Charles Rowland Williams (1909 - 1943)

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Charles Rowland Williams was born March 19, 1909 in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. His father Horace Edward Williams, an emigrant from England, managed a sheep station; his mother Helena was a governess and the daughter of a German Lutheran minister. Charlie was one of 5 children: his older brother Horace Douglas (Doug) (1906-1976), Edward Gordon, who died at or shortly after birth in 1907, Charlie, brother Francis Ainslie (Frank) who died age 4 from diphtheria (1910 to 1914), and sister Sheila (1916-2007). Early education came from their mother and from traveling teachers; later Charlie and Doug attended boarding school in Townsville. His formal education ended at 16 but he was intelligent, well read, mechanically adept, and a hard worker. Charlie was a good mixer with excellent manners and a straight faced, self-deprecating sense of humor. He enjoyed tennis and cricket and was a fine horseman. During his service in the RAAF, he took up squash and golf as well. A slender man of average height, Charlie had fair hair and grey or grey green eyes.

In 1933, in the depths of the depression, the Williams’ sheep station was sold out from under them. The family struggled to start over, having to take over another station on very disadvantageous terms, but by the time war threatened, their business was doing better in spite of Horace’s ill-health, as the two brothers stepped up to take over. At the time of Australia’s entry into WWII, they felt they should serve, but agreed that Doug should join the Home Army, and that Charlie, who was eager to see something of the world but had never been further afield than Brisbane, should try for the Royal Australian Air Force.

While waiting for the RAAF, he served with Doug in the local Home Army unit, where he learned the use and maintenance of machine guns. In August 1940 he was summoned for his RAAF medical and interview, at which time he became a member of the Reserve; in January 1941 he was called up for training. Like most young men, Charlie wanted to be a pilot, but at 31 it was felt he was too old and he trained as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, earning a rare commission as an officer.

While training Charlie became engaged to a young nurse named Millie McGuiness. The relationship was not destined to survive separation as after Charlie shipped out to the UK, Millie stopped writing for several months; by the time she started again, Charlie was otherwise involved. Charlie went to the UK via Hawaii and Canada, arriving in November 1941. After refresher training, he was assigned to an Operational Training Unit to learn the ins and outs of crewing a bomber. During this period, he flew two of the three famous “Thousand Bomber Raids” in a Hampden as gunner and wireless operator. In July 1942 he was assigned to 61 Squadron, Bomber Command, a Lancaster unit. He served with distinction and his CO recommended him for the Distinguished Flying Cross, citing his steadiness in combat, efficiency, and good influence on his much younger crewmates. As Paul Brickhill pointed out in his book Dambusters, the DFC was a very unusual award for a wireless operator; most of them went to pilots, bomb aimers, flight engineers, and gunners. Charlie sadly never knew of this honor. While with 61 Squadron, Charlie met and fell in love with a young woman in Nottingham, Gwen “Bobbie” Parfitt.

In March 1943 Charlie was asked by his friend F/Lt Norm Barlow, a fellow Australian in 61 Squadron, to join his crew and volunteer for a special unit being formed by Wing Commander Guy Gibson at Scampton: 617 Squadron. Charlie agreed; although he was eligible for 6 months in a non-combat assignment once his tour of operations ended (and in fact had been asked to remain with 61 Squadron as Signals Officer, a very responsible position that would have come with a promotion), he was eager to get his second tour done; he was homesick, his father was terminally ill, probably he was suffering from traumatic stress, and with summer coming he felt that his required 20 ops could be dealt with in 3 or 4 months, and that then, with his combat obligation fulfilled, he could hopefully go home. The fact that the remaining 2 operations of his current tour were evidently forgiven was probably an incentive as well.

April found the crew training hard for a secret mission that involved low flying at night but otherwise was a mystery to them. Charlie and Gwen became engaged; her parents objected, not wanting their only daughter to go to Australia. By the time they agreed, Operation Chastise, the Dams raid, was ready for execution and the marriage was put off until afterwards, when the crews had been promised leave.

