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October 4, 2017

The 75th Anniversary Dambusters Dinner – a tribute to Operation Chastise

By Spear's

A glamorous evening at the Plaisterers’ Hall gathered military personnel, philanthropists and A-listers for a truly worthy cause, writes Sophie Killip

Over 300 guests were invited to the Plaisterers’ Hall at One London Wall for a night of opulence and entertainment – and just a dash of education – in aid of a truly worthy cause. The Dambusters Dinner, held by the April Fool’s Club and the RAF Benevolent Fund, marks the beginning of a year’s celebrations which culminates in a charity bike ride to the Möhne Dam in Germany, in May 2018. The events last week commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dambusters’ achievements and Operation Chastise, a nearly impossible mission during the Second World War in May 1943.

The evening began with a procession of entries; various groups and individuals arrived in their finery for a night to remember. Dotted throughout there were military personnel, namely from the Royal Air Force, donning their medals. If there was any doubt that this was to be a special occasion, the Aston Martin Vanquish parked outside was the final flourish – within it, a sign explained that a red Vanquish has been donated to the fund, and finding out how to win it would be explained during the event.

Downstairs, the reception rooms were opened to reveal a model Lancaster heavy bomber with an 8-foot wingspan. In another room informative pictures of the RAF personnel we were celebrating sat centre stage: Squadron 617, colloquially known as the Dambusters, who risked their lives to drop ‘bouncing bombs’ in a raid that targeted German dams – a mission that The Dambusters author and World War II historian Max Arthur described in one of the evening’s speeches as being almost impossible.

Champagne flowed, including tasters of HATT et SöNER’s bespoke vintage that also featured in the evenings auction. The atmosphere was welcoming – old friends from the April Fools club are reunited with a common goal. Other distinguished individuals in attendance included Sir Stephen Hillier, chief Air Marshal of the RAF, and his wife Lady Hillier; Mark Wilson, chief financial officer of Aston Martin, and Graeme Shankland of Caird Capital. Celebrities such as Simon Webbe, Olivia Cox, Simon Shaw MBE and Mark Frances Vandelli were also present  – and to top it off, Brian Blessed hosted the grand evening and made an enthusiastic auctioneer.

Blessed made his first appearance of many, hushing the crowd and inviting guests to be seated in the hall for dinner with a booming, ‘Gordon’s alive!’ It was the first of many proclamations of this famous line – guests were urged to donate £20 to the RAFBF every time they heard it. The dinner itself – while rich and much needed after what was looking to be a bubbly evening – fell to the sidelines as we were educated and entertained by speeches and performances. After all, everyone came to the Dambusters Dinner with a specific purpose: to support the RAF Benevolent Fund and the April Fool’s Club reach their goal raising one million pounds, which will be put solely towards their respite project, the Princess Marina house.

As Tim Mycock, the force behind the 75th Anniversary Dambusters Dinner and a member of the April Fool’s Club explained, ‘It is time to give something back, to help service personnel who need time away and respite’. The Princess Marina house is a facility run by the RAF Benevolent Fund to give service and ex-service members of the RAF some much deserved rest. As Mycock continued, this is only the beginning: the evening’s proceeds make up a portion of the intended £1 million. The real, momentous challenge for the April Fool’s Club is the charity bike ride in May next year, starting at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire and finishing at the Möhne Dam in Germany. It honours the 133 strong squadron, who made the journey 75 years ago, and closes the yearlong celebrations.

One highlight of the evening was special guest George ‘Johnnie’ Johnson – the last remaining Dambuster – who shared his personal account of Operation Chastise. Unfortunately Johnnie was unable to make it to the evening, but this did not affect the influence of his account, as he described the mission on television screens dotted around the hall. He also made another surprise appearance on the screens to present a final, secret lot during the live auction: a copy of military historian Max Arthur’s book, The Dambusters, signed by Johnson himself. ‘Dig deep’, Johnnie instructed – and guests did. The signed book was sold for £4,000.

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Though the official amount that the 75th Anniversary Dambusters Dinner raised for the RAF Benevolent Fund is still unreleased, Mycock stated that the dinner made ‘significant steps towards our overall fund-raising target’ for the Princess Marina house – and after all, they still have plenty of time to reach their £1 million goal. As Sir Stephen Hillier said in his rousing speech, ‘real spirit – that’s what it’s all about’ – the spectacular Dinner certainly proved guests’ spirit and generosity to the cause, as well as allowing for a glamorous, fun-filled evening.

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