New photo shows Trevor-Roper in 50 Squadron

TR 50 Sqn 20220816_13000650 960px

Pic: Trevor-Roper family 

The family of Flt Lt Richard Trevor-Roper DFM, who was the rear gunner in Guy Gibson’s crew on the Dams Raid, have kindly sent me a photograph taken when he was flying in the crew of Sqn Ldr Peter Birch in 50 Squadron in the winter and early spring of 1942-43. After doing some research, and consulting with colleagues, I believe that the seven men in the picture are (from left to right):

1. Flt Sgt S Allen (wireless operator)
2. Flg Off E C Wood (bomb aimer)
3. Flt Lt W T Gray (navigator)
4. Sqn Ldr P C Birch (pilot)
5. Flt Lt R D Trevor-Roper (mid-upper gunner)
6. Sgt J M Hartman (rear gunner)
7. Flt Sgt A Branch (flight engineer)

Trevor-Roper’s first operation with Birch was on 22 November 1942, a trip to Turin, and the last was on 22 March 1943, a trip to St Nazaire. He was transferred to Scampton to join 617 Squadron shortly afterwards. The aircraft is probably ED482, painted with Peter Birch’s favourite nose art, which he liked to call ‘Sammy the Moke’.

A similar photo, which includes several ground crew, was posted on the Rootschat genealogy forum in 2009. I’m not including a link to that post because I think some of the information is wrong (although I believe the dog is called Nipper!) But of course, it’s perfectly possible that some of my identifications are still incorrect, in which case I’d welcome more information. Please get in touch either by leaving a comment below or by sending an email to charlesjfoster [AT]

50 Squadron photograph shows 16 Dambusters together

Pic: Frank Pleszak

Of the 133 men who flew on the Dams Raid in May 1943, some 26 had previously flown in one of the RAF’s crack bomber squadrons, 50 Squadron based at RAF Skellingthorpe. Of these, Flt Lt Mick Martin DFC and his mainly Australian crew had finished a tour in October 1942, and had gone on to instructional duties. In February 1943 most of the rest were still based at Skellingthorpe, when the photograph seen above was taken. So this represents the largest single group of Dams Raid participants pictured together before the raid.

A recent post on a Friends of Skellingthorpe Facebook page led to the identification of a number of men in the group photograph. Thanks are due to the people who participated in this, and to Christina Spencer who originally posted the picture.

As of 7 October 2020, the following 16 men have been identified [Ranks and decorations as of 16 May 1943]:

Maudslay crew (AJ-Z on Dams Raid)
Sqn Ldr Henry Maudslay DFC (pilot)
Sgt Jack Marriott DFM (flight engineer)
Flg Off Robert Urquhart DFC (navigator)
Flg Off William Tytherleigh DFC (front gunner)

Knight crew (AJ-N)
Plt Off Les Knight (pilot)
Sgt Ray Grayston (flight engineer)
Flg Off Sydney Hobday (navigator)
Flt Sgt Robert Kellow (wireless operator)
Flg Off Edward Johnson (bomb aimer)
Sgt Fred Sutherland (front gunner)
Sgt Harry O’Brien (rear gunner)

Gibson crew (AJ-G)
Plt Off Harlo Taerum (navigator)
Flt Lt Richard Trevor-Roper DFM (rear gunner)

Hopgood crew (AJ-M)
Flg Off Kenneth Earnshaw (navigator)
Flt Sgt John Fraser (bomb aimer)

Shannon crew (AJ-L)
Sgt Brian Jagger (front gunner)

It is believed that the following were still at Skellingthorpe at the time, but they are yet to be identified in the picture:
Sgt Norman Burrows (rear gunner, AJ-Z)
Wrt Off Alden Cottam (wireless operator, AJ-Z)
Plt Off John Fuller (bomb aimer, AJ-Z)
Plt Off Frederick Spafford (bomb aimer, AJ-G)

Please get in touch if you can spot any of these.

[Thanks to Frank Pleszak, Shere Fraser McCarthy, Tamara Sutherland and Jim Heather for help with this.]

Dambuster of the Day No. 7: Richard Trevor-Roper

R D Trevor-Roper small

Flt Lt R D Trevor-Roper DFM
Rear gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED932/G
Call sign: AJ-G
First wave: First aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine exploded short of the dam.

With more than fifty operations, Richard Trevor-Roper was probably the most experienced air gunner to take part in the Dams Raid, and was the squadron’s Gunnery Leader. He was also the acknowledged leader of the squadron’s hellraisers, bringing to Scampton a reputation earned in many earlier RAF messes.

Richard Dacre Trevor-Roper was born in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight on 19 May 1915, the son of Charles and Gertrude Trevor-Roper. After leaving Wellington College he spent two years in the Royal Artillery. At the outset of war he joined the RAF, and trained as a wireless operator/gunner.

He was posted to 50 Squadron in October 1940, then flying Hampdens at RAF Lindholme. Most of his operations were flown in the squadron commander Wg Cdr ‘Gus’ Walker’s aircraft and he was recommended for a DFM in October 1941. The citation noted his outstanding service as a wireless operator, and that he had been responsible for the safe return of his crew when severe weather had been encountered. He was also an ‘excellent Gunnery Leader’ who had dowsed a number of searchlights on two occasions, and was an ‘outstanding inspiration to his and all other aircrews’.

Trevor-Roper was commissioned in October 1941 and then spent some time instructing in training units. He went back to 50 Squadron in November 1942, and had flown on another twelve operations, mainly with Sqn Ldr Birch as pilot, before he was brought into 617 Squadron. Gibson obviously recognised Trevor-Roper as a soulmate, describing him in Enemy Coast Ahead as one of the ‘real squadron characters’, although noticing, in a thoughtful moment, that he was quiet on the flight out to the dams, perhaps because his wife was about to have their first baby. He had married Patricia Edwards in 1942 and their son Charles was born on 15 June 1943.

Trevor-Roper was in fact just one of the four aircrew who flew on the raid knowing that their wives were pregnant. Trevor-Roper and David Maltby would live to see their children being born. Lewis Burpee and Charles Brennan would not.

After the raid, for which he received the DFC, Trevor-Roper came into his own, leading the pack in the drunken escapades which followed, principally the excursion to London in June for the investiture at Buckingham Palace and the subsequent dinner at the Hungaria restaurant. Card schools were established, hipflasks produced and trousers removed, not always voluntarily. The squadron adjutant, Harry Humphries, was a particular target, and various escapades are reported in Humphries’s book, Living with Heroes. (The same stories appear again, in a more sanitised version, in Paul Brickhill’s The Dam Busters.)

Grog Certificate small

Eventually 617 Squadron went back on operations, but Trevor-Roper didn’t join the core of the Gibson crew which transferred to the new CO, George Holden. In March 1944, after another period in a training unit, he was posted to 97 Squadron based at Bourn, and joined a very experienced crew captained by Flt Lt Rowlands.

His luck ran out on Bomber Command’s worst night of the whole war, on 30/31 March 1944, when ninety-five bombers were lost from a total of 795 which set out to attack Nuremberg. His aircraft was shot down near Ahorn, by the German nightfighter pilot Major Martin Drewes who claimed five ‘kills’ that night, and all on board died.

Richard Trevor-Roper is buried in Durnbach War Cemetery.

More about Trevor Roper online:
Isle of Wight war memorial (includes death notice from The Times)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission listing

Decoration awarded for Operation Chastise: DFC
KIA 31 March 1944
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 and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Further information about Richard Trevor-Roper and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.