Vandals wreck memorial to Dambusters hero in Doncaster park on week of 75th anniversary of famous raid

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Vandals have wrecked a memorial to a Dambusters hero in a Doncaster park, stealing the plaque from the site.

The damage was discovered just days before the country marks the anniversary of the famous RAF raids, which happened 75 years ago this week.

The plaque which has been taken from Elmfield Park.

The plaque which has been taken from Elmfield Park.

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The Doncaster memorial was put in place in Elmfield Park in 2003 in honour of the Canadian airman Flt Sgt John Fraser, who was a member of one of the aircrews in the raid. He married a Doncaster girl, Doris Wilkinson, who lived in Armthorpe at the time, just days before the raids. Doris is now aged 94.

The couple at met at the Danum Hotel in Doncaster while Flt Sgt Fraser, a bomb aimer on the mission, was based at RAF Finningley. He later moved to the Dambusters squadron at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.

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The memorial plaque was unveiled along with a tree, in the presence of Doris, daughter Shere Fraser and two of Flt Sgt Fraser granddaughters .

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Shere, who lives in Canada. discovered the plaque had gone when visiting on Friday. She is in Doncaster to mark the 75th anniversary of the raid.

Doris and Shere Fraser at Elmfield Park.

Doris and Shere Fraser at Elmfield Park.

She comes to Doncaster twice a year, and visits Elmfield Park.

She said: "It made me feel so sad. Why would someone do something like this? It was such a thin piece of metal that it cannot be for monetary reasons. The only thing I can come up with is that is for historical reasons, because it is associated with the Dambusters.

"It is a sad day when someone is prepared to vandalise a memorial like this. It makes you want to cry.

"I would urge them to return it. My mum and two children where there when it was unveiled. It is irreplaceable to us. There are cherished memories associated with that plaque.

Doris Wilkinson  (right), her daughter Shere Lowe, and granddaughters Alexandra (left), aged 14, and Victoria, aged 12, are pictured at the service in Elmfield Park in 2003.

Doris Wilkinson (right), her daughter Shere Lowe, and granddaughters Alexandra (left), aged 14, and Victoria, aged 12, are pictured at the service in Elmfield Park in 2003.

"Memorials are there to be cherished - this is not a commodity to make money out of."

It is not the first time an item relating to Flt Sgt John Fraser has been stolen. A man was jailed for two years in 2017 for stealing his log book, after it had been lent to him for research purposes.

Stuart Exelby, who unveiled the plaque in July 2003 while he was a Doncaster councillor, was furious to hear about the disappearance of the plaque.

He said: "People just can't leave things along. It is just beyond belief that someone would do this. Why would someone want to vandalise something like this?

"It must have been people who do not understand what the Dambusters were. I just don't understand the mentality."

Mr Exelby still remembers the day he met Flt Sgt Fraser's family, and unveiling the plaque, before taking them back to Mansion House for lunch.

"I was born in 1944. I was a war baby, so it meant a lot to me. Those aircrews were big heroes."

Flt Sgt Fraser's bomber crashed during the raid, but he survived. He avoided capture by the Germans for ten days. At the end of the war he was reunited with Doris, who he married 17 days before the famous dams raid, and they returned to his native Canada.

Flt Sgt Fraser survived the war but died in a plane crash in 1962.

A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said: “Our records would indicate that the alleged theft it yet to be reported to police. However we have contacted colleagues at Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council with a view to investigating the alleged theft.”

Coun Chris McGuinness, Cabinet Member for Communities, the Voluntary Sector and Environment, said: “It is appalling what some members of our community will do. The plaque honoured a member of the Dambuster squadron, based at RAF Finningley during World War Two, and his Doncaster wife. We are investigating what has happened and will look at replacing the plaque in the near future.”

The Dambusters, the RAF's 617 squadron, were famed for the raid on German dams in 1943 which used a revolutionary 'bouncing bomb', which bounced on the surface of the water before hitting the dam wall, sinking to the bottom of the water, and exploding, blowing a hole in the same walls which flooded an industrial valley.

Their heroics were made into a famous film, The Dambusters, in the 1950s, starring the actor Richard Todd.