Dutch group seeking funds for memorial at AJ-S crash site

The crew of AJ-S. Left to right: Lewis Burpee (pilot), Guy Pegler (flight engineer), Thomas Jaye (navigator), Leonard Weller (wireless operator), James Arthur (bomb aimer), William Long (front gunner), Gordon Brady (rear gunner). 

At 0011 on 17 May 1943, the night of the Dams Raid, Plt Off Lewis Burpee and his crew left RAF Scampton at 0011, but never made it as far as the German border. While still over Holland, and approaching the gap between the heavily defended airfields at Gilze Rijen and Eindhoven, the aircraft strayed off course. It climbed slightly, probably in an effort to determine its exact position, but was then caught in searchlights and hit by flak. At 0200, it crashed on the edge of Gilze Rijen airfield, six miles south west of Tilburg. Its mine exploded on impact, demolishing a large number of buildings and doing damage estimated at 1.5 million guilders.

The demise of the Burpee crew was seen by both Stefan Oancia, bomb aimer in AJ-F, a minute or so behind, and Douglas Webb, still further back in the front turret of AJ-O. Their last minutes were also seen by a German witness, a Luftwaffe airman based at Gilze Rijen called Herbert Scholl, interviewed after the war by the author Helmuth Euler. He was of the opinion that AJ-S was in fact not hit by flak at all, but was dazzled by a searchlight beam hitting it horizontally. The pilot tried to fly even lower, and then hit some trees.

The next morning, Scholl went to the crash site and saw that it was a total wreck. Only the rear turret and tail unit were intact, and he saw rear gunner Gordon Brady’s body, which didn’t appear to have any sign of injury. He noticed that Brady was scantily dressed, wearing thin uniform trousers and lace up shoes with holes in the soles. (Helmuth Euler, The Dams Raid through the Lens, After the Battle, 2001, p.106.)

After the crash, only the bodies of Burpee, Brady and Weller were positively identified. The other four were buried in a communal grave. They were interred by the Germans at Zuylen Cemetery, Prinsenhage. After the war, all seven bodies were transferred to the War Cemetery at Bergen-op-Zoom.

For many years, the crash site has been barred to the public, as Gilze Rijen airfield is still in active use by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. However, a local group, headed by local campaigner Sander van der Hall, has now secured permission to build a memorial, and are seeking crowd-funding to help with the project.

The memorial will be unveiled on 4 May, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, PA474, will perform a flypast.

Please help the campaign group by making a donation at its crowd-funding page. (Please note that the organisers are changing the picture on this page, which shows another crew!) Further information on this page (mainly in Dutch).

Dambuster of the Day No. 108: Thomas Jaye

JayePic: Jaye family

Sgt T Jaye

Lancaster serial number: ED865/G

Call sign: AJ-S

Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.

Thomas Jaye was one of the two sons of James and Helena Jaye of Crook, Co.Durham. His father worked as a miner at Roddymoor Collery. He was born on 3 October 1922 and went to Wolsingham Grammar School. After leaving school he worked as an electrical engineer.

He joined the RAF in 1941 and was sent for training as a navigator to the flying school run by Pan-American in Miami, Florida.

His final stint of training, after arriving back in the UK, was at 1654 Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley in November and December 1942, where one of the instructors was Henry Maudslay. He was posted to 106 Squadron on 28 December 1942.

In his six operations in the first three weeks of January 1943, Lewis Burpee had flown with five different navigators. On the afternoon of 21 January Jaye flew with him for the first time on a Night Flying Test and they went on their first operation together that evening, a trip to Essen. Jaye was immediately established as Burpee’s regular navigator and they went on a further 16 operations before being transferred out on 29 March.

The Burpee crew were about to leave 106 Squadron when Jaye bumped into an old friend from his home village. Sgt Fred Smooker was about to begin a tour of operations as a bomb aimer in 106 Squadron, and had just arrived at Syerston:

Having settled in our barracks we all decided to go to the Sergeants’ mess for a meal and on our way we noticed numerous black, brooding, Lancasters standing silently at their dispersals, at different parts of the airfield. When we reached the Sergeants’ mess, coming down the steps from the main entrance, was a navigator, a young man of about twenty one.  I didn’t recognise him until he said to me:
“Hello, Fred, have you just arrived?”
I looked again. “Why,” I said, “Tom Jaye. We’re just going to have a meal.”
“Well, that’s a pity,” he said, “I’m just leaving,” and with that I hurried on to catch up with my crew. Tom Jaye was on his way to Scampton to join 617 Squadron.
Meeting Tom caused me to reminisce about Roddymoor, the village where we both came from, not far from Crook. His father Jimmy Jaye and my father Billy Smooker were coal miners at Roddymoor Colliery, where I would have been had I not volunteered for RAF aircrew. Tom Jaye had gone to grammar school and joined the RAF before me. I remember his mother telling me that he was based in Nottinghamshire while I was on leave, during training.
Clive Smith, Lancaster Bale Out, Tucann 2013, p62

Jaye’s first flight in 617 Squadron was on 31 March, with Burpee as pilot and he went on to complete another 21 training flights in April. In early May, the crew were given some leave and he spent some of it staying with his cousin Derek and family in Durham before continuing to see his mother at Crook. A few days later, in the early hours of Monday 17 May 1943, he was dead when AJ-S was shot down some two hours after take-off. The Germans could not individually identify the bodies of Guy Pegler, Bill Long, Tom Jaye and James Arthur, so they were buried in a communal grave in Zuylen Cemetery, Prinsenhage, next to the individual graves of Lewis Burpee, Gordon Brady and Leonard Weller. After the war the bodies of all seven were exhumed and reburied in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery.

Like many of his colleagues, Tom Jaye had developed the habit of filling in his logbook at the end of each month, because his May 1943 flights are in someone else’s handwriting. They finish with the entry for 16 May: “Operations – Eder Dam – Missing”. The page is signed off by Mick Martin “O/C B Flight” and David Maltby “For W/C O/C 617 Sqn”.

Thanks to Clive Smith for help with this article.

More about Jaye online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Aircrew Remembered page about Burpee crew
Memorial at Wolsingham Grammar School

KIA 17.05.43

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sgt T Jaye logbook in RAF Museum
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 above, 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 Tom Jaye 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.