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A Mysterious Dog

In this age of political correctness the webmaster thought hard about publishing the dog's name on this page as it may offend someone, somewhere. However, this was the name of the dog, a deeply loved pet, with its name being used with great affection - and in no way does this article reflect the way the word may be used today as an ethnic slur. If anyone is offended by the word used within the context in this article please let us know.

We are so grateful to Alan Mann who supplied this article to us in March 2016, having originally published it in the Beckenham Dog Club Magazine in 2010. Reader contributions are always appreciated and will be handled promptly and professionally.

Alan Mann writes: Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson VC DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar was the CO of 617 Squadron which he led in the famous 'Dam Busters' raid on the night of the 16th May 1943. He was just 24 at the time!

During a version of Egg Heads, a TV quiz programme in the UK, a history question was posed to a group of University students including one studying history. The question was: 'What was Guy Gibson famous for?' The answer that came back was 'I have no idea, he can’t be that famous or I would have heard of him!'

The university student team also consisted of others considering themselves, 'expert' in scientific, history and medical matters; I cannot remember them getting any questions correct. Like Guy Gibson they too were aged around 24.

A Mysterious Dog Called Nigger:

Recently the President of our Dog Training Club, Phyllis Seymour kindly lent me a book called 'Over the Rainbow Bridge' which is about dogs in the spirit world. The author was convinced that her dog had successfully attempted to contact her shortly after its death, she then wondered if she was alone in this experience and placed a request in a dog magazine. As a result she received a very large number of letters confirming that she was far from alone in being convinced that her dead pet was somehow able to contact her, with the reassurance that it was alive and well in another world.

I found the book very interesting, adding to the considerable number of 'life after death experiences' of which I was already aware, most of them relating to human experiences, however if humans can appear after death why not animals?

I have read many authenticated reports of ghostly activities appearing around Second World War airfields, including my local airfield Biggin Hill. These include many recorded sightings of dogs apparently still looking for their late owners, with reports still coming in of a stray dog which mysteriously disappears when approached.

There are many accounts of dead animals reappearing not only to their owners but to others who had no previous knowledge of the dead animal. For me one of the most interesting accounts concerns Guy Gibson’s black Labrador dog called Nigger.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar was only 24 years old when he lead 617 Squadron on the famous 1943 raid in an attempt to destroy important German dams in the Ruhr. The name 'Nigger' was used as the codeword to be transmitted on confirmation that a breach of the Möhne Dam had occurred.

Nigger belonged to Guy Gibson and was also the mascot of 617 Squadron and apparently died just as Gibson was leading the raid, known as Operation Chastise.

The dog was buried outside Gibson's office just as the raid was taking place. His grave is at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, where Gibson was based.

However historians have since reported that all might not be as it would seem! One in particular, Bruce Halpenny, has uncovered evidence that Nigger could not have been killed as officially recorded. Bruce Halpenny is acknowledged as a respected British military historian expert in airfield histories and also an expert in RAF ghosts, especially surrounding airfields. Upon researching British RAF airfield histories, he found that public records held very little if any information at all, so he had to do all the research himself going back to the very beginning. This helped to unearth a rich source of information, which others have since used, but set Bruce Halpenny apart as an undisputed RAF expert.

The inscription reads:

The grave of a black Labrador dog, mascot of 617 squadron, owned by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Nigger was killed by a car on the 16th May 1943 and buried at midnight as the owner was leading his squadron on the attack against the Mohne and Eder dams.

For his research on RAF airfields, Bruce interviewed 1,400 people, researched records and letters and travelled thousands of miles. Such was Bruce’s dedication to the history of the airfields that he visited each and every airfield, (some of which he had prior knowledge of from his military days), to ensure accuracy. This is what he had to say about the ghost dog of RAF Scampton.

The first reported sighting of the dog, a medium black Labrador, was in February 1952 by Leading Aircraftman Yeomans, who was a Mess waiter at RAF Scampton.

It was about 4 pm and Yeomans was sitting alone in the downstairs staff room, the windows of which looked out on to a small yard which led into the rear entrance of the Officers’ Mess. Yeomans said that he watched the dog through the window for about two minutes, throughout that time the animal did not move, but continued to gaze up at the top floor windows where the Officers were based.

Yeomans curiosity became aroused by the manner in which the Labrador was staring upwards, with no sound or movement at all. He opened the rear door to call out to the animal; but the Labrador was gone! Yeomans was puzzled for it had only taken him a few seconds to reach the yard door and in that time it had vanished! He walked around to the front of the Mess but still saw no sign of the Labrador. Yeomans then went back into the Mess and eventually forgot about the puzzling incident.

Two days later Yeomans had just come on duty at the Officers Mess when, as he was just taking off his battledress jacket, Corporal Dwane snapped: 'Go and get that dog out of the corridor, next to the dining hall!' Yeomans quickly slipped his white Mess jacket on and hurried out to obey the NCO’s order. On entering the dining hall corridor Yeomans saw the same black Labrador sitting close to the dining hall doors.

