The Derwent Valley

The car once more full to bursting, ready for the long drive south, and my companions either back at work or heading for the airport, I went to collect Nick from the hostel, ready for a morning in the hills. There were a few things I wanted to show him before he headed south himself and we began with a drive across the moors, following a spectacular little backroad we had stumbled across on our travels.

We were heading for the Derwent Dams. My sons had been fascinated by old aircraft in their childhood. We could all tell the sound of a Merlin engine…and every one of us would abandon the table when we heard that note that told us the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was passing overhead. Lancasters were a favourite plane and it was inevitable that the Dambusters, 617 Squadron, would feature in the stories they learned.

Using the bouncing bombs invented by Barnes Wallis, the squadron had been sent on the now-controversial raid to the dams of the Ruhr valley. While there is neither glory nor heroism in war itself, the stories of the very young men who obeyed orders and served their country, laying down lives barely begun… that is a different matter.

The bombs, in order to be effective, had to be launched with great precision using the most rudimentary tools, aligning lights on the water to give them their mark. This meant flying low through narrow valleys, close to the water and in direct line of fire. One of the places they trained for the raid was the Derwent Valley. Their memorial stands within one of the towers of the dam and it is to here that we were heading. Fifty three of the 133 young men who participated in the attack were killed. So were 1600 people on the ground, of which a thousand were forced laboureres and prisoners.

The aircrew were boys. An average age of 21, with the youngest being Sgt Jack Liddell,  a rear gunner and a mere 18 years old. He had already served for two years…he had lied about his age to join the forces. Lidell was killed during the raid. Leaving the wheelchair in the car, my own son and I stood in silence for a long time.

Lancaster over the Derwent Valley dam. Image from information board.

War is too easily glorified by those who wish to wage it. The cost of war is calculated and defence budgets prioritised; the true cost of war is not money. It is not just the lives of those who fight, not even just those who die or are maimed as the clinically labelled ‘collateral damage’. It is the cost in grief to those who wait and wonder, to those who survive but whose lives are shattered by fear, by PTSD, by uncertainty. Standing with my own son…a son I had so nearly lost to violence… there was a momentary glimpse of the weight of grief borne by those who have loved and waited. I too have waited, not knowing, though I could see my son and knew every breath and heartbeat the machines ensured. It is not the same, but it is enough to feel the wrongness of violence on any scale. The cost of war is life…. and humanity.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson  and his crew. Imperial War Museums.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
This entry was posted in History, mankind, war and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to The Derwent Valley

  1. simonjkyte says:

    even more sadly collateral damage is costed: everything is costed, everyone is costed in CBA


  2. A very poignant post, Sue.


  3. A beautiful post, Sue.


  4. Pingback: The Derwent Valley | Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo | First Night History

  5. Bernadette says:

    War – The “wise” old men take advantage of the young man’s hero quest and the women are left to weep.


  6. quiall says:

    A beautiful tribute. My Father joined the RCAF at 17yrs. Eventually he was a rear gunner in a Lancaster: The Piccadilly Princess, Bluenose Squadron.


  7. noelleg44 says:

    Lovely, poignant post, Sue. The cost of war is incalculable.


  8. willowdot21 says:

    I agree war is such an awful thing, but the bravery of those young crew men and the perciverence of Barnes Wallis is something that I never tire of reading about. 💖


  9. Oh, this is so sad! I couldn’t agree more, Sue!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jennie says:

    Wonderful post, Sue. As America readies for Memorial Day, it is a pleasure to read about similarities with our allies across the ocean.


  11. Those flyers were really so young. I think 18 is the youngest I’ve ever heard of. It’s amazing what we will do in the name of protecting our home and loved ones. It would be better if we could use the grief of war to REALLY try to stop more wars. Any year now.


  12. Pingback: Writing 5/22/17 – Where Genres Collide

  13. Rae Longest says:

    Marvelous post, Sue, one of your best.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.