Pathfinders came into the Force by various routes, many of them from Main Force where they had often experienced very dramatic and dangerous times. Alistair Wood, a Mosquito navigator, had his fair share of such times during his first tour on in the Halifaxes of 76 Squadron.
Alistair McKenzie Wood was born in Scotland in 1920. He was the second child and first boy in the family of five. (His sister Muriel was the youngest, and it is through her and her husband Brian Knights that we have such good material on Alistair.) His father was a fish curer, and the family home was in the seaside town of Cullen, not far along the coast from Lossiemouth where Alistair would undertake OTU training in 1943.
Alistair trained as a navigator in Canada at No. 33 ANS (Air Navigation School), Mount Hope, Ontario, now the home of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. He qualified on 14 August 1942, returning to Scotland to begin at 20 OTU at Lossiemouth, and completing his training there in January 1943. From there he moved to 1658 Conversion Unit at Riccall in Yorkshire, where he first began flying with Sergeant Wilfred Elder, a New Zealander, with whom he would complete his first tour on Halifaxes. This delightful photograph of the crew shows them at the end of their Halifax tour. Alistair is bottom right.
In April 1943, the Elder crew joined 76 Squadron at Linton in Yorkshire (later relocated to Holme-on-Spalding Moor – very interestingly Alistair’s logbook records one hour’s ‘Local Familiarisation’ time directly after this move). Their first operation was on 16 April to Mannheim. Like so many crews, both Main Force and Pathfinder, they went through a number of very dangerous experiences, laconically recorded in Alistair’s logbook. On the 12 June 1943 operation to Bochum, for example, Alistair simply records ‘Very hot’. Not long afterwards, the Krefield operation of 21 June saw their aircraft very seriously damaged, and Elder would receive an immediate DFM for his skill and courage in getting the aircraft home.
The Hamburg operation of 27 July was a very bad one, which saw the fatal injury of the mid-upper gunner, killed by a Ju-88. The aircraft had to be abandoned over Shipdham airfield, the crew baling out.
Ill-luck continued to dog them. On 12 August, petrol shortage forced them down at RAF Hartford Bridge near Guildford, there not being enough fuel to get them to their home airfield in Yorkshire, only one hour’s flight away. On 22 August they were shot up by flak, the aircraft being holed 56 times. The following night, 23 August, after an operation to Berlin, their Halifax crashed on return to base. Alistair notes that the crash ‘killed two cows’.
There are three official photographs of the crashed Halifax, two of which can be seen here: one at the top of this page and the one below.
The crew had had a very tumultuous first tour, but all of them seem to have got through it safely except for the unfortunate mid-upper gunner, and in October 1943 they went their separate ways to non-operational assignments before their second tour. It would be almost one year before Alistair joined the Path Finder Force at its Mosquito training unit, 1655 MTU, Warboys.