AJ-H “Damage Report Form” sold on eBay is not genuine

My attention was recently drawn to an item which came up for sale recently on eBay, shown above. This purports to be a wartime form recording the damage suffered by the Lancaster ED936 AJ-H flown by Plt Off Geoff Rice on the Dams Raid. As most regular readers of this blog will know, this aircraft made an early return to base after flying too low over the sea near the Dutch coast and colliding with the water. The impact was severe enough to damage the aircraft quite badly and tear off the bomb it was carrying.

This is the description which appeared on the eBay website. The item was offered for sale by a dealer called 230ocu, who lives in Kent and has been an eBay dealer since 2003. After five bids it was sold for £425.53.

The only other information on the eBay listing was a series of seven photographs of the item. I must emphasise that the commentary which follows is based on an examination of these photographs, and not of the item itself. Here are the two photographs which show the whole item, front and back.

The eBay item is said to be a form entitled “Report on Flying Accident or Forced Landing attributable to Enemy Action”, with the reference number 765(C). However this immediately flags up a problem since there is no evidence that any such form with this exact title and number existed in the second world war period.

As is well known, several of the aircraft used on the Dams Raid suffered damage before returning to base. However, there are no examples of a similar form being used for any of the other aircraft on this operation.

I posted a query about this form on the RAF Commands Forum and none of the experts who read the post could recall seeing a form of this name. There are samples of many of the RAF’s WW2 forms on this site, and those in the 765 series are as follows:

Form 765(A): “Operational Statistical Summary”
Form 765(B): “Operational Statistical Summary, (Non-Operational Flying Units)”
Form 765(C): “Report on Flying Accident or Forced Landing not attributable to Enemy Action”
Form 765(D): “Return of Ammunition Expended” (for fighter squadrons)
Form 765(E): “Weekly Summary of Squadron Expenditure”

It will be noted from the above that there is a genuine Form 765(C), which is the same number as displayed on the eBay item. However, there is absolutely no evidence that there was ever a variation of the genuine form, let alone one with the same reference number. Indeed, if there was such a thing, one would expect it to have been given a new number.

This is an example of the genuine Form 765(C), taken from RAF Commands:

Pics: RAF Commands

Close examination of the genuine form revealed some interesting similarities to the eBay version, and suggested how it might have been put together. The top one-third of the eBay form appears to be identical in typographical arrangement and spacing to the top half of page 1 of the genuine form, sections 1 and 2 (with two important differences which we will come to next). The middle third of the eBay form is identical to section 5 on page 2 of the genuine form. And the bottom third of the eBay form is identical to section 12 on page 4 of the genuine form.

The two important differences are: (1) In removing the word “NOT” from the second line of the heading the line has not been re-centred on the page. (2) All the lines of dots (known in the printing trade as ‘dot leaders’) which appeared in the original form to show the typist or writer which sections have to be filled in have been removed.

I can demonstrate the similarities between the two forms by using my own computer software to make up a replica of the eBay form using the four separate pages of the genuine form. I used Photoshop to erase the typing and dot leaders and InDesign to assemble the relevant sections into a single page. I’ve deliberately left the differences in colour in the erasures and background so that you can see how the different sections are slotted together.


It is noticeable that I was able to re-create the eBay form entirely from the genuine form, with no new typesetting required. I believe that this cannot be a coincidence, and therefore that the eBay form was created in a similar manner.

The fact that the dot leaders are missing in the eBay version suggests that the person who assembled its artwork had to delete them because they were typed over.

Now let us now look at the eBay form in more detail. The next illustration contains my comments both on the typographic anomalies of the form itself (which I have dealt with above) and the text which has been typed onto it, which I will discuss below.

In the section entitled “All Occupants of Aircraft”, which should be numbered as section 4 but is not numbered at all, the names and initials are correctly listed. However, the heading says “Nationality to be quoted if not British”, and there is no mention of the fact that two of the crew (Gowrie and Thrasher) were Canadian.

The fourth section, where service numbers should be listed, has been left blank. I cannot recall ever seeing a service document where a request for service numbers has not been completed.

