Rare Gibson picture from RAF Syerston

Pic: Valerie Davies Arends

To mark tomorrow’s 76th anniversary of the Dams Raid, here is a rarely seen photograph of Guy Gibson, taken while he was Commanding Officer of 106 Squadron at RAF Syerston. It is undated, but must have been taken before 8 December 1942 as the central figure is Gp Capt Augustus Walker, CO of RAF Syerston, who lost his right arm that day on his own airfield, trying to rake burning incendiaries from an aircraft which had somehow ignited. The man on the right is Wg Cdr Richard Coad, the CO of 61 Squadron, which was also based at Syerston.

Gibson was one of those who accompanied Walker to hospital after his accident, and it was while Walker was being treated that Gibson first met Cpl Margaret North, a WAAF nurse, with whom he later had an intense but platonic liaison.

[Thanks to Valerie Davies Arends for the use of this picture.]



Mary Stopes-Roe

Pic: Barnes Wallis Foundation

I am sorry to have to announce the death of Mary Stopes-Roe, who died peacefully at her home in Birmingham on Friday 10 May.

Mary Eyre Wallis was born in York in 1927, the second of the four children of Barnes and Molly Wallis. When her father’s job at Vickers took him to Brooklands in Surrey, the family moved to nearby Effingham. Mary went away to boarding school at Godolphin School in Salisbury, and was a pupil there in the run up to the Dams Raid in 1943. Earlier she and her siblings had helped her father in his famous home experiments with marbles, a catapult and a tin bath as he tried to work out how to ‘bounce’ a bomb across water. When she heard the news about the raid itself from her headmistress she worked out what had been going on and sent a telegram to her ‘wonderful Daddy’.

After the war, Mary got a degree in history from the University of London. She then married the academic Harry Stopes-Roe, who had started his career as a physicist, but went on to take a PhD at Cambridge in philosophy. They had four children of their own, the last born in 1958 shortly before they moved to Birmingham, when he took up a post at the city’s university. Once all of her four children were at grammar school, Mary took a second degree in Psychology. ‘I thought the subject would be rather interesting, and I didn’t want to dust the house for the rest of my life,’ she said in a recent interview. She also gained a PhD and became a Research Fellow in the University of Birmingham School of Psychology where she remained until she retired in the 1990s. During her academic career she did extensive research, particularly on parent and family-child interactions, and was widely published.

After retirement she took on organising her father’s archives as well as other work on her family history. She edited the extensive pre-marital correspondence between Barnes and Molly Wallis in the early 1920s which had taken the form of a correspondence course in mathematics, but in fact was composed of dozens of charming love letters. This was published as Mathematics with Love in 2004. The archives are now housed in various institutions, and Mary herself became the President and a Trustee of the Barnes Wallis Foundation, formed to advance education in aviation design and honour her father’s name.

Mary was also very active in 617 Squadron Association affairs, and made many media appearances in the last few years talking about her father’s involvement in Operation Chastise. She will be sadly missed at future events.

Mary and Harry Stopes-Roe were married for 66 years until he died, almost five years to the day before her, on 11 May 2014. Mary leaves four children, ten grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, and also her sister, Elisabeth.

Sources: Barnes Wallis Foundation
Moseley B13 magazine

In Charlie Williams Country, part II

Bannockburn today. The central part of the house directly ahead is original. The section to the left is partly filled-in and partly more recent construction. This includes the kitchen, which likely was originally separate from the house.

Guest post: more from Susan Paxton’s recent trip to Queensland, Australia, in the footsteps of Flg Off Charlie Williams. Here she visits the home where the Williams family lived from 1933.  Text and all new photos by Susan Paxton.

