Pathfinder Aircrew, their Friends, their Families, and the World they Knew
Author: RAF PATHFINDERS ARCHIVE
The Archive covers many aspects of life in RAF Bomber Command from 1942, the year in which the Path Finder Force (the PFF, later known as 8 Group) was formed. However, the Archive's specific focus is upon the Pathfinders as they were generally called. Historically, this Archive has always been centred around 97 Squadron, which belonged to the Pathfinders for one year. However, we are now looking to substantially increase the Archive to include all PFF squadrons, PFF HQ, and the wider Bomber Command and Home Front milieus. The aim of the Archive is to provide an in-depth illustration of what life - and death - were like for Pathfinder aircrew, their working comrades, their friends, and their families.
Today we are adding to the Library on our new website an article by Tim Willasey-Wilsey, Visiting Professor of War Studies at King’s College London. It concerns Hall Mettam, a member of the RAAF, whom Tim met in Beirut in 1974 just before the civil war which tore Lebanon apart. Hal was flying Boeing 707s for Middle East Airlines, but had once been a Pathfinder pilot. Hal and his wife Elizabeth eventually retired to England and Tim kept in touch with them until they died. It was only then that Tim saw Hal’s logbooks, and was able to paint the full picture of his career in the RAAF, including his time with the Pathfinders. An Australian Pathfinder Over Germany
Photograph shows Hal, left, and Keith Saladine, his bomb aimer, a fellow Australian. (Mettam family photograph)
There have been a number of additions to the new website, including a section for articles written by relatives or by members of the public. Below you can find links to the two new articles which have been posted today, one on Mark Gleed, a Mosquito navigator with 139 Squadron, and the other on Geoff Baker, a Lancaster pilot on 97 Squadron.
If you would like to propose an article for publishing on the website, please get in contact at our new site, details at the end of this post.
The total wartime losses for the Path Finder Force were given by their commander, Donald Bennett, as being 3,618 men. It was a large figure for a small Force which only came into existence in the fourth year of the war.
Today we feature just one of those lost Pathfinders, Flying Officer Lewis Walter Castle Austin, who was killed by flak on the night of 7/8 March 1945 and brought home by his crew, that of Owen-Penny, flying with 582 Squadron. The crew were very fortunate to survive the severe damage to the aircraft.
In his letter of deeply-felt condolence to Lewis’s wife, his commanding officer Wing Commander John Clough wrote of how exceptionally popular Lewis has been, and of his ‘great charm of manner and his keen sense of humour’. He also wrote:
I am particularly to express the sincere regrets of his captain, Squadron Leader V G Owen-Jones, and of the of the crew who flew with him in his last sortie in the loss of a real colleague and friend.
Photograph and information courtesy of Helen Austin
This post provides a permanent link to our new website, which has been under development for a few months now. Although there is a great deal more to do, it is shaping up well. The catalogue system has already proved its worth; it would have been impossibly long-winded to superimpose such a system on this old website, which was one of the major reasons for the move.
It seems that there may have been a mix-up about the exact date of Ken’s birthday. One source (family) said 21 January, another 13 January. We are checking but in the meantime please send your goodwill messages in as soon as possible and don’t leave them until the 15th which was the original cut-off date!