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]

 

Dam Busters in six sheets

Pic: Ray Hepner Collection

A giant six-sheet size poster for the 1955 film The Dam Busters recently came onto the market, and was bought by our old friend, the collector Ray Hepner. He is now having it professionally mounted on linen so that it can be displayed.
Although the size (approx 81 inches square) is known in the poster trade as a ‘six sheet’, the poster was in fact printed in four parts with overlaps (which you can see in the picture above). Because most posters this size were displayed on outside hoardings, and then pasted over the following week, they are quite rare and much sought after by collectors. You do, however, need a pretty big wall on which to display something this size. Clear that space, Jeeves!

Alex Bateman jailed for two years: full report

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Shere Fraser Lowe and her husband Joe McCarthy Jr outside Wood Green Crown Court today.

Alex Bateman has been sent to jail for two years following his conviction for the theft of the logbook belonging to Flt Sgt John Fraser, the bomb aimer who flew in John Hopgood’s crew on the Dams Raid in May 1943.
Bateman was found guilty last month after a five day trial in Wood Green Crown Court, and appeared today for sentencing.
John Fraser’s daughter Shere Fraser Lowe had flown from her home in Washington State, USA, to attend the hearing. Prosecuting counsel Jollyon Robertson summarised the victim personal statement which she had submitted to the court, and then invited her to take the witness stand. She described how she had been ‘overjoyed’ when Bateman promised to return the logbook to her in 2003, and how distraught she and her mother had been when they were sent a damaged envelope from which the logbook was missing. Her mother was actually physically sick, she recalled. The loss of the logbook had been a lasting deep and emotional scar.
Robertson went on to give more details about the caution given to Bateman in 2003 for the theft of material from the Public Record Office, now the National Archives. He read from a statement made by William Spencer, Principal Specialist: Military Records in the National Archives. This described how an investigation of another individual had elicited Bateman’s name. At the PRO’s request, police went to Bateman’s address and recovered some material. The PRO then requested that a further search take place, and this time Spencer accompanied the police. They found a number of items including two documents of significance relating to 617 Squadron, and an Air Corps training badge. All of these had been removed from the PRO.
However, although the case was passed to the police, it never went to court and an official police caution had been administered.
In mitigation, defence counsel Samantha Wright said that Bateman was struggling to cope. She read a letter which he had written to the court in which he described how he had spent two-thirds of his life researching the Dams Raid, in order, as he said, to ‘pay tribute to those who had served in Bomber Command.’ Wright went on to say that in Bateman’s eyes, he had lost everything. He had had no employment for some 13 years, and was ‘emotionally frail’.
Having heard the submissions, Judge John Dodd QC said that he had given Bateman every opportunity to restore the logbook to its rightful owners. ‘I had hoped that you would have done the decent thing,’ he said. ‘But you maintained the position you had taken during the trial.’
‘The jury plainly didn’t believe you, and neither do I. You lied repeatedly to conceal the truth as to what had happened to the logbook. It remains a mystery as to what you actually did with it.’
‘You have been involved in the theft of historical material for some time, and you are well aware of its financial value.’
‘It is my view that this offence is so serious as to call for a term of immediate imprisonment.’
‘It will be plain to you that I consider this to be a despicable offence involving, as it did, abusing the trust placed in you, presenting yourself as a genuine historian, by the widow of a war hero.’
‘You decided to keep the log book treating it as your own, and misleading the family when they sought its return, which added to their sense of loss and betrayal.’
He sentenced him to a term of two years, saying that he would be released on licence after 12 months.
The judge also set a date for a confiscation hearing in April to settle the matter of compensation.
Speaking later outside the court, Shere Fraser Lowe said it was important that relics of the war were not treated as ‘commodities’.
‘What we value most is upholding my father’s memory and his legacy and his courage,’ she said.
‘For future generations, the log book details his missions, it details his whole service. War is terrible but what is important is that we recognise the courage and the bravery, and we never abuse it – we never treat these items as a commodity.’
‘I know there are good historians and I know there are honest collectors out there. I’m not out to say anything bad about that. But what I want is a balance of respect and trust maintained.’
Fraser Lowe urged anyone who knew where the logbook was to come forward and said the family would never give up hope of getting it back.
‘It can’t be sold on now, and will forever be hunted until it is back with my family. It belongs to its rightful owners,’ she said. ‘I hope that Mr Bateman reflects on this and finds it in his heart to disclose [its] whereabouts.’
There has been a further positive outcome from the police investigation. Among the items found in the police search of Bateman’s house in July 2015 was a wartime photograph album belonging to the family of Flg Off Ken Earnshaw, a crewmate of John Fraser in the Hopgood crew on the Dams Raid. He was one of the 53 personnel who died on the operation.

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Shere Fraser Lowe examines the Earnshaw wartime photograph album

The album has been confiscated, and has now been entrusted to Shere Fraser Lowe. She will take it back to Canada and return it to the Earnshaw family. 

Earnshaw’s logbook was also sent to Bateman in the late 1990s, and is still missing.
Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of either log book, or who has further information about other missing Dambuster material, should contact Acting Detective Sergeant Henry Childe on 020 8345 4552 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.