Wickhambreaux tribute, Monday 14 September

All members of the public are welcome to join members of the East Kent RAF Aircrew Association and the Maltby family at David Maltby’s grave in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent, at 11.30am on Monday 14 September 2009.
This annual event, commemorating the lives of all of David’s crew, takes place on the anniversary of their last operational flight. Weather permitting, local flyers led by David Maltby’s nephew George Foster will be conducting a flypast and poppy drop.

All members of the public are welcome to join members of the East Kent RAF Aircrew Association and the Maltby family at David Maltby’s grave in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent, at 11.30am on Monday 14 September 2009.

This annual event, commemorating the lives of all of David’s crew, takes place on the anniversary of their last flight. Weather permitting, local flyers led by David Maltby’s nephew George Foster, will be conducting a flypast and poppy drop.

The crew who flew on that last flight, in Lancaster JA981, was the same as that which had flown on the Dams Raid, almost exactly four months previously:

Sqn Ldr David Maltby DSO DFC (pilot) Baldslow, Sussex
Flt Sgt Vivian Nicholson DFM (navigator) Sherburn, Co Durham
Plt Off John Fort DFC (bomb aimer) Colne, Lancashire
Flt Sgt Antony Stone (wireless operator) Winchester, Hampshire
Sgt William Hatton (flight engineer) Wakefield, Yorkshire
Flt Sgt Victor Hill (front gunner) Berkeley, Gloucestershire
Sgt Harold Simmonds (rear gunner) Burgess Hill, Sussex

Warrant Officer John Welch (mid upper gunner) Chesham, Buckinghamshire, seconded from 218 Squadron, flew as an extra gunner.

DSCN2217(Picture shows the Aircrew Association’s 2007 tribute.)

Lancaster flyover at Upwaltham memorial for 617 Squadron crew

Splendid picture from the unveiling of the memorial in Sussex for Dambuster John Pulford and the rest of his 617 Squadron crew, killed on their return from an operation in February 1944. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster made three circuits of the church. Thanks to Dione Venables for sending the picture. Picture used by permission, © Jamie Hunter.

Upwaltham Lancaster.close

Dambuster John Pulford’s crash site remembered

Guy Gibson’s relationship with the crew who flew with him on the Dams Raid is one of the interesting sub-plots of the whole Dambusters story. In contrast to the scene in the 1955 film where his old crew discuss his posting to a new squadron on his own and then unanimously decide to go with him, only one, wireless operator Robert Hutchison, had actually flown with Gibson in 106 Squadron. Hutchison is thought to have recommended navigator Harlo Taerum, who in turn recommended bomb aimer Fred (Spam) Spafford. Both of these had been in 50 Squadron, as had rear gunner Richard Trevor-Roper. These four were all officers, which meant that Gibson would see something of them socially at Scampton, but the final pair, front gunner George Deering and flight engineer John Pulford were both NCOs.
This may be why Gibson had a rather low opinion of both. In his biography of Gibson, Richard Morris writes how in the first draft of Enemy Coast Ahead he described Deering as:

‘pretty dumb’ (tactfully changed to ‘pretty green’ in the published version) ‘and not too good at his guns and it was a bit of a risk taking him’. This was rubbish, as Deering had flown thirty-five operations.

Morris goes on to cite Gibson’s opinion of Pulford, who he described as a ‘sincere and plodding’ Londoner:

Gibson had a low opinion of Pulford, thinking him dull and incapable of independent thought. This may say more about Gibson than Pulford, for Gibson never listened to him long enough to notice that he came from Yorkshire rather than London. In the cockpit of Gibson’s Lancaster there was a distinct air of master and servant. In the fuselage as a whole his crew represented Britain’s class structure in microcosm and the pattern of the Empire beyond. (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin, 1995, p.152.)

Whatever their relationship, the crew were not together for very long, flying just the one operation as a complete crew, the Dams Raid itself. Hutchison, Taerum, Spafford and Deering transferred to George Holden’s crew when he took over command of 617 Squadron, and died with him on the Dortmund Ems Raid on 16 September 1943.

