Len Eaton and Charlie Williams photographed together in training

Air Gunners 44 Course IMG_1997 960px

44 Course Air Gunnery training at No 14 OTU, 10 April 1942. [Pic: Susan Paxton]

On this day 78 years ago nineteen Lancaster aircraft took off from RAF Scampton on what would become known as the Dams Raid. Two of the wireless operators had, in fact, gone through part of their training together, as this photograph shows. It depicts a group of wireless operator/gunners taken in April 1942 at RAF Cottesmore, while they were in No 14 Operational Training Unit.

The two were Flt Sgt Len Eaton, wireless operator in AJ-T, piloted by Joe McCarthy, and Plt Off Charlie Williams DFC, wireless operator in AJ-E, piloted by Norman Barlow. The photograph was pasted into a scrapbook belonging to Williams, which is amongst his papers held in the John Oxley Library, part of the State Library of Queensland, Australia. 

The nature of wartime service in the RAF makes it quite likely that there were a number of other previous encounters of this kind between the men who were brought together in March and April 1943 to take part in this historic operation, but this is one of the few which have documentary proof. 

Eaton returned safely from the Dams Raid, and went on to fly with McCarthy on another 34 operations until he was taken off operations in July 1944. He received the DFM for his service. Williams, however, was not so lucky. He and all the other members of Barlow’s crew were killed when they collided with a power line near Haldern in Germany. They died shortly before midnight on 16 May 1943. 

The names of all the 26 men in the photograph are listed below, along with what is known about them at present. The research has been done by Susan Paxton and Alan Wells, who would welcome any further information. 

Top Row:
Weir: Sgt Allen Weir RAAF, Cloncurry, Qld, Australia. KIA 2 June 1942.
Pugh: Possibly Canadian.
Livingstone: Nothing known.
Moir: Sgt Colin Moir RAAF, Marrickville NSW. Survived the war. Almost certainly the last survivor of this photograph: he died just last month on 20 April 2021, at the age of 100.
O’Keefe: Sgt Ralph O’Keefe, born in Canada, but serving in the RAF. KIA June 1942.
McLeod: Possibly Australian.
Lawlor: Nothing known.
Quance: Sgt Peter Quance RAAF, born in Birmingham, England, but his family emigrated and he enlisted in Sydney, Australia. KIA June 1943.

Middle row:
Radermeyer: Sgt Ignatius Rademeyer, Rhodesia. Later PoW and survived the war.
Degen: Sgt Lawrence Degen. Survived the war, and died in 2008.
Gallagher: Sgt Francis Gallagher RAAF, born 1914, Guyra, NSW, Australia. KIA January 1943.
Eaton: Sgt Leonard Eaton, born 16 March 1906, Manchester. Survived the war, and died in 1974.
Black: Possibly Australian.
Taylor: Possibly Canadian.
Robson: Sgt Wallace Robson RAAF. Australian. KIA June 1942.
Barrett: Nothing known.
Hunt: Sgt Edmund Hunt RAAF, Rockdale, NSW, Australia. KIA 30 June 1942.
Royal: Nothing known.

Bottom row:
Little: Plt Off Harvey Little, from Wetheral, Cumberland. KIA 31 May 1942.
Powell: Nothing known
Wood: Possibly Australian.
Grey: Plt Off Charles Gray. Survived war.
Gillenland: Plt Off Harold Gilleland, from London. KIA December 1942.
Williams: Plt Off Charles Williams, born 19 March 1909, Townsville, Qld, Australia. KIA 16 May 1943.
Newround:  Plt Off Alec Newbound RAAF. Born in 1917 in Swallowcliffe, Wiltshire. Emigrated to Australia and enlisted in Melbourne. Survived war.
Agley: Possibly Flt Sgt Leonard Agley, from Bradford. Survived war.