By this time there were several other RAF Mess staff in the building Yeomans moved towards the dog and as he did so it immediately rose from its haunches. 'As it moved it seemed to blur,' said Yeomans. The dog headed for the stairs leading up to the officers’ sleeping quarters. Yeomans dashed after it but on reaching the top he could see no sign of the animal. He searched the entire upper floor, but there was no sign of the dog. It was a mystery for all the doors were closed, and the only way down was via the stairs that Yeomans had just ascended. He was puzzled, but again attached no great importance to this latest incident. On reporting back to Corporal Dwane that the dog was nowhere to be seen, Yeomans was told 'If that dog makes a mess I’ll stick you on a charge. It’s been seen loping around here looking for food, or something. Boot it out if you see it again and that’s an order.'

That was LAC Yeomans’ last sighting of the silent black Labrador, but he was to hear more about it. The dog was seen again running across the field towards the Officers’ Mess. It was about 8.30pm and it was seen by more than five people, including the Mess waiters. They said that the dog went past them soundlessly, without even looking in their direction. There had been a light fall of snow yet the dog’s paws left no marks. They watched the dog sneak out of sight heading for the front of the Officers’ Mess. The WRAF lady said that she had felt no fear on seeing the phantom dog and she later mentioned it to two WRAF companions. By chance she also told LAC Yeomans the following day.

The fact that her story was also confirmed by her male escort again brought the mystery dog into prominence. The possibility of Guy Gibson’s dog having appeared in ghostly form came into much of the conversation amongst the Officers’ Mess staff, was this the famous black Labrador dog of Wing Commander Guy Gibson?

Gibson had to whip into shape twenty one hand-picked Lancaster crews and there were many problems, so it was great to relax with his dog. After extensive training the raid on the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe Dams was launched on the 16th May 1943. However only hours before the raid Gibson was informed that Nigger had been run over by a car outside the camp and was killed instantly. But Gibson knew this would not have been possible as the camp was completely sealed and especially so before such an important operation

Gibson went back to his room and sat alone looking at the scratch marks on the door that his dog used to make when he wanted to go out. He felt very depressed, but the mission was on. He realised that the death of his dog was a very bad omen and he ordered his death to be kept secret. He could not believe his dog had died in an accident and suspected that his dog, which was also the crew’s mascot, had been deliberately killed in order to unnerve the crew before the mission.

Evidently the military police had already suspected that a traitor, or more likely an enemy agent existed in the service and probably was aware that an important mission was imminent.

Just before take-off Gibson gave instructions to bury the dog outside his office at midnight, just as they would be crossing the enemy coast. Gibson hoped that his dog’s friendly little soul would help uplift his crew with the task ahead.

I see no reason to doubt this well researched story but cannot understand why it took the dog so long to reappear, in its ghostly form, nine years after it had died and then to what purpose? I would have expected it to have been already reunited with its master in the spirit world. However, just because I have a problem in understanding ghostly activities, it is no reason for me to dismiss well documented accounts. I don’t understand a lot of things but have learnt to accept them, as I accept those dog owners who are certain that they have seen their dead pets.

Alan Mann. November 21st 2010

Steenbergen-en-Kruisland Roman Catholic Cemetery, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands - The only two identified Commonwealth War Graves casualties within the cemetery. (courtesy CWGC)

Note: The animal used to portray Nigger in the film 'Dambusters' was an RAF dog, on loan to the production team. Richard Todd, who played Guy Gibson, later recalled that the dog was an exemplary actor that hardly ever required a re-take. However on two occasions the dog caused difficulty. On the first occasion, the dog could not be persuaded to wait whilst filming the scene where Nigger approaches the door of Gibson's bedroom and the second occasion was when filming on location at RAF Scampton. Nigger and Gibson were to stroll through a group of RAF men waiting outside of a building for a briefing. The dog could not be persuaded to go near one spot, or even dragged past it on a leash. It later transpired that the spot was the site where the real Nigger had been buried, some 11 years before, whose gravestone had been temporarily removed for filming. In the end, the scene was filmed without the dog.

July 2020 Update: in a reflection of how far we have strayed from being able to place historical facts in the context of their time and place, the local authorities have seen fit to remove the dog's name from the memorial stone. Apparently we are now to refer to the dog as Trigger. No further comment need be made.

Some historical facts concerning Guy Gibson and the Dambusting raid:

The raid, called Operation Chastise breached the Moehne and Eder dams and although two other dams were attacked they were not breached. To accomplish this they were provided with a bouncing bomb designed and developed by Barnes Wallis, to skip over the water until contacting the wall of the dam and then to roll down its face until detonating at a pre- determined depth. The bomb had to be dropped from a height of only 60 feet, at night, to have any chance of success.

The raid involved 19 Lancasters and it took five attempts to breach the Moehne Dam. Gibson then led the three remaining Lancasters to attack and breach the Eder Dam. 8 of the bombers crashed or were shot down with the loss of 53 crew members. The devastation caused by the raids was extensive but the Germans managed to rebuild and recover much more quickly than was expected. However they were forced to use assets to protect key installations like dams to a greater extent than they had before. These assets would have been useful on other fronts.

Guy Gibson died flying a Mosquito over Holland on the 19th September 1944. Officially his death remained a mystery but now it can be revealed that he was shot down by a Lancaster gunner who mistook Gibson’s Mosquito for a Junker’s 88 thinking he was under attack. Bernard McCormack recalls he opened fire and the Mosquito went down near a Dutch town, the spot where Gibson crashed. Racked with guilt he taped his confession before he died in 1992.

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