Town to pay tribute to ‘Dambusters’ heroes

Bill Astell
Bill Astell

A remembrance tribute is to be held in Chapel-en-le-Frith on the 70th anniversary of the ‘Dambusters’ flight to honour the memory of one of the town’s residents who lost their life in the infamous raid.

Flight Lieutenant William (Bill) Astell, D.F.C, who lived in the village of Combs, was a member of the Royal Air Force 617 Squadron which led the assault on the dams of the Ruhr Valley in Germany on May 16 and 17, 1943.

Codenamed Operation Chastise, the raid was famous for its use of bouncing bombs - a technique practised at Derwent Dam in the Hope Valley.

Astell, 23, commanded one of the 19 Lancaster bombers which were based at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire. In total, 133 RAF personnel took part in the raid, of which 53 lost their lives and three were captured, with eight aircraft being lost.

A remembrance tribute will be held at Chapel-en-le-Frith’s War Memorial, on which Astell’s name appears, on Thursday May 16, at 11am. Also remembered in the tribute will be Sergeant Jack Marriott D.F.M., a member of the Squadron from nearby New Smithy, Chinley, who also lost his life on the raid and whose name is on the Chinley War Memorial.

The remembrance tribute, initiated by local resident Edmund Bradbury in collaboration with the Chapel-en-le-Frith Branch of the Royal British Legion, will include the laying of wreaths at the War Memorial.

Mr Bradbury said: “I felt that it was appropriate on the 70th anniversary of the ‘Dambusters’ raid for Chapel-en-le-Frith to honour the memory of our local resident William Astell, who together with colleagues from the 617 Squadron made the supreme sacrifice on this mission.

“I am pleased that the Chapel Branch of the Royal British Legion have worked closely with me on arrangements for the tribute.”

County and civic dignitaries, local clergy and Royal British Legion standard-bearers, school pupils and members of the 2517 (Buxton) Squadron of the Air Training Corps are expected to attend, along with two representatives from the present RAF 617 Squadron, based at Lossiemouth in Scotland, liaison officer Captain Duncan Fraser and Flight Lieutenant Jennifer Shackley.

The tribute will be concluded by Chapel-en-le-Frith Male Voice Choir, who will sing the words to the famous ‘Dambusters’ March’, composed by Eric Coates.

The ‘Dambusters’ raid was one of the most memorable operations of the Second World War, and the events were dramatised in the classic war film The Dam Busters starring Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd.