Menu Donate Request our help

He wanted to get his hands dirty

Mary Stopes-Roe, daughter of bouncing bomb inventor, Barnes Wallis, tells the story of Wallis’s eagerness to become an engineer at a young age.

It was this passion for engineering that would bring him to become an icon of both the British engineering industry and British war effort.

And it is perhaps one of the reasons why he was so popular with the mechanics and ground crew who worked on the Lancasters that flew on the Dambusters raid of May 16/17, 1943.

"He did appreciate what the actual engineering required and meant. It's not often realised that he left school at 16 of his own will; his parents didn't want him to, the school didn't want him to, because he was obviously quite a bright lad, but he wanted to get an apprenticeship."

Wallis was educated as a boy at Christ’s Hospital in West Sussex, which became the home of a bursary fund that he set up with a £10,000 'Inventors Award' that he received for his invention of the bouncing bomb. Since its opening in 1951, the bursary has paid for the school career of more than 150 children who have lost a parent through service in the RAF.

Forging his own hands-on path against the advice of his teachers and parents at just 16, Wallis has been characterised by family and colleagues as a determined individual.

"He wanted to do engineering. He wanted to get his hands dirty, to learn from people who knew how to do it and that's what he did."

Beck Parsons, who was one of the ground crew at Scampton said of Wallis:

"I was very much in awe of him. I was tied up in fitting all the lights and the electrics, just as he wanted them, and I was rather in awe of him then – but by the end of the war I knew how clever he was. My first impression was always good."

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Sergeant David Horsfall, a flight engineer with 617 Squadron on the Dambuster raid, who was killed in action, age 23.

Visit the Dambusters homepage

0800 169 2942

Sign up to receive the RAFBF e-newsletter