Bernard “Bunny” Clayton: 617 Squadron pilot with 82 operations from three tours

IWM CH11048 800px

Left to right: Plt Off Bernard “Bunny” Clayton, Sqn Ldr David Maltby, Flt Lt Harold “Mick” Martin. Photographed at RAF Scampton, July 1943. [Pic: IWM Collections, CH11048]

The loss of eight crews on the Dams Raid meant that 617 Squadron needed a swift injection of new personnel in order to function properly. One of those who arrived in July 1943 was Plt Off Bernard Clayton, known from his schooldays as “Bunny”. He was only 23, but had completed two tours of operations and been decorated with both the CGM and DFC.

Clayton was born on a farm in North Yorkshire on 7 December 1919, the oldest of seven children. He went to the King James Grammar School in Knaresborough, where he met a boy called Ian Robinson who became a close friend. Both got jobs after leaving school but then at the outbreak of war both volunteered for the RAF. Called up at different times, from then on their paths rarely crossed. Robinson became an observer, serving first in the Far East before returning to the UK. Clayton qualified as a pilot, and went on to fly a full tour in both 9 and 51 Squadrons, with a spell of training in between. 

It was after starting a second spell as a training instructor that Clayton was posted on his own to 617 Squadron. He then travelled over to his previous operational outfit, 51 Squadron, and persuaded all six of the crew who had flown with him on his previous tour to accompany him. They went on to play a pivotal role in rebuilding the squadron after the September 1943 attack on the Dortmund Ems canal when one crew was lost on an aborted attack, and five more the following day when it finally went ahead. Clayton and his crew flew a total of 31 more operations before being taken off operations for a third and final time in July 1944. Clayton received the DSO for this final tour. 

Halfway through this final tour, in February 1944, Flg Off George Chalmers joined Clayton’s crew as the wireless operator. He had been in Bill Townsend’s crew on the Dams Raid, and had won the DFM for his role in attacking the Ennepe Dam. He was also withdrawn from operations in July 1944, having notched up a total of 66 operations. 

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George Chalmers DFC DFM [Pic: Anthony Eaton]

Clayton stayed on in the RAF after the war, transferring to Transport Command. In 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded the divided city of Berlin in East Germany, and so what became called the Berlin airlift was organised – transport aircraft flying in a narrow corridor to provide supplies. Clayton became one of the many pilots undertaking this difficult exercise, undertaking a total of 94 trips. He then transferred to RAF Manby for more training duties. Sadly, on 19 March 1951, he lost his life in the crash of a Handley Page Hastings at RAF Strubby. Another officer was piloting the aircraft that day. 

Two Friends IMG_3626 600px

You can read much more about the life and career of Bunny Clayton and his school friend Ian Robinson in an interesting book about the pair, Two Friends: Two Different Hells by A.E Eaton. It is available at £10 including p&p on special offer from the writer, who you can contact by email at tony.ae778@gmail.com

Sidney Knott DFC turns 100: veteran who turned down Dams Raid chance

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Positioned in the centre of the middle row, Sidney Knott, photographed in summer 1942. Taken at 42 Air Gunners Course, No. 1 Air Armaments School, RAF Manby.

Guest post by Susan Paxton

On a mid-March day in 1943 Wing Commander Cosme Gomm, DSO, DFC, looked up as the good-looking young Lancaster Captain entered the room. Gomm had established 467 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, four months previously. The Squadron Commander motioned Frank Heavery to a seat.
Measured by the grim realities of life and death in Bomber Command during early 1943, Heavery and his crew were experienced. They had survived 12 operations, including two trips each to Essen and Nuremberg. Heavery respected Gomm. He was a man worth listening to, having completed a first tour on Whitley bombers before flying Beaufighters in the night interception role. Gomm formed 467 at Scampton on November 7 1942 and had taken it to another bomber station, Bottesford, later that month.
Gomm came straight to the point. Air Vice-Marshal Cochrane, 5 Group’s Commander, was charged with forming a “Special Duties” squadron. Cochrane wanted talented crews for this new unit. Gomm looked hard at Heavery: “I don’t want to lose you, but I have made my choice and I have picked you. How do you feel about it?”

