Dambusters Blog hits the million!

 

At about 10pm BST today, the Dambusters blog registered its millionth hit. I can’t be sure exactly who was the visitor who took us over the magic figure, but it seems likely to have been someone from the UK who ended up on our front page having followed a Google search. By an amazing coincidence, this event occurred nine years to the day since the first ever post, which was published at 8.35 am on 7 May 2008.


Checking back through the daily statistics (which through the wonders of WordPress are still available to me) I see that I got just 4 hits on that first day. But within nine days, I had got to a total of 163 which, I recall, I was pretty chuffed with at the time. The fact that this occurred on 16 May 2008, the 65th anniversary of the Dams Raid, probably explains the upwards bump.

So why are people still so interested in the Dams Raid, even though most of the people who now access the blog have no first-hand memory of the war? I think the reason may be because although the raid itself is the stuff of legend, it also represents a bigger story: that of the ‘greatest generation’ who fought tyranny, came through the years of austerity which followed, and built a better society in which all could flourish. There have been many sharp turns and setbacks since, some still on-going, but no one would argue that the world is in a better place than it was in 1939.

The fascination with the Dambusters themselves is because the Dams Raid combined so many different things which contributed to the war effort – a revolutionary new weapon, supreme airmanship skills and raw courage in pressing home an attack under fire. The fact that it was then immortalised in what is now regarded as one of the best ever British war films just adds to its mystique.

So if you are one of the people who contributed to our million hits – either as a regular visitor or just someone who fetched up here after a random search – many thanks for being here for the ride. It’s been a privilege to serve you all this time, and I hope to carry on doing so for the foreseeable future. Per ardua ad astra!

[I should add a word of thanks to WordPress, who have provided the blogging software and the hosting since 2008. This is all for free, except for the ongoing cost of registering and using a .com domain name. In my opinion, they provide by far the easiest to use blogging software, and a huge range of off-the-shelf designs. And I have no connection at all with the company!]

Déjà vu all over again in Sunday Express as columnist writes same story three times

A colleague sent me a link to this week’s Sunday Express, thinking I would like the fact that it had given me a namecheck and also quoted a commenter on this blog. Fine, I thought at first, but when I looked at it more carefully it did seem to be rather an old story. And so it was.

The article appeared in a column written by Adam Helliker (‘Whispers from the Top: The best informed, most entertaining diary you need to read’) published last Sunday, 30 April 2017. The piece started:

UNLIKE the brave men of Bomber Command who hit those dams so accurately in Germany in the Second World War, the producer who wants to remake the famous film about the raid keeps on missing his target.
It is now more than a decade since Sir Peter Jackson, producer and director of The Lord Of The Rings, declared he was going to remake The Dam Busters.

Sounds familiar? Yes indeed. Here is the ‘best informed’ Mr Helliker, with another of his ‘whispers’, written on 9 August 2015:

UNLIKE the brave men of Bomber Command who hit those dams so accurately in Germany in the Second World War, the producer who wants to remake the famous film about the raid keeps on missing his target.
And with the death of pilot Les Munro, who was to have been the film’s technical adviser, the likelihood of it being made is dropping faster than a bouncing bomb.
Sir Peter Jackson refuses to say when his new version of The Dam Busters will be made.

And if this is not enough for you, here’s where the sequence starts. In what was doubtless named as an exclusive on the day, the ‘most entertaining’ Mr Helliker wrote this on 7 December 2014:

UNLIKE the brave men of Bomber Command who hit those dams so accurately over 70 years ago in Germany, the producer who wants to remake the famous film about the raid keeps on missing his target.
Sir Peter Jackson refuses to say when his new version of The Dam Busters, with a script written by Stephen Fry, will be made. Indeed he professes to becoming increasingly “irritated” when people ask him about it now, even though he has held the rights for five years.

