Dambuster of the Day No. 14: Anthony Burcher

Tony Burcher

Plt Off A F Burcher DFM
Rear gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED925/G
Call sign: AJ-M
First wave. Second aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Aircraft hit by flak. Mine dropped late and bounced over dam. Aircraft crashed on far side of dam

Anthony Fisher Burcher was born in Vaucluse in Sydney, Australia on 15 March 1922, the fifth of the twelve children of Harvey and Estelle Burcher. He worked as a wool sorter before volunteering for the RAAF. He arrived in England in September 1941 and after further training was posted to 106 Squadron, whose CO was Guy Gibson. His first operation was the Thousand Bomber raid on 1 June 1942 when he attacked Essen in the crew of Wrt Off Peter Merrals. He went on to join Sgt James Cassels’s crew where he completed a full tour in November.

He received the DFM for his tour of operations, with the citation particularly noting his part in a skirmish on a trip to Saarbrucken when five enemy fighters were attacked and driven off.

Burcher was a complicated character and although he was at one point put onto a ‘dry’ stint by Gibson for scrapping in the mess, the CO obviously respected his gunnery skills as he was then transferred to the Gunnery Leaders Course at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire, with a commission.

After completing the Gunnery Leaders Course, Burcher was sent to 1654 Conversion Unit at Wigsley as an instructor. One of the pilots there was Mick Martin and according to Burcher’s account when Gibson telephoned Martin to ask him to join the new squadron he was told to bring Burcher along as well. As he knew Hopgood from 106 Squadron, he was placed in his crew.

On the Dams Raid itself, Burcher, in the rear turret, could only hear what was going on in the front of the aircraft via the intercom. It would seem that when AJ-M was hit by flak some twenty minutes before the dam was reached, Burcher received superficial wounds to the leg and stomach.

When Hopgood gave the order to bale out after the aircraft was hit again on the final attack, the wounded John Minchin managed to drag himself towards the rear escape hatch, with one leg almost severed. Burcher prioritised his colleague by pushing Minchin out of the hatch first, pulling his parachute ripcord as he did so, and then followed him. Sadly, Minchin did not survive the drop, but Burcher did and he and John Fraser, who had escaped from the front of the aircraft, were captured separately and taken prisoner. Burcher had broken his back in the fall and was then beaten up by the Germans for not cooperating with their interrogation.

On release from PoW camp in 1945, Burcher married Joan Barnes, a WAAF who had also served in 106 Squadron. They moved to Australia where Burcher continued service with the RAAF, and they had two daughters. At some point in the late 1940s his conduct became unsatisfactory and he suffered a number of health problems. His superiors speculated that some of this behaviour might have been caused by the effects of his wartime experiences. He was transferred to RAAF Overseas Headquarters in London in 1950, and was eventually discharged there in 1952, at the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He was repatriated to Australia at his own expense later that year.

Some time afterwards he returned to the UK and worked in various businesses. Sadly he fell in with some dubious characters and in 1961 he was successfully prosecuted for being involved in a criminal fraud case. He then returned to Australia. In later life he gave a number of interviews to researchers and the media, and his actions on the night of the dams raid were widely commended. He died in Hobart, Tasmania, on 9 August 1995.

More about Burcher online:
Burcher’s account of AJ-M’s final flight (scroll down)

Survived war. Died 9 August 1995.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: 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 Tony Burcher 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.

Dams Raid: first hand accounts by David Shannon and Tony Burcher

These first hand accounts of the Dams Raid were posted on an Australian aviation art forum in 2008 by someone called Stephen Diver. They come from letters sent to the Diver family by David Shannon (pilot AJ-L) and Tony Burcher (rear gunner in AJ-M, piloted by John Hopgood). You will have to scroll down some way to read them all (and make sense of some pretty terrible typing and spelling!) but they make interesting reading.
Perhaps the most fascinating is Tony Burcher’s account of what his pilot John Hopgood said as he realised that his aircraft was badly damaged:

Then John said
“Right well what do you think?” Should we go on? I intend to go on because we have only got a few minutes left. We’ve come this far.
“There’s no good taking this thing back with us. The aircraft is completely manageable. I can handle it ok. Any objections?”
I remember hearing Charlie [Brennan] (who as F/E would have been standing right beside John at this time) interrupt him by saying
“Well what about your face? Its bleeding like..”
and John interrupting him mid word by saying
“just hold a handkerchief over it”.
So I imagine for the remainder of the raids time Charlie would have been standing next to John in an attempt to try and stem the bleeding and keep his eye sight clear.
I have no idea as to the nature of the wound and can only assume it to have been a head wound of some nature.
Based on Charlies reactions,and he was normally a calm chap, I can only assume Johns wounds to have been severe in nature. I think anyone else would have probably turned around at that point and headed for home but not John.
That was the type of man he was.

Sobering stuff.

[Hat tip Night Warrior on Lancaster Archive Forum]