AJ-A memorial nearly there: please help it get to target

One of the members of the crew of AJ-A on the Dams Raid, wireless operator Lawrence Nichols, pictured here during training with the rest of the participants on his wireless course. The picture was probably taken in Blackpool in 1941. Nichols is sitting on the ground in the centre of the front row. [Pic: © Ray Hepner collection.]

The appeal for funds for a new memorial plaque on the Dutch coast, near where Sqn Ldr Melvin Young’s Lancaster, AJ-A, was shot down on the night of the Dams Raid has been very successful, and has so far raised about 80% of the €3500 needed.

The organisers, the 617 Squadron Netherlands Aircrew Memorial Foundation is now appealing to anyone who has not yet supported the campaign to do so as soon as possible so that work can begin on designing and producing the plaque and its associated works.

The Foundation was established to commemorate all members of 617 Squadron who lost their lives in the war. As part of this work, the Foundation will unveil a memorial plaque to the crew of AJ-A on the seafront at Castricum-aan-Zee in late May 2018, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the retrieval of their bodies from the sea and their burial in the nearby Bergen cemetery. Members of the families of the crew of AJ-A have already said that they hope to be present for this occasion.

If you haven’t yet made a donation to the Foundation, then this is your chance to do so! Please use the PayPal link below. (Any credit card can be used – you don’t need to have a PayPal account in order to make a payment.) Your donation will be gratefully received and will be acknowledged at the unveiling ceremony.


Portrait of the Dambuster artist

Jack Guterman in a formal portrait, taken in about 1941. Pic: Guterman family

Jack Guterman was born in Guildford, Surrey, on 1 August 1920, the older of the two children of Jack and Jane Guterman. His father came from a Jewish family who had fled Poland in the 1890s, while his mother was of Irish descent. His father, an accountant, had served on the Western Front in the First World War. Guterman went to Sandfield Primary School and on to Guildford Royal Grammar School in 1931. He left school in 1937 and studied at art school in Andover, where his tutor was the artist Dick Hosking. He then went to work in his father’s accountancy practice.

When the war came, he volunteered for the RAF and was selected for training as an air observer. He went on to qualify as a wireless operator/air gunner, and finished his training in the autumn of 1941.

Guterman had great potential as an artist, and hung his own oil paintings and drawings on the walls of the various rooms he lived in during his RAF career. He took his paints and drawing materials from base to base and carried on producing quality work. He also loved literature and music, and collected records and books. He wrote regularly to his family, sending them a remarkable series of letters with details of concerts he had heard on the radio, accounts of how his artistic work was progressing, witty pen portraits of his RAF colleagues and vivid descriptions of the countryside over which he had flown.

He was posted to 207 Squadron at RAF Bottesford in February 1942, and started operational flying in June 1942. Along with navigator Plt Off Jack Barrett he joined the crew of Flt Sgt Anthony Walters, and they flew on some 19 operations together before going first to a conversion unit and then back to 207 Squadron to a new crew skippered by another pilot, Sgt Warner (‘Bill’) Ottley. By this stage, 207 Squadron had moved to RAF Langar.

He became good friends with Ottley, and they shared a room together in their quarters in the conversion unit at RAF Swinderby. A letter to his sister ‘Babs’ written in early October 1942 gives a good account of their warm relationship:

I now occupy the bed next to Ottley (the fellow in between left today and we are glad as he was deadly dull) so now I am entertained all night by his long and endless store of anecdotes (some of which are remarkably funny but could hardly be accepted with any degree of morality in the drawing room) so it is impossible to relapse into status melancholis.
I have just read the former paragraph out to Ottley himself whose sole remark was “Oh Christ” – but he’s really quite respectable. We were listening to the news just now and his remark on an announcement concerning the calling up of women (of a certain age) was: “Oh Yes! My mother gets great sport out of this calling up business. It’s the only way of finding out her best friends real ages: “You know Bill, Mrs X once told me she was 35 but she registered today so she must really be 41!” That’s the sort of thing I have to put up with.

Guterman’s last operation in 207 Squadron was on 8 March 1943, on a trip to Nuremburg. With this he finished his tour and could have opted to go to a training unit for at least six months. He was also recommended for a DFM, for which the citation read:

In both capacities [as air gunner and wireless operator], he has consistently shown the greatest enthusiasm, determination and efficiency. In the capacity of air gunner, Sergeant Guterman displays a fine fighting spirit, welcoming every opportunity to use his guns against the enemy. On one occasions when returning from Kassel, he successfully attacked light gun and searchlight positions from a low level. His courage, reliability and perseverance have made this airman a most valuable member of aircrew.

Unfortunately the award did not come through before the Dams Raid, and the medal was sent to his family after the war.

