Richard “Dickie” Bolitho: Ulster’s Dambuster

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


Sergeant Richard Bolitho (1211045) served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Known to family and friends as Dickie, and born on 19th January 1920, he was the only son of William Bolitho and Jane Bolitho (née Cuthbertson) of Derry/Londonderry. Dickie Bolitho was the only member of the famous Dambusters Squadron to come from Northern Ireland.

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 R.A.F. 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 R.A.F. 57 Squadron at R.A.F. Scampton, Lincolnshire, England. They took to the skies on 13th February 1942, six weeks before departing to join the newly formed R.A.F. 617 Squadron.

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

Back Row L-R: Pilot Officer Floyd Alvin Wile, Sergeant Maxwell Wilson Stephenson, Flying Officer Donald Hopkinson.
Front Row L-R Warrant Officer II Abram Garschowitz, Sergeant Richard “Dickie” Bolitho.

The Dambusters Raid

On 17th May 1943, Bolitho was a rear gunner on Avro Lancaster ED864 AJ-B, part of the first wave of the Dambusters Raid. Officially 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 Raid”. Bolitho’s Lancaster plane crashed on the outward flight. He was 23 years old.

The Mark III bomber took off from R.A.F. Scampton, Lincolnshire, England 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 Moehne Dam. In formation with two other crews, Astell’s plane made it over Germany. The others altered course but Bolitho’s plane followed its intended route.

The Lancaster approached a canal crossing and turned south to approach the target. The plane 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 sustained damage to their roofs and windows. A statue of St. Joseph holding baby Jesus near the crash site remained unscathed.

Remembering the crew of ED684

Last Name First Name(s) Rank Role Information
Astell William Flight Lieutenant Pilot R.A.F.V.R. 60283. Killed aged 23 years old.
Bolitho Richard "Dickie" Sergeant Rear Gunner R.A.F.V.R. 1211045. Killed aged 23 years old.
Garbas Francis Anthony Sergeant Air Gunner R.C.A.F. R/103201. Killed aged 22 years old.
Garschowitz Abram Warrant Officer II Wireless Operator / Air Gunner R.C.A.F. R/84377. Killed aged 22 years old.
Hopkinson Donald Flying Officer Air Bomber R.A.F.V.R. 127817. Killed aged 22 years old.
Kinnear John Sergeant Flight Engineer R.A.F.V.R. 635123. Killed aged 21 years old.
Wile Floyd Alvin Pilot Officer Navigator R.C.A.F. J/16872. Killed aged 24 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 crew was buried in Borken, Germany and later reinterred. His headstone bears the inscription:

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

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

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