Turning to the section where the damage is recorded, there are a number of things to note. First, this section has no heading, something which is very unusual for an official form. One would expect it to say something like “Summary of Damage”. The text itself begins with a description of the operation (information that would be recorded on other official documents, rather than here) but there is no mention of the actual damage incurred by the aircraft both at the time of impact with the water and subsequently when landing without a tailwheel. It is known that there was substantial damage to the bomb bay and fairings, but this is not mentioned, let alone recorded in detail.

There is also no reference to the official Category of Damage. This was the normal phrase used in assessing an aircraft which had been in an accident, and would have been self-evident from even a cursory inspection of the aircraft on 17 May. Since the aircraft was on an operational flight and the incident occurred over enemy occupied territory it can be certain that the damage would have been ascribed as F (B) (i.e. a Flying Incident/Battle Damage).

The errors and misspellings in the typing of the text are noted by the vendor, who says that this was common in documents from this era. However, there are many more in this item than one would expect in a document which is likely to have been typed by someone with proficiency as a typist.

As I said at the outset of this article, I have only been able to examine the photographs which appeared on the eBay auction site. If it were possible to look at the actual document, I would expect to see evidence that it was printed by letterpress on paper of a type that was manufactured in the 1940s. I suspect that there would be no such evidence. My research suggests that it has been printed by offset litho, or even by a digital method, by creating artwork from a genuine Form 765(C) constructed in a similar method to the one I have demonstrated above.

In conclusion, I will say that I am quite satisfied that the form which was sold on eBay on 27 September 2019 is not a genuine wartime artifact.

Thanks to Mark Peoples, Dennis Burke, Nigel Favill, Susan Paxton and Dr Robert Owen for help with this article.

New generation at Gibson anniversary tribute

Ivan de Groot, Guy Gibson’s great-great nephew, at the graveside of his ancestor on the 75th anniversary of his death. [Pic: Melvin Chambers]

Wg Cdr Guy Gibson and his navigator Sqn Ldr James Warwick both died on 19 September 1944 when the Mosquito in which they were flying crashed on the outskirts of the small Dutch town of Steenbergen, after taking part in an operation attacking the German towns of Rheydt and Mönchengladbach. They are buried in a joint grave in the Catholic cemetery in Steenbergen, where a ceremony marking the 75th anniversaries of their deaths took place on 19 September 2019.

Pic: Sander van der Hall

About 150 people were present and there were two flypasts: the first by the Wings to Victory organisation and the second by the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight. The ceremony was led by Mr Martien van Dijk.

Wreaths were laid by the following:

  • Mrs Baartmans, Deputy Mayor of Steenbergen
  • Sub Lt Pannell RN, UK Embassy
  • Mr Ivan Tamborero de Groot, great-great nephew of Guy Gibson, on behalf of the Gibson family
  • Mr Aart Walraven, Wings to Victory
  • Mr Glyn Hepworth, 617 Squadron Association
  • Mr Russ Kitely, Group 617 UK
  • Dr R Heinrichs, Royal Netherlands Air Force
  • Representative of RAF Aircrew Association

Ivan de Groot is the great-great nephew of Guy Gibson, and this was his first ever visit to his great-great uncle’s grave. He is 23 and a student at Eindhoven University.

Pic: Sander van der Hall

Thanks to Sander van der Hall and Melvin Chambers.

Free for a day: Enemy Coast Ahead download to mark Gibson 75th anniversary

First edition of Enemy Coast Ahead, published 1946. Pic: Stella Books

At 19.51 on 19 September 1944, the most decorated pilot then serving in the RAF’s Bomber Command, Wg Cdr Guy Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, took off from Woodhall Spa in Mosquito KB267 of 627 Squadron. His mission was to be the controller, in charge of other Mosquitoes marking the target for the main bomber force, who were attacking Mönchengladbach and Rheydt.

What happened that night is the subject of much speculation. The aircraft crashed near Steenbergen in Holland at about 22.30, killing both Gibson and his navigator Sqn Ldr James Warwick. The most likely cause is that the Mosquito ran out of fuel because neither Gibson nor Warwick were very familiar with it, and didn’t know how to switch to the reserve fuel tank. It is also possible that they were shot down, either by ground-based anti-aircraft fire or a German night fighter. The aircraft disintegrated and caught fire on impact, leaving just body parts and a few clues as to the identity of the two men on board. They were buried together in a joint grave the following day in Steenbergen’s Catholic cemetery in a brief ceremony conducted jointly by a Catholic priest and a Lutheran pastor.

Earlier in the year, Gibson had been employed in an RAF desk job in Whitehall, but his real task was to write a draft of a book about his RAF service. It would be called Enemy Coast Ahead. It is difficult to be certain how much of the text about 617 Squadron was pulled together by Gibson from material ghostwritten for him, although the earlier sections are probably Gibson’s own work. He had finished the final draft shortly before he went back on operational flying, but it wasn’t actually published until 1946. The book was an immediate success, and was reprinted several times in the next few years.

Enemy Coast Ahead has been in print ever since. However, despite going through the hands of several editors before hitting the shops, the original book has many flaws. Names are misspelt, events are wrongly dated, wartime censorship means many details are omitted. Sadly, this has not prevented many people citing it as an accurate account of events and this in its turn has helped to perpetuate many of the incorrect myths which surround the Dams Raid.

So it is with great pleasure that I now bring the important news that a new edition of Enemy Coast Ahead is to be published shortly by Greenhill Books in association with the RAF Museum (where the final manuscript is lodged). It contains a new foreword by James Holland, which gives an overview of Gibson’s brief life. But, most importantly, at the end of the book there is an extended section, nearly 50 pages long, which contains more than 200 notes on the text. These have been compiled by Dr Robert Owen, the 617 Squadron Association official historian, and can only be described as a tour de force. His knowledge and scholarship are evident throughout as he corrects and explains Gibson’s errors and omissions. With the addition of these extras, Gibson’s text can at last be relied on as an important contemporary account.

As a salute to Gibson on the 75th anniversary of his death, which is tomorrow, the publishers have decided to offer the Kindle/ebook version as a free download on the Amazon.co.uk site for 24 hours only from midnight tonight. You can access the download from this link. For north American readers, there will be a similar download available on the Amazon.com site from midnight US EDT.

The paperback edition of the book will be published next month, and is available for pre-order on the Greenhill Books/Pen and Sword website here.

Lewis Burpee’s childhood home

Pic: Dave O’Malley

The Canadian writer Dave O’Malley lives in the Glebe area of the country’s capital city, Ottawa. Nearby is the fine house in which Lewis Burpee, who skippered AJ-S on the Dams Raid, was brought up. Last year, O’Malley wrote this interesting article about Burpee and his family, and took the photograph above. O’Malley writes:

I paid a short walk-by visit to the former home of another young man from the Glebe whose life held great promise before the war took everything from him and his family. The young man’s family has long since moved away, but the memory of their loss will forever dwell in this house, recognized or not. The house is on a wide shady avenue in the most well-to-do area of the Glebe. The family was one of means. The young man’s life was one of privilege and opportunity. His name was Lewis Johnstone Burpee.

When details of the raid became public, the local newspaper carried the story on its front page. And, by tragic coincidence, in the same edition there was a further mention of the Ottawa man:

The Ottawa Evening Journal carried a front page story about the raids. In a tragic coincidence, it also carried a story about Burpee’s award of a DFM and his marriage to an English girl. The piece on Burpee began with “The Air Ministry in London today announced the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal to Pilot Officer Lewis J. Burpee, 25, son of Lewis A. Burpee, general manager and vice-president of Charles Ogilvy Limited, and Mrs. Burpee, 111 Powell. “That’s certainly good news” said Mr. Burpee when informed of his son’s decoration by the Journal.” For a day or so, the Burpee family felt comforted with the knowledge that Lewis was safe in England, happily married and highly experienced. Given the secrecy of the raid, it is doubtful that they had any idea their son was part of the historic event. That would change the next day.

In September 1942, Lewis Burpee had married Lilian Westwood, and at the time of the Dams Raid she was pregnant with their child. When Lewis was killed Mrs Burpee was given permission to travel to Canada to meet her in-laws for the first time, and to have her baby in Canada. Their son, Lewis Johnstone Burpee Jr was born in Ottawa on Christmas Eve 1943.

In May 2018, 75 years after his father was killed, Lewis Burpee Jr made his first ever visit to the site at which AJ-S crashed, shortly after being hit by flak. It is on the edge of Gilze Rijen airfield in the Netherlands, and a new memorial was unveiled there to honour Plt Off Burpee and his crew.

James McDowell: new photographs

Top: James McDowell, dressed in flying suit. Bottom: course members. McDowell is on the far left of the row sitting on chairs. Raymond Robinson is 2nd from left in the row behind him, wearing a lopsided hat.
Photographs: Mark Robinson. [Son of Raymond E. Robinson, 460 Squadron, RAAF]

Mark Robinson has kindly sent me some unpublished pictures of Sgt James McDowell, the rear gunner in Vernon Byers’s Lancaster, AJ-K, on the Dams Raid. His father Raymond, an Australian, served as an air gunner in 460 Squadron, but previously was on the same air gunnery course as McDowell in April 1942. This was Air Gunners Course No. 30 held at the No. 5 Bombing and Gunnery School in Dafoe, Saskatchewan, Canada.

James McDowell was born in Glasgow on 13 August 1910, the son of John and Agnes McDowell. His father was killed in the First World War, so in 1924 his mother, grandmother and the five McDowell children emigrated to Canada, and took up residence in Port Arthur, Ontario.

McDowell worked first for the Coca Cola company in Port Arthur. He married Dorothea Edna Craig in 1932, and they had two daughters, Darleen and Marilyn. They then moved north of Port Arthur where he found work as a gold miner, ending up at the MacLeod Cockshutt mine in Geraldton between 1935 and 1941.

Jimmy McDowell joined the RCAF in 1941. After training as an air gunner in Saskatchewan, he was sent to England. He crewed up with fellow Canadian Vernon Byers, before they were posted to 467 Squadron in February 1943. The crew had only undertaken three operations before transferring to 617 Squadron on 24 March.

On the Dams Raid, they had just flown over Texel island on the way to the Sorpe Dam when a shot from behind brought down their aircraft, and it crashed into the Waddenzee, 18 miles west of Harlingen. The wreckage has never been located but James McDowell’s body was eventually released by the elements from its rear turret and was found floating in the Vliestrom channel south of Terschelling near buoy No. 2 on 22 June 1943. He was buried the next day in Harlingen General Cemetery, and remains there today. His comrades are all commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

Paul Brickhill’s revisions to The Dam Busters, 1972

Pic: http://www.tikit.net

In the mid 1950s, Paul Brickhill was one of the best-known authors in the world. He was also one of the most successful, with three huge bestsellers to his name: The Great Escape, The Dam Busters and Reach for the Sky. All three had also been made into films, which had netted him even more money.

By the end of the next decade, however, his personal circumstances had changed. He had been hit by large tax demands and had ended up leaving his native Australia for years at a time. His marriage had broken up, with his wife citing physical assault during the divorce proceedings. He had also suffered several periods of mental ill-health, not helped by periods of heavy drinking.

He eventually returned to Australia in December 1969, where he told a journalist from The Australian newspaper that he was ‘heading for a little pad in Sydney’ where he would ‘settle down to write three books’. Two would have a war theme, he said, and the third would be non-fiction. [Stephen Dando-Collins, The Hero Maker, Vintage Books Australia, 2016, pp.356-7.]

The non-fiction book he mentioned was in fact a revised edition of the Pan Books paperback of The Dam Busters. During his travels, he had spent some time in London going through some of the official records about the raid which had been declassified. The information he gleaned from this principally referred to the fact that the Barnes Wallis-designed weapon used to attack the dams ‘bounced’ and then skipped when it hit the surface of the lake. This was hardly a secret anymore, since it had played a central role in the 1955 film, but until Brickhill sat down to write a revised edition, anyone reading the account in his book would have found vague references to the bomb ‘working’, without any clarification of exactly what this meant.