Although he could have gone on an instructional role in an OTU, Guterman wasn’t enthusiastic at the prospect: ‘Ugh! Ugh!’, he wrote to his sister on 18 February 1943, and followed this up on 4 March with the news that he was to be posted to a ‘wretched training station in the Lincoln vicinity’. However, somehow he managed to get the transfer postponed, so he was still at Langar when Ottley and his crew were nominated for a transfer to 617 Squadron. As they did not have a regular wireless operator, Guterman must have volunteered to join up with his old comrades, and was posted along with them.

Naturally, he took his painting and drawing materials. He told his family that he had been allocated a room in one of Scampton’s ‘married quarters’ which he shared with a ‘Scots lad’. In a later letter, he referred to him as ‘Johnnie’, so this was probably his crewmate Thomas Johnston. One day, when workmen arrived to paint the outside of the quarters they noticed through the window the display on the walls and enquired what they were. Johnston told them that the items were ‘works of art’ – ‘fleeting fancies materialised in a fleeting form’, a description which left the workmen somewhat baffled.

In the run up to the Dams Raid Guterman found quite a lot of time in which he could paint. He began work on a painting which he called ‘Gethsemane’. In a letter to his sister which is dated ‘early May’ he described how excited he was by the project:

My “Gethsemane” is progressing and flavours of Fra Angelico, the Italian Primitive especially in the “flora” parts. I get so thrilled about it that I cannot get it out of my mind and rush back to do odd things to it throughout the day. I believe it will turn out to be my chef-d’oevre.

‘Gethsemane’ by Jack Guterman, painted 1943. Pic: Guterman family

The finished painting was among the large collection of works which were sent back to the family. He didn’t however mention it in his last letter home, sent to his sister and dated 16 May. Instead he described a trip to Lincoln the day before, in which he had bought three records and studied some art books in the reference library. All in all, he concluded, he was discovering ‘some most quaint corners which each help to raise my opinion of the town’. The letter concluded: ‘I’m boring myself so I don’t know about you! Fond Love Zak.’

A few hours after he finished and posted this letter, AJ-C was shot down near Hamm, and Guterman was one of the six crew members who died instantly. They were originally buried by the Germans in Hamm, but were reinterred after the war in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

One of Jack Guterman’s pictures, given to an acquaintance in 1942, has recently come to light. It is possible that there are other items of his work which survived the war. If anyone knows of any such pieces, the Guterman family would like to hear from them. Please contact this blog, and we will put you in touch.

‘A last smoke before take-off’, drawing by Jack Guterman, 1942/3. Pic: Guterman family

Television Toppers under the spotlight

It has recently emerged that the musical theatre sequence in the 1955 film The Dam Busters was performed by the Television Toppers dance troupe and filmed in the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith.

The information comes from one of the dancers, Jackie Lee, whose daughter Susie Ball has recently posted some comments on an earlier post on this blog. Jackie is seen second from the right at the start of the routine and second from the left at the end. Unfortunately she can’t now recall the name of the singer.

The whole routine was filmed in a day: the dancers were given their routine to learn when they arrived. They shot the first half before lunch, and the other half afterwards. They were introduced to Richard Todd, playing Guy Gibson, who is seen in the film in the audience. During the song and dance routine, Gibson notices how the spotlight operators on each side of the stage move their lights to follow the singer as she moves from side to side. This is supposed to give him the idea for using intersecting spotlights on the Dams Raid aircraft to keep to a fixed height while approaching their targets. In truth, the idea of using spotlights came from a scientist at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and they had been installed several weeks before the raid.

In the 1950s, the Television Toppers were one of Britain’s best known female dance troupes and were contracted to the BBC. They first appeared on television in 1953 and are probably best remembered for their appearances on BBC TV’s Black and White Minstrel Show, which ran from 1958 until 1978. The Toppers were also much in demand for personal appearances and openings. Jackie Lee left them in 1958 when she got married.

Jackie also remembers that the soldier-style costumes worn by the dancers were borrowed from the Empire Leicester Square and made by the well known West End wardrobe suppliers, Berman’s. Costumes in this style were very popular during the war, and would have complemented the music used in the sequence. Earlier research published by this blog has revealed the song to be “Sing, Everybody Sing” by John P Long.

[Thanks to Jackie Lee and Susie Ball for their help.]

Bateman ordered to pay Fraser family £12,500 for logbook theft

Alex Bateman, arriving in court while on trial in January 2017. [Pic: Pixel8000]

Alex Bateman, who was jailed for two years in February for stealing the logbook of Canadian Dams Raid veteran John Fraser, has been ordered to pay £12,500 to Fraser’s widow Doris. Giving the ruling in a compensation hearing in Wood Green Crown Court Judge John Dodd QC said that, even so,  “no financial value could possibly compensate the family” for the theft.
Bateman had claimed during the trial that he had received the book as a gift, and had forged a Christmas card from Doris Fraser to back this up. He claimed that the book had later been stolen from his home. Today in court he still maintained that he last saw the logbook in early 2003, and did not know its current whereabouts.
Judge Dodd went on to say that the theft case had “engaged the emotions in a way that’s unusual”. He added: “It is absolutely clear that no financial value can possibly compensate the family, who have lost this connection with a hero. That’s one of the sad things that no order I make can possibly restore or make good that loss and that sense of betrayal frankly.”