It’s not just the text which is interchangeable in all three versions. Mr Helliker has recycled the same 2014 quote from Sir Peter Jackson: ‘There’s only a limited span I can abide of people driving me nuts asking me when I’m going to do it.’ To add interest, Sir Peter is variously described as ‘being dismissive’, ‘declaring tetchily’, and becoming ‘increasingly irritated’. As indeed he might when he reads this comment for the third time.

The recycling doesn’t stop there. Each article has a quote from a Mr Jim Dooley of the Bomber Command Association. In both 2016 and 2017 he is quoted as saying: ‘It’s a film everyone wants; the original one is always being shown and they wouldn’t do that if there wasn’t an interest in it.’ In 2014, he said: ‘The time to make this film is right now; we are waiting with baited breath. These chaps might not be with us for much longer, and we were hoping for a big opening night to boost funds needed to maintain the new Bomber Command memorial in London.’ So Mr Helliker must have troubled himself to pick up the phone to Mr Dooley on two separate occasions.

Each of the three articles also mentions what Mr Helliker calls ‘chatter’, but seems largely to be generated by him, that the cast of the film will include Colin Firth as Barnes Wallis and Tom Hollander as Guy Gibson. The fact that Tom Hollander (a fine actor, of course) is now in fact 49 and therefore unlikely to be cast as a 24 year old war hero is not mentioned. But original research (such as checking out his Wikipedia entry) doesn’t seem to be Mr Helliker’s forté.

Instead, he just pulls up an old piece he wrote a few months ago, swaps around a few paragraphs and hopes that no one notices. Maybe the line at the top of the page should be changed to ‘Whispers from the Bottom. Recycling old tat every week.’ 

[Thanks to Dom Howard! Full disclosure: the quote in the headline ‘Déjà vu all over again’ is attributed to baseball coach Yogi Berra. Or so it says on his Wikipedia page. ]

The ‘Doc’ and the key

Key used before the Dams Raid to prevent the Upkeep mines from being detonated prematurely. [Pic: Watson family]

Irene Thornton, the daughter of Flt Lt Henry (‘Doc’) Watson, 617 Squadron’s Armaments Officer at the time of the Dams Raid, has been in touch. She has one of the ‘keys’ which were used before the raid to stop the Upkeep mines being prematurely detonated. Her father retained one as a souvenir. Another one was sold in 2010 and a third was given by the family of Group Captain Ivan Whittaker (the engineer in AJ-P) to the museum at RAF Halton.

Henry Watson was born on 16 September 1914 in the mining village of Fishburn, Co. Durham. He did not want to follow his brother down the local mine; he wanted to be an RAF pilot. But when he found that his vision was not up to the standard required, he chose to apply to the Technical Training School at RAF Halton. He entered in January 1930, and became an armament fitter.

He passed out from Halton in December 1932, and was posted to both Iraq and Malta before the war. In early 1939 he returned to the UK and was posted to 106 Squadron. A further posting sent him to 83 Squadron.

Plt Off Henry Watson MBE. [Pic: Watson family]

He was Mentioned in Dispatches twice before receiving an MBE in June 1942. Part of the citation read:

“This Warrant Officer has been in charge of the Armament Section since February 1941. It has been due to his untiring efforts that operations have never been delayed despite short notice of bombing up or last minute changes of bomb load.…. On a recent occasion when an aircraft crashed on the aerodrome, he was immediately on the spot and rendered great assistance to the Station Armament Officer by rendering the bombs safe without regard to his personal safety.”

Watson was commissioned in early 1943, and then posted to the new 617 Squadron being established at Scampton. He soon found that he had a completely new weapon to deal with: Barnes Wallis’s ‘bouncing bomb’, which was being tested under very strict security.

Or so it was thought. But on 2 May 1943 when Watson returned from a three week attachment at RAF Manston testing out the weapon he was called into Guy Gibson’s office to report on progress. Gibson was very perturbed by some of what Watson told him, and sat down to send a handwritten report to 5 Group Headquarters. He had himself been told to maintain the utmost secrecy, and so obviously didn’t even want the details communicated to a typist.

