Dambuster’s name found on war memorial

WWII Dambuster Sgt Harold T Simmonds, Rear gunner inset into the WWII memorial at Burgess Hill
WWII Dambuster Sgt Harold T Simmonds, Rear gunner inset into the WWII memorial at Burgess Hill

The 70th anniversary of the daring Dambuster raid against Hitler’s Nazi Germany will be remembered at a memorial service this Sunday.

The service will mark the first anniversary of the dedication by Her Majesty The Queen of the Bomber Command Memorial in London’s Green Park on June 28 last year.

Due to the age of the surviving Bomber Command veterans, a local service has been arranged at 12noon at the War Memorial in Burgess Hill.

The Act of Remembrance for The Fallen of Bomber Command will also remember fellow fliers of RAF 617 Squadron, who took part in Operation Chastise when, in 1943, it attacked the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany with Barnes Wallis’s “bouncing bomb”.

Two 617 squadron veterans will take part in Sunday’s service as well as other veterans from Sussex who campaigned for the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park.

The 617 Squadron veterans - Wing Commander John Bell DFC from Storrington, and Air Commodore John Langton CBE from Hove - did not fly on the dambusting missions but were part of the precision bombing squadron that evolved from those initial flights.

However, the Second World War memorial in Burgess Hill includes the name of one man who did take part, according to the organiser of Sunday’s service, Cherry Greveson.

Cherry has researched Sgt Harold Simmonds from Burgess Hill, who was a rear gunner on a 617 Squadron Lancaster aircraft, call sign AJ-J.

According to Cherry, Sgt Simmonds flew in the fifth aircraft to take part in the first wave of attack on the Möhne Dam. His aircraft accurately dropped its mine, causing a large breach, and returned safely.

Four months later, on 14 September 1943, Simmonds took off from RAF Coningsby, only to be lost when the plane crashed at sea. Only the pilot was recovered.

Sgt Simmonds, who was born on Christmas Day 1921 in Burgess Hill and went to London Road School, had volunteered soon after war broke out and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial as well on the Burgess Hill memorial.

The Bomber Command Memorial in London was paid for entirely by public subscription. Sussex veterans, who flew its controversial bombing missions to German cities, are all now in their late 80s or 90s. They raised thousands of pounds towards the cost of the publicly-funded memorial and continue to attend signing to raise the ongoing funds needed for its upkeep.