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).

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Dambuster of the Day No. 111: William Long

Burpee crew composite loresThis reverse of this picture of the Burpee crew taken on 18 January 1943 shows that William Long was known by the nickname “Ginger” by his colleagues. It also shows a list written by Burpee of the composition of his “recent crew” – the one which would fly with him on the Dams Raid. The list reads:
Pilot – Lew [Lewis Burpee]
Rear A/G – Gordie [Gordon Brady]
Mid Upper – Ginger [William Long]
W/Op – Sam [Leonard Weller]
Bomb/A – Jimmy [James Arthur]
Engineer – Johnny [Guy Pegler]
Nav – Tommy [Thomas Jaye]
Pic: Burpee family

Sgt W C A Long
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED865/G

Call sign: AJ-S

Third wave. Crashed on outward flight.

William Charles Arthur Long was born in 1923 in Eastleigh, Hampshire, the older of the two sons of William and Ethel Long. The family would later move to Bournemouth.
Long applied to join the RAF around the time of his 18th birthday, but like many young men of his time had to wait several months before eventually being accepted. He was selected for air gunnery training, and qualified in August 1942. He was posted to 106 Squadron in September 1942. He flew on two operations: on 17 October with Sgt Lace on the Le Creusot raid and 8 December, with Flg Off Healey to Turin, before joining Lewis Burpee on 20 December.
His first trip with Burpee and his crew was a trip to Duisburg.
He thus became the fourth member to join what would eventually become the Dams Raid crew of AJ-S, and would fly on all the 21 further operations flown by Burpee in 106 Squadron, as well as a single trip to Berlin on 16 January with Flt Lt Wellington.
Long moved over to 617 Squadron on 29 March, along with all of his colleagues. Like all the Dams Raid mid-upper gunners he had to get used to flying in the unfamiliar position of the front turret, and he was in this position when AJ-S left the ground at 0011 on the morning of Monday 17 May 1943. It was shot down less than two hours later, and everybody on board was killed instantly. 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.

More about Long online:
Entry at Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Aircrew Remembered page about Burpee crew

KIA 17.05.43

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 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.

New picture of Lewis Burpee and three other Dambusters

Burpee sqd106 smal

Joel Joy continues to unearth interesting new material about the Canadian Dambusters. He has recently got permission from the family of Plt Off Lewis Burpee to publish this picture of his crew, taken while he was on 106 Squadron.
Alex Bateman has kindly identified all the personnel present:

Left to right:
Sgt Joe Brady (Rear Gunner)
Sgt Bill Long (Mid Upper Gunner)
Sgt Guy Pegler (Flight Engineer)
Flt Sgt Lew Burpee (Pilot)
Flt Sgt Eddy Leavesley (Wireless Op)
Sgt George Goodings (Bomb Aimer)

The photo was taken on 106 Squadron at Syerston, on 18 January 1943 after a night trip to Berlin.  The Lancaster is W4842 ‘ZN–H’.

Brady, Long, Pegler and Burpee went on to 617 Squadron in March 1943, and were four of the crew of AJ-S on the Dams Raid. They were all killed when they were shot down near Gilze Rijen in Holland, and are buried together in Bergen Op Zoom war cemetery. There are full details of Burpee’s 26 previous operations on the Air Force Association of Canada website. (In alphabetical order, scroll down to Burpee.)