There must have been many quiet acts of courage at the scenes of the crashes on the night of 16/17 December 1943. Most would have gone unnoticed except by those present, and we are not aware of any other medals for bravery than the one described here. This was the British Empire Medal, awarded to a member of ground crew at RAF Station Bourn for the rescue of the wireless operator Joe Mack, who featured in our 11 December post
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.
In Norman McIntyre’s photo album there is a photograph of him with three of Australian friends in the RAAF. Photographs of the graves of Vince, Jeff, and Norm have been posted on the WAR GRAVES AND REMEMBRANCE website: Four Australian Friends
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.
Many photographs survive of Bomber Command men on one or more of the various course they took on the way to becoming aircrew. Most of these photographs have no names on them, which is always frustrating for researchers.
The photograph below is one of the rare records of a course which has nearly all the information that one could want. What is even more unusual about it is that the two men on the left, Peter Marsh and Godfrey Woolf, both went on to become Pathfinders, arriving at 97 Squadron on the same day in September 1943, having been posted there from different squadrons.
Unfortunately the story does not end happily.
Godfrey Woolf came from 106 Squadron on 10 September 1943 and was killed on 1/2 January 1944 when flying with the Mooney crew. He had been a survivor of Black Thursday when the Mooney crew abandoned their aircraft and took to their parachutes (see Caterpillar Club page).
Peter Marsh came from 61 Squadron on 10 September 1943 and was killed on 21/22 January 1944 when flying with the Roberts crew. He too had been a survivor of Black Thursday, but his crew had landed their aircraft safely.
It is not known what happened to Brett and Buchanun, and whether they survived the war. Buchanun is a very uncommon name and he does not appear in CWGC records. Brett is a great deal more common and there are several possibilities in CWGC records, but unfortunately the course photograph does not give initials, which rules out being certain what happened to our Brett, the man on 54 Course.
54 Course photograph courtesy of Peter Marsh, the nephew of the wartime Peter Marsh.
The lure of flying for people growing up in the 1920s and 1930s is hard to appreciate now when commercial flying is so commonplace. Then, flying was ultra-modern and incredibly glamorous, and airshows (as in the photograph above) fed this fascination. Many of the boys who were aeroplane-mad in those years grew up to join the RAF and the Pathfinders. For more on this see our new page on the Lure of Flying.
Just in time for the 74th anniversary of Black Thursday, which begins tomorrow, the senior curator at the Pathfinder Collection, RAF Wyton, has created a display around the Deverill collection and other very evocative mementos of the night of 16/17 December 1943. Time was very short to arrange this display, and we are most grateful to John Clifford and other members of the Heritage Centre staff for managing to put on such an attractive display at such short notice. FULL DETAILS
The purchase of the DEVERILLcollection was finally completed last week. This is the first major acquisition of the RAF Pathfinders Archive.
It was very important to buy the collection not only because of Deverill’s iconic status in Bomber Command, 97 Squadron, and the Pathfinders, but also because it would be a huge loss to history if this collection was broken up, as often happens nowadays.
Deverill’s Air Force Cross, DFM, and double DFC, together with other important items, in particular his two logbooks which cover his service from 1938 to December 1943, are now at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton. As Wyton is still a military base, the Deverill collection benefits from the very high level of security there. The phrase ‘guarded by men with guns and dogs’ pretty much sums up the situation.
The Deverill medals and logbooks will be on display at RAF Wyton by the 74th anniversary of the loss of Deverill and six of his crew, which occurred on BLACK THURSDAY, 16/17 December 1943.
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.
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.