Thanks to Alex Bateman, I’m now able to list the mother of four of the Dams Raid aircrew who attended the Premiere of The Dam Busters and were presented to Princess Margaret. They appear in the Pathé News report of the occasion.
The mothers are: top left, Mrs Florence Hatton, mother of Bill Hatton; top right, Mrs Nellie Knight, mother of Les Knight; bottom left, Mrs Dorcas Roberts, mother of Charlie Roberts; bottom right, Mrs Elizabeth Nicholson, mother of Vivian Nicholson.
Sgt W Hatton
Lancaster serial number: ED906/G
Call sign: AJ-J
First wave. Fifth aircraft to attack Möhne Dam. Mine dropped accurately, causing large breach. Aircraft returned safely.
William Hatton was born in Wakeﬁeld, Yorkshire, on 24 March 1920, the oldest boy in a family of four children, two boys and two girls. Their parents were George and Florence Hatton. William Hatton went to Holy Trinity and Thornes House schools in Wakefield.
He joined the RAF at the outbreak of war, and worked in groundcrew. In May 1941, he went to RAF Speke in Liverpool where he serviced aircraft in the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit. This was a short lived scheme in which Hawker Hurricanes were sent to sea on special merchant ships, which were equipped with catapults for launching them. The plan was to enable the Hurricanes to be launched far out at sea to help protect the Atlantic convoys. The only drawback was that they had no way of landing, so the pilot had to bale out of the Hurricane and let the aircraft fall into the sea.
When the opportunity arose for experienced groundcrew to become ﬂight engineers on heavy bombers, Hatton applied and was sent to the only ﬂight engineer training facility, No.4 School of Technical Training at RAF St Athan.
After qualifying as a flight engineer in late 1942, Hatton was posted to RAF Swinderby, to join 1660 Conversion Unit on 5 January 1943. There he crewed up with Vivian Nicholson, Antony Stone, John Fort and Harold Simmonds, who had moved into the last phase of training with their pilot Flt Lt William Elder. On 23 February 1943, the new crew were posted to 207 Squadron to begin operations but unfortunately two days later Elder was killed on a ‘second dickey’ trip. A month later the pilot-less crew was transferred to 97 Squadron at Coningsby, where they were allocated to David Maltby, returning to operations after his inter-tour break. The whole crew was transferred to 617 Squadron on 25 March 1943.
After the raid, all the aircrew were sent on leave. Such was the excitement that a number of local papers covered the story, with Hatton’s arrival back in his home town given the headline ‘A Wakefield Hero’ in the Wakefield Express. The paper sent a photographer to his family house and took the photograph seen above in the street outside.
Four months later, on 14 September 1943, Hatton took off from RAF Coningsby on 617 Squadron’s first major operation since the Dams Raid. When their aircraft suffered its final crash it sank with the bodies of all the crew except the pilot, so he has no known grave. William Hatton is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
KIA 15 September 1943.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Sources: Charles Foster, Breaking the Dams, Pen and Sword 2008
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Further information about William Hatton 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.
Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his Dams Raid crew, pictured in August 1943, at RAF Blida North Africa. Sadly, they were all killed over the North Sea a month later. Standing L-R: Victor Hill, Antony Stone, John Fort, David Maltby, William Hatton, Harold Simmonds. In front: Vivian Nicholson. [Pic: Grace Blackburn]
Today’s Sunday Express contains a two page feature about the last flight of Sqn Ldr David Maltby and his crew, on 14/15 September 1943, almost exactly four months after the Dams Raid. This was an attack on the Dortmund Ems canal, which was called off when weather conditions over the target were found to have deterioriated. As Maltby turned the aircraft back towards base, some sort of explosion occurred and it crashed into the sea with the loss of everyone on board.
What caused the explosion has been the subject of some speculation over many years. When researching my book, Breaking the Dams, I came across some documents in the National Archives which indicate that the crash may have occurred because of a collision with a Mosquito on another raid, out of radio contact and also returning to base. The Mosquito was from 139 Squadron, and was piloted by Flt Lt Maule Colledge. he full story is told in my book, and in abbreviated form on my other website, breakingthedams.com.
Crowds at the graveside of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry
The country’s only flying Lancaster couldn’t make an appearance, but a couple of hundred people were not deterred, and made Saturday’s tribute to the crew of Dams Raid Lancaster AJ-J in Wickhambreaux, Kent, a very special occasion.
The village churchyard contains the grave of pilot David Maltby, whose body was the only one recovered from the North Sea when the aircraft he was flying crashed on 15 September 1943. Every year, local people gather to commemorate David and the rest of his crew, who have no known grave. This year, we were privileged to be joined by representatives of the families of three of other crew members, John Fort (bomb aimer), William Hatton (flight engineer) and Victor Hill (front gunner).
As well as the graveside tribute, a small exhibition took place in the Village Hall, which was opened by the Sheriff of Canterbury, Cllr Hazel McCabe.
Obviously, people were disappointed that the Lancaster was prevented from flying by high winds (foreshadowing Monday’s gales in the wake of Hurricane Katia) but that did not prevent a very impressive turnout, and a poignant and moving service, led by the Vicar, the Revd Chris Wilkinson.
Many thanks to all who came, and to Revd Chris Wilkinson, the Wickhambreaux Parish Council, the Village Hall Committee, the Sheriff of Canterbury and the Rose Inn for their help.
Peter Fort, great nephew of Flg Off John Fort, his two daughters, and Rene Hopkins, sister of Sgt William Hatton.
Valerie Ashton, daughter of Flt Sgt Victor Hill.
George Foster, nephew of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry
The Vicar of Littlebourne, Revd Chris Wilkinson, conducting the graveside tribute. Photo: Ady Kerry
Charles Foster, nephew of Sqn Ldr David Maltby. Photo: Ady Kerry
This year, the annual commemoration of Dambuster David Maltby and his crew, which takes place in Wickhambreaux, Kent, has an extra ingredient – a flypast by the UK’s only flying Avro Lancaster.
The event takes place on Saturday 10 September, a few days before the 68th anniversary of the crew’s final flight, on an aborted raid on the Dortmund Ems canal on 14 September 1943. A small exhibition describing the lives of all the crew members will be opened in the Village Hall at 11.30am. This will be followed by an act of commemoration at David Maltby’s graveside, in the churchyard, starting at 12.15pm. The flyover will take place at 12.40pm, weather permitting.
Members of the families of David Maltby, William Hatton and Victor Hill will all be present, and anyone interested is welcome to attend.
Members of three Dambuster families came together earlier this week to mark the anniversary of the deaths of their relatives. Pictured above are (far left) William Castle, nephew of Sgt William Hatton, (third from left) Rene Hopkins (sister of Sgt William Hatton) and (second from right) Valerie Ashton (daughter of Flt Sgt Victor Hill). They are gathered at the graveside of Sqn Ldr David Maltby, in St Andrew’s Church, Wickhambreaux, Kent for the annual commemoration of the deaths of this Dams Raid crew after an aborted raid on the Dortmund Ems Canal in the early hours of 15 September 1943. David Maltby’s body was the only one recovered after their aircraft went down – those of the rest of the crew were never found, and they are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. The accident may have been caused by a collision with a Mosquito of 139 Squadron returning from a completely separate raid on Berlin, but this has never been proved.
The commemoration was organised by the East Kent branch of the RAF Aircrew Association, whose chairman, John Addley, is on the far right.