Pathfinder pets – Clayton and his spaniel

Further to our post yesterday, I remembered that somewhere in the Archive there was another 97 Squadron dog. And here he is, a spaniel who belonged to the pilot Peter Clayton, DSO, DFC. Unfortunately the copy of the photo we have is very low resolution, but you can just make out the dog sitting between Clayton’s legs.

The crew were flying with 97 Squadron in 1943, and on 27/28 September, for example, the crew members were:

JB238A  F/L R.F.Clayton, Sgt L.Palmer, F/L F.W.Chandler, F/Sgt A.E.Newbegin, W/O W.Halsey, F/Sgt J.Woods, W/O P.O.Bone.

Des Evans, who used to run the 97 Squadron Association website, emailed me way back in March 2006 about Peter Clayton’s dog. (I am not sure, by the way, why Clayton’s initials in the ORB are ‘RF’ and not ‘P’ – a small mystery there.)

Talking of Dogs yesterday. I had a great email from Kevin [Bending] last Night. He has been in touch with Peter Clayton , knocking up the years a bit now. However he is going to let us have a log book for his Spaniel which flew on a few trips with him and his crew. They evolved a logbook for him.

I wrote what a good story it was and asked if all the crew survived. Des responded: ‘To my knowledge they all survived including the Dog. Peter Clayton is still alive and well.’

Unfortunately I don’t know whether the spaniel’s logbook was ever copied.

The photograph above was sent to Des by Darren Rigsby, whose Grandfather was Pilot Officer Peter Bone, DFC (extreme left in the photograph). P/O Bone was the mid-upper gunner in the crew.




Frank Smith & Patch the Dog

The most famous Bomber Command pet is Guy Gibson’s Labrador, Nigger. However, other dogs appear in photos of Bomber Command aircrew, some of whom traveled with their owners on bombing sorties.

Frank Smith was with 97 Squadron at the end of the war, flying as a rear gunner with a pilot named Harrison. The celebratory photograph below may either have been taken when they finished their tour or when the war ended.

frank smith and possibly harrison
Frank Smith, left, probably with his pilot Harrison

Patch the dog appears with Frank (they seem to have been inseparable) in a number of photos. It is thought that Patch was brought back from Belgium after the war ended and that the crew hid him on the plane in order to get him back.

The photograph below is one of the best informal photos we have seen of the quiet life back at base. Patch appears on the far left, held safely by Frank.

with patch the dog

With many thanks to Margaret and Jeffrey Bossons.

frank and patch

Soviet PoW Gift

Ralph Cecil Saunders, a navigator with 97 Squadron, was one of only two survivors of the crew of Kenneth Painter, which was shot down on 20 October 1943. The other survivor was Tom Andrews, the wireless operator.

Saunders spent the rest of the war at Stalag IVB at Mülhberg, south-west of Berlin. This was liberated by the Red Army on 23 April 1945; however, the bulk of the prisoners were not released by the Russians until around 22 May. (See Footsteps on the Sands of Time, by Oliver Clutton-Brock.)

Although we have not yet traced official records, it appears that a number of Soviet prisoners were also kept at Mülhberg, one of them being Alex Polewoj. Generally speaking, Soviet prisoners were kept separately from British prisoners, and treated abysmally. Saunders made friends with Alex Polewoj through the wire, and in gratitude the Soviet soldier gave him the cigarette box.

Despite the appalling conditions in which the Soviet prisoners were held, Saunders would later recall potatoes (presumably cooked and therefore edible) being thrown through his window by them when he was in the “cooler”.

There will be more on Ralph Saunders and Tom Andrews on another post.

With thanks to Peter Saunders.

saunders cigarette box


Some Pathfinders just stand out – whether from their striking personality, unusual looks, outstanding bravery, or the dramatic incidents which occurred whilst they were flying with the PFF. One such is Frank McEgan, to whom the latest issue of TALES FROM THE ARCHIVE is dedicated: Tales from the Archive 4. 18 January 2018

See also Frank McEgan‘s page, and the film of him in 1943.


Tales from the Archive – Black Thursday Anniversary

This evening, 74 years ago, saw the death of all eight members of the Brill crew when their Lancaster was hit by flak and exploded over Berlin.

Tales from the Archive No. 3 is dedicated to the extraordinary story of Robert Butler’s prayer book, which was in the aircraft with him when it was hit by flak.

Tales from the Archive – 3. 16-17 December 2017

Steven Crew

The Steven crew are one of the most important on this website, and Heavens knows why it took so long to transfer them from the old site. They have now been given a new and detailed page.

This was prompted partly by the wonderful surprise of receiving a photograph of Ridley Brown, the bomb aimer, from his grandson, Simon Brown, which is now on the page.

Ridley Brown and Albert East were the two survivors from the loss of the plane, and after the war, once they had returned from prisoner of war camp, they gave all the information that they could to the families of the men who had died.


Mansbridge Crew – Gerry Cruwys

Unfortunately, in the transfer from the old website, the biography of Gerry Cruwys written by his niece, Debbie Kennett, was mislaid. It is now back on the Mansbridge crew page.

Cruwys - Gerry in pilot uniform colour web (2)
Gerald Cruwys. The white band on his cap shows that he was designated for aircrew training. Courtesy of Debbie Kennett.

See also this post on a video about the Ottignies operation in which this crew was lost.


Jeff Pelletier – Black Thursday

We at last have two images of Jeff Pelletier, one of the last three pilots flying on 16/17 December 1943, Black Thursday, for whom we did not have a photograph. He was identified this year as being one of a group of pilots in a photograph sent by Wilfred Riches’ family ten years ago.

Wilfrid Riches with other pilots including Pelletier
The pilots’ training group. Jeff Pelletier: back row, far left; Wilfred Riches: front row, second from right. Probably taken late in 1942.

Mandy Lyell, his grand-daughter, who identified him, also sent a picture of Jeff in 1945, after he had become a test pilot.

Jeff was one of 97 Squadron’s top pilots.

Of the 21 pilots and 4 second pilots flying on Black Thursday, we  are now only missing photographs for David Brill and Victor Flack with his second pilot Roderick Emerson.

If anyone can find anything on these two elusive pilots, please contact us.