Richard Bolitho

On 16th-17th May 1943, Sergeant Richard Bolitho became the only person from Ulster to take part in the famous Dambusters Raids over occupied Germany.


Richard Bolitho


Richard Bolitho, known to family and friends as Dickie, was the only Ulster man to take part in the famous Dambusters Raid of 16th-17th May 1943.

Sergeant Richard Bolitho (1211045) served in the Royal Air Force during World War Two. Known to family and friends as Dickie, he was the only member of the famous Dambusters Squadron to come from Northern Ireland.

Born on 19th January 1920, he was the only son of William Bolitho and Jane Bolitho (née Cuthbertson) of Derry, Co. Londonderry. William was a commercial traveller in the seed business, having moved to Ireland from Cornwall, England. Dickie spent his early years at his mother’s family home “Braehead”, Portrush, Co. Antrim.

In 1927, the Bolitho family moved to Kimberley, Nottinghamshire, England where they bought a hotel on Castle Boulevard. Richard moved in with aunt Emily who owned a fruit and vegetable shop. While there, he attended Church Hill School and won a scholarship to Heanor Secondary School in 1931.

Bolitho joined the Royal Air Force in 1940. Two years later, he received a call up for aircrew training. He qualified as an Air Gunner and left for an Operational Training Unit. There, he teamed up with Max Stephenson, Floyd Wile, Don Hopkinson, and Albert Garshowitz. John Kinnear and Frank Garbas joined the crew and they began heavy bomber training.

Their posting to RAF 9 Squadron lasted only a short while. Max Stephenson died flying with another crew and the other 6 men joined Bill Astell’s crew as part of RAF 57 Squadron at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire. They took to the skies on 13th February 1942, six weeks before departing to join the newly formed RAF 617 Squadron.

Before departing on the famous Dambusters Raid, he spent leave at home in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire. Floyd Wile, John Kinnear, and Albert Garshowitz spent time there with him. A few days later, they would die together near Marbeck, Germany.

The Dambusters Raid

On 17th May 1943, Bolitho was a Rear Gunner on board Avro Lancaster ED864 AJ-B, part of the first wave of the Dambusters Raid. Although known as Operation Chastise, the mission to attack dams in the Ruhr Valley with Sir Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bombs is more commonly known as “The Dambusters”. Bolitho’s Lancaster plane crashed on the outward flight. He was 23 years old.

The Mark III bomber took off from RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire at 2159hrs on 16th May 1943. It was part of the final section of the first wave of bombers with the mission to bomb to the Mohne Dam. In formation with 2 other crews, Astell’s plane made it to Germany. The others altered course but Bolitho’s plane followed its intended route.

It approached a canal crossing and turned south to approach the target. The Avro Lancaster struck a pylon and electrical cabling and burst into flames. It came down in nearby fields behind some farmhouses and its bomb load caught fire. The machine guns on the wrecked Lancaster continued to fire. Locals who rushed to the scene could not get close to the burning plane, which left a 12m wide crater. Nearby buildings suffered damage to their roofs and windows. A statue of St. Joseph holding baby Jesus near the crash site remained unscathed.

Remembering the crew of Lancaster ED864

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankRoleInformation
AstellWilliamFlight LieutenantPilotRAFVR 60283. Killed aged 23 years old.
KinnearJohnSergeantFlight EngineerRAFVR 635123. Killed aged 21 years old.
WileFloyd AlvinPilot OfficerNavigatorRCAF J/16872. Killed aged 24 years old.
HopkinsonDonaldFlying OfficerAir BomberRAFVR 127817. Killed aged 22 years old.
GarschowitzAbramWarrant Officer IIWireless Operator / Air GunnerRCAF R/84377. Killed aged 22 years old.
GarbasFrancis AnthonySergeantAir GunnerRCAF R/103201. Killed aged 22 years old.
BolithoRichardSergeantAir GunnerRAFVR 1211045. Killed aged 23 years old.

Richard Bolitho’s grave is in Section 21, Row E, Grave 1 of Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Kleve, Germany. After the crash, the men were buried in Borken, Germany. His headstone bears the inscription:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

His name is on the Heanor Secondary School War Memorial at Marpool Church, Nottinghamshire. In 1946, Bolitho’s parents returned to Northern Ireland and set up home in Portrush, Co. Antrim.

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