Alex Bateman on trial: Day Three

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Flt Sgt John Fraser is second from the left in the back row in this photograph taken while he was serving in 50 Squadron. Next to him, third from left, is fellow Canadian Ken Earnshaw, who went with him to 617 Squadron. Earnshaw also joined John Hopgood’s crew, and died on the Dams Raid.  His logbook was allegedly stolen from Alex Bateman’s house in June 2003, at the same time as that of John Fraser. 

On the third day of his trial for the theft of a logbook belonging to Doris Fraser, the widow of Dams Raid bomb aimer Flt Sgt John Fraser, Alex Bateman has repeatedly claimed that he felt ‘intimidated’ by her daughter, Ms Shere Fraser Lowe.
He had posted a padded envelope containing the logbook and a tape cassette, which attached to a piece of card, to Ms Fraser Lowe’s address in Canada. When it arrived the package had a slit in the bottom, and the logbook was missing.
He claimed that he then located the logbook in his local sorting office, and told Ms Fraser Lowe in an email. Ms Fraser Lowe and her mother then offered to make a special trip to London in order to retrieve the logbook, but Bateman then asked Ms Fraser Lowe to stop contacting him.
Bateman told prosecuting counsel Max Hardy: ‘I started to get suspicious that Doris Fraser had no knowledge of what her daughter was doing. I wanted to hear from Doris that she knew what was happening. Shere Fraser Lowe was fixated on the logbook, and we had already agreed that we would meet in May’ [in order to hand it over].
‘I had another issue going on in my life, and her calls were quite incessant,’ he added. ‘Then she said she would fly over specially to collect it. I felt that was a strange way of doing things.’
Hardy then asked Bateman about the posting of the envelope. He claimed that it had been posted in Harrow between 5 and 8 February, but could not explain why the postmark was that of Greenford Mail Centre on 12 February. ‘I have never been to Greenford,’ he said. The envelope was reused, but to secure it he had used staples and parcel tape. It was undamaged when he posted it, he added.
When Ms Fraser Lowe told him that the logbook was missing, he made enquiries in the Harrow postal sorting office. He was told that it had been found but he had no records of any communication with the sorting office, other than that he may have signed some sort of receipt.
Asked today by Hardy if he had a copy of the logbook, Bateman said he did. ‘Could you collect this copy from your home?’ Hardy asked. Bateman answered, ‘Yes’. Hardy pointed out that he had been asked before if he had a copy, and he had said no.
Hardy then asked about the Christmas card which Bateman had claimed had been sent to him by Doris Fraser in 1996. [Forensic expert Nicola Thomas had examined the writing and her statement had been read out on the previous day.] ‘Did you write that card?’ he asked. Bateman replied, ‘No, I didn’t.’ ‘You know that the writing has been subject to expert analysis?’ he was asked. ‘If that card was not written by Doris Fraser, can you suggest who might have written it?’ Bateman said that he could not.
Earlier Bateman had been asked by the judge, Judge John Dodd QC, why if the logbook was at his home in May, he did not return it to the family when they were in the UK. ‘I took advice from my solicitor,’ Bateman replied, ‘and I can’t remember why not.’
The judge made a further intervention at the close of cross-examination by prosecuting counsel. He returned to the subject of a photocopy of the logbook, and asked Bateman again if he was now saying that he did have one. Bateman said that he might have it. All his possessions were currently in storage, he explained.
The judge then adjourned the case until the morning, to allow him time to retrieve the item and bring it to court.
The case continues.

Story in Daily Mirror

Alex Bateman on trial: Day Two

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Alex Bateman leaving Wood Green Crown Court today. Pic by Gavin Rodgers/Pixel8000

