AJ-N crew photographed 40 years on

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Left to right: Harry O’Brien, Fred Sutherland, Bob Kellow, Sydney Hobday, Ray Grayston and Edward “Johnnie” Johnson. [Pic: O’Brien family].

Melvin Chambers has kindly allowed me to share these pictures which he was sent recently. The first was taken in May 1983 in the course of the 40th anniversary commemorations of the Dams Raid. It shows the crew of AJ-N, piloted by Les Knight, which dropped the weapon which breached the Eder Dam. Sadly, Les was killed on 16 September 1943 on the Dortmund Ems canal operation, when his aircraft crashed having struck trees flying at 100 feet in fog. He managed to bring it up to an altitude from which his crew could escape by parachute, which they all did. They never forgot the skill and bravery Les showed that night, saving their lives while sacrificing himself.

The crew members stayed in touch with the Knight family back in Australia, and when Les’s mother Nellie Knight heard that the O’Briens had had their first child she sent them Les’s own christening robe, which is shown below.

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More information from Melvin’s fine tribute site, Remembering Les Knight DSO.

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. 60: Robert Kellow

AWM Kellow UK0330

[Pic: AWM]

Flt Sgt R G T Kellow
Wireless operator

Lancaster serial number: ED912/G

Call sign: AJ-N

First wave. Third aircraft to attack Eder Dam. Mine dropped accurately causing final breach.

Robert George Thomas Kellow was born in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia on 13 December 1916, the son of George and Violet Kellow. He went to Newcastle High School, the same school as fellow Dambuster Jack Leggo, the navigator in Mick Martin’s AJ-P. He worked as a shop assistant after leaving school, but when war came he enlisted in the RAAF.
He was selected to train as a wireless operator/air gunner and was sent to Canada for training. From there, he was posted to the United Kingdom, and arrived in January 1942.
After further training he was crewed up with pilot Les Knight and then posted to 50 Squadron. He completed some 25 operations with Knight before the whole crew were offered the chance to transfer to the new secret squadron being set up at Scampton. Shortly before the transfer came about, he was recommended for a DFM and then commissioned. (The DFM wouldn’t actually be awarded until June 1943.)
There was no doubt in Kellow’s mind about the transfer, as he explained after the war: ‘The offer presented to us sounded interesting and with our faith in each member’s ability we made up our minds there and then that we would accept the offer and move over as a crew to this new squadron.’
On the flight to the dams, Kellow was watching from AJ-N’s astrodome when he had the unfortunate experience in witnessing the last moments of Bill Astell and his crew, damaged by flak near Dorsten and crashing in flames a few minutes later. He then had to wait more than an hour while the Möhne Dam was destroyed before they reached the Eder and he was told to start up the spinning mechanism for AJ-N’s mine.
Following the successful attack, Kellow was understandably preoccupied while Knight and Grayston pulled AJ-N up and over the surrounding hills, and his message confirming the drop – ‘Goner 710B’ – was sent six minutes after the message ‘Dinghy’, denoting a breach of the Eder, had been transmitted by Bob Hutchison, in Gibson’s aircraft.
Knight, Kellow and the rest of the crew were not back in action until September, in the disastrous attack on the Dortmund Ems Canal.
Five of the seven crew who baled out of Knight’s aircraft would eventually get back to England, helped by Dutch and French Resistance networks and couriers. Hobday and Sutherland had been reunited and travelled as a pair, but Kellow made the six week journey to Spain on his own a day or so ahead of them, and arrived back in England in December 1943. Like all those who had made the perilous return trip he was not allowed to fly over enemy territory again, to protect the networks he had used to evade capture, so he returned to Australia in May 1944.
He served in RAAF 37 Squadron for the remainder of the war, mainly in Australia, but including a deployment to New Guinea where he flew in a Lockheed Lodestar.

AWM OG1532 Kellow postwar

Bob Kellow, in a Lockheed Lodestar of RAAF 37 Squadron. [Pic: AWM]

In April 1946 Kellow returned to Newcastle, NSW, after being discharged from the RAAF, with a glowing report from his Commanding Officer who described him as showing ‘great possibilities for good leadership’, and  ‘one of the most liked and well known’ and  ‘invaluable’ members of the Squadron.
He returned to his job as a shop assistant in Australia, and in 1946 married Doreen Smith, a Canadian who he had met while training there in 1941. By 1952, they had two children and the whole family moved to Winnipeg, Canada, where Kellow worked for the Manitoba Power Commission.
He travelled back to the UK for a number of 617 Squadron anniversary events, and paid his respects at Les Knight’s grave in Holland.
Bob Kellow died in Winnipeg on 12 February 1988, and is buried in the city’s Brookside Cemetery.
[Thanks to Graeme Jensen for help with this article.]

More about Kellow online:
Page on Newcastle High School website

Survived war. Died 1988.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Page at Memorable Manitobans website
Personnel file at National Archives of Australia