F/Lt Barlow and his crew were assigned to the second wave, set to attack the Sorpe Dam, and on May 16, 1943, theirs was the first aircraft to leave Scampton. They never reached the target; at 23:50 hours their Lancaster, serial ED927/G, coded AJ-E, struck a high tension pylon, exploded, and crashed. The Upkeep mine rolled free, was studied by the Germans, and ironically today provides the best information on the appearance of the live Upkeeps carried on the Dams raid. The cost of Operation Chastise is too often a footnote. 19 aircraft took off; 2 aborted, 1 never found a target, and 8 crashed or were shot down. 53 men died, including Charlie Williams.

The crew was buried in a cemetery in Dusseldorf; after the war they were identified and reburied in the Reichswald Forest British War Cemetery. In July 1945, Flying Officer Charles Rowland Williams (since deceased) was finally awarded his Distinguished Flying Cross, “with effect from 15 May 1943.”

Sources: An Airman Far Away by Eric Fry, Dam Busters by James Holland, Charles Rowland Williams’ service records in the National Archives of Australia

Charles Rowland Williams Biography & Family History

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Birth


Townsville, QL Australia

Death


Germany
Cause of death: airplane crash

Cause of death

airplane crash

Burial / Funeral

Reichswald Forest British War Cemetery,
Kleve, Germany

Obituary

Last Known Residence

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Average Age

Life Expectancy

Family

Mother: Catherine Helene Hedwig Hampe
Father: Horace Edward Williams
Siblings: Horace Douglas Williams, Francis Ainslie Williams, Sheila Williams, and Edward Gordon Williams

Education

Townsville Grammar School, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Professions

Sheep farmer

Military Service

Royal Australian Air Force
Service #405224
Units: 61 Squadron, Bomber Command
617 Squadron, Bomber Command
Distinguished Flying Cross
Reichswald Forest British War Cemetery, Plot: 5. C. 11.

Middle name

Rowland

Surnames

Ethnicity

Unknown. Add Charles's ethnicity.

Nationality

Australia

Religion

Church of England

Gender

Male

Family Photos

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Timeline

1909 - In the year that Charles Rowland Williams was born, Polish physician and medical researcher Paul Ehrlich found a cure for syphilis, which was a prevalent (but undiscussed) disease. He found that an arsenic compound completely cured syphilis within 3 weeks.

1931 - When he was 22 years old, on May 1st, the Empire State Building opened in New York City. At 1,454 feet (including the roof and antenna), it was the tallest building in the world until the World Trade Center's North Tower was built in 1970. (It is now the 34th tallest.) Opening at the beginning of the Great Depression, most of the offices in the Empire State Building remained unoccupied for years and the observation deck was an equal source of revenue and kept the building profitable.

1932 - Charles was 23 years old when five years to the day after Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart flew solo from Newfoundland to Ireland, the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo and the first to replicate Lindbergh's feat. She flew over 2,000 miles in just under 15 hours.

1940 - By the time he was 31 years old, on November 5th, President Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a third term, defeating Wendell Willkie of Indiana (a corporate lawyer). Roosevelt running for a third term was controversial. But the U.S. was emerging from the Great Recession and he promised that he would not involve the country in any foreign war (which of course changed when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor). Roosevelt defeated Willkie in the popular vote by 54.7 to 44.8% and in the Electoral College 449 to 82.

1943 - In the year of Charles Rowland Williams's passing, on September 3rd, the Armistice of Cassibile was signed in Sicily. Under the terms of the Armistice, Italy surrendered to the Allied Powers. After the Armistice was made public on September 8th, Germany attacked and occupied Italy. It took 20 months of fighting for the Allies to reach the northern borders of Italy.

Charles Rowland Williams Family Tree

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Obituary

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Charles Rowland Williams passed away on May 16, 1943 in Germany at 34 years of age. His cause of death is listed as: airplane crash. He was buried in Reichswald Forest British War Cemetery, Kleve, Germany. Charles was born on March 19, 1909 in Townsville, QL , Australia. He was born to Catherine Helene Hedwig Hampe and Horace Edward Williams, with siblings Horace, Francis, Sheila, and Edward.

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