In the lead up to the 70th anniversary of one of the most impressive raids in British military history, I was privileged to present the official celebratory Dambusters book to Mary Stopes-Roe, the daughter of the heroic Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb.
The diminutive 86 year old warmly welcomed me into her home and as I showed her the book for the first time, she marvelled at how “handsome” it was. Pulling out the items of memorabilia related to her father, her eyes widened in astonishment as she came across the reproduction of his sketch of the bouncing bomb. Mary said she could still visualise her father sitting at the kitchen table sketching “all sorts of things”, but never really knew what he was planning, other than that he was doing “something good for the war effort”.
Mary had never seen any of these documents before and said, “this really is wonderful, to see these items come to the light of day… brings the whole thing back to life”. She was in her early teens, when her father was plotting what would become one of history’s most iconic raids, and described him as being “great fun, always pottering around the house, making up rhymes, inventing things”. She smiled fondly, and picked up a letter that her father had written to the Major where he excitedly outlined his plans. She then turned to another letter from a skeptic who deemed Barnes Wallis’s mission to be impossible. Mary shook her head and laughed as if to say see, he showed them.
The war hero still has a great presence in his daughter’s home, with his magnificent grandfather clock standing proudly in the living room, chiming on the hour.
Mary pointed to an ordinary looking wooden table in the garden and revealed that it was the table that her father would stand a bath tub on, filled with water and test bouncing marbles! She confessed that she is a hoarder with an attic filled with many more memories. “What’s going to happen to it all?” she wondered aloud, her voice filled with concern. I asked her what was the most precious thing that she had kept, and she disappeared for a few minutes returning with a small piece of lined paper with blue faded writing on it.