As the end of the war approached, the number of bombing sorties dropped off precipitously. The last major strategic operation in which the Pathfinders took part was on 25 April against the German island of Wangerooge, the most easterly of the Frisian islands, home to large German military installations. Wangerooge Operation
On the same day, the Pathfinders and other Bomber Command aircraft also attacked Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, a command centre and the favourite resort of Nazi grandees including Hitler, whose Eagle’s Nest redoubt was targeted.
These were the last major bombing operations which the Pathfinders flew.
Last visit to RAF Upwood for the moment. The film ‘Appointment in London’ was filmed at the station in 1952, only seven years after the war, and it is probably the closest one can get to seeing the station as it was in the Pathfinder era. All the old equipment and vehicles are there, including the Sanitary Squad lorry with dustbins on board, not to mention four bona fide Lancasters.
The story line is compelling and accurate (within the bounds of dramatic licence) because it is based on the operational career of John Wooldridge, a highly experienced RAF bomber pilot. The ops scenes are gripping and the Upwood ambiance is matchless.
Starring Dirk Bogarde, Ian Hunter and Dinah Sheridan, it can be bought on DVD.
What is thought to be the worst accident involving ground crew on a Pathfinder station took place on 9 September 1944 when bombs detonated during a routine job. Seven men were killed, and of these three vanished without trace. See: Catastrophic Explosion at RAF Upwood
The village of Warboys has a fine parish church called St Mary Magdalene. In it there is a beautiful memorial window to the Pathfinders, commemorating the various PFF squadrons or training units which were based at Warboys and nearby Upwood. (See the first few items on our page: Training the Pathfinders)
Andrew Laing, who sent us the photograph of the Pathfinder window, writes:
Hidden behind Warboys village adjacent to the A141, lies RAF Warboys, an airfield that played a major part in the Second World War.
His Trail 17 – Aviation Trails leads through RAF Warboys and its environs, including the adjacent village where St Mary Magdalene and its remarkable window can be found. Information is also provided about RAF Upwood, with many atmospheric photographs.
The worst night in British aviation history for aircraft crashes occurred on this day, 76 years ago. On return from a bombing raid on Berlin, the RAF lost a large number of aircraft and men due to the thick fog blanketing their airfields.
Tonight we remember all the aircrew who lost their lives on 16/17 December 1943, but particularly those on the Path Finder Force.
The Pathfinders were badly affected: 97 Squadron lost 28 men, 405 Squadron lost 15, 156 Squadron lost 6, and 83 Squadron lost 1. In all, 50 Pathfinder aircrew were killed by the fog. Others were seriously wounded and grounded for a long time, or permanently taken off flying duties. There were also heavy losses on the Berlin raid, 7 Squadron suffering the worst of all with the loss of four crews.
This new page for Black Thursday contains the ORB entries for the PFF squadrons who were flying ‘the heavies’:
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.
This extraordinarily beautiful landscape in mid-Wales was the scene of a terrible tragedy on 10 April 1944. A Lancaster from the Pathfinder Navigation Training Unit at Warboys broke up in the air some 200 miles west of Warboys and crashed, killing all of the crew. See our new page: NTU Lancaster fatal crash in Wales
Jack Blair was a highly dedicated officer who flew more than his fair share of ops. In 1943, he was a member of John Sauvage‘s crew on 97 Squadron; in 1944, having moved to 156 Squadron, he was flying with a pilot named Ward when the crew were shot down on their return journey. Thanks to Arjan Wemmers and many others, a wonderful collection of material has been assembled on the Ward crew, and in particular on Jack Blair. (See catalogue item: Ward Crew and Squadron Leader Blair.) We are very pleased to have this collection in the Archive.
This fabulous radio-controlled model Lancaster may make you smile, standing so proudly in front of the tomato plants, though she is sure to be a very different beast when she flies.
There is a tragic background story to this icon of a real wartime Lancaster …
The model aircraft’s markings are PB517, GT-O, standing for 156 Squadron O-Orange. They were chosen by Owen Gomersall to commemorate the Lancaster flown by his grandfather, Lionel Williams, who was on our last post. ‘Tom’ last flew this aircraft on 28 January 1945. Two months later, on 31 March, tragically close to the end of the war, Lancaster PB517 was lost with all its crew on a Hamburg operation. Those who died were:
F/L A C Pope, DFC F/O G A J Morrison F/L L E Munro, DFC, RCAF P/O E H Marlow F/O T M McCabe F/S K Antcliffe P/O I W Kelly, RCAF P/O R C Fletcher, RCAF
It was the second Lancaster which was lost from 156 Squadron that night, the other being that flown by Flying Officer H F Taylor. Again the entire crew was lost.
F/O H F Taylor, DFC P/O H Woolstenhulme Sgt J P Williams Sgt L H Joel F/O R L Martin, DFC F/O L A Cox, DFC F/Sgt K A L Mitchell Sgt R Goldsbury
This loss of 14 young men from Upwood in a single night only five weeks before the war ended must have been a serious blow to those living and working on the station.
We have received some very interesting details about Lionel Williams, a pilot in 156 Squadron, from his son, amongst which was the classic story of how his name in the RAF became Tom. ‘When he was recruited he was asked for his first name. When he said “Lionel” he was then asked if he had any other names. When he said “Thomas” he was told “Right you’re ‘Tom’ now” … Updated page