John and Doris Fraser on their wedding day, April 1943. [Pic: Fraser family]

The judge said that he would do all he can “to see that the family receive some appropriate measure, some modest measure of financial compensation” in addition to the value of the book.
Adjourning the case to a date to be fixed, the Judge added: “Mr Bateman has the opportunity to do the honourable thing. I’m sure he knows what I mean by that. I’m sure you all know what I mean by that.”
Shere Fraser, John Fraser’s daughter, commented after the case, speaking from her home in the USA: “There is no outcome from these hearings that can compensate the years of pain and anguish we have felt over the loss of my father’s precious record of his wartime courage, his RCAF log book. Losing my father in a tragic plane crash in my childhood devastated my family. Years later, we are still grieving his loss. Never did our family expect that a heartless criminal would rob us of his legacy of courage. Today’s hearing was another painful reminder that no money will ever replace what he has stolen. Now and forever, I will never give up hope for the recovery of my father’s log book. I am my father’s daughter.”

Further information here:
Report from BBC London
Report from Daily Record

Historic dams test site on view

Pic: Diamond Geezer

Short notice, I know, but if you are in the Watford area tomorrow (Saturday 9 September) you might like to visit this important site. This is the model dam which was built in the grounds of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in Garston, near Watford. The construction took place with great secrecy in the winter of 1940–41, two years before the Dams Raid actually took place. On their own initiative, BRE scientists and their colleagues at the Road Research Laboratory (RRL) in Harmondsworth had been discussing possible ways of attacking the German dams before the involvement of Barnes Wallis.

Wallis was put in touch with the BRE and RRL team, and it was agreed to build a 1/50 scale model of the Möhne Dam on a secluded part of the Garston site. The very informative article on the BRE website tells the story:

The model, which survives today at the centre of the now enlarged BRE site, was built in seven weeks between November 1940 and January 1941. Temperature records from the time show that the winter was very cold, with daytime temperatures close to or below freezing over much of this period, and photographs show snow on the ground.

To conceal its identity, the model was referred to as ‘Weir No. 1.’ in the records. These show that work at the site started on Monday 25 November 1940, when the area was excavated to widen and deepen the stream, and to prepare an area for the concrete base of the dam. The foundation concrete was poured on 29 November, and the two towers of the dam were cast in situ the following Monday. The side wings [were] completed shortly after this. To allow the model to be built across the stream, a pipe was placed in the foundation to carry the water beneath the centre section during its construction.

Having built the model, the scientists then proceeded to try and blow it up. The dam was badly damaged during these tests, and further experiments were carried out elsewhere. However, because it was repaired in the 1960s this is probably the only place where Dams Raid test infrastructure remains in place and viewable by the general public. As such, it was scheduled by English Heritage in 2002 as being not only of ‘national but also international importance’. (In later tests in May 1942 the Nant-y-Gro dam in Wales was also blown up, but it is still viewable in its damaged state.)

To get a flavour of what is also viewable at Garston, read this account of last year’s open day by Diamond Geezer. Hat tip to him for the post alerting me to this event, and also for use of the photograph above.

David Maltby items for sale

Two more items which are claimed to have belonged to Flt Lt David Maltby at the time of the Dams Raid are up for sale at an auction which closes this coming Sunday, 10 September. Like several other items previously sold by the same auctioneer, these are the property of the same collector who acquired them all from Hydneye House School when it closed in the early 1970s. Hydneye House School – a boys’ preparatory school – had been owned and run by David Maltby’s parents, Ettrick and Aileen Maltby, until they retired in 1955.
As with the earlier items sold, neither has ever been seen before by current members of the Maltby family, who cannot therefore provide any provenance for them.

Alan Gillespie: prized possessions

Alan Gillespie was a pupil at Appleby Grammar School in what was then called Westmorland from 1934 to 1939. In those days children ended state elementary schooling at the age of 14, so the only way by which a child could carry on free education was by getting a place at a grammar school on a local authority scholarship. Aged 11, Gillespie won a scholarship from Long Marton primary school and entered the grammar school, which was three miles away from his home. His father’s occupation was given as ‘railwayman’.
By 1936, school records show that the family had moved to the nearby village of Crosby Garret, a few miles the other side of Appleby. Gillespie passed the School Certificate and left in July 1939 after finishing Form V. He became a solicitor’s clerk, but the records do not show which firm he joined.
Gillespie was obviously a studious boy, and won the two school prizes shown here. In 1938, he won the Form IV prize for General Merit and the following year secured the Form V prize for Woodwork.
The books are now in New Zealand, in the possession of his niece, Susan Richardson. Her father was John Gillespie, Alan’s elder brother.
Thanks to Susan Richardson for help with this article.