Stolen album returned: Shere Fraser (second from right) helped locate and return a stolen photo album of Jim’s uncle

Stolen album returned: Shere Fraser (second from right) helped locate and return a stolen photo album of Jim’s uncle

Wartime photos returned to Dambuster family

The return of a long-stolen wartime photo album of a Bashaw resident has given his family a chance to reflect.

When Bashaw area resident Ken Earnshaw joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 it was to serve his country during the Second World War.

Earnshaw served 30 missions in the old Lancaster bombers as a navigator for the Dambusters. During those years he took priceless images and documented many flight logs.

Those images were stolen from the family and were returned last weekend in Nanton at the Bomber Command Museum after a lengthy legal battle with the man who stole them.

The story of Earnshaw and the returned images

On May 17, 1943 his crew were on a Dambuster’s raid on the Mohne Dam when their plane was set on fire. Earnshaw did not return from this mission leaving his young wife Mary a widow.

However, Earnshaw’s memories lived on in a photo album and flight logs that the family had inherited and were passed down through the years. Mary’s niece Charlene Brosinsky still lives in the Bashaw area and the history of these photos has many twists and turns.

In 2000 a request to see the images and log books was sent by British researcher Alex Bateman who expressed a desire to see the artifacts, explained Jim Heather, cousin to Charlene.

Little did the family member realize, these books can be valued at $10,000. “The most precious thing, of course, was his flight log book,” said Heather who has taken to memorializing Earnshaw.

Efforts to retrieve the books became problematic and it was this point that an airman’s daughter in the United States started pressing for their own books. Another airman in the crash was Flt. Sgt. John Fraser who survived and was taken to a prisoner of war camp.

His family had also sent Bateman their own books and they too had issues getting them back. Fraser’s daughter, Shere, put extra time and effort and set off on a lengthy legal battle to get the books back. She flew to London, UK on many occasions.

John Fraser and Ken Earnshaw are respectively second and third from the left in the back row in this picture, taken when they served together in 50 Squadron in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“She has been so persistent and determined to get her dad’s book back,” said Heather.

Requests were delayed and excuses made to return the books. Indeed, at one point Bateman sent a ripped envelope in the hopes it would appear they were lost in the mail. It was only during a search of Bateman’s home on a child-pornography investigation last year that Earnshaw’s album was found. Bateman was convicted for child pornography and early this year was given two years jail time for stealing the books.

“There was no understanding that it was gifted to him or he could keep it,” said Heather.

As for the log book, Bateman maintains the books were stolen, said Heather.

The return will be bittersweet. Some of the album is missing or in disrepair, plus the actual flight logs are not there. Despite that, Heather is excited to see the photos, which Shere was to present to him last weekend.

As for the value, Heather said it’s not about what they’re worth. The family is excited to bring back a priceless heirloom. “It is a celebration of all the effort she (Shere) put over the last 20 years.”

“We’re pretty proud of her and I tell you she’s a pretty persistent person,” added Heather.

The significance of bringing back these memories cannot be understated for Heather who explained that there were more than 10,000 Canadian airmen in bomber command alone who were killed in the Second World War.

For him it’s a further highlight of the need to for remembrance.