We receive a number of emails from people who are starting research about a relative who was in the RAF, possibly in the Pathfinders, but who have no information about dates or squadrons. By far the easiest place to start, if their relative died, is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records. Prompted by an email enquiring about a death in an RAF plane crash in December 1949, a new page has been set up on our sister site, AFTERMATH, which gives details of which service people were included in the burial and commemorative programme run by the British (and who therefore can be found in the CWGC records). The page also explains why the date for inclusion ran up to 31 December 1947, two and half years after the war had ended in Europe. Inclusion in the National Commemorative Programme
The last day of what has been a very good year for the RAF Pathfinders Archive. We have had over 17,000 visitors to the site and 65,000 individual views. These views have been from all round the world, including the most unlikely places, and the only major landmass where we have not set foot is Greenland.
We have been sent a lot of very interesting material, and this page Material Added to the Archive in 2019 contains a quick look at some of the most notable items.
We are most grateful to everyone who has sent anything this year, from the smallest to the largest collections, and if we have not acknowledged you specifically it is only because of the time factor. Next year should see the creation of a rolling acknowledgement page which will make clear how indebted we are to those who continue to send us this priceless material.
With kindest wishes for 2020,
THE RAF PATHFINDERS ARCHIVE
Jennie, Kris, John and Barry – The Trustees
The information about the Channel Dash in April 1942 has reminded some readers of the attacks on the Tirpitz in 1942, in which aircrew who would one day become Pathfinders also took part. We have posted before about Donald Bennett’s involvement in these attacks. He was shot down on the night of 27/28 April 1942, and made a successful escape through Norway, reaching England exactly one month later. Two months later he was given command of the Pathfinders. See:
Ian Campbell in Australia sent us yesterday a link to the Australian War Memorial at Canberra which now owns the Mae West which Bennett was wearing when he was shot down. Bennett had buried this Mae West and his parachute under snow once he was safely on the ground.
The museum’s website tells us that a local villager named Fordal preserved the Mae West faithfully (the museum’s text includes three variants of the Norwegian’s Christian name):
Within hours, both were safely recovered and hidden by local villager, Redier Fordal. Most of the parachute materials were salvaged and used by the village, but Reidel kept the Mae West hidden from the Germans until the end of the war. […]
Don Bennett died in 1986. In 1992, Bennett’s widow, Mrs Ly Bennett, visited Trondheim on the 50th Anniversary of the raid and was presented with this Mae West by Reider Fordal, who had kept it safe for 50 years in the hope he could present it personally to Don Bennett. The Mae West was then donated to the Pathfinder Force Association (Queensland) upon Ly Bennett’s death in 2000, before being offered to the Australian War Memorial in 2006.
Many Pathfinder aircrew had experienced very dramatic times in their tours before they became members of the PFF. One of the most dramatic we have come across is the story of John Henry Allen’s crew, 83 Squadron, who on 12 February 1942 set off to attack the German battleships in the Channel Dash. See our sister site, PER ARDUA: The RAF & the Channel Dash
Detail from a painting by Paul Wharmby
The Kenyon crew all died on Christmas Eve 1944, just after take off from Graveley. As previously announced on this website, a local group are planning a permanent memorial near the site of the crash.
Yesterday a simple but moving ceremony took place at the location around a temporary cross. It is very nice to see that a much decorated airman from RAF Wyton was in attendance.
With thanks to Graham James for the photographs.
This very simple, but extremely moving and quietly spectacular, ceremony took place at the Texel War Cemetery yesterday evening.
Leslie Laver’s grave is on the far-left of the plot.
The tribute from Leslie Laver’s mother, Jenny, reads:
Although you’ve gone, my boy,
I know that some day
We’ll meet again
In a world of gladness.
With many thanks to Jan Nieuwenhuis and Saskia Nieuwenhuis for the photographs.
Before Wally Layne of the Fletcher crew became a Pathfinder, he served on 50 Squadron. His CO was the legendary Gus Walker, who would lose part of his arm in a bomb explosion whilst trying to ensure that nobody would be hurt.
When Walker left 50 Squadron for 106 Squadron, he sent the NCOs of 50 Squadron a Christmas Card. For the story of Gus Walker’s accident and the Christmas card, see our new page: Gus Walker, Wally Layne, and Christmas
Bill Phillips was stationed with 35 Squadron at Graveley, and amongst the wealth of material which is now preserved by his daughter is this menu from Christmas 1944. We will be featuring more on Bill next year, but in the meantime here is a reminder of the way things were 75 years ago.
With many thanks to Lisa Phillips.
The worst night in British aviation history for aircraft crashes occurred on this day, 76 years ago. On return from a bombing raid on Berlin, the RAF lost a large number of aircraft and men due to the thick fog blanketing their airfields.
Tonight we remember all the aircrew who lost their lives on 16/17 December 1943, but particularly those on the Path Finder Force.
The Pathfinders were badly affected: 97 Squadron lost 28 men, 405 Squadron lost 15, 156 Squadron lost 6, and 83 Squadron lost 1. In all, 50 Pathfinder aircrew were killed by the fog. Others were seriously wounded and grounded for a long time, or permanently taken off flying duties. There were also heavy losses on the Berlin raid, 7 Squadron suffering the worst of all with the loss of four crews.
This new page for Black Thursday contains the ORB entries for the PFF squadrons who were flying ‘the heavies’:
These ORB entries paint a vivid picture of what happened on that disastrous night.
For other pages on Black Thursday, please see the main menu of the website, or here are some of the relevant links:
For the RAF website page on Black Thursday, click here.
Ernest Deverill’s distinguished RAF career ended with a terrible crash at RAF Graveley in the early hours of 17 December 1943. All except one of the crew were killed.
Parts of his aircraft, which caught fire, can be seen here in their display box at the Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton, a poignant reminder of that dreadful night.
There are many demands on everyone’s money at this time of year, but with the anniversary of Deverill’s death fast approaching we are asking for contributions towards the financing of the Deverill Collection.
So please contribute what you can to help us settle the last debts for this tribute to an outstanding pilot and ‘Knight of the Air’.
We are giving away a free pair of Black Thursday booklets to anyone who contributes £30 or more. The Black Thursday booklets
DETAILS OF THE PURCHASE OF THE DEVERILL COLLECTION
Two years ago, the RAF Pathfinders Archive bought the Deverill Collection to ensure that it would not go into private hands and possibly end up being sold off in separate parts.
Since the Archive acquired the Deverill Collection, it has been on loan to the Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton, where it can be seen by the public, by appointment.
Our previous appeal for funds to settle the outstanding loan to purchase the Deverill Collection has taken the amount still owed to £3,700, less that 10% of the purchase price. Clearing the balance will enable us to look to the future when we may be able to acquire other suitable Pathfinder items. These too will be loaned for display at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, and will enhance the wonderful collection already there.
Above: the new Black Thursday display at RAF Wyton. See this page: The Deverill Collection at RAF Wyton