Dambuster of the Day No. 90: William Maynard

Maynard 240913

Sgt T W Maynard
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

Thomas William Maynard was born in Wandsworth, London on 6 September 1923, the son of Sydney and Janet Maynard. His father was a police constable. He was known to some of his family as Bill, but to others as Tom.

He joined the RAF in December 1941, and was selected for training as a wireless operator/air gunner. He crewed up with Geoff Rice and his team at 1660 Conversion Unit in October 1942 and they joined 57 Squadron on 9 December.

Maynard kept a diary for the period between starting operations on 31 December 1942 and his arrival on 617 Squadron in early April 1943. This covers the crew’s nine operations in some detail. However, heavy rain and snow for most of the winter months meant that Scampton’s grass runways became almost unusable and some of the squadron were transferred to Swinderby. It was from there on New Year’s Eve that Rice and his crew set off on their first operation – a mine-laying trip to Gironde, off the French coast. The trip went relatively smoothly: in his diary, Maynard recorded that they laid their ‘eggs’ from a height of 500ft, and sang ‘old [sic] Lang Syne’ as the New Year came in.

On no fewer than ten occasions the operation was cancelled, often at very short notice such on this occasion in January:

Jan 29th. We were briefed for Lorient tonight. Were in the kite and ready to take off when it was scrubbed. Never felt so cheesed off in my young life as we had a decent kite and it looked like an inviting target. I would like to know who actually scrubs these trips as I reckon he is a bloody fool.

On 15 March, after the crew had finally undertaken nine operations, they learned that they were to be transferred to the squadron’s new C Flight, under the command of Sqn Ldr Melvin Young, who had joined the squadron to embark on a first tour on Lancasters after winning a DFC and Bar for two tours on Whitleys and Wellingtons. Maynard, who was still frustrated at the number of operations which had been cancelled at the last moment, wrote that this was a ‘Bad show as we were well satisfied in B Flight.’

By 25 March the flight comprised five crews, captained by Melvin Young, Bill Astell, Geoff Rice, Sgt George Lancaster and Sgt Ray Lovell. It was decided to post the whole flight over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission. Rice and his crew had actually gone on leave the day before, and they did not find out about the transfer until they returned to base on 1 April. Rice protested at the transfer, but to no avail. Maynard recorded that they had ‘got back to find we are in a new squadron, 617, very hush-hush’. The next two entries cover what happened next:

April 2nd. Had our interview with our new CO, Wing Commander Gibson DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, very young. He told us we (the squadron) were formed for a special mission of which even he had not the faintest idea and we have to spend the next weeks training low level by day and by night. We changed billets to the new squadron.
April 3rd. The weather is not too bad. We did a five and a half hour low level trip today and it was wizard over Wales and south west England. Lost our trailing aerial in the Bristol Channel. Ended by bombing at Wainfleet from 100ft. This is the goods when you are authorised to get down to the deck.

After writing this, Maynard must have decided to take the emphasis on security seriously, since this is the final entry in his diary.

The crew then flew on nine operations before being posted together from 57 Squadron to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission.

Like all the squadron’s mid upper gunners, Bill Maynard was switched to the front turret of the specially modified Lancasters for the Dams Raid.

Maynard flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations between the Dams Raid and December 1943, and was promoted to Flight Sergeant. However, the crew’s luck ran out on 20 December when they were shot down 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage.

Bill Maynard and his five colleagues were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium.

More about Maynard online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Rice crew burial site, Gosselies cemetery

Maynard’s diary is held in the collection at Thorpe Camp Vistors Centre.

KIA 20.12.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Nigel Press, All My Life, Lancfile Publishing 2006
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003

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 Bill Maynard 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.