Gibson wrote:

(1) Within three days of arriving at Manston, P/O Watson was shown a file which I think you have seen. This contained:

a. Sectional drawings of certain objectives
b. A map of the Ruhr showing these objectives
c. Various secret details in connection with Upkeep.

(2) That P/O Watson, an armament officer in this squadron, thus knows more about this operation than either of my Flight Commanders and at the time, more than I did myself.

I have had a long talk with this officer and am satisfied that he understands the vital need for security, and the disregard of security will lead to most distressing results. But I consider that there is no need for a squadron armaments officer to be given such information.

P/O Watson, tells me moreover, that he read this file in company with a F/O Rose, who belongs to 618 Squadron, Coastal Command. This officer is engaged in the same type of work as ourselves, but has no connection with any matter concerning Upkeep.

P/O Watson informs me that he was shown this file by W/C Garner of M.A.E.E. In fairness to W/C Garner I should like to point out that he has been doing excellent work whilst he has been in charge of the trials at Manston. However, I do feel that the more people who know, the looser the security will be. [AIR 14-595. Punctuation and spelling as in original.]

At the bottom of the page there appears in Gibson’s writing the phrase ‘Seen by me’. Underneath that is Watson’s signature. So it would seem that Gibson wanted to make sure that Watson knew the importance of keeping the secret by getting him to sign the memorandum.

After the raid, Watson took part in the official celebrations. He and the other technical officers were presented to the King on the royal visit to Scampton on 27 May 1943. He also travelled to London for the investiture, and was at the dinner in the Hungaria restaurant which followed.

617 Squadron’s technical officers being presented to the King, 27 May 1943. L-R: Flt Lt Cliff Caple (engineering officer), Plt Off Henry Watson (armaments officer), Plt Off James Hodgson (electrical officer). [Pic: Watson family]

Watson remained with 617 Squadron until December 1943, but was then posted to India to serve in 355 and 356 Squadrons, flying American-built Liberator bomber. After the war he went back to working in engineering. He started again as a fitter and turner at a factory in Stockton-on-Tees but rose within 10 years to become its manager. He went on to be the MD of a larger company and established its Apprentice Training School in Ipswich.

Henry Watson died on 22 February 1995.

[Thanks to Irene Thornton and the Watson family]

Album return brings Dambuster families together

Shere Fraser, daughter of John Fraser, and Ken Heather, nephew of Ken Earnshaw, embrace after the Earnshaw family photograph album is returned. [Pic: Shere Fraser]

A battered wartime photograph album containing 290 prints was returned to its rightful owners on Saturday. The ceremony took place at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta and brought together the families of two Canadian crewmates, John Fraser and Ken Earnshaw, who had served together for several months in the RAF’s 50 Squadron before being transferred to a new outfit, 617 Squadron, to undertake the Dams Raid in May 1943. Their aircraft had been shot down as it attacked the Möhne Dam: Earnshaw died as it crashed, but Fraser was able to bale out, and became a prisoner of war.
In the late 1990s, both families had separately sent material, including the airmens’ RCAF logbooks, to London-based researcher Alex Bateman to help him in his work. However, he had failed to return the material when asked, and then claimed that the items had been stolen from his home. After a long campaign by John Fraser’s daughter, Shere Fraser, Bateman had been prosecuted for the theft of the Fraser logbook, and he is now serving a two year prison sentence. Earnshaw’s logbook is still missing.

