The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (405224) Flying Officer Charles Rowland Williams DFC, 617 Squadron RAF, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2017.1.154
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 03 June 2017
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (405224) Flying Officer Charles Rowland Williams DFC, 617 Squadron RAF, Second World War.

Speech transcript

405224 Flying Officer Charles Rowland Williams DFC, 617 Squadron RAF
KIA 16 May 1943

Story delivered 3 June 2017

Today we remember and pay tribute to Charles Rowland Williams.

Charles Williams was born on 19 March 1909 to Hedwig – the daughter of a German Lutheran minister – and Horace Williams – an English emigrant who ran Bannockburn, a sheep station near the tiny village of Torrens Creek in Queensland.

Growing up at Bannockburn, young Charles (known as “Charlie”), his older brother Horace (known as “Doug”), and younger sister Sheila were taught by their mother. Charles went on to boarding school in Townsville. Finishing his formal education at the age of 16, Charles took over the running of the station with his brother as their father’s health deteriorated.

When Australia’s involvement in the Second World War was announced, the brothers felt they should serve. Doug joined the home army. Charles, who was eager to see the world but had never been further than Brisbane, tried for the Royal Australian Air Force.

Called up for training in January 1941, he became an accomplished wireless operator and air gunner, eventually earning a commission as an officer.

In July 1942 Charles Williams was assigned to No. 61 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, which was flying four-engined Lancaster heavy bombers. He was involved in successful missions over Germany against targets at Cologne, Essen, Hamburg, Munich, and Bremen, and took part in a daylight raid on Le Creuset in France. Impressed by his steadiness in combat, efficiency, and good influence on his younger crewmates, Williams’s commanding officer recommended him for the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Stationed at RAF Syerston, Williams began a relationship with Gwendoline Parfitt, known as “Bobbie”, who was a secretary at nearby Nottingham.

In March 1943 Williams was asked by Flight Lieutenant Norm Barlow, a fellow Australian in 61 Squadron, to join his crew and volunteer for 617 Squadron, a special unit being formed in Scampton. Williams agreed, and in April the crew were training for a secret mission that involved low flying at night but was otherwise a mystery.

Williams and Gwen became engaged, but Operation Chastise was ready for execution, so the marriage was put off until afterwards, when the crews had been promised leave.

Williams was assigned to the second wave of what would later become known as the Dambusters Raid. On 16 May 1943, his Lancaster left Scampton, headed towards the Sorpe Dam near Dortmund.

Today the raid is popularly remembered for the success of the “bouncing bomb” against its primary target, the Möhne Dam. However, in order to avoid radar detection and anti-aircraft guns, the aircraft involved flew at altitudes of around 30 metres. This high risk tactic came at a price. Of 19 aircraft, eight crashed or were shot down; 53 men died.

After crossing the Dutch coast just before midnight, Williams’s Lancaster flew into electricity pylons and ploughed into a field, where it burned fiercely. Every man on board was killed. The barrel-shaped bomb, code-named “Upkeep”, was thrown clear of the crash and was recovered by Heinz Schweizer, a leading bomb disposal operator.

The crew were buried in a cemetery in Dusseldorf. After the war they were reinterred in the Reichswald Forest British War Cemetery. Although their gravestones were produced to a standardised format, each family was allowed to choose a quotation. The words on Charles Williams’s gravestone express the emotions his family must have felt at the death in a faraway land of a country boy from an Australian sheep station: “He gallantly died renouncing all the things that he loved”.

Charles Rowland Williams was 34 years old. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1945.

His fiancée, Gwen Parfitt, said of Bomber Command:

May they find the courage that I have found inasmuch as these men were my friends and Flying Officer C.R. Williams, DFC and Bar, who had asked me to become his wife on that fateful May of 1943. To the end of my life I shall never forget them.

For 70 years, the site of the crash of Williams’s Lancaster went unmarked. But in 2013 local historian Volker Schürmann campaigned to establish a permanent memorial, raising funds from supporters from around the world. On 17 May 2015 relatives and representatives of the crew travelled to the unveiling of the memorial, and a wreath was laid in memory of Charles Williams.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Flying Officer Charles Rowland Williams, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Unit

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (405224) Flying Officer Charles Rowland Williams DFC, 617 Squadron RAF, Second World War. (video)