I was shocked and saddened by the news of the death of Professor John Ramsden, from cancer at the comparatively young age of 62. (Another obituary here.) Just the evening before I had read a chapter of his excellent book about the relationship between Britain and Germany, Don’t mention the war. This is essential reading for anyone who thinks that many Brits need to develop a more mature relationship between ourselves and our German partners and colleagues. Ramsden lists many ways in which the histories of our two countries are intertwined (many pubs called the King’s Head, for instance, are named after Frederick the Great of Prussia) and provides a counterblast to the puerile nonsense frequently peddled by the redtop press and the likes of Jeremy Clarkson.
But it is as the author of the wonderful book on The Dam Busters in the British Film Guide series that Ramsden should be respected and mourned by anyone interested in the subject of this blog. It’s a short book, but an invaluable guide to the film itself, to the times when it was made and to the reaction to it over the half-century since.
Sqn Ldr Ted Wass died recently, and had a generous obituary in The Times. He was known to many researchers and other people with an interest in 617 Squadron from his many years’ work as the squadron association secretary, where he treated everyone with great courtesy and efficiency.
Ted could have spent the whole of his Second World War career in a relatively safe position in the RAF supply department, but chose to volunteer for aircrew and was posted to 617 Squadron as a gunner in 1944. He took part in two raids on the Tirpitz, including the one in which it was finally sunk, and a number of other high profile operations, usually in aircraft captained by Sqn Ldr Tony Iveson. He was forced to bale out over Germany in January 1944, and spent the last part of the war as a PoW. The story of this raid is told here in a story in the Telegraph last autumn about Tony Iveson. (I linked to this at the time.)
The recent demise of Reg Varney saw another rash of newspaper articles recalling someone half-remembered from way back when. Even though he had been the star of at least two well known TV series (not just the awful On the Buses but also the earlier, and funnier, The Rag Trade) the obituaries still had to remind many of us as to who exactly he was, falling back on the old clichés: ’15 minutes of fame …’, ‘probably best known as …’. Happily still around, even if not acting any more, is Mr Jon Dixon whose 90 seconds of fame played a significant part in the way in which the Dambusters have come to define Britishness. I hope the repeat fees from all those ‘100 Best TV Ads’ documentaries are some sort of compensation.
I have been scouring the interwebnet for online material about the aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid for a project I will be unveiling shortly, but in the meantime, I thought I would share the fruits of part of my research. So far, I have come across these online postwar obituaries:
Thanks to a helpful library subscription, I have also come across four other earlier obituaries which are not generally available in online sources, but can be turned up in newspaper archives. These are of:
Harold (Mick) Martin
(I know the last of these did not take part in the Dams Raid himself, but I thought his obituary might be of interest.) I have posted these four obituaries on my other website, and you can see them here.
If you can add any further online or offline material to these links then I would be glad to hear from you.
I know that it’s a couple of months late, but this blog didn’t exist until just now. So it’s appropriate that I should pay tribute to the late Harry Humphries, who died in February. He was the founder adjutant of 617 Squadron, and one of the people centrally involved in getting the aircraft and crews ready for the Dams Raid in under two months. When I started writing my book, he was one of the five or six survivors from the time who replied to my letter asking for help. His own book was a great resource, and I plundered it shamelessly. Then I also uncovered his moving handwritten tributes to both David Maltby and John Fort which are amongst his papers on display in Grantham Library.
I was looking forward to sending him a copy of my book.