None of the other three survived the war. Trevor-Roper and Gibson died later in 1944, both on operations with other squadrons, but Pulford was still in 617 Squadron when he flew on the operation to bomb the Antheor viaduct in southern France in February 1944. His pilot, Bill Suggitt, landed the aircraft successfully at Ford in Sussex, which they had used as a staging post, but in the short hop home from Ford to Woodhall Spa, they crashed into a hill on the Sussex Downs, near the village of Upwaltham.

For some years local people have been collecting for a proper memorial to Suggitt’s crew, and it was unveiled on 22 August:

Today, 65 years on, the crew of DV382 KC J-Jug will be honoured in a tiny parish church just below the crash site at Upwaltham, West Sussex, after the hamlet of 25 inhabitants raised £10,500 for a memorial.
Relatives of the British, Canadian and Australian victims will attend, along with air attaches from all three nations and 617 Squadron’s current commanding officer.
The white Italian stone ‘Four Nations Memorial’ also remembers seven Americans whose Dakota aircraft crashed across the valley a year later in February 1945.
A Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will complete three circuits overhead at the ceremony, which will also be attended by relatives of the farm workers who were honoured by King George VI for braving flames and exploding ammunition to try to rescue the Lancaster crew.

Today, 65 years on, the crew of DV382 KC J-Jug will be honoured in a tiny parish church just below the crash site at Upwaltham, West Sussex, after the hamlet of 25 inhabitants raised £10,500 for a memorial.
Relatives of the British, Canadian and Australian victims will attend, along with air attaches from all three nations and 617 Squadron’s current commanding officer.
The white Italian stone ‘Four Nations Memorial’ also remembers seven Americans whose Dakota aircraft crashed across the valley a year later in February 1945.
A Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will complete three circuits overhead at the ceremony, which will also be attended by relatives of the farm workers who were honoured by King George VI for braving flames and exploding ammunition to try to rescue the Lancaster crew.

There is a nice tribute page to the crew on the Roll of Honour website. John Pulford’s body was recovered and he was buried in Hull.

David and Ann Shannon’s headstones

Although David Shannon was an Australian, he stayed on in England after the war, joining Shell as an executive. He spent some time in both Colombia and Kenya before returning to the UK. He died on 8 April 1993, shortly before the planned 50th anniversary reunion of those who took part in the Dams Raid.
Shannon’s romance with Ann Fowler, a WAAF officer serving with 617 Squadron, and their subsequent marriage is a recurring theme in Paul Brickhill’s book, The Dam Busters. Ann Shannon died a couple of years before her husband and they are both commemorated with stones in the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels in Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire. The size of the stones would indicate that they were both probably cremated.
Shannon’s obituary in The Times can be read here.
Pictures kindly sent to me by reader Paul Hilton.

Clifton-hampden-Shannon1clifton-hampden-shannon2

On this day…

On this day 66 years ago nineteen Lancasters of 617 Squadron took off from a grass aerodrome in Lincolnshire on an operation which would change the lives of everyone who took part. Fifty-three of the aircrew died that night, and the destruction of the Möhne and Eder Dams led to the loss of 1341 other lives, many of them civilians or forced labourers. 
In contrast to last year, when various flypasts and other events marked the 65th anniversary, there will be no official ceremonies marking today’s date.
Let’s just remember all those who died that night, and the millions more who died during the Second World War, and hope that we never see destruction on this scale again.
In commemoration of those who died, here are some pictures of the plaques marking the crash site of the aircraft AJ-M, piloted by Flt Lt John Hopgood. His efforts to keep his plane aloft let three of his crew bale out. Two, John Fraser and Anthony Burcher survived. Those who died at the site were Charles Brennan, Kenneth Earnshaw, John Minchin, George Gregory and Hopgood himself. The site is about 6km from the Möhne Dam.
The pictures were taken last month by a reader of this blog, Steve Gough, who has kindly let me use them.

mohne2
mohne1 mohne3

Local hero

 

 

97-sqn-crew-21-lo-res1

Photo: Kevin Lancey

This story has only a tangential connection to 617 Squadron, as it concerns an RAF Wireless Operator/Air Gunner who died some nine months before the Squadron was even formed. The picture above, probably taken in January 1942, shows a crew in 97 Squadron at about the time they were about to fly their first operation as a newly formed unit. Most of them were newly qualified as aircrew but the pilot, Plt Off David Maltby, third from the right in the greatcoat, and next to him, second from the right, wireless operator Sgt Eric Grimwood had already flown four operations together in November/December 1941 when David Maltby was still flying as a 2nd pilot. 
The others are, on the left, left to right, Sgt Max Smith (navigator), Sgt Lyle Humphrey (gunner) and Sgt Harold Rouse (bomb aimer). On the far right is Sgt Harvey Legace (gunner) and crouching in the hatch is Sgt George Lancey (2nd pilot).
The aircraft they are standing beside is an Avro Manchester, but these were soon to be phased out of front line service in favour of the more powerful, and safer, Lancaster. 97 Squadron was only the second squadron to be given Lancasters. This crew, Crew No 21, flew about another ten operations together between February and June 1942, and was then disbanded when David Maltby came to the end of his first ‘tour’, and was posted away from 97 Squadron.
Some of the crew carried on flying together as George Lancey had by then qualified as a first pilot, and took over his own aircraft. Eric Grimwood was however allocated to the crew of Flg Off WA McMurchy RCAF. Sometime on the night of 26/27 July 1942 they took off on an operation over Hamburg and were lost over the sea. This is the relevant entry in WR Chorley’s magisterial Bomber Command Losses

Lancaster I R5487 OF-V Op: Hamburg. T/O 2303 from Woodhall Spa. Presumed lost over the sea. One body, that of Sgt Barraclough, was found and he was buried on 12 September 1942, in Klovdal Cemetery, Sweden. Since 1945 his remains have been taken to Kviberg Cemetery. His companions have no known graves. F/O W.A.McMurchy RCAF(+), F/S J.P.Doyle RCAF(+), P/O K.J.Williams(+), Sgt E.N.Grimwood(+), F/S J.G.Richardson(+), Sgt T.A.Grey(+), Sgt O.Barraclough(+). 

A sad end, but not untypical of the fate of so many crews. Seven families in Canada and Britain received the dread knock of the telegram boy.
There is a further mystery about Eric (Grim) Grimwood – no one seems to know who his family was. His entry at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission doesn’t even name his parents, which would suggest that the RAF had no record of them. He is, however, commemorated on the Banstead war memorial so at some time he must have had family in this small community in Surrey, but no one now there knows who they were. 

memorial_bp2

The final irony is that while five of the seven aircrew in the top picture survived the war, Maltby and Grimwood, who flew together before the rest of the crew were assembled, both died in the North Sea some 15 months and a few hundred miles apart. 
If anyone has any information about Eric Grimwood or his family, please contact me
Correction: Banstead Local History Group have contacted me to say that they now know that Eric Grimwood was the son of Frederick and Edith Mary (née Minton) Grimwood, and that his birth was registered in Southwark in 1922. They are still trying to track down other members of the family.

Recollecting Reculver

The Herne Bay Cultural Trail got off to a rocky start last autumn with controversy about a poorly-worded plaque describing the Dams Raid as ‘infamous’. The plaque had been placed on a new statue of Barnes Wallis, erected overlooking the Reculver area, where trials of the ‘Upkeep’ weapon were carried out in May 1943. The wording has now been amended, and the rest of the Cultural Trail is nearly complete. One of the items will be a large mural depicting the trials. This can’t yet be seen on the Trail’s own website, but the work in progress is shown on that of the artist, Penny Bearman. 
I mentioned this BBC Radio Kent programme back in May last year, but it seems a good place to link to it again. It’s a first hand account of the Reculver trials, as witnessed by two boys who sneaked up onto the sand dunes.