New record set for David Jagger painting

Pic: Bonhams

The artist David Jagger (1891-1958) was the father of Sgt Brian Jagger, who flew on the Dams Raid as the front gunner in David Shannon’s crew. David Jagger’s paintings seemed to fall out of fashion for a while after his death, but recently many art critics and collectors have concluded that he has been wrongly underrated and his work has been much more widely recognised. This has also been reflected in the saleroom prices achieved for his work.
Last week, a 1928 self portrait came up for sale at Bonhams in London. It had been estimated that this would fetch about £20,000 – however, when the hammer went down, it had achieved a staggering £221,000, a world record for Jagger’s work. It is not yet known who bought it.
The Bonhams catalogue explains some of the background to the picture:

During the late 1920s David Jagger had established a system of artificial lighting in his Chelsea studio and had become fascinated with the chiaroscuro effects it produced. During this time he produced a small number of intimately observed portraits, of which this work is one.
Described by the art critic, Bernard James Valentine Carr in an undated exhibition review, ‘To even the most casual observer, the best of the oil paintings is Mr. Jagger’s Self Portrait which is a remarkably fine example of the artists’ technique allied to an unusual method of presentation. The picture is a head against a very dark background. The fact of the dark background and of cutting the portrait off at the chin is to make the shape of the head, the lineaments of the features, and the general characteristics of the subject stand out with unusual force’.

The catalogue entry was written by the art historian Timothy Dickson, who has a website dedicated to information about this remarkable artistic family, Edith, Charles Sargeant and David. They were siblings, all born in Kilnhurst in Yorkshire and all educated at Sheffield Technical School of Art. Tim is writing a book about the family, and we will let you know when it becomes available.
Brian Jagger of course survived the Dams Raid, but died later in the war, on 30 April 1944, in a tragic training accident at RAF Gransden Lodge while testing a new gun turret (scroll down). He was an only child and his death was a devastating blow for his parents, David and Kitty Jagger.
[Thanks to Timothy Dickson]

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Canberra Last Post Ceremony to honour Charlie Williams

One of the most imposing buildings in the Australian capital of Canberra is the Australian War Memorial, which honours the 102,815 men and women who appear on its Roll of Honour. Carved in stone, these are the names of all those who have died over the years while serving in the country’s armed services.
A Last Post Ceremony takes place at the memorial every evening, as it closes for the day, honouring a single person from the Roll. The event is live streamed on the Memorial’s Youtube and Facebook sites, and consists of a short tribute, wreath-laying and the playing of Flowers of the Forest and the Last Post.
This coming Saturday, 3 June, the man honoured will be Flg Off Charlie Williams DFC, the wireless operator in Norman Barlow’s crew on the Dams Raid. (You can see his profile here.)
The service will take place at 1655 local time in Canberra (0755 BST). See the live stream here, and the list of forthcoming names here.

Update, Saturday 3 June: Video of the ceremony honouring Charlie Williams.

[Thanks to Susan Paxton for the tip.]

Alan Gillespie exhibition in Carlisle

If you are in the Carlisle area sometime before the end of this month, you can see a small exhibition in the town’s Museum of Military Life about Plt Off Alan Gillespie DFM.
On the Dams Raid, Gillespie was the bomb aimer in AJ-E, which was piloted by Norman Barlow. He had completed a full tour of operations with Barlow in 61 Squadron and had been awarded the DFM.
More about Gillespie in his Dambuster of the Day profile, here.
(Thanks to Dom Howard)

They died for your freedom: Woodhall Spa’s 617 Squadron war memorial

Pic: Wikimedia Commons

The 617 Squadron war memorial is in on the main street of the little town of Woodhall Spa, on the corner of the road which leads to the site of the wartime RAF station which bore the same name. It is a large concrete monument in the shape of a breached dam wall – the water flooding through the centre represented by a slate slab, which is carved with the squadron crest and battle honours.

This is the official memorial to the 53 men from the UK and the Commonwealth who died on the day of the Dams Raid, which took place 74 years ago today. The memorial also lists the 151 other men who served with the squadron and died while on active service later in the war. All are listed in strict alphabetical order: no ranks, just initials, surnames and decorations.

The town is popular with tourists and day trippers so a small stream of people walk up to the memorial every day, many looking for the famous names. But few cannot be moved by the sheer number here – 204 died in a period of under two years. We should not forget, however, that their sacrifice is replicated on the countless other memorials across the world to those who died elsewhere in the Second World War. Together, they are a humbling sight.

Stolen Fraser logbook – £5000 reward offered

Photocopy of John Fraser’s logbook, from Alex Bateman’s trial. [Pic: Metropolitan Police]

Shere Fraser Lowe, the daughter of Dambuster Sgt John Fraser, has offered a £5,000 reward for information leading to the return of his stolen log book. This was loaned to researcher Alex Bateman by the Fraser family for his work. Bateman was jailed for two years in February 2017 for theft after failing to return it.

Fraser Lowe believes someone other than Bateman knows of its whereabouts. She told the BBC in an interview today: “Some people say it’s just a document, a piece of paper, but that’s not what it is to me – it’s priceless. Because I lost him at a very young age – I value every little piece – so to get it back would be like getting a piece of my father back.”

She said she did not think it right to treat the log book as a commodity but had been advised that “money talks”. “I believe someone out there knows something, and hopefully they will come forward and tell us where it is,” she added.

The logbook has also been added to the International Lost Art Register, the world’s largest private database of lost and stolen art, antiques and collectables.

Bateman’s trial and sentence were reported here. In 2003 he was cautioned for other historical thefts, including stealing two documents and a badge from the National Archives.

Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of the log book, or who has further information about other missing Dambuster material, should contact Acting Detective Sergeant Henry Childe on 020 8345 4552 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

More information in this BBC story.

