Although Sydney Grimes joined the RAF’s famous 617 Squadron too late for the iconic Second World War dambuster raid, what he and his fellow airmen did next was every bit as heroic and dangerous.
Mr Grimes’ story, along with those of fellow squadron members, features in the latest book by military history writer John Nichol titled After The Flood - What The Dambusters Did Next.
He joined the Dambusters as a wireless operator and his first mission aboard a Lancaster bomber was to help sink the giant German battleship Tirpitz in October 1944. The initial raid was unsuccessful, but Mr Grimes, returned with 617 squadron the following month and finally sunk the vessel. He has a piece of the wooden deck as a memento.
Other 617 operations included the bombing of the Bielefeld viaduct, Mr Grimes’ last mission, and crucially the destruction of V-weapons sites in north eastern France, which, if allowed to become operational, could have wrought havoc on Britain.
Mr Nichol said: “Although the Dambusters film is so evocative, almost nobody knows what they did next.”
He interviewed the three remaining survivors of the Dambusters raid, although pilot Les Munro has since died, and 15 to 20 other veterans, including Mr Grimes.
Mr Nichol said the different thing about Mr Grimes’ story was the fact that he was with his wife Iris at the time, and she was able to give her side of the story.
He said: “It was brilliant to interview them about the wartime experience, including the wife’s perspective.
“Iris told me it was a horrid time, and would often lie awake at night with worry.
“But they never spoke about these things. It wasn’t until I interviewed them that she found out that Sydney used to take a picture of her on every flight.”
In the book Mr Grimes tries to sum up his wartime experience. He said: “I’m not sure that what I did was brave. If anyone said they were never afraid, they would be lying.”
Mr Nichol said: “These men are a reticent bunch and don’t like to blow their own trumpet. I have to blow it for them. Sydney said that you just had to push your fears to one side. They didn’t want to let their friends down or let their country down. They were a different generation.”
Mr Nichol is himself a veteran of the RAF, being shot down in his Tornado jet during the First Gulf War, held and tortured. He said his own experiences helped the veterans to trust him and open up.
“I received a letter from Sydney, last week saying how the book told his human story, which we hadn’t seen before,” said Mr Nichol. The book is widely available.