Tony Redding, Life and Death in Bomber Command, 2013 revised edition

Sergeant Frank Heavery was uncertain enough to take a vote amongst his crew, and when it came out 3-3, he cast the tiebreaker. No, they would stay at 467 (RAAF) Squadron and finish their tour there: in fact, they would be the first 467 Sqn crew to survive their ops tour. The next crew Gomm asked was less experienced, that of Sergeant Vernon Byers, RCAF. They had three operations behind them, and were posted to the “special duties” squadron, which by that time had its number 617, on 24 March, one of the earliest crews to arrive at Scampton. They would be the first crew to die on Operation Chastise, shot down at 2257 on 16 May 1943 off Texel island on the Dutch coast.

Thanks perhaps to that deciding vote, the young man who was Frank Heavery’s rear gunner is celebrating his 100th birthday today, on VE Day. He is Sidney Knott DFC, perhaps the last surviving “almost Dambuster”, and he voted, incidentally, to go to the “special duties” squadron. After finishing his tour with 467 Squadron, he spent his 6 months rest at 17 OTU, crewed up there with Flt Lt Clive Walker and went with him to 582 Squadron (Pathfinders), finishing his second tour in mid-August 1944 with a total of 64 operations, a promotion to warrant officer, and the award of a DFC which arrived in the mail in 1948, which must have been quite the anticlimax.

There are many interesting people and stories with ties to Operation Chastise, and the “almost” crews are among the most fascinating. Sidney Knott is especially fortunate in having lived to tell his story to author Tony Redding, who wrote it up very ably in Life and Death in Bomber Command, published originally in 2005 and then in a revised edition in 2013. Anyone who wants to understand Bomber Command at the time 617 Squadron was being formed would do well to find a copy.

Happy birthday, Sidney. And thank you.

RAFBF to hold Dambusters charity cycle challenge

RAFBF cycle

To celebrate the forthcoming 100th birthday of the last Dambuster, Sqn Ldr George ‘Johnny’ Johnson MBE DFM on 25 November 2021, the RAF Benevolent Fund charity is holding a sponsored 56 or 100-mile cycle ride at various venues around the country. Most of these will be held on 15-16 May, the weekend nearest the 78th anniversary of the Dams Raid. The 100 miles celebrates Johnny’s impending centenary, while the 56 miles commemorates those aircrew who did not return (53 lost in action, 3 taken prisoner). The planned event at the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa has been delayed until 3 July due to the pandemic, but you can still sign up to the virtual challenge and cycle your 56 or 100 miles anywhere else in the world on 15-16 May. Full details are here on the RAFBF website.

Several ex-RAF 617 Squadron members are planning rides, including some who are taking on a particularly arduous route around Lossiemouth in Scotland. These include Clive Mitchell, Colin McGregor, Nige Tiddy, and Ben Dempster (100 miles) and Pete Beckett and Ronnie Lawson on the more modest 56 miles distance.

RAFBF Lossiemouth cycle

Their route is shown above. If you live in the area, please consider turning out to support them. And if you don’t feel up to the cycling challenge yourself, and you don’t have anyone particular to sponsor, then the 617 Squadron Association is asking you to back Clive Mitchell, whose sponsorship page you can find on this link.

This is the link to the Lossiemouth route.

Good luck to everyone!

Double blooper for Wallis street sign

Wallis sign Riggott

Pic: Aidy Riggott/BBC

Reader John Smith has kindly sent me the link to a story about a street sign in Lancashire which is on the site in Euxton where the “bouncing bomb” was filled with explosive during the Second World War.

A local road in Buckshaw Village – built about 60 years after the war – was named after the engineer and designer, Barnes Wallis. However, for the second time in five years his name has been misspelled. The first, erected in 2016, named the road as “Barnes Wallace Way”, but was then replaced with one with the correct spelling, as can be seen in this Google screenshot, taken in 2018. 

Wallis Google screenshot

It seems now that a new sign, installed on the other side of the road and seen at the top of this post, has a different misspelling, shortening the forename to “Barns”. It was spotted by local councillor Aidy Riggott. Chorley Council have told him that a new sign would be installed “as soon as possible”.