Alex Bateman accepted a formal police caution in 2003 in a case involving the theft of documents from the Public Record Office [now the National Archives] between 1990 and 2001, a court was told today by a police officer, Det Sgt Henry Childe. No further action was then taken on the matter. Bateman is on trial at Wood Green Crown Court for the theft of a Royal Canadian Air Force logbook from Mrs Doris Fraser, the widow of Dams Raid bomb aimer, Plt Off John Fraser.
In his own evidence regarding the arrest of Bateman in 2015 and the subsequent search of his house, Det Sgt Childe also told the court that he had asked Bateman if he still had the logbooks. To this he replied ‘I don’t have them. I don’t know where they are.’
Earlier the court was read a statement from an expert forensic documents investigator, Nicola Thomas. She had compared a single Christmas card which had a handwritten message ‘Please keep the logbook. You might find it useful’ with four other cards written by Doris Fraser. The single card had rudimentary similarities with the other four, Thomas said, but there were also ‘significant and consistent differences in size, spacing and alignment.’ She had a strong view that someone other than Doris Fraser had written and signed the single card, ‘making some attempt to imitate her signature and possibly also her writing.’
Later, Bateman gave evidence in his own defence. He had developed an interest in the history of the Second World War as a child, he told the court. He began writing to veterans asking for autographs, using a copy of Who’s Who from his school library to gain their addresses. This led to him starting research on the men who took part on the Dams Raid, and he ended up with signatures from more than 40.
He then began seeking out information about those who had died on the raid or subsequently, and had written letters to local newspapers covering the areas where the men had been born or lived. One such letter had been to a newspaper in Vancouver Island, home after the war of John Fraser and his family.
Over the years, he had acquired a large collection of documents, and had helped a number of writers, publishers and filmmakers with their work. He was now at work on a series of five volumes, which would together form a comprehensive account of the Dams Raid. When asked whether he made a living from this work he said ‘No’. His financial situation was ‘low’ and he had lived ‘effectively rent-free’ in the family home with his mother all of his life, until it had been sold after her death in 2015. At this point in his evidence, Bateman broke down and had to take a few minutes to compose himself.
Later, he told the court he had been given two other Dambuster logbooks, those of Sgt Gordon Yeo and Flg Off Ken Earnshaw. This was well known, he said, to other Dambuster enthusiasts.
He went on to describe how he had posted the Fraser logbook back to Ms Shere Fraser Lowe, Doris Fraser’s daughter, in a used padded envelope fastened with staples and parcel tape. Asked if he had himself slit the envelope open, he said, ‘No’. He wasn’t sure how he had been told that when it arrived, Ms Fraser Lowe had found that the logbook was missing, but he said he felt ‘panicked’ when he heard the news. He then made enquiries with the sorting office and could identify the logbook when it was found there. He retrieved it from the sorting office, but had no evidence to show that this had occurred.
He then told Ms Fraser Lowe that he had found the logbook, and offered to hand it over to her mother in person when the two were going to be in England ten or eleven weeks later for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
At this point, he said, he was rather suspicious as to why Ms Fraser Lowe had taken over the correspondence with him. She was quite intimidating, he said, and thought that she had telephoned him on several occasions, not just twice, which is what she had said in her evidence. He found the idea of meeting Doris Fraser to hand over the logbook if she flew to London especially to collect the book very stressful. ‘Something was stressing me out at the time,’ he said, but whatever it was, he could’t remember.
As the day’s proceedings drew to a close, the judge, Judge John Dodd QC, asked him why he hadn’t made a photocopy of the logbook before returning it. Bateman replied that it was probably because he had no money for copying.
The case continues.

Alex Bateman on trial: Day One

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Flt Sgt (later Pilot Officer) John Fraser, bomb aimer in AJ-M on the Dams Raid. [Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada]

