Dam Busters hero born in the Wakefield district, historian reveals

They were hailed as flying heroes, have been the focus of countless books, documentaries and a Hollywood blockbuster with an unforgettable theme tune, but there are few that know one of the Dam Busters and was born and raised in the Wakefield district.

Friday, 23rd July 2021, 2:26 pm

The RAF aces successfully attacked industrial targets in Germany during the Second World War with a newly-devised type of bomb, and caused mass disruption to the enemy.

Despite being just a single mission carried out over one night in 1943, those involved were forever immortalised thanks to the 1955 silver screen adaption.

But more than a third of those involved lost their lives that night, including 29-year-old Wilfred Ibbotson, who was born in Netherton.

Anne-Marie Fawcett researched Sgt Ibbotson's involvement in the famous mission.

He was a rear gunner for one of the 19 Lancaster Bombers involved in the raid, which was only his fifth mission.

Details of Sgt Ibbotson were unearthed by Anne-Marie Fawcett, from the online history group Ossett Through the Ages (OTTA) after it was mentioned to her during a chat with Helen Hampshire, who runs a similar group in Horbury, You Know You have Lived in Horbury When...

Ms Fawcett said: “His family were aware and it was a chance conversation with his great niece, Helen, which caught my interest. She mentioned that Wilfred Ibbotson was remembered on the Bretton War Memorial. So I looked him up.

“Few people know about this (about him being a Dam Buster).

Sgt Ibbotson, who was a rear gunner on the Lancaster Bomber that was shot down after the raid.

“I was pretty surprised and became determined to learn more so that I could tell his story and his local connection. It’s so important that we remember all these men and women.

“We’re always looking for historic connections to Ossett to share with our almost 10,000 members of OTTA, yet I never expected to find a Dam Buster practically on our doorstep.

“Judging by the reactions of the members, it was a surprise to many who read about it.

“Is there a lot of interest in the Dam Busters? I think so.

The memorial in Lincoln that bears Sgt Ibbotson's name.

"Ask anyone to name a battle from the Second World War and the Dam Busters are right up there with D-Day.”

Using online resources and old newspapers, Ms Fawcett has been able to delve into Sgt Ibbotson’s early life.

She said the 1911 census showed the Ibbotson family lived on Bugler Terrace in Horbury, with Wilfred born two years later in Netherton.

He married Doris Bray in 1938 and lived at Bretton Lodge Cottage where he worked as a chauffeur for the local colliery owner

The Mohne Dam the morning after the raid.

Following the outbreak of war, he was called up and served as an Army motorcycle dispatch rider, before volunteering as a gunner for the RAF in 1941.

After qualifying, he was posted to RAF Abingdon and eventually selected by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, who became the most famous of all the Dam Busters, for the top-secret mission codenamed, Operation Chastise.

As well as the Bretton Memorial, Sgt Ibbotson’s name was added to a memorial in the Netherlands in 2018 close to where his plane crashed, as well as on the Dam Buster Memorial in Lincolnshire.

Ms Fawcett said his great niece Helen, and his surviving nephew, Raymond Hampshire - an 84-year-old RAF veteran who lives locally - were both unaware of the memorials.

So what is the story behind the Dam Busters? The Ruhr Valley in Germany, and in particular its dams, were identified as potential strategic targets even before the war had started.

Thanks to the creation of the Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb in 1942 - a spherical device that when dropped at speed would skip along the surface of water before sinking at the intended target and then exploding - Operation Chastise was devised.

Its mission was to destroy the dams and cause huge disruption, knocking out hydro electric power stations, along with factories, bridges and mines. A squadron was put together by 24-year-old Wing Commander Guy Gibson, which included rear gunner Sgt Wilfred Ibbotson.

Just 19 Lancaster Bombers took part in the daring raid on May 16, 1943, the selected targets being the Möhne Dam, Eder Dam and the Sorpe Dam, upstream from the Ruhr industrial area.

Sgt Ibbotson’s aircraft, call sign AJ-A, was just one of five assigned to attack the Möhne Dam during the first wave of attacks, and only one of two to hit its intended target.

AJ-A’s bomb load caused a small breach of the dam, before the second Lancaster’s attack caused its collapse.

With both Möhne and Eder Dam destroyed, an estimated 1,600 people died on the ground. AJ-A was heading home when it was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed along the shoreline near the Dutch coastal resort of Castricum aan Zee.

All seven crew members died, including Sgt Ibbotson, are buried at the Bergen General Cemetery.