Carrier Pigeons in the Bomber War

It’s amazing how lots of little things relating to the same subject come together at the same time when one is researching. In February we published a page which gave a post and a page on Lancaster Gunners “Hotting Up”. In one part of the drawing, not included on the detail which we used, there was a pigeon in a carrier case. This clearly shows that carrier pigeons were still being used in Bomber Command as late as December 1943. For more details see our new page: Carrier Pigeons in the Bomber War

Pathfinder Collection, Wyton

People sometimes confuse the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, Heritage Centre, and ourselves, the RAF Pathfinders Archive, which is understandable given the similarity of the names. Just to clarify: while the Pathfinder Collection and ourselves share digital material, and some of the Archive’s best artefacts are on display at Wyton, we are separate legal entities.

John Clifford, Senior Curator at the Pathfinder Collection, is a bridge between the two of us as he is also one of the RAF Pathfinders Archive trustees.

The page on our Partnership has just been updated and will hopefully make things clearer. If you want to arrange a visit to the Pathfinder Collection, all the details can be found there.

Display at the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton, which includes items on loan from the RAF Pathfinders Archive.

Aircraft Codes & Letters

Pathfinder and Main Force Lancasters had identifying squadron codes and individual letters which made them easy to recognise in the air. For example, OF-D stood for 97 Squadron aircraft D-Dog (D-Donald at a later date). For a list of PFF squadron codes, see Pathfinder Squadrons by Type. For the individual letters (and one of our all-time favourite ground crew and Lancaster photographs), see our new page: Aircraft Codes & Letters

Path Finder Force Memorial, NMA

In our post of 5 September 2017, we wrote that the Path Finder Force Memorial had been completed and had been unveiled at RAF Wyton on Pathfinder Sunday. It was due to be relocated to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, where it would remain permanently.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of highly frustrating delays but it is now proposed to move it to the NMA at the end of this month, on the last weekend of March. The proposed date for the dedication ceremony is Saturday April 13th, time TBD, although John Clifford who has done so much to make this all happen suggests 13:00 approximately to allow for travel.

We will post an update when the details are confirmed.

The Last Lancaster

We have recently been working with the logbook, prisoner of war log, and other papers of John Henry O’Neill, a bomb aimer with 405 Squadron, who was shot down in July 1944. There is a great deal of interest in these papers, but one small item caught my eye today. Tucked into the prisoner of war log is a yellowing newspaper clipping, describing the end of the last Lancaster on active duty on 20 October 1956. Also tucked into the logbook is the card of the Lancaster included on this post. Clearly, the aircraft was of great significance to John O’Neill. There is also a drawing of a Lancaster in his prisoner of war log.

7 Squadron Pilot & Bomb Aimer, Reunited

Here’s an amazing story. We will let Peter Banting tell it in his own words:

Have just discovered your great website, may be interesting for you to learn that, as a radar navigator and bomb aimer with 7 Squadron, am in regular communication with our pilot, Kenneth Rothwell, an Aussie, also my age, 95, who secured our safety in 28 ops, until the war ended.

He lives in New England, I learnt that he was living in New England, and phoned every Rothwell there, until …..I said “Is that Ken Rothwell?” He replied …. “Hello, Peter”, he knew my voice.

Ken and Peter flew three flights in the iconic operations at the end of the war known as MANNA (see below) and EXODUS. The first was the dropping of food supplies in starving Holland, the second the bringing home of prisoners of war, in Ken and Peter’s case from Lubeck and Juvencourt.

Peter Banting in 1945

Below: Peter Banting and Kenneth Rothwell at the RAF Club in 2002, standing before a painting of Operation Manna.


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OPERATION MANNA: We will set up a page on this topic, but on one of our Facebook posts in December we included this info:


I found this whilst answering a comment just now about our post on the 97 Squadron page. Well worth looking at. Operation Manna delivered thousands of tons of food to the people of the Netherlands, many of whom died in what came to be known as the Hunger Winter. Great to see the magnificent Lancasters being used in this context.
https://www.youtube.com/watch…

Lancaster Gunners ‘Hotting-up’

Before flying on ops, gunners got into their electrically heated flying suits, and it seems this process required quite a bit of help. A recent acquisition for the Archive is an Illustrated London News drawing which shows a Nissen hut in December 1943 where the gunners are undergoing their last preparations before the take-off. Some are already fully dressed up, wearing their parachute harnesses and flying helmets, and carrying their parachute packs. Others are being ‘valeted’ into their extraordinary clothing. See new page: Lancaster Gunners Hotting Up

Pilot Officer Prune, Again

During the massive clear-up of the office, this amusing little document turned up in a stray copy of EVIDENCE IN CAMERA, the wartime RAF photographic publication.

The document is Transport Command, not Bomber Command, but whoever drew up the spoof sheet clearly was fond of Pilot Officer Prune and his navigator Flight Sergeant Offtrack. There is no date but it seems to have been written sometime before November 1943, when 267 Squadron moved to Italy.

The journey details appear to be based on a real flight, and Warnham Clock Tower definitely existed, and still does.

John Sauvage, a P.S.

The explanation for the mix-up about nationality is now explained. As John’s son-in-law explains:

The Seychelles used to be French , but we won them as “spoils of war “ at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The locals speak a version of French (especially the old ones like John) when ever they get together. We have comments from 97 Squadron mates who say he cut a swathe through the local ladies of Cambridge with his “French “ accent !!! Say no more.

Above: John (centre) with his crew

John Sauvage, 100th Birthday

John Sauvage, one of 97 Squadron’s most distinguished pilots, is 100 years old this weekend. The main image on this post is of John with his crew discussing arcane matters next to their Lancaster at Bourn in the summer of 1943. He can also be seen below with his ground crew in front of his 97 Squadron aircraft.

We were told years ago that John was French. In fact, we have learned this morning that he is Seychellois (from the Seychelles), which was a British possession from 1814 under the Treaty of Paris, and became a Crown Colony. He is now a naturalised British citizen.

In the ground crew photo John looks every inch the dashing young pilot. Below the photograph can be found the link to his citation for the Distinguished Service Order in the London Gazette of 30 November 1943 (second column, third down), which makes particular mention of his leadership qualities which inspired others to follow his high standard. We all join in wishing John the very best wishes for his birthday on Saturday.

London Gazette, 30 November 1943