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.
Here’s an amazing story. We will let Peter Banting tell it in his own words:
Have just discovered your great website, may be interesting for you to learn that, as a radar navigator and bomb aimer with 7 Squadron, am in regular communication with our pilot, Kenneth Rothwell, an Aussie, also my age, 95, who secured our safety in 28 ops, until the war ended.
He lives in New England, I learnt that he was living in New England, and phoned every Rothwell there, until …..I said “Is that Ken Rothwell?” He replied …. “Hello, Peter”, he knew my voice.
Ken and Peter flew three flights in the iconic operations at the end of the war known as MANNA (see below) and EXODUS. The first was the dropping of food supplies in starving Holland, the second the bringing home of prisoners of war, in Ken and Peter’s case from Lubeck and Juvencourt.
Below: Peter Banting and Kenneth Rothwell at the RAF Club in 2002, standing before a painting of Operation Manna.
OPERATION MANNA: We will set up a page on this topic, but on one of our Facebook posts in December we included this info:
I found this whilst answering a comment just now about our post on the 97 Squadron page. Well worth looking at. Operation Manna delivered thousands of tons of food to the people of the Netherlands, many of whom died in what came to be known as the Hunger Winter. Great to see the magnificent Lancasters being used in this context. https://www.youtube.com/watch…
Before flying on ops, gunners got into their electrically heated flying suits, and it seems this process required quite a bit of help. A recent acquisition for the Archive is an Illustrated London News drawing which shows a Nissen hut in December 1943 where the gunners are undergoing their last preparations before the take-off. Some are already fully dressed up, wearing their parachute harnesses and flying helmets, and carrying their parachute packs. Others are being ‘valeted’ into their extraordinary clothing. See new page: Lancaster Gunners: Hotting Up
During the massive clear-up of the office, this amusing little document turned up in a stray copy of EVIDENCE IN CAMERA, the wartime RAF photographic publication.
The document is Transport Command, not Bomber Command, but whoever drew up the spoof sheet clearly was fond of Pilot Officer Prune and his navigator Flight Sergeant Offtrack. There is no date but it seems to have been written sometime before November 1943, when 267 Squadron moved to Italy.
The journey details appear to be based on a real flight, and Warnham Clock Tower definitely existed, and still does.
The explanation for the mix-up about nationality is now explained. As John’s son-in-law explains:
The Seychelles used to be French , but we won them as “spoils of war “ at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The locals speak a version of French (especially the old ones like John) when ever they get together. We have comments from 97 Squadron mates who say he cut a swathe through the local ladies of Cambridge with his “French “ accent !!! Say no more.
John Sauvage, one of 97 Squadron’s most distinguished pilots, is 100 years old this weekend. The main image on this post is of John with his crew discussing arcane matters next to their Lancaster at Bourn in the summer of 1943. He can also be seen below with his ground crew in front of his 97 Squadron aircraft.
We were told years ago that John was French. In fact, we have learned this morning that he is Seychellois (from the Seychelles), which was a British possession from 1814 under the Treaty of Paris, and became a Crown Colony. He is now a naturalised British citizen.
In the ground crew photo John looks every inch the dashing young pilot. Below the photograph can be found the link to his citation for the Distinguished Service Order in the London Gazette of 30 November 1943 (second column, third down), which makes particular mention of his leadership qualities which inspired others to follow his high standard. We all join in wishing John the very best wishes for his birthday on Saturday.
TEE EMM, as previously stated, was the technical manual for the RAF, which contained a huge number of tips on the best way to fly. Pilot Officer Prune was called that intentionally, due to prunes well known laxative effect. As the cartoon states, Prune was to take TEE EMM regularly as it prevented that ‘thinking feeling’.
Further to yesterday’s post, we have now included a page on TEE EMM, with two rather wonderful cartoons of Pilot Officer Prune, one with his dog.
As we said yesterday, we were checking up on the identity of the man in the magazine cover. John Clifford at the Pathfinder Collection has said that this is Flight Lieutenant Leslie Ronald Barr DFC*, a pilot with 7 Squadron of the Pathfinders, who was unfortunately killed on 7 September 1942 along with his Second Pilot and four other members of the crew. One of the surviving crew members evaded and the other became a prisoner of war. Note 01/09/2019: see Leslie Barr and Crew
Pilot Officer Prune was a fictional character, hapless and inefficient, who mainly starred in TEE EMM, the technical memorandum which was circulated in the Air Force.
It is the dog who is being called Pilot Officer Prune in the magazine cover below, not the chap. This copy of the cover is at RAF Wyton, and the chap is thought to have been in the Pathfinders, but we are checking up on this. Note 01/09/2019: see Leslie Barr and Crew
When the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945, the aircrew had far too much spare time on their hands. As Joan Beech writes in ONE WAAF’S WAR:
After the cessation of hostilities, there were hundreds of aircrew cooling their heels in airfields up and down the country with nothing much to do. […] Something had to be found for the men to with their time, so someone had the bright idea of introducing ‘Cook’s Tours’ – trips over France and Germany in a Lancaster for any of the non-flying staff who cared to take advantage of it.
She then gives an account of her own Cook’s Tour which she found deeply uncomfortable and terrifying. The crew of the Lancaster who had done the trip many times at night were very blase until they came to Cologne (see the featured photograph).
At Cologne we turned for home, circling the great cathedral at what felt like an angle of forty five degrees. The massive stone structure stood out bravely amidst the miles of destruction, and the crew became interested as they hadn’t seen it in daylight before.
Joan began to feel that her troubles were over, but then they met up with another Lancaster returning from a Cook’s Tour, and ‘to my horror the two aircraft then flew wing-tip to wing-tip all the way home’. She eventually got back safely, vowing never to get in an aircraft again.
An excellent book. See pp.124-128 for the above account.
A page from 635 Squadron’s ORB, giving details of the squadron flying Cook’s Tours from Downham Market.
Like everyone with any respect for our war dead, we were horrified by the attack on the Bomber Command Memorial in London on 21 January. We hope the police catch whoever was responsible as soon as possible.
The RAF Benevolent Fund are the guardians of the memorial and their Chief Executive made this comment:
This is the worst example of vandalism we have seen at the Memorial and it is utterly heart-breaking to see the memory of all those brave airmen disrespected in this way. This despicable act took just moments but will take considerable time and resources to put right. But like the remarkable men who the Memorial commemorates, we will not rest until we have finished the job.
The full cost of repair work is yet to be determined but is likely to run into thousands of pounds. The RAF Benevolent Fund’s latest press release details the public response to the attack.