Lewis Burpee’s childhood home

Pic: Dave O’Malley

The Canadian writer Dave O’Malley lives in the Glebe area of the country’s capital city, Ottawa. Nearby is the fine house in which Lewis Burpee, who skippered AJ-S on the Dams Raid, was brought up. Last year, O’Malley wrote this interesting article about Burpee and his family, and took the photograph above. O’Malley writes:

I paid a short walk-by visit to the former home of another young man from the Glebe whose life held great promise before the war took everything from him and his family. The young man’s family has long since moved away, but the memory of their loss will forever dwell in this house, recognized or not. The house is on a wide shady avenue in the most well-to-do area of the Glebe. The family was one of means. The young man’s life was one of privilege and opportunity. His name was Lewis Johnstone Burpee.

When details of the raid became public, the local newspaper carried the story on its front page. And, by tragic coincidence, in the same edition there was a further mention of the Ottawa man:

The Ottawa Evening Journal carried a front page story about the raids. In a tragic coincidence, it also carried a story about Burpee’s award of a DFM and his marriage to an English girl. The piece on Burpee began with “The Air Ministry in London today announced the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal to Pilot Officer Lewis J. Burpee, 25, son of Lewis A. Burpee, general manager and vice-president of Charles Ogilvy Limited, and Mrs. Burpee, 111 Powell. “That’s certainly good news” said Mr. Burpee when informed of his son’s decoration by the Journal.” For a day or so, the Burpee family felt comforted with the knowledge that Lewis was safe in England, happily married and highly experienced. Given the secrecy of the raid, it is doubtful that they had any idea their son was part of the historic event. That would change the next day.

In September 1942, Lewis Burpee had married Lilian Westwood, and at the time of the Dams Raid she was pregnant with their child. When Lewis was killed Mrs Burpee was given permission to travel to Canada to meet her in-laws for the first time, and to have her baby in Canada. Their son, Lewis Johnstone Burpee Jr was born in Ottawa on Christmas Eve 1943.

In May 2018, 75 years after his father was killed, Lewis Burpee Jr made his first ever visit to the site at which AJ-S crashed, shortly after being hit by flak. It is on the edge of Gilze Rijen airfield in the Netherlands, and a new memorial was unveiled there to honour Plt Off Burpee and his crew.

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Remembrance Day tribute to Lewis Burpee at old school

Lewis Burpee Jr lays a wreath at a Remembrance Day ceremony at his father’s old school, Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa, on 9 November. 

[Pic: Aviator Rachael Allen]

Dams Raid pilot Lewis Johnstone Burpee was born in Ottawa on 5 March 1918. He graduated from Lisgar Collegiate Institute in 1937 and went on to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940 and after completing pilot training was posted to 106 Squadron, then under the command of Wg Cdr Guy Gibson. He completed some 30 operations in the squadron, was awarded the DFM and received a commission. In March 1943 Gibson set up the new 617 Squadron to undertake the Dams Raid and Burpee and his crew came over to RAF Scampton to join him. He was the only one of the three pilots who had served under Gibson in 106 Squadron to bring his full crew with him.

Burpee and his crew never returned from the mission on the night of 16-17 May 1943. They were shot down over Holland en route to the dams, and all crew members aboard their Lancaster bomber perished.

For several years, Robert Tang, a maths teacher at Lisgar with a strong interest in history, has been using the mathematics underpinning the innovative “bouncing bomb” that was developed by engineer Barnes Wallis to destroy the dams, saying that applying mathematics—especially trigonometry and algebra—to a real situation brings the subject to life for his students. The students even take a field trip to the nearby Canada Aviation and Space Museum, where they carry out experiments, fly a simulator and see a Lancaster bomber.

However, it wasn’t until earlier this year that Mr Tang discovered that Lewis Burpee had been a pupil at his school. He then found that Burpee’s son, also called Lewis Burpee, still lived in the city and made contact with him.

