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A city tragedy remembered

The TANGMERE Military Aviation Museum is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Dambusters next week but there is a tragic story among the crew.


Frederick Tees was born in Chichester in 1922 and was shot down in the famous Dambuster raids in May, 1943, the only survivor of his crew.


He joined the RAF in 1941 and was selected for gunner training the following year. Although he flew in the rear or mid-upper turret, the specially adapted Dams raid Lancasters had no mid-upper turret and on Monday, May 17, Tees was in the rear – a decision which saved his life.


As the plane neared Hamm, a commotion occurred and the plane, AJ-C “Charlie” had been hit on the port side. His turret was immobilised and he heard a member of the crew say: “I’m sorry boys, we’ve had it.”


Tees decided there was no future in bailing out with three engines on fire. He regained consciousness some minutes later and found his turret had been blown clear of the wreckage. He was badly burned, quickly captured by the Germans, and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war.


It was known that Tees had survived for several months and his family were not notified he was missing in action.


Almost a year later, on May 11, 1944 Tees’ mother, Elizabeth, was tragically killed when a USAAF B24 Liberator crashed on the laundry in The Hornet in Chichester where she worked.


The plane had been damaged on a bombing operation over France and the pilot set course to crash it into the English Channel once the crew baled out.


Unfortunately, the aircraft veered off this course and crashed on land, killing three civilians. Some reports claim that Mrs Tees had defied orders and returned to the burning building to retrieve her handbag.


Details of the occurrence say: “At 15:55 hrs, and American Liberator crashed on the allotments south of Kenneth Long’s Timber yard. There were five 1000lb bombs on board of which two exploded scattering parts of the aircraft over a wide area.”


Mrs Tees, aged 58, died of her injuries in hospital on the Sunday after the event.


Tragically, Frederick Tees did not learn of his mother’s death until he was released as a PoW in 1945.


Tees was cremated in England and his last wish was for his ashes to be scattered on the graves of his fallen comrades in Reichswald Forest war cemetery.


The Dambusters exhibition at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum can be found in the Middle Hall.


A print of a painting by local artist, Tony Sargeant, is on display and depicts three of the No 617 Squadron’s (the ‘Dambusters’) Lancaster bombers.


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