Pic: © Ray Hepner Collection
Barnes Wallis had never been back to Reculver in Kent, the place where the final test drops of his “bouncing bomb” took place in May 1943, until he was taken there by Ray Hepner in 1976. Above, in this previously unpublished photograph taken by Ray and kindly given to me by him, he surveys the scene. Below is a still from the film sequcnce shot of the tests, now in the Imperial War Museum. Wallis is the bareheaded figure on the far left of the group. In the film, he is seen to be waving his arms as if to urge the bomb onwards.
Update: Mark Welch kindly pointed out the error in the title of my original post, “Barnes Wallis at Reculver, 43 years on”. My maths was badly wrong!
Pic: IWM FLM2343
If you fancy a walk along part of the Oyster Bay Trail, on the North Kent coast, why not relax for a moment or too on the new portrait bench just outside Reculver? It’s the brainchild of Canterbury City Council, who allowed the public to choose the three images who would represent the area’s culture and history. The winners were (from left to right) a woman in Roman dress, an oyster fisherman, and Dambuster pilot Warner (“Bill”) Ottley, who flew AJ-C on the Dams Raid and was shot down near Hamm. Bill Ottley’s family lived in Herne Bay, which is the local connection to the portrait bench. Although he was only 20, he had already completed a tour of operations in 207 Squadron, and been recommended for a DFC.
The picture of Ottley on which this bench portrait is based was supplied to the council by Alex Bateman, long time friend of this blog.
If you are quick, you can enter a draw to win £250 simply by taking a photo of someone on the bench and sending it to Canterbury City Council. Closing date 31 March!
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.
If you didn’t get to see the Lancaster/Spitfire/Hurricane flypast in Derbyshire last week, you have another chance to see at least one of these this coming Sunday, when the Kent Spitfire takes part in the Manston fly-in, at Manston airfield near Ramsgate in Kent. This is an area ripe with Dambuster connections, as many of the test drops were carried out at nearby Reculver. There’s lots to see and do, and one of the bookstalls is being run by Your Humble Scribe, who will be happy to add a message to any of his books sold on the day.
Two more pieces which have been on the interwebnet for a while, but may have escaped your notice.
BBC Radio Kent documentary about 617 Squadron’s test runs at Reculver in April and May 1943, including interviews with two people who as young boys evaded security and sneaked a view from the cliff edge.
Young local newspaper reporter Peter Hopper remembers his exclusive interview with film star Richard Todd on location in Skegness, during the filming of The Dam Busters in 1954. The interview and other articles appeared in the Skegness News. You can read his account and the original article here.
A number of events have been planned to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Dams Raid, which took place on 16-17 May 1943. The most spectacular will probably be the flypast by the Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane and Dakota aircraft from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight over the Derwent reservoir in Derbyshire on Friday 16 May at 1000. This is a remote area and vehicle access will be ticket only and strictly controlled, but people arriving on foot will be welcomed. Full details and how to apply for a ticket in the ballot here.
The next weekend sees a Dambuster Day at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby. This happens on Saturday 24 May and there will be stalls, lectures and other events including a chance to see Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ performing her taxi runs. Details here.
The next day, Sunday 25 May, there will be a Spitfire flypast organised by the Spitfire Memorial Museum in Manston, Kent. There are flying displays by the Kent Spitfire (TA805), Pilatus and Stearman. There will also be other interesting aircraft and military vehicles on static display. Other displays and stalls will include the Thanet ATC Band, book signings (including the one by the author of this site) and the RAF at War re-enactment group. RAF Manston was used by 617 Squadron when they were testing the ‘bouncing bomb’ at nearby Reculver. It is also close to the village of Wickhambreaux in whose churchyard David Maltby is buried. Come along and I will see you there!