Donald Bennett – Central Page & IWM Sound Recordings

The various items on this website about Donald Bennett, the highly gifted leader of the Pathfinders, have now been gathered on one central page: Donald Bennett, The Pathfinders’ AOC. At the bottom of this page is a link to the IWM sound recordings –  Donald Bennett, IWM Sound Recordings (1986) – of Bennett discussing his life and RAF career shortly before his sudden death in September 1986.

Viscount Stansgate – The Oldest Flyer in Bomber Command?

Two items from the IWM this morning, both from Richard Maddox who is a volunteer at the museum. The first concerns Bomber Command generally. It is a link to Richard’s post on the IWM Volunteer website about the man who is thought to be the oldest flyer in Bomber Command. This was Viscount Stansgate, who trained as a rear gunner and flew operationally in the last year of the war – at the astonishing age of 67.

Farewell to 2019

The last day of what has been a very good year for the RAF Pathfinders Archive. We have had over 17,000 visitors to the site and 65,000 individual views. These views have been from all round the world, including the most unlikely places, and the only major landmass where we have not set foot is Greenland.

We have been sent a lot of very interesting material, and this page Material Added to the Archive in 2019 contains a quick look at some of the most notable items.

We are most grateful to everyone who has sent anything this year, from the smallest to the largest collections, and if we have not acknowledged you specifically it is only because of the time factor. Next year should see the creation of a rolling acknowledgement page which will make clear how indebted we are to those who continue to send us this priceless material.

With kindest wishes for 2020,

THE RAF PATHFINDERS ARCHIVE

Jennie, Kris, John and Barry – The Trustees

Bennett & the Tirpitz – Bennett’s Mae West

The information about the Channel Dash in April 1942 has reminded some readers of the attacks on the Tirpitz in 1942, in which aircrew who would one day become Pathfinders also took part. We have posted before about Donald Bennett’s involvement in these attacks. He was shot down on the night of 27/28 April 1942, and made a successful escape through Norway, reaching England exactly one month later. Two months later he was given command of the Pathfinders. See:

Bennett and the Tirpitz

Bennett and the Sinking of the Tirpitz

Ian Campbell in Australia sent us yesterday a link to the Australian War Memorial at Canberra which now owns the Mae West which Bennett was wearing when he was shot down. Bennett had buried this Mae West and his parachute under snow once he was safely on the ground.

bennett's mae west

 

See AWM Item: REL34487

bennett's mae west 2

The museum’s website tells us that a local villager named Fordal preserved the Mae West faithfully (the museum’s text includes three variants of the Norwegian’s Christian name):

Within hours, both were safely recovered and hidden by local villager, Redier Fordal. Most of the parachute materials were salvaged and used by the village, but Reidel kept the Mae West hidden from the Germans until the end of the war. […]

Don Bennett died in 1986. In 1992, Bennett’s widow, Mrs Ly Bennett, visited Trondheim on the 50th Anniversary of the raid and was presented with this Mae West by Reider Fordal, who had kept it safe for 50 years in the hope he could present it personally to Don Bennett. The Mae West was then donated to the Pathfinder Force Association (Queensland) upon Ly Bennett’s death in 2000, before being offered to the Australian War Memorial in 2006.

 

Remembrance on Christmas Eve: Great Paxton, Cambridgeshire

The Kenyon crew all died on Christmas Eve 1944, just after take off from Graveley. As previously announced on this website, a local group are planning a permanent memorial near the site of the crash.

Yesterday a simple but moving ceremony took place at the location around a temporary cross. It is very nice to see that a much decorated airman from RAF Wyton was in attendance.

kenyon crew 2

kenyon crew 3

For more information, see: Kenyon Crew, Christmas Eve 1944 and Kenyon Crash Site Memorial

With thanks to Graham James for the photographs. 

Remembrance on Christmas Eve: Texel, Netherlands

This very simple, but extremely moving and quietly spectacular, ceremony took place at the Texel War Cemetery yesterday evening.

Leslie Laver’s grave is on the far-left of the plot.

leslie's grave, texel

The tribute from Leslie Laver’s mother, Jenny, reads:

Although you’ve gone, my boy,

I know that some day

We’ll meet again

In a world of gladness.

See: Leslie Laver and His Mother

With many thanks to Jan Nieuwenhuis and Saskia Nieuwenhuis for the photographs.

76th Anniversary of Black Thursday

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’:

16/17 December 1943: The ORBs for the ‘Heavies’, PFF

These ORB entries paint a vivid picture of what happened on that disastrous night.

 


For other pages on Black Thursday, please see the main menu of the website, or here are some of the relevant links:

Black Thursday Overview

Black Thursday – 97 Squadron

97 Squadron Memorial Page (Losses on Black Thursday)

Pathfinder Funerals at Cambridge City Cemetery

 

For the RAF website page on Black Thursday, click here.

Fund-Raising For the Deverill Collection

Ernest Deverill’s distinguished RAF career ended with a terrible crash at RAF Graveley in the early hours of 17 December 1943. All except one of the crew were killed.

Parts of his aircraft, which caught fire, can be seen here in their display box at the Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton, a poignant reminder of that dreadful night.

There are many demands on everyone’s money at this time of year, but with the anniversary of Deverill’s death fast approaching we are asking for contributions towards the financing of the Deverill Collection.

So please contribute what you can to help us settle the last debts for this tribute to an outstanding pilot and ‘Knight of the Air’.

DONATE TO THE ARCHIVE

We are giving away a free pair of Black Thursday booklets to anyone who contributes £30 or more. The Black Thursday booklets


DETAILS OF THE PURCHASE OF THE DEVERILL COLLECTION

Two years ago, the RAF Pathfinders Archive bought the Deverill Collection to ensure that it would not go into private hands and possibly end up being sold off in separate parts.

Acquisition of the Deverill Collection

Since the Archive acquired the Deverill Collection, it has been on loan to the Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton, where it can be seen by the public, by appointment.

Our previous appeal for funds to settle the outstanding loan to purchase the Deverill Collection has taken the amount still owed to £3,700, less that 10% of the purchase price. Clearing the balance will enable us to look to the future when we may be able to acquire other suitable Pathfinder items. These too will be loaned for display at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, and will enhance the wonderful collection already there.

Deverill RH smaller

Above: the new Black Thursday display at RAF Wyton. See this page: The Deverill Collection at RAF Wyton