A further local curiosity: at some point when the development of the area was going on, there must have been someone in the local Street Names Choosing Department with a sense of history. Look at the examples highlighted in the Google maps screengrab below:

Buckland Village map 900px

There are eight different Avenues, Closes, Courts and Drives given the surnames of pilots who took part in the Dams Raid – Astell, Barlow, Byers, Gibson, Hopgood, Knight, Shannon and Townsend. We don’t know for certain whether there are any misspellings of their names – let’s hope not. 

A cruel twist of fate

Lisa Harding, with her parents Fred and Sandy Harding. [Pic: Lisa Harding]

I’ve met the photographer and illustrator Lisa Harding on a few occasions at events in Lincolnshire. Although originally from London, she’s now based in Coningsby and has a fine range of pictures on her website.

She also follows the Dambusters Blog on Twitter, so I was shocked yesterday when scrolling through a bunch of recent notifications to read this:

 

Lisa was interviewed last week on her local radio station Lincs FM (the full text of the piece is here) and told the horrendous story of how both her parents died of Covid-19 within six days, just before they were due to get their vaccinations.

“If you’re offered the jab, take it.
It’s not just to protect you, it’s to protect your elderly parents, the vulnerable people around you.
I’m so proud of the vaccination programme that we’ve done.
It’s brilliant seeing all these people get their vaccinations, looking forward to a normal future, whatever that may be.
But it’s tinged with sadness that it came too late for my Mum and Dad.
If others can get the benefit of the vaccine and continue living their lives, it means all these other lives weren’t in vain.
Get your vaccine, take it with both hands.
When you do, you can hug your parents.
I can never do that again.”

My heartfelt condolences to Lisa. But please, please, take notice of what she says. Grab the chance of getting the vaccine with both hands – it’s not just to protect you, it’s to protect everyone around you.

This last year has been the cruellest in my lifetime, and the months ahead will be no less dangerous. We must do all we can to stay safe for however long it takes for the catastrophe to pass. For those of us lucky enough not to have lost a loved one, there will be better days ahead.

Lisa’s Twitter feed

 

 

Garshowitz and Garbas parents meet at Dam Busters screening

Pics: Garshowitz family

I’ve written before about the pre-war friendship of two young men from Hamilton, Ontario, Albert Garshowitz and Frank Garbas, who died together on the Dams Raid. They joined the RCAF separately, but met in England in the latter stages of training and were both in Bill Astell’s crew in AJ-B. On the flight to the Möhne Dam, the aircraft crashed near Marbeck after hitting a pylon, and all on board were killed.

Here is evidence of how their families bonded in the sad aftermath of the war, in two items kindly supplied by Hartley Garshowitz, Albert’s nephew. They show, as the newspaper caption says, both of Albert’s parents and Frank’s father at a cinema screening of the 1955 film.

 

Wartime Bomber Command charts: free download

This post has nothing to do with the Dams Raid or 617 Squadron. However, it shows a valuable resource which might be useful to anyone doing research into any Second World War air campaign.

McMaster University, in the fine city of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, has digitised a number of maps and charts from the wartime period. Above is one which shows Western Europe from the Irish coast to Stettin, running from La Rochelle in the south to Uppsala in the north. This covers most of the areas in Germany targeted in the 1940-45 bomber campaign.

This chart can be found here, and the full collection of WW2 maps can be found here.

The highest resolution of this particular chart runs to a stonking 1.5 gigabyte file and takes a while to download as a tiff, with a resolution of 26177 x 19157 pixels. But it has a great level of detail, as you can see from this crop of the Dutch coastline:

[Thanks to user JDCave on the RAF Commands Forum for the tip.]

Top of the class: Barnes Wallis’s schooldays

Barnes Wallis was educated at Christ’s Hospital school between 1900 and 1904, and maintained a long association with the school thereafter. He excelled in maths, English and the sciences, and was taught mechanical drawing. Three of the books he won as prizes while at the school were acquired recently by the collector Ray Hepner, who has kindly sent me photographs of both the splendidly engraved bookplates and the books themselves. The prizes were for Mathematics, English and French, which indicates the broadness of Wallis’s educational attainments.

