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.
Earlier this week we posted a page on H2S, a radar aid used extensively by the Pathfinders. Two connected pages concern the wartime death, in a Halifax crash, of Alan Blumlein, the inventor of H2S, and what was done after this tragic accident to keep the project going. The two pages are:
There has been a very committed campaign to create a memorial to Blumlein in the last few months, led by the Hereford Times, which wrote in January 2019:
We plan a permanent memorial to Blumlein and his colleagues in the form of a metal plaque mounted on a plinth near a riverside path overlooking the site of the tragedy. Our appeal has the support of the Blumlein family and Jerome Vaughan, on whose land the memorial will be placed. It is being spearheaded by Garth Lawson, the Hereford Times walks writer, who has long believed a tribute to Blumlein was overdue.
It is believed that the money for this memorial has now been raised, partly by a generous donation from EMI with whom Blumlein was working when he was killed.
In January we posted on Bennett and the Russians, not realising that there is a rather wonderful story in Bennett’s autobiography Pathfinder to which we should have drawn attention. So here it is at last. It is presumably the explanation why Bennett was awarded the Order of Alexander Nevsky, which had always seemed a bit of a mystery before.
We have received the very sad news this morning that John Sauvage, who so recently celebrated his 100th birthday, died yesterday after a short illness. We will be giving further details of John’s career in the RAF later this week. John is in the centre of this crew photograph. Rest in Peace.
We have recently been sent a number of very interesting photographs of the Montgomery crew (97 Squadron) which we will display on the website shortly. However, one particular detail on one of the photographs immediately jumped out in view of our recent posts on carrier pigeons. This photograph was taken at Woodhall Spa prior to the La Spezia operation on 13 April 1943. The crew are waiting to board the aircraft and with them are two boxes for carrier pigeons. This answers some of the questions posed on our page A Lancaster is Going to Germany.
This week we are publishing three connected pages on the Pathfinders and H2S, starting with one about H2S itself. H2S produced a map of the ground over which the aircraft using the equipment was flying. The highly accurate navigation and target-marking which were critical to the success of the Pathfinders could not have been achieved without this radar aid. There is a fascinating and tragic backstory to its development, which will be covered later this week.
The last post on carrier pigeons and Bomber Command has proved highly popular. That gives the perfect excuse to share a favourite magazine cover from November 1942, entitled ‘A Lancaster is Going to Germany’.
The text in the centre of the magazine has a paragraph which covers the use of carrier pigeons in Bomber Command. It reads: ‘These little winged friends are carried “in case anything happens”. They bring back the news. And they also call up rescue if the disabled bomber comes down in the sea.’ For more on this subject, see our new page: A Lancaster is Going to Germany
It’s amazing how lots of little things relating to the same subject come together at the same time when one is researching. In February we published a page which gave a post and a page on Lancaster Gunners “Hotting Up”. In one part of the drawing, not included on the detail which we used, there was a pigeon in a carrier case. This clearly shows that carrier pigeons were still being used in Bomber Command as late as December 1943. For more details see our new page: Carrier Pigeons in the Bomber War
People sometimes confuse the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, Heritage Centre, and ourselves, the RAF Pathfinders Archive, which is understandable given the similarity of the names. Just to clarify: while the Pathfinder Collection and ourselves share digital material, and some of the Archive’s best artefacts are on display at Wyton, we are separate legal entities.
John Clifford, Senior Curator at the Pathfinder Collection, is a bridge between the two of us as he is also one of the RAF Pathfinders Archive trustees.
The page on our Partnership has just been updated and will hopefully make things clearer. If you want to arrange a visit to the Pathfinder Collection, all the details can be found there.
Display at the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton, which includes items on loan from the RAF Pathfinders Archive.
Pathfinder and Main Force Lancasters had identifying squadron codes and individual letters which made them easy to recognise in the air. For example, OF-D stood for 97 Squadron aircraft D-Dog (D-Donald at a later date). For a list of PFF squadron codes, see Pathfinder Squadrons by Type. For the individual letters (and one of our all-time favourite ground crew and Lancaster photographs), see our new page: Aircraft Codes & Letters
In our post of 5 September 2017, we wrote that the Path Finder Force Memorial had been completed and had been unveiled at RAF Wyton on Pathfinder Sunday. It was due to be relocated to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, where it would remain permanently.
Unfortunately, there have been a number of highly frustrating delays but it is now proposed to move it to the NMA at the end of this month, on the last weekend of March. The proposed date for the dedication ceremony is Saturday April 13th, time TBD, although John Clifford who has done so much to make this all happen suggests 13:00 approximately to allow for travel.
We will post an update when the details are confirmed.