The latest Tales from the Archive goes right back to the very beginning of the Path Finder Force, at a time when it was being proposed under the name the Target Finding Force. Harris’ pugnacious opposition to the idea only ended when he was given a direct order by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Tales from the Archive 6. 28 March 2018
Our sister website, WWII Missing Research, War Graves, & Remembrance, has published an account of how the London Press were used to identify one particular Main Force crew, who had been buried as unknowns in France in September 1942.
Further to our post yesterday, I remembered that somewhere in the Archive there was another 97 Squadron dog. And here he is, a spaniel who belonged to the pilot Peter Clayton, DSO, DFC. Unfortunately the copy of the photo we have is very low resolution, but you can just make out the dog sitting between Clayton’s legs.
The crew were flying with 97 Squadron in 1943, and on 27/28 September, for example, the crew members were:
JB238A F/L R.F.Clayton, Sgt L.Palmer, F/L F.W.Chandler, F/Sgt A.E.Newbegin, W/O W.Halsey, F/Sgt J.Woods, W/O P.O.Bone.
Des Evans, who used to run the 97 Squadron Association website, emailed me way back in March 2006 about Peter Clayton’s dog. (I am not sure, by the way, why Clayton’s initials in the ORB are ‘RF’ and not ‘P’ – a small mystery there.)
Talking of Dogs yesterday. I had a great email from Kevin [Bending] last Night. He has been in touch with Peter Clayton , knocking up the years a bit now. However he is going to let us have a log book for his Spaniel which flew on a few trips with him and his crew. They evolved a logbook for him.
I wrote what a good story it was and asked if all the crew survived. Des responded: ‘To my knowledge they all survived including the Dog. Peter Clayton is still alive and well.’
Unfortunately I don’t know whether the spaniel’s logbook was ever copied.
The photograph above was sent to Des by Darren Rigsby, whose Grandfather was Pilot Officer Peter Bone, DFC (extreme left in the photograph). P/O Bone was the mid-upper gunner in the crew.
The most famous Bomber Command pet is Guy Gibson’s Labrador, Nigger. However, other dogs appear in photos of Bomber Command aircrew, some of whom traveled with their owners on bombing sorties.
Frank Smith was with 97 Squadron at the end of the war, flying as a rear gunner with a pilot named Harrison. The celebratory photograph below may either have been taken when they finished their tour or when the war ended.
Patch the dog appears with Frank (they seem to have been inseparable) in a number of photos. It is thought that Patch was brought back from Belgium after the war ended and that the crew hid him on the plane in order to get him back.
The photograph below is one of the best informal photos we have seen of the quiet life back at base. Patch appears on the far left, held safely by Frank.
With many thanks to Margaret and Jeffrey Bossons.
1409 Met Flight’s primary duty was to ascertain the weather conditions over the targets before a bombing operation. They also checked weather conditions over the British Isles, which were critical to the safe take-off and landing of operational aircraft. This might seem like a dull routine job, but it was anything but. The dangers which the crews faced were extreme,
The new page on 1409 Met Flight gives a brief outline of its work.
It also includes details of the Maurice Briggs and Baker crew, together with links to some of the extensive research which has been carried out about them.
Ralph Cecil Saunders, a navigator with 97 Squadron, was one of only two survivors of the crew of Kenneth Painter, which was shot down on 20 October 1943. The other survivor was Tom Andrews, the wireless operator.
Saunders spent the rest of the war at Stalag IVB at Mülhberg, south-west of Berlin. This was liberated by the Red Army on 23 April 1945; however, the bulk of the prisoners were not released by the Russians until around 22 May. (See Footsteps on the Sands of Time, by Oliver Clutton-Brock.)
Although we have not yet traced official records, it appears that a number of Soviet prisoners were also kept at Mülhberg, one of them being Alex Polewoj. Generally speaking, Soviet prisoners were kept separately from British prisoners, and treated abysmally. Saunders made friends with Alex Polewoj through the wire, and in gratitude the Soviet soldier gave him the cigarette box.
Despite the appalling conditions in which the Soviet prisoners were held, Saunders would later recall potatoes (presumably cooked and therefore edible) being thrown through his window by them when he was in the “cooler”.
There will be more on Ralph Saunders and Tom Andrews on another post.
With thanks to Peter Saunders.
The RAF are currently completely revamping their whole website and, as part of this, the old Pathfinder Collection page is no longer accessible.
Whilst we are more than happy to pass on contact details, you may wish to follow the details given on the Our Partners page, which includes a link and other information provided by John Clifford.
I am sure it will have escaped few people’s notice that it is the 100th anniversary of the RAF on 1 April. Whilst this is a momentous date historically speaking, the fabulous cake above says it all in a deliciously lighthearted and ingenious way.
With thanks to Josh Stewart, and Geoff Alan, RAF.
On a bitterly cold day (the last day of February, when the weather really ought to know better and be acting vaguely like spring), here is a heart-warming story of two members of a 7 Squadron crew, John Ottewell and Charlie Sergeant, who met up again this January after a gap of over 70 years. It was written by John Ottewell’s son, Chris.
We are gradually adding individual pages, or groups of pages, for each PFF Squadron.
Just added today is the summary list for the 20 PFF Squadrons by type, that is to say ‘Heavy’ (Lancaster, Wellington, Stirling, or Halifax – all were flying Lancasters by August 1943) or Mosquito.
The total of 20 squadrons includes 1409 Meteorological Flight, which flew unarmed Mosquitoes on survey flights.