The trial of Alex Bateman for the theft of a logbook belonging to Doris Fraser, the widow of Flt Sgt John Fraser, the bomb aimer in John Hopgood’s Dams Raid crew, began on Monday 9 January at Wood Green Crown Court.
The RCAF logbook had been returned to John Fraser after the war, but following his death in a plane crash in Canada in 1962, his widow had put it aside. In 1996, she offered to help Bateman when she read a newspaper article about his research and sent it to him to help. By this, she said in a statement read out in court, she believed that she was helping to honour his memory.
Relations between the pair remained friendly for a number of years thereafter, and they exchanged Christmas cards.
In late 2002, however, Mrs Fraser’s daughter Shere Fraser Lowe started her own research into her father’s wartime career. By coincidence she had been informed of Bateman’s interest in the Dams Raid by another Dambuster relative, she told the court in evidence by video link, and shortly afterwards she became aware of the logbook’s existence.
When she first contacted Bateman herself, he sent her a friendly letter and returned some documents, but did not mention the logbook, she said. In a later email, however, Bateman wrote: ’regarding the logbook, yes, I do have it and was going to mention it to you … I’ll put the log in the post in the next few days and let you know.’
A Jiffy bag postmarked 18 February 2003 arrived in the mail, but there was a slit in the bottom, and there was no logbook inside. It contained a cassette taped to a piece of card, which also had a letter stapled to it. This read: ‘Dear Shere, here as promised is the log book of your father – I know you will find it of interest and it’s a pleasure to return it to its rightful owners.’
Prosecution barrister Max Hardy told the jury of seven women and five men: ‘It’s the prosecution’s case that this was a ruse – it was Mr Bateman pretending to return the logbook to Shere Lowe.’
Fraser Lowe told the court that she immediately telephoned Bateman in London. He emailed her shortly afterwards saying that there was ‘good news… the book has been found in our sorting office. I will pick it up later today and give it to you when we meet.’
Fraser Lowe told the court that she offered to fly to London herself the following week, but Bateman said that he would not be available. He would, however, see her in May 2003 when Fraser Lowe and her mother planned to travel to the UK for the 60th anniversary of the Dams Raid.
After this exchange, the Fraser family instructed a British firm of solicitors to demand the return of the logbook, but it never materialised.
then, before the planned reunion, Bateman produced a Christmas card purportedly from Mrs Fraser gifting him the logbook and asked Ms Fraser Lowe not to phone him anymore.
The Christmas card read: ‘Dear Alex, thank you for your letter but please keep the logbook, you might find it useful. All the very best for the New Year, Doris Fraser.’
Mr Hardy said: ‘This reveals Mr Bateman’s true intention in this case which was to keep that logbook for himself saying it had been gifted to him.
‘That whole envelope thing was to try and say he had sent it to her, but perhaps he had second thoughts about saying it had fallen out in the post.’
The court was told that a handwriting expert would say that there was strong evidence that the Christmas card was written by someone other than Mrs Fraser. Mrs Fraser was herself adamant in her sworn statement she did not write the card. ’It has been faked,’ she said.
The Fraser family then took their story to the press, and the Sunday Express approached Bateman for a comment. An article appeared on 28 June 2003, but the day before on Saturday 27 June 2003, Bateman reported a burglary at his address and claimed that the logbook was among the items stolen.
The case continues, and is expected to last for another 2-3 days.

Report in the Daily Mail

 

Barnes Wallis and the ripple effect

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Four graphic design students from Northumbria University have been working on an exhibition project about Barnes Wallis as part of their degree course. I am sure that readers will agree with me that the images they have produced are very interesting and effective, and would grace the walls of any gallery if one could be found to take it on.
The exhibition is entitled ‘Ducks & Drakes’ and, in the creators’ words, portrays Wallis’s struggles with his conscience ‘after an innocent idea of skimming stones inspired him to create the Bouncing Bomb which had a devastating impact on the German Dams of WW2. The exhibition aims to immerse the viewer into the inner psychological feelings of Barnes Wallis. It does by making the walkways wider in times of happiness and narrower when Barnes struggled with his conscience.’

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You can see the full exhibition here.
The students are Patrick Pyka, Ashley Sowerby, Shaun Okoh and Megan Anderson.

Dambuster John Hopgood’s last Christmas, 1942

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Flt Lt John Hopgood DFC & Bar. [Pic: Lincolnshire County Libraries]

As Christmas 1942 approached, the 21 year old Flt Lt John Hopgood was officially on rest from operational duties. He had completed a first tour of 47 operations at the end of November, and had been recommended for a Bar to his DFC. At this time he was still attached to 106 Squadron, testing new equipment and doing some instruction. On 22 December he wrote to his mother, Mrs Grace Hopgood:

Christmas here promises to be a gay affair. I am all set for 2 Christmas dinners, one in the mess at luncheon and one with some very charming people who have a lovely house near the ‘drome in the evening and shall have to starve on the 23rd [sic]!!

Two days later, on Christmas Eve, he took five of his crew up in a Lancaster. They paid a Christmas greeting flight to the homes of all six men on board in the traditional RAF way, ‘beating them up’ at very low altitude. In her house in Shere, Surrey, Grace Hopgood heard the approaching noise and was able to run into the garden in time to see the Lancaster pass overhead.
On New Year’s Day, Hopgood wrote again:

Yes, that was me flying around on Christmas Eve about lunchtime. I saw several people in the garden – but there’s not more than few split seconds to pick out faces at that speed! I had great fun flying around to each member of my crew’s home and sort of sending Christmas wishes to all. …
Christmas here was of course a very gay affair. As is the age old custom we (the officers and NCO’s) all served the airmen’s lunch – and a jolly good one it was too. Then we had our own lunch (not quite so good) and settled down to a very gay party in our mess in the evening. Next day the weather was again very bad and so we were able to have another Christmas dinner with those local people I spoke about in my last letter. It really was a grand meal – champagne and lovely old port and then lovely hot rum punches. They really are extraordinarily kind to we RAF. They threw another enormous party last night (New Years Eve) and we all really had a grand time.