Besides these, Wallis also won other prizes while at Christ’s Hospital, as can be seen from the list below, dated July 1903, when he won the Willcox Prize for Science.

A measure of the affection that Wallis had for the school was his donation of the sum of £10,000 which he had been awarded for his war work by the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors. He passed this on to Christ’s Hospital to support the children of people who had served in the RAF. A trust was set up in conjunction with the RAF Benevolent Fund, which matched the donation. Since 1952 over 150 pupils have benefitted from the Trust and all have worn the Foundationers’ badge, designed by Wallis.

Ray Hepner has also sent me three photographs taken during Wallis’s time at Christ’s Hospital, showing the art school, dining room and tuck shop. No one has yet been able to pinpoint the young Wallis in any of the pictures, but he could well be in some or all of them.

Ray also has a copy of the very rare 1830 edition of the History of Christ’s Hospital and a splendid stained glass window from the original building in Newgate, London, retrieved when the building was demolished in 1902. (Both seen below).

All pics: Ray Hepner Collection

Genuine wartime bomber picture accused on Facebook of being fake

Pic: IWM CH10593

[Note: There’s nothing in this post about the Dams Raid or 617 Squadron.]

This picture has long been in the Imperial War Museum’s collection. It shows, according to its official caption and listing on the IWM website, a “Low-level ‘beat-up’: A Halifax II, JB911/KN-X of No 77 Squadron roars low over an audience of appreciative ‘erks’ during air tests at Elvington, Yorkshire, July 1943.” The listing goes on to record the name of the photographer, Plt Off N S Clark, and the fact that the Museum has the image on glass (presumably the original negative glass plate).

However, the recent publication of a slightly cropped version of the shot on a post on the Bomber Command History Forum’s Facebook page led some to question its authenticity. The page itself, and the Forum which spawned it, are administered by people who certainly know their stuff (my friends Dom Howard and Ian Collis among them) but unfortunately that can’t always be said of some of the readers who added comments.

So, within a few minutes of the photograph appearing, one person (who from now on I will call Mr A) wrote:

I hope no one thinks thats an actual photograph and not a montage. The writer of the caption obviosly does. If a Halifax pilot did fly that close to the ground and a parked aircraft, he would have been hauled before a courts marshal quicker than you can say bombs away, also, notice that a Halifax has almost taken their heads off, yet not a single one of those men is looking up at it or ducking. Hmm.
[All quoted posts have the spelling and punctuation as in original.]

Several people jumped in to point out his error, including one who sent a link to the image as it appears on the IWM’s own website. But this didn’t completely satisfy Mr A, who then posted:

Ok, the way the original is presented and cropped, and the men, raised suspicions. Looking at the other photos, and the not so tightly cropped/clearer IWM version, a picture emerges, the photo appears to be carefully stagemanaged. The men are not looking up but looking directly infront at a camera set up to the left, and posing to the camera as the Halifax zooms overhead. Under ‘normal’ circumstances that pilot would not be able to do that, and those men would be looking up and ducking.

Then in popped another sceptic, who I will call Mr B:

… the main aspect which points to it being a fake , for me anyway is that both aircraft are sharp images . One of them would be blurred depending on the technique used by the photographer.Still a nice image though .

Shortly afterwards, Mr B went on:

And I will say its highly unlikely that its a real undoctored photograph , based on my knowledge of photography .

A few more comments ensued, one of which noted that there were other pictures in the IWM collection taken on the same day by the same photographer (you can see one here)
and then Mr A arrived back on the scene:

Maybe you should do some homework before insinuating that others have not. If you bothered looking you would notice above that I say they appear to be looking towards another camera to the left of the photo, not much different from you say is another aircraft. As you have the advantage of knowledge of other photos in this series, why not show them to us instead of making further unflattering comments.