When Horace Edward Williams lost his place as manager of Telemon Station, he had to act quickly. At 69 years of age, likely he had been looking forward to a pleasant retirement once his sons Doug or Charlie took his place, but any promises his former employer had made were now moot. Horace made Townsville, on the coast, his temporary base of operations, and set to work looking for a new opportunity. One day, he spotted this advertisement in a local paper:

Under Instruction from THE UNION TRUSTEE COMPANY OF AUSTRALIA LIMITED, Executors and Trustees in the Estate of William Charles Reed deceased; Solicitors to the Estate, Messrs. Marsland & Marsland, MESSRS. DALGETY &. COMPANY LIMITED, HUGHENDEN, in conjunction with the QUEENSLAND PRIMARY PRODUCERS’ CO- OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION LIMITED, TOWNSVILLE, will offer by PUBLIC AUCTION AT CENTRAL HOTEL LOUNGE, HUGHENDEN, on SATURDAY 21st OCTOBER, 1933, at 11 a.m.
SITUATED – Approximately 80 miles south-easterly from Prairie Railway

A long description of the property followed making it sound paradisiacal. Horace knew better. When he’d first arrived in Queensland as a 16-year-old immigrant he’d worked for his uncle James Tolson at a property adjacent to Bannockburn, Uanda. He was well aware that the area was arid and, unlike Telemon, extremely isolated. The nearest towns were Prairie and Torrens Creek – both specks on the railroad that ran inland from Townsville through Charters Towers and on west – to the north, and Muttaburra and Aramac to the south, only slightly larger and even farther away. Horace also knew that, run very carefully and with the minimum of paid help, Bannockburn could be made to turn a tidy profit. While too arid for lambing, wethers (castrated male sheep) would put on high quality wool eating the available forage. Organizing a syndicate with two friends who were in the shipping industry in Townsville, Horace assembled enough capital to buy the place.

For Charlie and Doug, any hopes that they had had of becoming station managers pretty much ended at Bannockburn. They became station hands, nothing more; the work of the place fell entirely onto them, with only one hired hand. Perhaps what it meant to Charlie in particular comes from his photo albums. His photos of Telemon are full of fun, of visits to and from neighbors, trips to Townsville and Sydney, parties, picnics, often with amusing captions. There are only four or five snaps from Bannockburn, all of them views of the house, with no captions at all other than “Bannockburn.”

The Williams family put a great deal of effort and money into Bannockburn and indeed almost immediately had the place earning its way and providing enough income to make further improvements. Horace had the small and bare homestead enlarged, added stands to the shearing shed, had new bores drilled, bought more sheep. But with the coming of war, at least one of his sons was more than eager to get away from the place and its unrelenting drudgery and tedious isolation. So it was in late January 1941 that Charlie Williams walked down the steps, into a car, and was off to the railroad station at Torrens Creek. He would never return.

Telemon today is a ruin; Bannockburn is a working station owned and run by Bill and Amy Dart, with their children Cameron, Malcolm, and Ruby. In the Williams’ day it was a sheep station; the Darts run cattle, sturdy Droughtmaster breeds.

While the interior of Bannockburn has changed a good deal, this is almost certainly original and gives an impression of the rather spare house the Williams family moved into.

The shearing shed at Bannockburn. The reason for the height of the building above ground is two-fold; it made it easier to load bales of wool directly into the bed of a truck, and if rain started during shearing the sheep would be driven under the building and penned in to stay dry, since wet sheep cannot be sheared.

The interior of the shearing shed, which Bill Dart uses today to store hay. The prefabricated iron construction is notable.

This single-cylinder diesel motor was used to turn the drive belts for the shears and other equipment. Although taken down, most of the pulleys and other equipment are still stacked around the shed.

The shearer’s quarters, now used for storage. The chimney marks the kitchen.

This old water trough dates from the Williams’ time. The remains of the tank it was once attached to are visible behind it. The bare patch gives an indication of the size of the tank; Bill Dart told me it takes decades for plants to regrow in this area when the roots have been killed.

The last sheep at Bannockburn! The Darts found this now-elderly resident on the road when it was a baby and they saved and raised it.