In another moment of serendipity Drew Fraser-Leach, this year’s co-president of the Lisgar Student Council, was in Mr Tang’s class last year. He knew his grandfather had been a Lisgar student at the time, so he went home and found his grandfather’s 1937 yearbook. “He flipped through it and found Plt Off Burpee’s signature,” explained Mr Tang. “That was a sign that we really had to make this our focus for the Remembrance Day ceremony.”

Lewis Burpee’s signature in a copy of Lisgar’s 1937 yearbook. [Pic: Aviator Rachael Allen]

The guests at the Lisgar Collegiate Institute also included Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, commander-in-chief of the Royal Canadian Air Force. “We are grateful for the sacrifices of people like Lewis Burpee, and we share the sorrow of their families and loved ones,” Lt Gen Meinzinger said in his speech during the ceremony. “I am also grateful that you, the students and staff of Lisgar Collegiate Institute, for showing our fallen—and in particular Plt Off Burpee—the same respect.”

“Plt Off Burpee, who fought and sacrificed his life for all of us, is just one example of the many brave soldiers who have fought for our peace and freedom,” said Emily He, a student and editor of Lisgar’s yearbook. “We must remember that it was their sacrifices that have led our country to where it is today, and most of all, we must remember that the freedom that all of us enjoy came at an extremely high cost.”


Second from left, Lieutenant-General Alexander Meinzinger, Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and third from left Lewis Burpee Jr, with cadets and RCAF personnel at the Remembrance Day ceremony held at Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa, Ontario on 9 November 2018. [

Pic: Aviator Rachael Allen]

“I would like to thank everyone who was involved in this today – not only Mr Tang but the whole Lisgar team,” said Mr Burpee. “I never knew my Dad; I was born after he died. For decades he was kind of a shadowy figure in my past.” This year’s series of commemorations to mark the raid’s 75th anniversary had allowed him to reconnect better, he added.

“It’s worth pointing out that for all the names on the plaques [in Lisgar’s Memorial Hall], for every airman, every soldier who didn’t come back, they are equally worthy of remembrance.”

Lieutenant-General Alexander Meinzinger, Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Mr Robert Tang. [Pic: Aviator Rachael Allen]

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.

Burpee and Arthur families at AJ-S memorial unveiling

Lewis Burpee Jr unveiling the memorial to the crew of AJ-S, killed on the Dams Raid, on 17 May 1943. 

A memorial to the Dams Raid crew piloted by the Canadian Lewis Burpee was unveiled on Friday near the site where they crashed at Gilze Rijen airfield in the Netherlands. It was attended by a number of local dignitaries and representatives of the RAF, as well as members of the families of Lewis Burpee himself and of his bomb aimer, James Arthur. The BBMF Lancaster PA474 flew over the memorial before landing at the airfield as part of its goodwill tour of the Netherlands.

Burpee was a Canadian, born in Ottawa on 5 March 1918. He had two other Canadians in his crew, rear gunner Gordon Brady from Ponoka, Alberta, and bomb aimer James Arthur from Toronto. Arthur had only joined Burpee’s crew in his previous squadron in March 1943, and had flown on just one operation with his skipper. He was one of the four children of the Rev Alfred and Dora Arthur. His father was an Anglican priest, with a parish in the Toronto suburbs.

The memorial is made up of a large piece of crankshaft from one of the crashed Lancaster’s engines. It has seven pistons, once for each of the AJ-S crew, and is faced with an engraved plaque. It was unveiled on Friday by Burpee’s son, also called Lewis Burpee, who was born on Christmas Eve 1943, seven months after his father’s death.

After the unveiling this group gathered near PA474, seen in the background. Above, left to right: Sander van der Hall, organiser of the memorial appeal; Maureen Burpee; Lewis Burpee Jr; Rev Dom Luke Bell, nephew of James Arthur; Sqn Ldr Andy Millikin, OC BBMF; Air Cdre Chris Lorraine, retired RAF officer; Jonathan Bell and Julian Bell, nephews of James Arthur.

More details on the memorial’s Facebook page.

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).

