F.Sgt. Chalmers' Immediate D.F.M. as Wireless Operator for the raid Gazetted 28 May 1943: "Flight Sergeant Chalmers has flown on operations since Spetember 1939. At all times he has displayed a great sense of duty and courage of a very high order. On 16th May 1943, he flew as Wireless Operator in Flight Sergeant Townsend's crew and was of great value in assisting his captain in making a successful attack on the Ennerpe Dam. As one of the most experienced Wireless Operators in No. 617 Squadron, Sergeant Chalmers has set a magnificent example to the other Wireless Operators. I strongly recommend that his good work be recognised by the immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Medal." 20th May 1943.
George Alexander Chalmers was born on 12 Feb 1921 at Peterhead in Scotland. He was educated at Aberdeen Academy before working briefly at a local Crosse & Blackwell factory and joining the R.A.F. as a boy entrant. After boy's service and qualifying as a wireless operator and air-gunner, Chalmers was posted to No. 10 Sqn., a two-engine Whitley bomber squadron at Dishforth, Yorkshire, from where he took part in leaflet-dropping operations over Germany after the outbreak of war. In August 1940 Chalmers transferred to 7 Sqn., the RAF's first four-engine Stirling bomber squadron which was operating from Leeming. There followed a spell with 35 Sqn., a four-engine Halifax bomber squadron, with which Chalmers was fortunate to survive an attack on the battle cruiser Scharnhorst at La Rochelle - his captain managed to make base despite being severely wounded and piloting a badly-damaged aircraft. After 'resting' in a couple of non-operational postings, Chalmers returned to operations after joining 617 Sqn in April 1943. After undergoing the famously rigorous low-level flying training at R.A.F. Scampton, Chalmers climbed aboard Lancaster AJ-O just after midnight for the legendary Dambusters raid.
Continuing with 617 Squadron after the raid, Chalmers was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in June, then promoted Flying Officer in December. Chalmers flew first with the new squadron C.O., Leonard Cheshire, but then transferred to the crew of Plt. Off. Bernard “Bunny” Clayton; an experienced pilot who had been posted from 51 Squadron to 617 Squadron in July 1943 with a C.G.M. and D.F.C. to his name. He also flew with American pilot, Joseph Charles "Big Joe" McCarthy, and completed numerous further Special Ops armed with Tallboy bombs. In 1944, after completing 66 operations, Chalmers was awarded the D.F.C., Gazetted 13 Oct 1944. After paying tribute to his "skill and endurance", the citation concludes: "Throughout his long and arduous operational career, this officer has displayed outstanding courage and devotion to duty."
In 1946 Chalmers was granted an extended service commission, completing “Operation Guzzle” to dispose of the Dambusters’ Bombs into the Atlantic. He served in 617 and 12 Squadrons until 1950, when he was posted to 38 Sqn., a Lancaster squadron in the Middle East. He was released as a Flight Lieutenant in 1954, and served in the Reserve until 1961. Meanwhile, he had joined the civil service at Harrogate, where he worked for the Ministry of Defence dealing with the R.A.F.'s technical requirements. In this period his advice was much valued in the sphere of flight refuelling. On his retirement from the M.O.D. in 1984, the company Flight Refuelling hosted a farewell party for him at which he was hailed as an 'expert in specialised spares procurement', especially in relation to a refuelling system of outstanding value used by the R.A.F. in the Falklands conflict.
Sgt. Wilkinson's Immediate D.F.M. as Rear Gunner for the raid Gazetted 28 May 1943 with a joint citation with AJ-O's Front Gunner, Sgt. D.E.Webb's: "Sgt. Wilkinson has completed 22 sorties and Sgt. Webb 26 sorties with F/Sgt. Townsend. All have been against targets in Germany or Italy, and on all occasions these two Gunners have displayed courage and keenness of a high order. On 16th May, Sgt. Wilkinson was Rear Gunner and Sgt. Webb Front Gunner of a Lancaster aircraft captained by F/Sgt. Townsend, detailed to attack the Ennepe Dam. To and from the target the opposition was heavy from light flak, but by displaying complete understanding with the Pilot, and by skilful handling of their guns these two Gunners enabled their aircraft to make a successful attack on the dam and then return safely to base. I strongly recommend that the good work of these two gunners be recognised by the immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Medal. 20th May 1943."
Raymond Wilkinson was born on 1 Sep 1922 in South Shields on Tyneside, the only child of Christopher and Margaret Wilkinson. Working as a joiner’s apprentice before joining the R.A.F. in 1941, Wilkinson qualified as an air gunner in the summer of 1942 and was posted to 49 Squadron where he became one of Bill Townsend’s crew, along with Dennis Powell, Lance Howard and fellow gunner Doug Webb. He flew on more than twenty operations before the crew were transferred to the new 617 Squadron in March 1943 to begin the low-level training for the famous May dams raid.
In July 1943, Wilkinson flew with Bill Townsend on two of the raids on Italian targets, and then in September he was posted as tour expired. He was sent to a conversion unit for a spell as an instructor, along with his mid-upper gunner colleague Doug Webb. The pair moved on to other training roles but just over a year later, in October 1944, they both came back on operations with 617 Squadron. By then Wilkinson had been commissioned and joined the crew of the Australian pilot Flt. Lt. Arthur Kell, and his first operation of this new tour was an unsuccessful attack on the Tirpitz, moored in a Norwegian fiord, which took place on 28 Oct 1944. Both 617 and 9 Squadrons were armed with Tallboys and set off from Lossiemouth in Scotland on a trip which took more than twelve hours. In very bad weather, the ship was hit by several bombs but was not sunk. After the war it emerged that it had in fact been badly damaged and was no longer seaworthy, but this was not apparent to the Allies. So a similar force set off from Lossiemouth on 12 November to attack it again and once more Wilkinson was in the Kell crew. They dropped one of the four Tallboys which landed directly on the ship. The combined effect was spectacular, although it was not confirmed until the following day when reconnaissance showed the Tirpitz had capsized, with the bottom of the hull visible above the water. Wilkinson has the unique honour of being the only person to have taken part in both the Dams Raid and the final successful attack on the Tirpitz. He flew on some other seventeen operations before the end of the war, including the raids on the U-Boat pens at Ijmuiden, the Bielefeld viaduct and Eagles' Nest.
Wilkinson had met his future wife, Iris Riordan, a WAAF who worked as a telephonist shortly before the Dams Raid. They married in 1944 and they attended the Royal Premiere of The Dam Busters in 1955, moving to Australia in the 1960s. Wilkinson died in Noble Park, Victoria on 27 July 1980.
Read the full story of "O" For Orange's participation in the Dambusters Raid.
Of the survivors of the raid, 34 airmen were decorated at Buckingham Palace on 22 June 1943. Wing Commander Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross and of the other recipients they received five distinguished Service Orders, ten Distinguished Flying Crosses and four Bars, two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, eleven Distinguished Flying Medals and one Bar. The first portrait picture is of Chalmers, the second and third of Wilkinson, and both can be found on the group shot with Guy Gibson to the far right and 4th right, respectively. Wilkinson's original newspaper cutting had put a 'X' in pen above the heads of Chalmers, Webb and himself.