This monument in Torrens Creek remembers Jack Bunt, “A man of courage and integrity,” the local mailman whose long, lonely route took him every Monday to Bannockburn, where he delivered the letters Charlie Williams was writing home. The fence beyond marks the site of the railroad station from which Charlie left to report to the RAAF.

Once again, my visit was made possible by Helen Williams-Brown, who was my patient companion in my pilgrimage. Bill and Amy Dart and their children Malcolm and Ruby (oldest son Cameron was away at school) were our unfailingly pleasant and very interesting hosts for our overnight stay at Bannockburn.

AJ-Z memorial to be unveiled in May

The crew of AJ-Z, killed returning from the attack on the Eder Dam, 17 May 1943. L-R: Henry Maudslay, Jack Marriott, Robert Urquhart, Alden Cottam, John Fuller, William Tytherleigh, Norman Burrows. [Collage of pics: © Dambusters Blog]

The memorial to the Dams Raid crew skippered by Henry Maudslay will be unveiled on 17 May 2019, near where they were shot down in the early morning of 17 May 1943, seventy-six years ago. The event has been organised by local researcher Marcel Hahn.

On the Dams Raid, Henry Maudslay and his crew in Lancaster AJ-Z, had been spectators at the Möhne Dam when it was breached. The three Lancasters still with bombs on board were directed to go to the Eder dam. The attacking force quickly realised that the dam presented a much more difficult target. The lake is smaller and set in a deep valley, meaning that there is a much shorter approach which starts with a very tricky steep dive from over the Waldeck Castle. This is followed by a sharp turn to port. Given the geography, the Germans had obviously discounted the idea of an aerial attack, since there were no gun batteries in the vicinity.

David Shannon in AJ-L was the first to try an attack, and made three or four passes without releasing his mine. It was very difficult to get down to the right height after the dive, and then turn. Then Gibson told Maudslay to try, and he found it just as hard, so Shannon had another go. Two more dummy runs followed until, at last, he got the angle and speed right and dropped his mine. It bounced twice, hit the dam wall and exploded sending up a huge waterspout. At the later debriefing his effort is reported as ‘no result was seen’ but Shannon in fact felt that he had made a small breach.

Maudslay had another attempt but then something went wrong. His mine was released too late, hit the parapet and exploded. Although his aircraft was beyond the dam by the time this occurred, it may have been damaged, since his later progress home was slower than would be expected. Some reports say that something was seen hanging down below the aircraft, perhaps caused by hitting trees on the run in.

Gibson saw that AJ-Z had fired a red Very light signal after passing over the dam wall and called Maudslay on the radio: ‘Henry – Henry. Z-Zebra – Z-Zebra. Are you OK?’ Nothing was heard, so he repeated the call. This time Maudslay’s voice could be heard, although the signal was faint: ‘I think so. Stand by …’ This signal – confirmed by members of Shannon’s and Knight’s crews – was the last voice contact anyone made with AJ-Z.

In fact they would stay airborne for a further fifty minutes. At 0157, some twenty minutes after they had dropped their mine, wireless operator Alden Cottam sent a ‘Goner 28B’ message back to base, which indicates that they were making progress. At about 0230, they had reached the Rhine. The turning point on the return route was supposed to be at the town of Rees, but Maudslay headed 20 miles north of this towards Emmerich, which was defended by several Heimat light flak anti-aircraft batteries, largely manned by non-military personnel. Some of the outbound force had in fact passed over the town a few hours earlier so the batteries were on alert for the opportunity to fire on any returning crews. When AJ-Z was heard approaching Emmerich it came within range of the batteries on the south and east edges. They fired on the aircraft, and although it turned to the right to try and avoid the flak, either an engine or a fuel tank was hit, as there was a burst of flame. The aircraft lost height and crashed in a field at 0236 close to the hamlet of Osterholt, between the German town of Klein Netterden and the Dutch town of ’s Heerenberg. The following morning, German officials recovered seven bodies from the wreckage. Two were identified as Alden Cottam and Jack Marriott, but the rest were recorded as unidentified. All seven were buried in the Northern Military Cemetery at Düsseldorf, and were reburied after the war in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Reichswald Forest.