The boys who bombed Berlin: Shannon and Burpee together in Express

express-spread-lores

Pic: Chamberlain family

I wrote last year about the selection of David Shannon’s Dams Raid crew, and how four men who had previously flown with him in 106 Squadron were transferred to 617 Squadron at the end of March 1943. These were flight engineer Cyril Chamberlain (known as Joe to his friends and family), wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, and air gunners Douglas McCulloch and Bernard Holmes. In the event, none of them ended up in Shannon’s crew and by the end of April 1943, they had been assigned to other duties.
Cyril Chamberlain’s family have now contacted me and sent me pages from his logbook and some other interesting material. Included was the press cutting seen above, from the Daily Express of 19 January 1943. Bomber Command had mounted two raids against Berlin on 16 Januaryand again on 17 January – the first two attacks on the German capital for 14 months. Part of the force on both nights had come from 106 Squadron, and two of its crews were singled out for mention in the press. By coincidence, both pilots and some of their crews would take part in the Dams Raid four months later.
David Shannon was one of the 12 106 Squadron pilots who captained crews on the first trip, on 16 January, and his crew was later photographed. The press cutting shwn above was annotated by Chamberlain some time after the war. On the left hand side of the cutting you can see the men he identified: bomb aimer Wallace Herbert, flight engineer Joe Chamberlain, wireless operator Arnold Pemberton, skipper David Shannon, mid upper gunner Mac Maccoulh [sic – should be McCulloch], rear gunner Dave Lilley, navigator Dave Whalley [sic – should be Frank Whalley].
I have not seen this picture before, so it is helpful to have so many of Shannon’s then crew identified. However, there is a mystery about the man named as the rear gunner, Dave Lilley. The rear gunner on Shannon’s 16 January 1943 trip to Berlin is identified in the squadron operations record book as Bernard Holmes, and this is confirmed by Holmes’s own logbook, which is in the possession of his son, Robert. Robert also says that the man in the picture is not his father. Furthermore, there is no trace of anyone called Lilley in the squadron operations record book at that time.
A possible explanation is that the photograph would not seem to have been taken immediately after the raid but on the following day, as the men are wearing battledress tunics rather than flying jackets or suits. So Holmes might not have been present when the call came for the crew to reassemble, and another man from another crew was called in to make up the seven. His name, however, is unlikely to have been David Lilley.
This theory is supported by the fact that the crew on the right hand side of the cutting would appear to have been photographed while still in their flying kit.
This is the crew captained by the then Flt Sgt Lewis Burpee. Burpee flew as one of the nine 106 Squadron crews on the second sortie, on 17 January. Of the crew Chamberlain names only the pilot ‘P/O Burpee’ and the flight engineer ‘John Peglar’. These men have all been identified by Lewis Burpee himself on a print which is in the possession of his family. (See this post from June 2015.) They are, left to right: Gordon Brady (rear gunner), William (‘Ginger’) Long (mid upper gunner), Guy (‘Johnny’) Pegler (flight engineer), Lewis Burpee (pilot), Edward Leavesley (wireless operator), and George Goodings (bomb aimer). Leavesley and Goodings both left the Burpee crew before it moved to 617 Squadron.
There are only six men in this shot, which does not include Burpee’s navigator on the day. In fact, this was the squadron navigation leader, Flt Lt Norman Scrivener.
Thanks to the Chamberlain family for pictures.

Dambuster of the Day No. 106: Lewis Burpee

Burpee sqd106 smalPhoto of Lewis Burpee and his crew in 106 Squadron, taken on 18 January 1943, after a trip to Berlin. Left to right: Gordon Brady (Rear Gunner), Bill Long (Mid Upper Gunner), Guy Pegler (Flight Engineer), Lewis Burpee (Pilot), Edward Leavesley (Wireless Operator), George Goodings (Bomb Aimer). (Pic: Burpee family)

