The Archive

Sourcing the Archive

penny crew

This Archive would not have developed so far without the continued help, support and encouragement of people who still care strongly about the wartime RAF. The Archive relies on you for further pictures and information on the Pathfinders, their ground crew, their friends and their families. Anything however small is of interest.

We are also interested in the wider war context because the Path Finder Force is best understood when seen in its proper setting. Our tagline has always been:

Pathfinder Aircrew, their Friends, their Families, and the World they Knew

Historically, the Archive was centred around 97 Squadron, which belonged to the Pathfinders for one year, from April 1943 to April 1944, and 97 Squadron material is by far the Archive’s richest resource. However, in the last three years we have substantially increased our holdings on all the PFF ‘heavy’ squadrons, the PFF Mosquito squadrons, and PFF HQ. We are also gradually widening our scope to include more of the background to the Pathfinders – Bomber Command, the RAF, the Home Front, and the war beyond Bomber Command’s airfields.

We have an informal, friendly, and enthusiastic approach, and a never-ending curiosity about what life was like in Bomber Command and the Pathfinders, and what the friends and families of the crews experienced. Please contact us with whatever you would like to share, using the form on the CONTACT page to send the initial email.

Frank McEgan and his crew

Why the Archive Began

The Archive has its roots in a tragedy which occurred on 16/17 December 1943, Black Thursday. At that time, the THACKWAY crew belonged to 97 Squadron, which was stationed at Bourn in Cambridgeshire. The crew’s first operation was to Berlin on 16 December. Returning safely to England, they crashed in a horrific accident caused by fog. Five of the crew were killed: Ted Thackway, Tony Lawrence, Sandy Grant, Jack Powell, and George Grundy. Joe Mack, the wireless operator, was critically injured but eventually recovered; he was lucky and survived the war. So many others did not, including the rear gunner on his aircraft at the time of the crash, Leslie Laver.

Les, as he was known to his loving family, was the only other survivor of the crash; he suffered only minor abrasions and shock. Returning to operations one month later, he was killed on his second operation, flying with the STEVEN crew.

FIRE BY NIGHT, The Story of One Pathfinder Crew and Black Thursday, written by Jennie Mack Gray, the daughter of Joe Mack (far right, above), was first published in 2000, with a second edition in 2011. The research carried out for the book, and the huge correspondence with the author which came out of its publication, became the genesis for the RAF Pathfinders Archive. This website commemorates all Pathfinder aircrew, but it particularly remembers the Thackway crew because of the horrific experiences they suffered in their very short flying career.