Fate would decree that this was in fact Hopgood’s last ever Christmas. He would die in the early hours of 17 May 1943, making the second bombing run at the Möhne Dam. AJ-M, already damaged by flak from earlier in the night was hit again, and it crashed on the far side of the dam. Hopgood’s heroic efforts to gain height meant that two of his crew were able to bale out. They never forgot the young pilot who saved their lives. The remaining five are buried together in the Rheinberg War Cemetery.

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Letter extracts quoted above from Jenny Elmes’s excellent book, M-Mother, the biography of her uncle, John Hopgood (History Press, 2015).

Season’s greetings from the Dambusters Blog to all our readers!

Remembrance Day in Sardinia: commemorating Bob Hay

flr-lt-r-c-hay-dfc-wg-cdr-baz-pottsWg Cdr Baz Potts places a poppy on the grave of Flt Lt Bob Hay. [Pic: Sgt Jamie Johnson, RAF]

Not all the Dams Raid aircrew who died during the war are buried in the large war cemeteries in Germany. One who lies on his own is Flt Lt Bob Hay DFC and Bar, the bomb aimer in Mick Martin’s crew in AJ-P. He is buried in Cagliari in Sardinia, which is where Martin landed his damaged aircraft after an operation targetting the Antheor viaduct in southern France in February 1944. Hay had been killed when a cannon shell exploded in the bomb aimer’s compartment during the attack. His body was removed, and he was buried on the island the next day.
This year, Remembrance Day coincided with a NATO exercise in Sardinia, and a contingent of Commonwealth troops held their ceremony in the war cemetery in Cagliari.

dsc_5456Wreaths were laid at the central war memorial, and individual tributes were made to a number of men who are buried in the cemetery, and a poppy placed on their graves. Amongst these was Bob Hay, 617 Squadron’s Bombing Leader, who received a Bar to the DFC for his work on the Dams Raid.
Thanks to Captain Ray Leggatt RAN and Sqn Ldr Paddy Currie RAF for sending this information. Pictures by Sgt Jamie Johnson RAF.

Are you sitting comfortably?

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Another item with no proven connection to Guy Gibson, 617 Squadron or RAF Scampton has emerged for sale on eBay. According to the seller, this is:

An office chair as used by Guy Gibson in his office at Scampton in World War 2 . The special design was used only by senior RAF Officers in World War 2 and in Air Ministers offices . Designed by Edward Barnsley originally for the 1936 Coronation , and referred to as ” The Coronation Chair ” .Production was very limited and not many have survived after 75 years . The chair is made from solid oak with mortice and tennon joints throughout , is very sturdy and original finish of waxed oak revived . The chair is stamped with a crown and coronation and has been professionally re upholstered in olive hide .Check on the Guy Gibson office website and The Dambusters film for provenance  .
[Spelling etc as in original]

The chair itself may well be a genuine “Coronation Chair”, and therefore worth a small amount of money. But there is no evidence at all that this was ever at RAF Scampton, let alone used by Guy Gibson or anyone else based there. The seller has tried to claims it is “as used” by Gibson – rather than saying it was definitely there – but then in the headline, states that it is a “Guy Gibson office chair”.
Their statement is based on the modern day refurbishment of the office at Scampton, which can be seen in the picture below, and which features a chair of a similar pattern. However, none of the people involved in the refurbishment have ever claimed that the furniture in the reconstructed office is definitively the same as that used in wartime.

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Pic: Ross Corbett

The only picture taken of Guy Gibson in his office at Scampton was this well known photograph of him and David Maltby, taken in July 1943:

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Pic: IWM TR1122

Note that in this picture Gibson is leaning slightly to his right, and his left arm may therefore be on the armrest of the chair (although it is difficult to be certain of this). If the chair had a light-coloured wooden arm, this would probably be visible. However, nothing can be seen here.
In summary, we can say again that even if the chair is a genuine 1936 pattern, it is wishful thinking that it has any connection to Gibson or RAF Scampton. Once more we must caution, buyer beware!
(If, however, you are reading this after 5pm on Monday 31 October 2016, the chair may have already have been sold.)
Thanks to Nigel Favill for information.