A relatively recent part of the Peak District heritage is the connection with the famous ‘Dambusters’ raid on the German reservoirs by 617 Squadron in the height of World war 2. Derwent dam in the Upper Derwent complex was one of the three UK dams that 617 Squadron practiced on, testing Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb.
There have been events to commemorate this audacious military operation at the 50th and 65th anniversaries. This week we helped the RAF celebrate the 70th anniversary. And it turned out to be a big occasion that required a lot of advanced planning.
The RAF came to see me early in the year and I organised a meeting involving Severn Trent Water (who own the reservoirs and with whom we work on the management of the Upper Derwent), the police, local authorities and our rangers.
The RAF explained the significance of the events around this anniversary and explained that the main commemorative events would be in Lincolnshire. This was partly to accommodate considerable media interest (Dan Snow and Chris Evans) but mainly because the last 2 survivors (Les Munro and Jonny Johnson) were now too frail to travel extensively on the days around the celebration.
We talked through the practical issues of a significant public event in the Upper Derwent area. It is a narrow valley with limited parking and the history of previous events was that the flypast would attract a lot of interest and visitors. This had to be managed.
A plan was then put in place led by Severn Trent Water with support from Derbyshire Police, Derbyshire County and High Peak Borough Councils, Mountain Rescue and the National Park rangers. Contrary to some unworthy reports in the media, there was no attempt to stop the flyover and the plans to restrict access were only a sensible precaution to prevent mayhem and allow visitors safe access. At no time were the RAF’s plans restricted.
On the day, I hosted some local VIPs and people associated with the Dambusters, including Derbyshire’s Deputy Lord Lieutenant who works with the RAF, John Wilson, Battle of Britain Memoroial Flight veteran Jerry Ward, the leader of High Peak Borough Council and representatives of Rolls Royce (whose Merlin engines are such a big part of the Lancaster story).
As I arrived in the Hope valley last Thursday it was clear that our plans for managing access would be put to the test. The roads were busy and got much busier as we approached the Derwent area.
The first visitors to the valley had camped overnight and our rangers had been on site at 4.00 am when more people began to arrive. All car parks and lay-bys in the valley were full by 10.00 and there was a huge amount of traffic in the Bamford and A57 areas. Our careful and cautious approach had proved to be right.
Arriving at the dams, we met the Derbyshire British Legion, more veterans linked to 617 squadron and Vic Hallam who runs the excellent dambusters museum on the Derwent reservoir dam. The flyover was to be broadcast live on the 1.00 news and repeated endlessly in media outlets across the World.
All newspapers covered the story and so the scale of the media operation was huge at the dams. It was great to see the VIPs meeting the veterans and hearing all of their stories. And it was good to see the many thousands of members of the public who had managed to get safe access to the area for an event that was special to them.
And on the dot just after 1.00 the first of several flypasts took place.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of the national park rangers, the volunteer rangers and all of the other staff who helped on the day. Andy Farmer(Acting Head of Field Services) and Paul Wetton (ranger for the Derwent Valley) played a great leadership role, handling some tricky behind the scenes issues fantastically well.
A wide range of other emergency and public bodies chipped in to help organise the event and ensure everyone who visited had a rewarding and safe experience.