The album and loose photos, contained in a Metropolitan Police evidence bag. [Pic: Shere Fraser]

During a search of Bateman’s home, the police found Ken Earnshaw’s photograph album hidden in a wardrobe. It was confiscated, and entrusted to Shere Fraser to bring back to Canada to hand over to the Earnshaw family.
Also present were relatives from two other Dambuster families – Rob Taerum, nephew of Harlo Taerum, navigator in AJ-G, and Joe McCarthy Jr, son of Joe McCarthy, pilot of AJ-T. Afterwards, the engines on the Museum’s Avro Lancaster bomber were fired up in their honour.
L-R: Rob Taerum, Shere Fraser, Jim Heather, Joe McCarthy. [Pic: Jim Heather]

All roads lead to Alberta

Shere Fraser in her home in Washington State. Pic: Calgary Herald

There is much local interest in Alberta about the return of a photo album to the family of the Canadian Dambuster to whom it belonged, according to this report in the Calgary Herald.
As we said in the previous post, the album was the property of Canadian navigator Ken Earnshaw, who was killed on the Dams Raid in May 1943. It was found by police in 2015 in the London home of Alex Bateman, who was sent to prison in February for the theft of the RCAF logbook of Earnshaw’s comrade John Fraser. It is believed that Bateman also stole Earnshaw’s logbook but no prosecution was brought on this matter.
The police entrusted the photo album to Fraser’s daughter Shere, who was present at the sentencing hearing in London. She brought it back to Canada and will hand it over it to Earnshaw’s nephew Jim Heather on Saturday 22 April. The event will take place at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta.
Thanks to Jim Heather.

 

Earnshaw photo album to be returned to family

John Fraser and Ken Earnshaw are respectively second and third from the left in the back row in this picture, taken when they served together in 50 Squadron.
Back, L-R: W Mooney, J W Fraser, K Earnshaw, N L Schofield, B Jagger.
Front, L-R: J O Christie, R A Baker. [Pic: Fraser family]

On Saturday 22 April a special presentation will be made at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta. Shere Fraser Lowe, daughter of Flt Sgt John Fraser who was shot down over the Möhne Dam and became a Prisoner of War, will present a very special photo album to Jim Heather. Jim is the nephew of Flg Off Ken Earnshaw who was the navigator on the same aircraft as Fraser. Earnshaw was killed when the Lancaster crashed. The photo album, together with Fraser’s logbook and other Dambuster-related documents, had been stolen from the families in the 1990s.
The Earnshaw album was recovered by the Metropolitan Police from the house in London of the researcher Alex Bateman, who was recently jailed for two years after being found guilty of the theft of John Fraser’s logbook. (See here for coverage of the trial and verdict.) After the trial, the police gave the Earnshaw album to Shere Fraser Lowe, entrusting her with bringing the album back to Canada and returning it to the Earnshaw family.
Despite being found guilty, Bateman continues to maintain his innocence, and refuses to disclose what happened to the logbook.
Also attending will be two more relatives of RCAF aircrew who took part in the Dams Raid: Joe McCarthy jr, son of Flt Lt Joe McCarthy, one of the two pilots who attacked the Sorpe Dam and Rob Taerum, the nephew of Plt Off Harlo Taerum, navigator of the lead aircraft on the Dams Raid.
After the presentation, the engines of the museum’s Lancaster will be started for the first time this season. Their roar will provide a fitting salute to the persistence and tenacity with which Shere Fraser Lowe pursued the return of her stolen artifacts.
Further details on the museum website.

Treasure from the deep

Pic: Lisa Clayton

Lisa Clayton, who lives in Herne Bay on the north coast of Kent, got a surprise when out for a walk at Reculver beach on Wednesday. She came across a complete endcap from one of the test ‘bouncing bombs’ dropped there during training for the Dams Raid in May 1943.
[Report and pictures: Kent Live]
Other parts of the concrete-filled bombs have turned up over the years since, but it is unusual to find such a large piece.
Reculver was used by the crews of 617 Squadron for low-level test drops of the bombs, including a full scale dress rehearsal on Friday 14 May 1943. Some of the test bombs were half-size but this would seem to be a full-size version. The photograph below shows a still from the film made of one of the test drops. Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bomb, is the bareheaded man on the left of the group, with his arms outstretched.

Pic: IWM FLM 2343

It would be nice to think that the endcap will be recovered and put on display somewhere! Any suggestions?
[Hat tip: Susan Paxton]