Plt Off L J Burpee DFM
Pilot

Lancaster serial number: ED865/G

Call sign: AJ-S

Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Lewis Johnstone Burpee was born on 5 March 1918 in Ottawa, one of the three children of Lewis Arthur and Lilian Agnes Burpee. His father was the manager of Charles Ogilvy, a large department store in the city. He went to Elgin Street Public School and Lisgar Collegiate School in Ottawa, and then on to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where he got a degree in English, History and Politics. He was also a member of the college’s Officer Training Corps. When war came, he joined the RCAF, enlisting in December 1940.
Burpee qualified as a pilot in September 1941 and embarked for the UK shortly afterwards. It took about a year for him to start operations, since after training on Wellingtons, he was then sent for heavy bomber training. While training he crewed up first with fellow Canadian, air gunner Gordon Brady, and then with flight engineer, Guy Pegler. The three were finally posted to 106 Squadron in October 1942. Air gunner William Long joined his crew in December 1942. These four would fly together throughout their time in 106 Squadron and then transfer to 617 Squadron. The CO of 106 Squadron at this time was of course Guy Gibson.
After three trips as a “second dickey” Burpee undertook his first trip as a captain on 7 November 1942 on a mission to bomb Genoa. This was abandoned, but his first successful operation was later that month. He went on to complete some 25 further operations and was recommended for the DFM. The citation stated:

He has consistently displayed the greatest determination in the execution of whatever tasks were allotted him. Berlin, Nuremburg, Stuttgart, Genoa and Turin are some of the many objectives he has attacked with satisfactory results and in recent weeks he has taken part in the highly successful raids on Lorient (aiming point photograph), St Nazaire and both of the Essen attacks. He also flew on the daylight attack against Milan in October 1942. Flight Sergeant Burpee has shown coolness and courage throughout his operational tour and has performed his duties conscientiously and efficiently.

Gibson obviously knew Burpee as a pilot from his old squadron and rated his abilities positively. He was happy to have him in 617 Squadron as one of the three pilots from his previous assignment. Burpee was in fact the only one of the three who transferred directly – by the end of March 1943, both David Shannon and John Hopgood had already been posted out to other duties. However much Gibson rated Burpee as a pilot, a few weeks previously he had thought that he wasn’t yet ready for a commission, writing on his application: “This Canadian is an excellent type of N.C.O. but should be given more experience of service life before being given a commission.” But Gibson was then overruled by his station commander, Gp Capt E L Bussell, who wrote that Burpee was “Possessed of the attributes of an officer… Strongly recommended for commissioning.” (National Archives of Canada). The commission duly came through shortly after he joined 617 Squadron, and was backdated to the beginning of March.
Burpee had other things besides flying on his mind, since he had got married in September 1942 and his wife was now expecting their first child. In Enemy Coast Ahead, Gibson wrote that he had spoken to Burpee on his arrival in 617 Squadron: “He had just married a young English girl and was busy trying to find her a house not too far away. He was telling me that he had found it a very difficult job.” (p.241).
After six weeks training, Burpee and his crew were assigned a place in Operation Chastise’s final wave of five crews, the mobile reserve. They were due to be assigned a target when the outcome of the first two rounds of attacks was known. Before they left the ground, however, Burpee went over to his fellow Canadian, Ken Brown, piloting AJ-F and due to take off a minute after him. “Goodbye, Ken,” was all he said, Brown later recalled. (Account at Bomber Command Museum of Canada website.)
AJ-S left the ground at 0011 on the morning of Monday 17 May, and 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, AJ-S 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. 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 Stefan Oancia, bomb aimer in AJ-F, and Douglas Webb, a minute or so further back in AJ-O’s front turret. Its last minutes were also seen by a German witness, a Luftwaffe airman based at Gilze Rijen called Herbert Scholl, interviewed by Helmuth Euler. He was of the opinion that AJ-F 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 first interred by the Germans at Zuylen Cemetery, Prinsenhage, but after the war all seven bodies were exhumed and reburied in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery.
Lewis Burpee was one of the three aircrew who flew on the raid knowing that their wives were pregnant. David Maltby and Richard Trevor Roper would live to see their children being born. Sadly, Burpee would not. After her husband died, Mrs Lillian Burpee travelled across the Atlantic in order to move in with her in-laws, and have her baby in Canada. Their son, also called Lewis Johnstone Burpee, was born on Christmas Eve 1943.

More about Burpee online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Aircrew Remembered page about Burpee crew
Entry at Canadian Virtual War Memorial (includes picture gallery)

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources:
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.