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.
We recently have had a few enquiries about why this memorial is not yet in place at the NMA. John Clifford advised us a few weeks back:
The main issue is moving 5 ton of marble from Peterborough to the NMA! I’ve had promises of moving it over the past year and a bit 3 times now and all have reneged, mainly the Army. […] I’ll just keep trying.
To which JMG replied, somewhat frivolously:
5 tons of marble – pfff!! I’ll chuck it in the back of my car.
On a more serious note, if anyone can help with this problem, please get in touch.
In May we published a post about Bobby Bear, the childhood toy of Joe Mack who survived a horrendous crash on Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943. This post has since been updated with more information about wound stripes: Wound Stripes and the Thackway Crash
The purpose of this new post is to tell everyone that the restored Bobby Bear is on this coming Tuesday’s episode of The Repair Shop on BBC1 which hopefully will tell something of the background to Bobby Bear, his wound stripe, and the RAF’s worst night of the war for bad-weather crashes.
Part of the blurb for the programme reads:
And teddy bear repair duo Amanda and Julie welcome a 100-year-old RAF mascot bear called Bobby. Dressed in a replica uniform, the bear belonged to a brave airman who survived a horrific plane crash during the Second World War.
Below is a picture of Joe Mack on home leave in the summer of 1944 after months in hospital and rehabilitation. It can be seen that the uniform he was wearing hung very loosely on him as he had lost so much weight during the months in treatment. His medical care was exceptionally good and they saved his leg which had been very badly mangled. See also: Why the Archive Began
On Remembrance Sunday, we remember not only those who died but the relatives and friends who suffered a lifetime of grief at their loss.
As the cemeteries were completed and the Imperial War Graves Commission prepared to erect the permanent headstones, each bereaved family would have been sent the specimen form included here which showed them what the headstone would look like and the space for their own four lines of tribute. (Only New Zealanders were not allowed this tribute for historical reasons to do with the First World War.) The form tells them that the inscription cannot be more than 60 letters. It is easy to imagine how hard it must have been to say all one wanted to say in such a small space.
This is a rather blurry digital copy, but it is unique in the Archive and very appropriate for this Remembrance Sunday.
The papers were amongst those preserved by the family of Norman Edmondson, a twenty-year-old Canadian, lost on the infamous Nuremburg raid of 30/31 March 1944.
Images courtesy of Gordon Edmondson.
Norman’s aircraft was one of four 156 Squadron aircraft, flying from Upwood, which were shot down that night. The aircraft was brought down by a night fighter and crashed at Oberirsen in Western Germany. By a miracle, the pilot Lindley survived to become a prisoner of war.
Surviving congratulatory telegrams about a medal award, sent by one’s old Commanding Officer, seem to be somewhat rare. George Granger’s family must have been enormously proud of the high honour which George had received when he was awarded the DFM because they carefully preserved the telegram, together with the invitation to the investiture and one of the tickets to Buckingham Palace.
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 at RAF Wyton, where it can be seen by the public, by appointment.
The Deverill Collection’s future as part of RAF history, and in particular the history of the Pathfinders and Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, is now assured. However, the Archive still has to raise £4,280 – 10% of the purchase price – to settle the remaining balance of the interest-free loans taken out to finance the purchase. 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 RAF Wyton, and will enhance the wonderful collection already there.
We are launching an appeal to all our supporters to help us clear the outstanding balance of the Deverill Collection purchase. Please contribute what you can to help us settle the last debts for this outstanding pilot and ‘Knight of the Air’.
The Caterpillar Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by a silken Irvin parachute, is well-known. Less so is the Goldfish Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by an emergency dinghy. Few of the aircrew who ditched in the sea survived, but one of the lucky ones was Robert Butler, who won the badge on 28 February 1942 whilst in training. See: Robert Butler Wins a Goldfish
Although this whole site is intrinsically about the Air War, as part of the reorganisation of the website we have collected a number of topics on one page for easy reference. These include such subjects as Animals in the Air War, Lancaster Art, Superstitions, and Pilot Officer Prune. The Air War
Still on the subject of Mosquito crews, Alistair Wood’s logbook contains details of the training course he undertook at Warboys under the auspices of 1655 MTU, (Mosquito Training Unit). It was here that he teamed up with Flying Officer Hicklin, seen above with Alistair on the right.
We have published the second part of Alistair’s story tonight, which picks up from when he completed his first tour with Main Force and concludes with his Pathfinder tour on Mosquitoes, then VE Day, and the Cook’s Tour which he undertook with his pilot, Hicklin. Alistair Wood: Part 2, 105 Squadron, Pathfinders
Like many Pathfinder aircrew, Alistair Wood had flown on operations with Main Force before he joined the Pathfinders. His crew, piloted by Wilfred Elder, a New Zealander, had some particularly dramatic and dangerous times on their first tour. See the first of our two-part account of Alistair’s service in the RAF: Alistair Wood: Part One, 76 Squadron, Main Force