It was pointed out to him that other researchers had indeed done their homework and that the images in question were available to anyone in a simple Google search, but this was not enough. Mr A then appeared to complain that the pilots and crews involved must have been acting without authority, in which case:

Yes, under ‘normal’ circumstances unauthorised low flying pilots were hauled before courts marshal and i have courts marshal papers proving this. Even you should know this. Kings Regulations and Air Council Regulations paragraph 717, clause 7. This discussion is finished as far as I’m concerned.

With that Mr A appeared to have picked up his bat and left. However, Mr B was still around:

dont tell me that every caption on a wartime photograph is right . I am simply using my opinion to point out there are flaws or inconsistencies in what is displayed . Theres no doubt in my mind that they are Merlin engines and the equal sharpness of both aircraft point out to me that there is a high likelihood of a fake. You still didnt explain the technique you referred to Iain .I would like to hear it it just may change my mind .

Despite being informed again about the provenance of the photographs, Mr B then put up another post:

… There are lots of official war photographs that arent as they are described. There are things on the photograph that my 46yrs in the field of RAF historian , collector of Aviation memorabilia and honorary member of the Air Gunners association tell me are quite glaringly wrong . None detract from the photograph which certainly is an eye catcher. Neither you or anyone else for that matter will change my mind on how I view this photograph , that is my right to my opinion like every other person in the world . If youre still bothered ask a professional photographer and dont forget to mention that the flying aircraft will be doing somewhere in the region of 200MPH . And again if you are that bothered get hold of a model of both types of engined aircraft and view them from the flying angle as on the photograph On the radial engined aircraft there is some sort of a cooler which hangs down quite noticeably below the engine nacelle and I believe the large long porcupine exhaust would also be visible on the port outer engine . I am also a photographer of over 50 yrs experience which makes me say without any doubt that the photograph is a fake . As I say its only my opinion which means nothing to anyone else , well almost anyone else . Lets just agree to disagree. Cheers

Having decided earlier that the discussion was over, Mr A then turned up again. To be fair to him, he appeared to have changed his mind, but he now wanted everyone to go home:

I expressed an opinion initially on what appears to be an ‘unorthodox’ image, and amended that opinion when a wider angle and clearer shot was provided. Since then this discussion seems to have been affected by too much cross-wind, and drifted into a heavy flak zone. Words like, daft, sad, drivel, have crept in between members, and maybe its time to bring this discussion in to land.

But Mr B would not be dissuaded. Even though he still thought that the aircraft would have been flying too fast to be in focus, he concluded by saying he wanted the subject dropped. However he had just spotted something said by another commenter:

So youre telling me that there is a ” whole ” sequence of this particular fly past in the IWM . Can any member of the public view them .

To which the reply was:

For a historian/researcher of 46 years, you’re not that clued up are you? Its the IWM collection. Of course you can.

Mr B then made a final concession:

This photograph is more believable than the previous one , to me anyway . The flying aircraft is further away theres a shadow on the ground . Although I still find it hard to believe that the cameras of the day were capable of shutter speeds that can freeze an object travelling at , I assume 160 mph past a stationary object and capture both without any apparent blurring in either of them. That was my only concern regarding the previous photograph , well that and where all the guys were looking. The other thing was correctly identifying the aircraft as a merlin engined Mk 11 and being shot down by Jim. Of course If what I am being told by, it appears all and sundry for stating my opinion then I suppose I will have to change my stance in future when taking part in these forums .

I’ve quoted extensively from this sequence (as of today, 59 posts and counting) because I think it says something about using reliable sources in our discussions, whether online or not. The Imperial War Museum has an enviable collection of photographs, artifacts, manuscripts and other resources, some of which are available for all to browse through free of charge. There may be a few inaccuracies in the descriptions and captions but they have been compiled by professional curators, archivists and historians and so can be regarded as “reliable sources”.

In an era when the most powerful man in the world throws out accusations of fake news like confetti and commercial news sources often seem infected with clickbait pop ups (The price for xxxx may astound you! Remember yyyy? You won’t believe what she looks like now!) it’s important to support public institutions like our museums. By all means, let’s call out fake photography when it does occur, but let’s also salute the skills of Plt Off Clark and his colleagues who have left us with a wonderful legacy.