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.
After a catastrophic accident in which a full load of bombs was dropped on his aircraft, Frank Lloyd somehow managed to save the Lancaster and get all the crew safely home. The only crew member who did not get back was David Mansell-Playdell. Immediately after the disaster, he baled out, on captain’s orders, which Frank revoked a few moments later but too late to stop David. See: Frank Lloyd, 582 Squadron
We are most grateful to Sean Feast for the photographs of Frank Lloyd and for the many other 582 Squadron photographs he has donated to the Archive. The full story of Frank Lloyd can be read in Sean’s book: Master Bombers, The Experiences of a Pathfinder Squadron at War, 1944-1945, published by Grub Street in 2008.
The tattered (but now somewhat rejuvenated thanks to the BBC programme “The Repair Shop”) teddy bear known as Bobby Bear has now achieved national fame. It is a great pleasure to see this as he belonged to Joe Mack of the Thackway crew who are the reason why this Archive originally began Today Bobby Bear is featured on the BBC website: BBC NEWS
When putting the photograph of Donald Margach with a Lancaster crew on the website (see Donald Margach and Guy Gibson) my eye was drawn to the fact that the gunners were wearing their flying boots. As four of the crew are wearing parachute harnesses, it is probable that this photograph was taken immediately before or after flying.
In fact, the wearing of flying boots now seems to be a fairly good indication of whether such photographs were taken very close to flying operations or practise flights. A whole new perspective on the wearing of flying boots is gained by reading a medical report written after the war about the physical dangers confronting aircrew (leaving aside, of course, the main threats – flak, fighters, and bad weather), one of which was frostbite of the feet. The medical report makes it obvious that aircrew were expected NOT to wear flying boots casually around the camp.
It is not only the gunners who wore flying boots, but in their case frostbite of the feet was a major peril, given their unheated turrets. This is what the medical report has to say:
A frequent source of trouble in this area was the tendency for all air crew to wear flying boots about the camp, from the messes, etc. The waiting before take off resulted in sweating, or alternatively the socks put on were not properly dry, which greatly increased liability to frostbite.
The writer says that ‘every effort was made’ to correct this, but Medical Officers had a very uphill job in getting aircrew to listen to them.
Another complaint in the same report is that there was ‘considerable laxity on the part of all aircrew’ in keeping their oxygen masks clean and in good condition.
JENNIE MACK GRAY
Medical report: Investigations and Observations Made during Operations by PFF at RAF Wyton from August 1943 to August 1945, by Wing Commander K G Bergin
Donald Sinclair Margach was a navigator who, in 1943, served on 106 Squadron when it was commanded by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. Donald did not go with Gibson when he formed 617 Squadron, which in May 1943 carried out Operation Chastise, the audacious raid on the dams. In 1944 Donald was flying with 582 Squadron of the Pathfinders when he lost his life. See Donald Margach and Guy Gibson
For anyone following – on our sister site – the story of the Mosquito crew lost in Italy in April 1945, there is now also a page on Peter Chapman, a soldier, who was killed by the Italian fascists four months earlier and is buried next to the two Mosquito airmen. Peter Chapman, Killed by Italian Fascists
We have been contacted by Lorenzo Saggioro, who is looking for information for two Mosquito aircrew buried in Padua in Italy. It turned out after initial investigation that these were members of 256 Squadron, Fighter Command, and so well off our usual beaten track. However, there is something very moving and intriguing about this particular story, and we hope that anyone who belongs to forums or Facebook sites on Fighter Command may be able to track down some information on these aircrew. They died on 25 April 1945 and their names were:
Pilot Officer Roy James George Beard – Pilot
Flight Sergeant D Maddock – Navigator (unusually no Christian name is given on the CWGC site)
Further information about this crew is on our sister site, AFTERMATH: Missing Research, War graves and Remembrance, see Mosquito Crew, Buried in Italy
Still on the subject of Latin mottos (yesterday’s being VIGILATE ET VIRTUTE, “Vigilance and Power”), what could be better than the motto of 405 Squadron: DUCIMUS – “We lead” – how appropriate for a Pathfinder squadron. Apart from its tragic experiences on Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, we have not yet posted much on this squadron on the website but here is what Bennett had to say about its national mix: Bennett and the Canadians – 405 Squadron
There is a very interesting new exhibition at the Science Museum on treating the wounded in wartime. This covers far more than the Second World War but there is a section on treating the terrible burns that some aircrew suffered.
By the Second World War, mobile maxillofacial units saved the lives of many soldiers with early surgery. But a new challenge arose with the growth of aerial combat, as pilots trapped in cockpits suffered terrible burns from aviation fuel.
The surgeon Archibald McIndoe treated 4,000 men with burns from aviation fuel. Each patient had an average of 12 operations. The surgery rebuilt hands and faces, and many of the men went back to fly again.
Of course, on the heavy bombers all the crew were at risk of serious burns if their aircraft crashed. One of the men whom McIndoe treated was Ernest Deverill’s loyal gunner who had served with him in a previous tour. James Benbow, who had severely burned hands, was the only survivor of the Deverill crash on Black Thursday.
The last two Christmases we have published a post in memory of the Kenyon crew who died on Christmas Eve just after take-off from RAF Graveley – see: Kenyon Crew, Christmas Eve 1944. A local group are now fund-raising for a memorial to the crew, See this article in the Hunts Post which gives fund-raising details. You can also contact the Great Paxton History Society by email at: email@example.com