Members of the Maudslay and Marriott families are expected to attend the unveiling of the memorial, which will take place at 1430 on Friday 17 May. Other families and distinguished guests will be confirmed nearer the time. Members of the public are welcome to attend. The location is shown in the map below. Refreshments will be served afterwards in the MU-Cafe, also shown on the map.

Marcel Hahn can be reached by email here and also on the event’s Facebook page.

In Charlie Williams country

Guest post.
Long time friend of this blog Susan Paxton has recently been to Queensland, Australia, on a trip to find out more about the life of Flg Off Charlie Williams DFC, wireless operator in the AJ-E crew which took part in the Dams Raid.
Text and all new photos by Susan Paxton.

Telemon in the early 1930s. The poinciana tree to the right; in the garden Mrs Williams and daughter Sheila. Possibly H.E. Williams standing to left. Fenced rain gauge in the foreground. Photo taken by Charlie Williams. [Pic: Williams family]

On the morning of 25 March 1919, Matthew Macalister, the elderly manager of Telemon Station, located in Flinders Shire not too far, in bush terms, from Hughenden in Queensland, stepped out to walk to the shearing shed, promising to return for lunch. When he did not, someone went to check on him and found that he had never arrived. Word was sent to neighboring Marathon Station and a search effort hastily organized. All through the night the search went on, but it wasn’t until 8 am that a drover found Macalister where he’d fallen, dead of a heart attack or stroke.

Local writer “Bill Bowyang” noted in his regular column “Along the Track,” printed in the Townsville Daily Bulletin, “…the owners of Telemon will seek afar for the man to fill his place.” But in fact the owners of Telemon did not have to search far at all, for, from a nearby station they also owned, Tamworth, they tagged the manager, Horace Edward Williams, to take Macalister’s place. H.E. Williams brought with him his wife Helene, his daughter Sheila, and his two sons, Doug and Charlie.

Charles Rowland Williams, future DFC, had just turned ten when his family moved to Telemon, widely felt to be one of the finest sheep stations in Queensland, with 60,000 acres of freehold. Situated on a low hill above the Flinders River floodplain, the station homestead was beautifully located, but too small. Horace immediately set about improvements, starting by jacking the existing single-storey house up. A concrete floor was poured and a first storey built under, creating a house that was both spacious and, for the bush, elegant. Shady verandas encircled most of the first and second storeys; a spreading poinciana tree grew in the front. Stone walks were laid and gateposts marked the entrance; the usual scatter of station outbuildings spread out to one side and behind, along with a water tank on an iron stand to provide piped water. It was here that, for the next fourteen years, Charlie Williams would live and learn his trade as a station manager.

Good things do not last. In the spring of 1933 Telemon was sold, and the Williams family lost their place. The house likely sat empty for a time since Telemon was merged with adjacent Marathon. In 1948 the Stewart-Moore family bought Telemon to add to their property, Dunluce, and for several years lived there until they decided it was more practical to live at the Dunluce homestead, closer to the new Flinders Highway and the existing railroad. For a few years into the 1960s a boundary rider lived in the house; it must have been a lonely existence. Finally, the house was left to the elements.

In March 2019 my search for CharIie Williams brought me to Telemon, almost exactly 100 years since the Williams family arrived. What is left is saddening. Sometime probably in the 1980s, unheard by human ears, the house collapsed, and all of the outbuildings have followed suit. The hill is crowned with shapeless piles of broken, weathered wood, and the paddock around is littered with scattered corrugated iron sheets blown here and there by the occasional storms. Now and then a landmark can be spotted; the iron frame that supported the water tank, the flagstone walkway, one of the gateposts.