Brickhill’s biographer, Stephen Dando-Collins describes the painful way in which the work proceeded:

No longer could he dash off a manuscript in a few months. For a year and a half following his 1969 return to Sydney, Brickhill laboured over his rewrite of The Dam Busters. Still hooked on booze and sleeping draughts, he found it a monumental struggle, but he rated himself the kind of person who never gave up. By the time he completed the task, he’d deftly inserted another 12,000 words into The Dam Busters. In early 1971, he completed correcting proofs of the new edition.
[The Hero Maker, p.360.]

Unfortunately, the Pan Book archives don’t have either a list of changes or a copy of the revised manuscript, so the only way of working out what revisions were made is by comparing the two published editions.

Here is Brickhill’s account of one of the earliest test drops of the weapon, on 12 December 1942.

Left, 1954 edition, p.35. Right, 1972 edition, p.42

The revised paragraph is a good reminder of what a fine descriptive writer Brickhill could be:
‘… then, oh the thrill, out of the spray the black barrel came soaring a hundred yards across the water, hit with another flashing feather of spray and soared out again, hit again, and again, the distances shortening every time until at last, after nearly half-a-mile, it slithered to a foaming stop and sank.’

Here is a later section, where the newly formed squadron is undertaking test drops of the weapon at Reculver.

Left, 1954 edition, p.63. Right, 1972 edition, p.78

Although Dando-Collins refers to Brickhill importing the new material from the declassified files, it is likely that a lot of the additions were in fact from Brickhill’s own notes compiled for the original edition. He would have been given a lot of information for this off the record, particularly by Barnes Wallis. His re-creation of the scene in the Wellington cockpit in the first example above, for instance, reads as though it is a story told to him by Wallis – one he would have recorded on disk at the time and then had transcribed. He is likely to have kept all his transcripts from the early 1950s and worked through them at the same time as he was incorporating the classified material.

That there are substantial differences between the two editions of The Dam Busters is not widely appreciated today. Some historians have only looked at the earlier version before using it as a source, and it would be wise to check up on what Brickhill added to the 1972 edition before quoting it.

As for the rest of the projects which Brickhill had said in 1969 were now his priority, none saw the light of day. The nearest to being finished was the biography of an American prisoner of war, Major Johnny Dodge, who he had met in Stalag Luft 3. He had done eighty per cent of the work on this, he told the Sydney Sunday Telegraph in 1981. It was however still incomplete at the time of his death ten years later, on 23 April 1991.

If there is a criticism to be made of Brickhill’s work is that it never shows any of the flaws which his principal characters displayed. Roger Bushell (the mastermind behind the Great Escape), Guy Gibson and Douglas Bader were only human; each of them could be said to be single-minded and not to suffer fools gladly. By being uncritical of their flaws, Brickhill made them heroes. The truth is a little more complicated than that, and it has been the work of later scholars to reveal this. Brickhill was, however, a writer of gripping narrative history and it is this which is still remembered today.

Source: Stephen Dando-Collins, The Hero Maker, Vintage Books Australia, 2016.

Thanks to Tim at tikit.net for the use of his cover picture of the 1972 edition. There is a selection of different covers on this page

Flt Sgt Charles Avey

I am sorry to have to report the sad news that another of the small band of remaining veterans who served in 617 Squadron during the Second World War has died. Flt Sgt Charles (“Chas”) Avey joined 617 Squadron in December 1944 as the mid-upper gunner in a crew skippered by the Canadian pilot Flt Lt G R Price. The crew’s first operation was a long trip to the U-Boat pens in Bergen, Norway in only the second trip made by the squadron under the command of its new CO, Wg Cdr Johnny Fauquier. As it happened, Price’s Lancaster, laden with a Tallboy bomb, was unable to bomb because of dense haze in the target area, but it seems as though some damage was done to the pens and the U-Boats therein. Avey went on to make another ten trips in Price’s crew before the end of the war.

Chas Avey died on 11 July, and his funeral service will take place on Monday 29 July at 3.20pm at Worthing Crematorium, Horsham Road, Findon, Sussex BN14 0RG.

Chas’s death leaves only about half a dozen men who served in 617 Squadron between its formation in 1943 and the end of the war. The link to the original members of what has been called the “greatest generation” may soon be broken, but their names and their dedication will never be forgotten.