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


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

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.
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.

Unseen Burpee letters released

Censored letter to Burpee page 01

Censored letter to Burpee page 02

Almost 70 years after the Dams Raid, the Burpee family in Canada have now put some of their correspondence into the public domain. The first of these was sent to Lewis Burpee’s parents by his wife Lillian on 13 February 1943, while Lewis and his crew were still serving in 106 Squadron. Lillian, who was pregnant, was living in Newark while Lewis was serving at RAF Syerston. Note the chunks cut out by the censor!

On the Dams Raid, Burpee and his crew were part of the mobile reserve, five aircraft which left Scampton after midnight, They were to be given instructions as to which dam to attack when the results from the first and second waves had been assessed. In fact, he was shot down less than 2 hours after his take off and crashed on the edge of the heavily protected airfield at Gilze-Rijen in Holland.

Gibson Letter
This letter from Guy Gibson was sent to Mrs Burpee on 20 May 1943. It follows the standard format for letters of this kind, offering the chance that he had been captured, but pointing out that it was seen to crash, which led them to fear the worst.

Chaplain letter to Burpee parents

This is followed by a letter to Burpee’s parents from an RCAF Chaplain. He refers to Lillian wanting to get posted back to Canada before her baby was born.

RCAF Min of Estate Letter Burpee

The final letter, sent in July, from the RCAF concerns Lewis’s “personal effects” and asks whether Lillian wants them forwarded directly to Canada, as by then it seems her trip back had been finalised.

New picture of Lewis Burpee and three other Dambusters

Burpee sqd106 smal

Joel Joy continues to unearth interesting new material about the Canadian Dambusters. He has recently got permission from the family of Plt Off Lewis Burpee to publish this picture of his crew, taken while he was on 106 Squadron.
Alex Bateman has kindly identified all the personnel present:

Left to right:
Sgt Joe Brady (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Bill Long (Mid Upper Gunner)
Sgt Guy Pegler (Flight Engineer)
Flt Sgt Lew Burpee (Pilot)
Flt Sgt Eddy Leavesley (Wireless Op)
Sgt George Goodings (Bomb Aimer)

The photo was taken on 106 Squadron at Syerston, on 18 January 1943 after a night trip to Berlin.  The Lancaster is W4842 ‘ZN–H’.

Brady, Long, Pegler and Burpee went on to 617 Squadron in March 1943, and were four of the crew of AJ-S on the Dams Raid. They were all killed when they were shot down near Gilze Rijen in Holland, and are buried together in Bergen Op Zoom war cemetery. There are full details of Burpee’s 26 previous operations on the Air Force Association of Canada website. (In alphabetical order, scroll down to Burpee.)