[C]umbria’s Museum of Military Life in Carlisle Castle have this week displayed memorabilia from an Cumbrian “Dambuster” ahead of the anniversary of the operation. Pilot Officer Alan Gillespie of 617 Squadron RAF was involved in the “Dambuster” operation and this week memorabilia has been given centre stage with items on loan from his family in New Zealand.
Born in Wetheral, Alan Gillespie was a solicitor’s clerk before the War and joined the RAF in late 1940 aged 18. His parents, Robert and Margaret Gillespie, lived at 111 Currock Road in Carlisle. His father had served with the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry and 7th Battalion Border Regiment during WW1.
After completing his training, Alan joined 61 Squadron in October 1942 at RAF Syerston in Nottinghamshire. He flew with them on operations over Italy and NW Europe, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM).
On 31st March 1943 he transferred to 617 Squadron based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire only ten days after it had been formed by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Their first mission was Operation Chastise, an attack on several dams in the Ruhr region of Germany using the newly developed ‘Bouncing Bomb’. The first Lancasters left RAF Scampton at 9.30pm on 16th May 1943. Nineteen aircraft which took off, eight did not return.
Gillespie’s aircraft never returned, hitting high tension electricity cables and crashing at Haldern in Germany. All of the crew were killed and are buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery in Germany.