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.
Happy Christmas to everyone who has supported us over the years, and may next year, 2021, see life restored to something like normality after the immense problems and sorrows caused by the Corona virus. To see the menu at RAF Station Graveley on December 1944, visit our new website: Christmas at Graveley Last Year of the War
The three Victoria Crosses awarded to Pathfinders were all gazetted in 1945, some time after the deaths of the recipients. The three men who performed extraordinary feats of heroism and self-sacrifice were Ian Willoughby Bazalgette, Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer, and Edwin Swales.
On 16 December 1944, German Panzers spearheaded a surprise attack in the Ardennes that smashed through thinly held Allied lines, catching the Allied commanders completely off-guard. The Allied fight-back included this extraordinary feat of heroism which won Bob Palmer one of the three VCs awarded to Pathfinders: Victoria Cross, 23 December 1944: “Heroic Endeavour” The story is told by Sean Feast.
The Archive has its roots in a tragedy which occurred on 16/17 December 1943, afterwards known as Black Thursday. At that time, the crew of Ted Thackway were serving with 97 Squadron, which was stationed at Bourn in Cambridgeshire. The crew’s first operation was to Berlin on 16 December. Returning safely to England, they crashed in a horrific accident caused by dense fog. See Why the Archive Began on our new website.
Our new website is commemorating Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, with a number of new pages about the events of that night and the crews who were involved. The first two posted below are is an overview of the night itself, and an article about FIDO and landing aids.
There are three new pages on our new website, all to do with Dominion crew. This photograph of a rescued Wellington crew comes from Allan Templeton’s logbook, from the time he was with Air Sea Rescue. Allan was a Newfoundlander. The other two pages focus on Australian and New Zealander airmen in training.
We are remembering all the Pathfinder losses tomorrow and on Remembrance Day, but one particular grave has been chosen to symbolise all, that of Bob Stewart, a twenty-one year old navigator. See the page on our new website
John Searby (left, with Bennett in 1944, IWM: CH 20628) was one of the best known and most revered of the Pathfinder squadron and station commanders. According to the dates in Bennett’s book Pathfinder, he was:
CO of 83 Squadron from 9 May 1943 until 2 November 1943
Station Commander at Upwood from 20 November 1943 until 10 February 1944.
Station Commander at Warboys from 3 June 1944 until 24 July 1944 (the June date is given as being in 1943, but this has to be a mistyping)