We have recently been working with the logbook, prisoner of war log, and other papers of John Henry O’Neill, a bomb aimer with 405 Squadron, who was shot down in July 1944. There is a great deal of interest in these papers, but one small item caught my eye today. Tucked into the prisoner of war log is a yellowing newspaper clipping, describing the end of the last Lancaster on active duty on 20 October 1956. Also tucked into the logbook is the card of the Lancaster included on this post. Clearly, the aircraft was of great significance to John O’Neill. There is also a drawing of a Lancaster in his prisoner of war log.
Numerically speaking, 97 Squadron was the Pathfinder squadron most seriously affected by the disaster of Black Thursday. However, 405 Squadron
was also hit particularly hard. It was often called the Canadian squadron despite Bennett’s insistence that its aircrew were only 50% Canadian (see Bennett and the Canadians). A large number of the Pathfinder aircrew lost on Black Thursday were Canadian, 13 out of the total of 50 Pathfinder deaths and 10 of these being from 405 Squadron. 405 Squadron and Black Thursday.
Amongst those killed was one of two identical twins, Bob Bessent. The heart-breaking photographs of the funerals of Bob and his fellow Canadians at Cambridge City Cemetery on 22 December 1943 were preserved by Bob’s family, and in them can be seen his identical twin brother Bill attending Bob to his final resting place. In the photograph below, he can be seen marching at the rear of the group of mourners from 405 Squadron.
The story of the Bessent twins and the 405 and 97 Squadron funerals at Cambridge can be found in our commemorative booklet, THE MASS RAF FUNERALS AT CAMBRIDGE, 22 DECEMBER 1943: 75th Anniversary of Black Thursday Publications.
The uniform of George Walker (usually known in the RAF as Johnny after the whisky) was recently donated to the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton by his son, Mick. They also have a copy of George’s logbook.
George remained in the RAF until 1969, and the picture below is of him shortly before his retirement, in the rank of Squadron Leader, still proudly wearing the Pathfinder badge.
More information on George Walker and the Dailey crew