The Dam Buster of Blundell's Cottage
contributed by Michael Hall
Blundell’s Cottage, on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin, is a reminder of Canberra’s pastoral past. It was home to the Blundell family for more than 50 years. The last member of the family to be born at the cottage was Harold ‘Nobby’ Blundell in 1914. He would play an important part in the Dam Buster raid on Germany in May 1943.
Nobby was the son of Lyle Blundell and Vera Kitson. Lyle worked as a bullock driver for the Campbell’s of Duntroon and grew up at Blundell’s Cottage. Vera Kitson and her family came from Hillston in western New South Wales and probably arrived in Canberra around 1911. Her father worked as a foreman for the Department of Home Affairs but her mother died shortly after the birth of her brother, Jack in 1895. Jack Kitson died of wounds in Belgium in March 1918. Vera Kitson was working as a ‘domestic’ when she married Lyle Blundell at the Canberra Presbyterian Church (now St. Ninian’s in Lyneham) in June 1912.
When Nobby was eleven his family moved to Weethalle near West Wyalong. Nobby became a wheat farmer but he was also a qualified mechanic so that when he was called up for duty in the RAAF in January 1940 he trained as a fitter and was posted to 456 Nightfighter Squadron in Wales. In early 1943 he joined 617 Squadron for special duties. 617 Squadron were the Dam Busters and Nobby flew with the Lancaster bombers during test drops of their bombs. His role was to modify the undercarriage of the Lancasters so that they could carry the heavy ‘bouncing’ bombs.
On the night of 16 May 1943 the bombers of 617 Squadron attacked the Mohne and Eder dams in the Ruhr valley – Germany’s industrial heartland. Flying in low each Lancaster dropped a bomb which skipped across the water like a stone across a pond before crashing into the base of the dam wall. Eventually the walls were breached and the resulting floods caused considerable damage in the Ruhr.
In November 1943 Blundell was posted to 463 Squadron, which was based at Waddington in England, as a Sergeant Engine Fitter. He was Mentioned in Despatches for his work during the D-Day operations in June 1944 and in October 1944 he was sent to Russia to service Lancaster bombers attempting to sink the German raider, Tirpitz.