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.
It has been a very successful first year for the RAF Pathfinders Archive, and we would like to thank everyone who has contributed in any way, from sending Pathfinder material to making donations to buying our publications to supporting us on Facebook. We have had an astonishing 59,000 views of this website this year, and more than 13,000 visitors. This is a truly great result and reflects the ever-growing interest in the Pathfinders and Bomber Command.
If there had been more time, I would have liked to have done a review of the exciting new material we have received this year, and compiled a list of best photographs. Oh, well, 2019 should be the year for that.
I will leave you with one of my favourite photographs received in 2018. It is of a Pathfinder Mosquito navigator with his Main Force Halifax crew. Alistair Wood is bottom right. After completing a first tour with 76 Squadron, he went on to do a second tour on Mosquitoes with 105 Squadron at Bourn, my all-time favourite Pathfinder station. We will be publishing some more information on Alistair soon.
SEE YOU ALL IN 2019 AND OUR VERY BEST WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR
Here is one for the sleuths. Can any one identify where this wonderful illustration of a Lancaster with all its radar and wireless aids has come from? It was clearly in a magazine article because of the numbering on the picture. No 10. shows the way in which SBA operated, SBA having been one of the few landing aids available on Black Thursday. We would like to trace the original publication.
On 24 December in the late afternoon, volunteers from the Aeronautical and War Museum on Texel, the Netherlands, placed candles on all the war graves at Den Burg Cemetery. This enchanting and poignant ceremony of Remembrance was led by Bram van Dijk and Jan Nieuwenhuis. Their helpers included school children with their parents.
This was a very touching tribute to the war dead who are buried there, who include my father’s rear gunner, Leslie Laver, and four other members of the Steven crew, who had flown from 97 Squadron’s base at Bourn on 14 January 1944.
RAF Hospital Ely, Christmas Day 1943, with patients, some of whom were probably survivors of the Black Thursday crashes. The lady at the back (to the right of the gentleman in the white shirt) is the wife of James Benbow, who had been very seriously injured in the loss of Ernest Deverill‘s aircraft at Graveley and was still too ill to attend Christmas lunch. Unfortunately we only have a very poor quality image but here is an enlarged version to show greater detail.
Last Christmas Eve, we included details of the Kenyon crew from 35 Squadron at Graveley, who crashed just after take-off on 24 December 1944. Very recently, we were sent a detailed dossier on the crash compiled by Paul Herod. Here is one particularly vivid story from the dossier, about Low Farm, Great Paxton, where one of the bombs of the wrecked Lancaster came to rest.
The loss cards for the seven 97 Squadron Lancasters which were wrecked – five in crashes and two abandoned when their crews baled out – were clearly filled in as a batch because they have the same phrasing on each one. The judgement given for the causes of the accidents was also similar and deeply unfair, blaming the pilots’ error of judgement. See the Scott card for more details. Perhaps one day these unjust verdicts can be overturned.
We would like to identify the crew members whose photograph appeared in yesterday’s post, there not being time to do so yesterday. They were from the Kirkwood crew, who sadly were all killed when their aircraft crashed close to the 405 Squadron base of Gransden Lodge on the edge of Hayley Wood.
Many grateful thanks to John Clifford who organised the revamp to the Black Thursday exhibition at the Pathfinder Collection, Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton, pictures of which can be seen here.
John also showed us round yesterday. He was on top form as the guide to what is basically a Pathfinders Aladdin’s Cave, containing countless riches connected with 8 Group’s history.
He was ably assisted by the hugely knowledgeable Carl Thomas. There was also the lovely surprise of a lighting visit by Peter Stanley, who began the original Pathfinder Collection in 1995, the basis of everything which can be seen today. Pete received a well-merited round of applause.
It was exceptionally good weather yesterday morning for the service of Remembrance for Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, and for the laying of the wreath and flowers at the memorial afterwards. The very fine memorial window to the Pathfinders formed a dramatic backdrop to the service.
We are most grateful to everyone at RAF Wyton who helped organise the day. Our particular thanks are due to Sergeant Chris McCormick, OIC at the Heritage Centre, and the Station Commander Wing Commander R L Dixon, who attended the service and the lunch afterwards, not to mention the top guys at the Heritage Centre who we will be thanking in the updates on the Pathfinder Collection later today.