This tattered object is Bobby Bear. He can perhaps be seen as an emblem of the few who survived the crashes on Black Thursday but were seriously injured.
He was the childhood toy of Joe Mack, of the Thackway crew, 97 Squadron, and sometime in the late 40s or early 50s Joe’s devoted mother Kathleen made him an RAF uniform of sorts together with a row of Joe’s medal ribbons. The yellow stripe on Bobby Bear’s left sleeve is a wound stripe, reflecting the serious injuries suffered by Joe in the Thackway crash in the early hours of the morning of 17 December 1943.
Bobby Bear can currently be seen at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton as part of the Black Thursday display.
In 1944 the Mack family contributed a new font cover to their local church, Christ Church at Radlett, in gratitude for Joe’s survival. All that survives of this now is the handsome drawing in the Hertfordshire records office. In the sixties, the vicar took a dislike to it and had it removed to the lumber shed, where it was eaten by woodworm and eventually burnt.
Joe never fully recovered from the crash and in the last years of his life suffered serious problems from his badly healed leg as well as from traumatic memories.
He can be seen below as a very young man in the summer of 1944, recovering from the loss of all his crew and coming to terms with his own miraculous survival. The Pathfinder badge can be seen on his breast pocket.
Charles Owen kept an operations diary, and one of the most interesting pages is the one he wrote for Black Thursday.
This particular entry has often been quoted but there is nothing like seeing the actual handwriting. One of the critical phrases is ‘landed without permission in appalling conditions’. To read the full story of this unauthorised landing, see Tom Leak’s story on the Owen crew page.
Purely by coincidence, this post also concerns the crew of a pilot named Baker. Valentine Baker and his crew were lost on 11 August 1943. Those who were killed are buried at Durnbach Cemetery in Bavaria (Bayern), see the beautiful image here which is copyright of the New Zealand War Graves Project.
The Valentine Baker crew have always been a memorable crew, firstly because of their pilot’s Christian name and the fact that he was only 20 years old, and secondly because Valentine’s sister, a Wren, went to RAF Station Bourn after he went missing to try to find out more news of her brother. The aircrew there felt desperately sorry for her but could add nothing to the information already given to the family by the Air Ministry. (Information courtesy of Arthur Spencer.)
Unfortunately we have never been able to obtain any other information about this crew. This year we have been looking for information about a specific member of the crew. His name was William Johnson Vaughan, and he was the Flight Engineer. He was a Halton brat in 1928, and and at Southern Rhodesian Air Force Station Cranborne from March 1940, one of the very first intake of officers, NCOs and ORs. He was at St Athans in 1942, both at the School of Technical Training and at 1654 Conversion Unit which was equipped with Manchesters and Lancasters. He joined 97 Squadron on 27 March 1943.
His son David would very much like a photograph of his father. If anyone can help, please let us know.
Hugh Baker was killed on 30 July 1944 when his aircraft was shot down over France. Of the unusually large crew of nine, only three survived, including Squadron Leader Peter Stevens, who was 97 Squadron’s Navigation Officer.
At this stage of the war, 97 Squadron was under the control of 5 Group although it still nominally belonged to 8 Group, the Pathfinders.
Squadron Leader Peter Stevens was probably flying with the crew to refresh his flying skills (it was not uncommon for the ‘leaders’ of the various trades to fly in order to keep their skills up to date) or was with them as an observer. READ MORE
We have added a page to clarify what is a frequently misunderstood situation, how some Pathfinder squadrons could continue to act as pathfinders even though they had been transferred to 5 Group. Pathfinder Squadrons in 5 Group
The decision by Harris, the Commander of Chief of Bomber Command, to transfer these squadrons was hugely contentious. Bennett was furious with what he considered a seriously flawed decision:
‘It left us with very seriously reduced heavy marking strength to carry on and do the same job as we had been doing in the past.’
From “PATHFINDER: Wartime Memories” by D C T Bennett
The decision was a reflection of the intense rivalry between Cochrane, the leader of 5 Group, and Bennett, who was often openly contemptuous of Cochrane’s decision-making.
Norman McIntyre of the Brill crew, who was killed on 16 December 1943 over Berlin, kept a small photograph album which has pictures of the earlier part of his life in the RAAF. It ends abruptly with photographs of the funerals of two of his friends, but before this, the photographs show someone who was clearly enjoying his new glamorous life.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Le Creusot op, one of the most daring of the war, when 94 Lancasters flew in formation across France to wreck the Schneider arms plant 170 miles south-east of Paris. One of those flying on the operation was Ernest Deverill.
One of the reasons why Bennett may have been late in sending the message about the first anniversary of the Pathfinders (see previous post) is that he may have been preoccupied with the Peenemünde raid, which took place around the same time. As the raid is so well known, we have looked at it from a slightly different angle: what happened after one particular crew left the target. Debriefing after the Peenemünde Raid, 17/18 August 1943
A more detailed photograph of James White and Harry Page, together Wally Layne (with thanks to David Layne). This has been added to the Fletcher crew page, and also a link has been set up between Jack Beesley and the marvellous repatriation photograph (on a different page) in which Jack appears. In the Archive there are some reminiscences which Jack wrote about his time as a prisoner of war, and these will be added in the future when we do a feature on the website on prisoners of war.