Telemon, March 2019

It is quiet there; the only sounds are the wind, the lowing of cattle, the sudden sound of disturbed locusts whirring away. Possibly if one had time to sit on the rocky ground, back against the one standing gatepost, and just listen, you might hear voices, or music. There was life here once; Charlie’s photo albums show costume parties, tennis matches, New Year’s celebrations, boating on the waterholes. The local papers record how the town folk from Hughenden would come here to play cricket against the country dwellers. Now, it is silent.
Charlie Williams, killed on 16 May 1943 in the raid on the dams, is buried a world away, in Germany. I suspect some of his heart remains here.

The remaining gatepost and traces of the flagstone path to the front door, with the house beyond.

The iron posts were adapted from bore casings and once supported the upstairs veranda

One of the few identifiable features, the large post leaning to the right here stood in the living room.

Charlie Williams, aged about 20, photographed on a trip to Townsville. [Pic: Williams family.]

My visit to Telemon was made possible by Helen Williams-Brown, who accompanied me on a whirlwind tour of what I insisted on calling “Charlie Williams country”; by Jack Stewart-Moore, whose property Dunluce subsumes the old Telemon ruin and who gave us permission; and by his manager Mark Williams, who was our gracious guide to the site.

Joe McCarthy and his wartime friends

Joe McCarthy’s son, Joe McCarthy Jr, has kindly sent me some more information about the well-known picture of members of his father’s crew fraternising with the crew of an American B-26, taken at the Earls Colne airfield in Essex in 1944. I have previously reproduced a similar picture in the Dambuster of the Day article on Ron Batson.

Joe’s picture is a better shot obviously taken at the same time, as it doesn’t cover Johnny Johnson’s face. He also sent me a clipping from a newspaper given to him by Dorothy Bailey (daughter of Bill Radcliffe, the flight engineer in the McCarthy crew) which reproduces the same picture and helpfully includes a caption listing all the personnel:

Two more interesting points from Joe. The return flight from Earls Colne to Woodhall Spa was probably the last time that Johnny Johnson flew with the crew, as he left the squadron shortly after. McCarthy’s new bomb aimer was ‘Danny’ Daniels who went on to fly with ‘Willie’ Tait, including on the Tirpitz raid.

Next to McCarthy is the American pilot Major John Bull Stirling, another US citizen who joined the RCAF before the USA entered the war. In fact Stirling had been in the same RCAF training class in Ontario as McCarthy but he chose to transfer into the US Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor. According to this entry on the American Air Museum in Britain website, he had an eventful time during the war and died in 1988.

A model masterpiece

In the 1960s, like many children of my age, I was an avid builder of Airfix plastic model aircraft. I made a reasonably decent job of them, but I remember the slight disappointment that the final results never quite resembled the smart looking painting on the box.

Then, one recent Christmas some 50 years after I had last opened up an Airfix box, I was given a present of a model Lancaster.

I toyed with the idea of building the model myself, but in the end my nerve failed me and I put it away in a cupboard. There it languished for a year or two, until I had an email exchange with my old friend Dom Howard, the great nephew of Dams Raid pilot Cyril Anderson. Several years ago, we had both been active on the old Lancaster Archive Forum (still much missed by those of us of a certain age) and I knew that this had a sub-forum on model aircraft. A prominent member of this had been a model builder called Ian Collis, whose pictures of his work in progress showed that he was a real ace at this kind of detailed work.

So I decided, as a treat to myself, that I would ask Ian to build the model for me. It was to be decorated with the markings which my uncle, David Maltby, had carried on his aircraft ED906 AJ-J on the night of the Dams Raid. Ian kept me informed about how he was getting on and posted the occasional shots on his Facebook page of the work in progress. Then a few days ago he put up the final series showing the completed work. Here is a link to the page on which they are displayed.

Talk about Wow factor! In every shot one can only marvel at the level of detail of his work. Here is a shot of the cockpit, front turret and bomb aimer’s position, each with an individual figure.

And here’s the bomb aimer himself, apparently crafted from a model soldier using a pair of binoculars, using the famous wooden bombsight, made to 1:72 scale!

I’m just overwhelmed by the pictures and am much looking forward to collecting the finished model from Ian very shortly. A masterpiece indeed.