third Scottish-born member of the crew of AJ-K. He was born in Glasgow on 13 August 1910, the son of John and Agnes McDowell. His father was killed in the First World War, so in 1924 his mother, grandmother and the five McDowell children emigrated to Canada, and took up residence in Port Arthur, Ontario.

McDowell worked first for the Coca Cola company in Port Arthur and was also involved in a local pipe band. He married Dorothea Edna Craig in 1932, and they had two daughters, Darleen and Marilyn. They then moved north of Port Arthur where he found work as a gold miner, ending up at the MacLeod Cockshutt mine in Geraldton between 1935 and 1941.

Jimmy McDowell joined the RCAF in 1941 and moved back to Port Arthur. After training as an air gunner, he was sent to England and underwent further training before being crewing up with fellow Canadian Vernon Byers, and being posted to 467 Squadron in February 1943.

The crew’s first operation together was “Gardening” in the Silverthorne area on 9 March, and they would undertake just two further operations before transferring to 617 Squadron on 24 March.

When the crew was given some leave in early May 1943, McDowell and Byers, the two Canadians, travelled to Antrobus in Cheshire, to spend it with the family of their crewmate John Wilkinson. They were all there for Wilkinson’s 21st birthday on 2 May.

Two weeks later, they had just flown over Texel island on the way to the Sorpe Dam when a shot from behind brought down their aircraft, and it crashed into the Waddenzee, 18 miles west of Harlingen. The wreckage has never been located but James McDowell’s body was eventually released by the elements from its rear turret and on 22 June 1943 it was found floating in the Vliestrom channel south of Terschelling, near buoy No. 2. He was buried the next day in Harlingen General Cemetery, and remains there today. His comrades are all commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

[Thanks to Darleen and Mike Taylor for their help with this article.]

More about McDowell online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Byers crew on Aircrew Remembered website

KIA 16.05.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High 2013

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.

Further information about James McDowell 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.