Dutch group seeking funds for memorial at AJ-S crash site

The crew of AJ-S. Left to right: Lewis Burpee (pilot), Guy Pegler (flight engineer), Thomas Jaye (navigator), Leonard Weller (wireless operator), James Arthur (bomb aimer), William Long (front gunner), Gordon Brady (rear gunner). 

At 0011 on 17 May 1943, the night of the Dams Raid, Plt Off Lewis Burpee and his crew left RAF Scampton at 0011, but never made it as far as the German border. While still over Holland, and approaching the gap between the heavily defended airfields at Gilze Rijen and Eindhoven, the aircraft strayed off course. It climbed slightly, probably in an effort to determine its exact position, but was then caught in searchlights and hit by flak. At 0200, it crashed on the edge of Gilze Rijen airfield, six miles south west of Tilburg. Its mine exploded on impact, demolishing a large number of buildings and doing damage estimated at 1.5 million guilders.

The demise of the Burpee crew was seen by both Stefan Oancia, bomb aimer in AJ-F, a minute or so behind, and Douglas Webb, still further back in the front turret of AJ-O. Their last minutes were also seen by a German witness, a Luftwaffe airman based at Gilze Rijen called Herbert Scholl, interviewed after the war by the author Helmuth Euler. He was of the opinion that AJ-S was in fact not hit by flak at all, but was dazzled by a searchlight beam hitting it horizontally. The pilot tried to fly even lower, and then hit some trees.

The next morning, Scholl went to the crash site and saw that it was a total wreck. Only the rear turret and tail unit were intact, and he saw rear gunner Gordon Brady’s body, which didn’t appear to have any sign of injury. He noticed that Brady was scantily dressed, wearing thin uniform trousers and lace up shoes with holes in the soles. (Helmuth Euler, The Dams Raid through the Lens, After the Battle, 2001, p.106.)

After the crash, only the bodies of Burpee, Brady and Weller were positively identified. The other four were buried in a communal grave. They were interred by the Germans at Zuylen Cemetery, Prinsenhage. After the war, all seven bodies were transferred to the War Cemetery at Bergen-op-Zoom.

For many years, the crash site has been barred to the public, as Gilze Rijen airfield is still in active use by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. However, a local group, headed by local campaigner Sander van der Hall, has now secured permission to build a memorial, and are seeking crowd-funding to help with the project.

The memorial will be unveiled on 4 May, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, PA474, will perform a flypast.

Please help the campaign group by making a donation at its crowd-funding page. (Please note that the organisers are changing the picture on this page, which shows another crew!) Further information on this page (mainly in Dutch).

Dambuster of the Day No. 109: Leonard Weller


Leonard Weller, left, photographed with Lewis Burpee, probably in February/March 1943. [Pic: Burpee family]

Plt Off L G Weller
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED865/G

Call sign: AJ-S

Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Leonard George Weller was born on 1 September 1915 in Edmonton, north London, the son of Arthur and Marian Weller. He worked as a toolmaker before the war, and was married with an infant daughter by the time he joined the RAF in 1940.

After training as a wireless operator/air gunner, he was eventually posted to 106 Squadron in early 1943. At 0040 in the early morning of 14 February his predecessor as wireless operator in Lewis Burpee’s crew, Flt Sgt Eddie Leavesley DFM, completed his second tour of operations, after a six hour trip to Lorient. Then, at 1830 the same day, the crew set off again on a ten hour operation over the Alps to Milan, with a new wireless operator on board, Len Weller. (Eddie Leavesley would survive the war, and earned a rare bar to his DFM for his second tour.)

This was the middle of a very busy period for Lew Burpee, his crew and 106 Squadron in general. A further ten operations would follow in the next four weeks, and Weller flew on them all. By the time the crew were transferred to 617 Squadron, he had been commissioned, so he now outranked his skipper.

More training followed, and early in the morning of Monday 17 May, Weller was in the crew of AJ-S as it set off on the Dams Raid. AJ-S was shot down at 0200, so the messages which Weller should have received at 0232 and 0233 went unanswered.

The body of Len Weller was one of the three which were positively identified by the Germans before it was buried in Zuylen Cemetery, Prinsenhage. Lewis Burpee and Gordon Brady were buried alongside, while the other four shared a communal grave. After the war the bodies of all seven were exhumed and reburied in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery.

More about Weller online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Aircrew Remembered page about Burpee crew
Report on Biggleswade Today website

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

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 Len Weller 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.