Dambusters Blog hits the million!

 

At about 10pm BST today, the Dambusters blog registered its millionth hit. I can’t be sure exactly who was the visitor who took us over the magic figure, but it seems likely to have been someone from the UK who ended up on our front page having followed a Google search. By an amazing coincidence, this event occurred nine years to the day since the first ever post, which was published at 8.35 am on 7 May 2008.


Checking back through the daily statistics (which through the wonders of WordPress are still available to me) I see that I got just 4 hits on that first day. But within nine days, I had got to a total of 163 which, I recall, I was pretty chuffed with at the time. The fact that this occurred on 16 May 2008, the 65th anniversary of the Dams Raid, probably explains the upwards bump.

So why are people still so interested in the Dams Raid, even though most of the people who now access the blog have no first-hand memory of the war? I think the reason may be because although the raid itself is the stuff of legend, it also represents a bigger story: that of the ‘greatest generation’ who fought tyranny, came through the years of austerity which followed, and built a better society in which all could flourish. There have been many sharp turns and setbacks since, some still on-going, but no one would argue that the world is in a better place than it was in 1939.

The fascination with the Dambusters themselves is because the Dams Raid combined so many different things which contributed to the war effort – a revolutionary new weapon, supreme airmanship skills and raw courage in pressing home an attack under fire. The fact that it was then immortalised in what is now regarded as one of the best ever British war films just adds to its mystique.

So if you are one of the people who contributed to our million hits – either as a regular visitor or just someone who fetched up here after a random search – many thanks for being here for the ride. It’s been a privilege to serve you all this time, and I hope to carry on doing so for the foreseeable future. Per ardua ad astra!

[I should add a word of thanks to WordPress, who have provided the blogging software and the hosting since 2008. This is all for free, except for the ongoing cost of registering and using a .com domain name. In my opinion, they provide by far the easiest to use blogging software, and a huge range of off-the-shelf designs. And I have no connection at all with the company!]

Déjà vu all over again in Sunday Express as columnist writes same story three times

A colleague sent me a link to this week’s Sunday Express, thinking I would like the fact that it had given me a namecheck and also quoted a commenter on this blog. Fine, I thought at first, but when I looked at it more carefully it did seem to be rather an old story. And so it was.

The article appeared in a column written by Adam Helliker (‘Whispers from the Top: The best informed, most entertaining diary you need to read’) published last Sunday, 30 April 2017. The piece started:

UNLIKE the brave men of Bomber Command who hit those dams so accurately in Germany in the Second World War, the producer who wants to remake the famous film about the raid keeps on missing his target.
It is now more than a decade since Sir Peter Jackson, producer and director of The Lord Of The Rings, declared he was going to remake The Dam Busters.

Sounds familiar? Yes indeed. Here is the ‘best informed’ Mr Helliker, with another of his ‘whispers’, written on 9 August 2015:

UNLIKE the brave men of Bomber Command who hit those dams so accurately in Germany in the Second World War, the producer who wants to remake the famous film about the raid keeps on missing his target.
And with the death of pilot Les Munro, who was to have been the film’s technical adviser, the likelihood of it being made is dropping faster than a bouncing bomb.
Sir Peter Jackson refuses to say when his new version of The Dam Busters will be made.

And if this is not enough for you, here’s where the sequence starts. In what was doubtless named as an exclusive on the day, the ‘most entertaining’ Mr Helliker wrote this on 7 December 2014:

UNLIKE the brave men of Bomber Command who hit those dams so accurately over 70 years ago in Germany, the producer who wants to remake the famous film about the raid keeps on missing his target.
Sir Peter Jackson refuses to say when his new version of The Dam Busters, with a script written by Stephen Fry, will be made. Indeed he professes to becoming increasingly “irritated” when people ask him about it now, even though he has held the rights for five years.

It’s not just the text which is interchangeable in all three versions. Mr Helliker has recycled the same 2014 quote from Sir Peter Jackson: ‘There’s only a limited span I can abide of people driving me nuts asking me when I’m going to do it.’ To add interest, Sir Peter is variously described as ‘being dismissive’, ‘declaring tetchily’, and becoming ‘increasingly irritated’. As indeed he might when he reads this comment for the third time.

The recycling doesn’t stop there. Each article has a quote from a Mr Jim Dooley of the Bomber Command Association. In both 2016 and 2017 he is quoted as saying: ‘It’s a film everyone wants; the original one is always being shown and they wouldn’t do that if there wasn’t an interest in it.’ In 2014, he said: ‘The time to make this film is right now; we are waiting with baited breath. These chaps might not be with us for much longer, and we were hoping for a big opening night to boost funds needed to maintain the new Bomber Command memorial in London.’ So Mr Helliker must have troubled himself to pick up the phone to Mr Dooley on two separate occasions.

Each of the three articles also mentions what Mr Helliker calls ‘chatter’, but seems largely to be generated by him, that the cast of the film will include Colin Firth as Barnes Wallis and Tom Hollander as Guy Gibson. The fact that Tom Hollander (a fine actor, of course) is now in fact 49 and therefore unlikely to be cast as a 24 year old war hero is not mentioned. But original research (such as checking out his Wikipedia entry) doesn’t seem to be Mr Helliker’s forté.

Instead, he just pulls up an old piece he wrote a few months ago, swaps around a few paragraphs and hopes that no one notices. Maybe the line at the top of the page should be changed to ‘Whispers from the Bottom. Recycling old tat every week.’ 

[Thanks to Dom Howard! Full disclosure: the quote in the headline ‘Déjà vu all over again’ is attributed to baseball coach Yogi Berra. Or so it says on his Wikipedia page. ]