Families gather to open new AJ-A memorial

Members of the families of the crew of AJ-A join with Jan and Macy van Dalen and John Bell of the 617 Squadron Association after the unveiling of the memorial at Castricum aan Zee on the Dutch coast. This was the aircraft piloted by Sqn Ldr Melvin Young on the night of the Dams Raid. It was the fourth to attack the Mohne Dam and caused the initial breach which led to its collapse.

The monument was unveiled by Belinda Brown, cousin of front gunner Gordon Yeo, the youngest member of the crew and Geoffrey Sturr, nephew of Melvin Young, the pilot.

Two Dambuster daughters. Left, Jill Owen (née Nichols), daughter of Sgt Laurie Nichols, and Angela McDonnold (née MacCausland) daughter of Flg Off Vincent MacCausland.

The Young and Ibbotson families in the cemetery in the nearby town of Bergen where the crew is buried.

Len and Sandra Brown, representing the family of Charles Roberts.

The family of Gordon Yeo.

Angela McDonnold (née MacCausland)

Photos: 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation/Dambusters Blog

Appeal launched to fund AJ-A memorial in Netherlands

The crew of AJ-A: (L-R) Sqn Ldr Melvin Young (pilot), Sgt David Horsfall (flight engineer), Flt Sgt Charles Roberts (navigator), Sgt Lawrence Nichols (wireless operator), Flg Off Vincent MacCausland (bomb aimer), Sgt Gordon Yeo (front gunner), Sgt Wilfred Ibbotson (rear gunner).

For many years a small group of Dutch citizens, headed by Jan van Dalen, have looked after the graves of the Dams Raid crew of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young in the General Cemetery of the small coastal town of Bergen. The crew were aboard Lancaster ED887, AJ-A, on the Dams Raid on 16-17 May 1943, and all seven members lost their lives when they were shot down on their return journey.

AJ-A had been the fourth aircraft to drop its Upkeep mine at the Mohne Dam and had caused a small breach. A few minutes later AJ-J dropped another mine, causing the final breach and the dam’s collapse. Young had flown on to the Eder Dam in order to take over command if anything should happen to Guy Gibson on the attack there, but in the event had nothing to do. He then set course to return home and reached the Dutch coast just before three in the morning. Then, out over the sea, he hit disaster when the gun battery at Wijk-aan-Zee fired at the rapidly disappearing Lancaster. At that stage, the aircraft was well past the last gun battery and only a few hundred yards from safety. The battery later reported shooting down an aircraft at 0258, which was almost certainly AJ-A.

The wreckage of AJ-A, photographed shortly after the Dams Raid in 1943.

Over the next few weeks, the sea yielded up the victims. Part of the wreckage was washed ashore and the first bodies – those of Melvin Young and David Horsfall – floated up on 29 May. They were buried in the General Cemetery at Bergen two days later, and were joined by the bodies of the other five which were washed up over the next thirteen days.

The 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation has now been formally established to commemorate all members of 617 Squadron who lost their lives in the war. As part of this work, the Foundation plans to erect a memorial plaque to the crew of AJ-A on the seafront at Castricum-aan-Zee, which they are hoping to unveil at the time of the 75th anniversary of the crew’s burial in Bergen cemetery in late May 2018. Members of the families of the crew of AJ-A have already said that they hope to be present for this occasion.

The cost of this project is estimated to be in the region of €3500-4000. If you would like to make a donation to the Foundation to help pay for the memorial, you can do so using the PayPal link below. (You don’t need to have a PayPal account in order to make a payment – any credit card can be used.) Your donation will be gratefully received and will be acknowledged at the unveiling ceremony.


Dambuster of the Day No. 28: Wilfred Ibbotson

Wilfred Ibbotson. [Pic: Peter Humphries]

Sgt W Ibbotson
Rear gunner
Lancaster serial number: ED887/G
Call sign: AJ-A
First wave. Fourth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing small breach. Aircraft shot down on return flight.

Wilfred Ibbotson was born in Netherton, near Wakefield, Yorkshire on 18 September 1913, the second son of the four children of Herbert and Anne Ibbotson. His father had been a miner, but Wilfred worked on a farm after leaving school. He married Doris Bray in 1938, and they had two daughters. When war came he was called up and served as an Army motorcycle despatch rider. In 1941 he volunteered for the RAF, and trained as a gunner.

After qualifying, he was posted to 10 Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon, and joined a crew piloted by Sgt Ivan Morgan. His future colleagues Charles Roberts, Lawrence Nichols and John Beesley were also in this unit at the same time, but in a different crew, that of pilot Graham Bower. In September 1942, while still training, Ibbotson flew on two operations. He was then part of a detachment sent to augment Coastal Command resources at RAF St Eval and flew on six daylight anti-submarine sweeps.

In December, he moved on to 1660 Conversion Unit at Swinderby, and it would seem that it was here that he joined Young’s future crew, at that stage still skippered by Graham Bower. After Bower’s departure on sick leave, Ibbotson flew on two operations to Berlin. The first was on 16 January 1943 with Plt Off Vincent Duxbury as the pilot, and the second the following day with Plt Off Henry Southgate. (This information comes from Ibbotson’s logbook. 1660 CU’s Operations Record Book records another man as Southgate’s rear gunner.)

The Dams Raid was thus Ibbotson’s fifth operation. His body was the last of the crew of AJ-A to be washed ashore, on 30 May. Ibbotson was buried the following day alongside his comrades in Bergen General Cemetery.

More about Ibbotson online:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Wakefield Express article
Sharlston war memorial

KIA 17 May 1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Arthur Thorning, The Dambuster who Cracked the Dam, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002

Thanks to Chris Bowles for help with this article.

Further information about Wilfred Ibbotson 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.