Ellison Colton

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ELLISON George Colton, who was one of the last members of Bomber Command 617 Squadron, The Dambusters, has died aged 92.

He was a member of the ground crew servicing Lancaster Bombers in one of the most famous RAF squadrons which was formed with much secrecy at Scampton, Lincolnshire, in March 1943 to undertake one operation. Under the command of Guy Gibson, it was to breach three enormous dams in the Ruhr that were vital to the German war effort.

Mr Colton served as a corporal and, as ground crew, helped to modify and maintain some of the 19 Lancasters which carried out the raids with a mine specially designed by the Derbyshire scientist and inventor Barnes Wallis to be dropped from exactly 60ft, and was known as the “bouncing” bomb. The unit spent weeks practising for Operation Chastise by low-level flying over dams and reservoirs in Derbyshire.

The ground crew worked on aircraft of specific pilots and one of those Mr Colton worked with was Flight Lieutenant “Micky” Martin, a much decorated Australian bomber pilot later described as “one of the three great bomber pilots of the war”, who as Sir Harold Brownlow Morgan Martin went on to be an Air Marshal.

Mr Colton never forgot the night of the raid, May 16/17, 1943, when they spent an anxious time after the 19 bombers had taken off “smoking a lot of cigarettes and drinking a lot of strong black tea”. Only 11 returned, and he would recall that it was a very sad time for the whole squadron.

The following year Mr Colton was among those honoured for their work being Mentioned in Dispatches “for distinguished service to 617 Squadron”.

They were later visited by King George VI who presented the squadron with new colours and each member with a signed photograph.

Mr Colton was born in Worksop, the elder son of Ellison and Beatrice Colton and educated locally. His father was an engineer. At school he met Alice Scott whom he married in 1943.

For a year after leaving school he worked for an insurance company, but as the prospect of the Second World War approached Mr Colton volunteered in 1938 for the RAF because he desperately wanted to fly. However, his eyesight let him down and he was assigned to ground crew but it did mean he could use his lifelong interest and talent for working with engines.

He later got the opportunity to fly in Lancasters over Germany, although he never piloted one.

After the war, he joined the Post Office in Worksop, moving to Wakefield in 1962 as assistant head postmaster where he was responsible for a wide area.

He retired in 1981 and spent his time helping his wife who worked for Oxfam for 35 years, firstly as a volunteer and then as manager of the shop in Wakefield. He also played bowls and enjoyed stamp collecting. He also kept in touch with his old squadron as a member of the 617 Association, attending members’ days and events at RAF Scampton.

Mr Colton, who lived in Sandal, Wakefield, is survived by his brother, his three children, Paul, Susan and Joanne, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His wife predeceased him in January 2012.