O Valiant Hearts

Ernest Deverill, the much-decorated 97 Squadron pilot killed on Black Thursday, whose medals, logbooks and other memorabilia are on display at RAF Wyton, is buried at St Mary’s, Docking, Norfolk. The epitaph on his gravestone comes from the same hymn as the one for Arthur North, of the 105 Squadron crew buried at Bergen, Norway, who were mentioned on yesterday’s post. For details of the epitaphs on these gravestones and of the hymn from which they were taken, see O Valiant Hearts.

Films on the Air War

News about three films on the Air War, the first with direct Pathfinder connections, the other two concerning other interesting aspects of the Allied bombing campaign.

Firstly, the docudrama Hero which has recently been released. Filmed on a shoestring budget, it has no major distributor, so is being screened in only a handful of cinemas. It is about Ulric Cross, the most decorated black serviceman of the Second World War. Hailing from Trinidad, Cross volunteered for the RAF in 1941. He eventually joined 139 Jamaica Squadron of Pathfinder fame. Nicknamed “The Black Hornet” by his comrades, Cross was a navigator, flying in Mosquitoes. For more on Cross and the film, see this recent Telegraph article.

Also on a newspaper link is this amazing story of the conservation and repair of wartime footage of the American Air Force flying from bomber stations in England. Watch how the film editors did this, including ‘Before’ and ‘After’ shots, and you will be astonished at what they achieved. See this article in The Sun.

Lastly, Lancaster Skies, the link being for the trailer.

Apparently this film was also made on a shoestring, for only £80,000, and as they have done extremely well with such a limited budget and the film certainly has some excellent moments, it seems a bit churlish to criticise it too heavily. Nonetheless, some of the implausibilities are rather hard to take. For example, the incorrect claim that the height of the bomber war was in spring 1944, the landscape in the airfield scenes being clearly mid-summer, and lastly the massed Lancasters of the finale taxiing and taking off from a grass field.* However, if you can suspend disbelief in certain places, this film is well worth watching, and indeed at times it is very gripping and moving. Its heart is certainly in the right place. (Illustration is a still from the film.)


* Lancasters could take off from grassland if there were very dry conditions, but all the major bomber airfields would have had concrete runways by this stage of the war. 

Update: Finn Varde Jespersen, D-Day

To add to the previous information on Finn Varde Jespersen, the Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot who was lost with all his crew on D-Day when flying with 97 Squadron, we have a very interesting photograph of him and fellow Norwegians when they were in training in Canada in 1941. For more details: Jespersen Crew, D-Day

We would still like to find information about where Jespersen and the Norwegian members of his crew are buried in Norway.

Wound Stripes and the Thackway Crash

The Thackway crash, referred to in our post just now (28 May 2019), has a tiny echo in the uniform of the moth-eaten bear, known as Bobby Bear, who until recently was on display in the Black Thursday cabinet at RAF Wyton. The RAF uniform which the bear wears has a wound stripe – see the little flash of yellow on the sleeve in the image below.

The wound stripe, which was an unusual emblem on RAF uniforms (the Pathfinder Collection has an authentic RAF uniform on display which has such a stripe) reflects the serious injuries suffered by the owner of the bear, Joe Mack of the Thackway crew, on the night of the crash, 17 December 1943. The uniform, which is a toy approximation of Joe’s uniform, was made for the bear by Joe’s mother, Kathleen, some time in the four or five years after the crash.


In the online Auckland Museum, there is a photograph of George Cotton-Stapleton, RNZAF, with two wound stripes on his sleeve (Auckland Museum ref: WWI 4/213A AWMM)

George Cotton-Stapleton, RNZAF, wound stripes


Bobby Bear has now left the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton for the time being as he has been selected for the BBC programme The Repair Shop, on which expert craftsmen pool their talents and resources to restore heirlooms and treasured antiques. Filming on Bobby Bear’s rejuvenation starts this week.

Hopefully he will be back at the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton later on this year. We will keep you up to date with what happens with Bobby Bear and the programme. (Below, Bobby Bear, beneath the photograph of Ernest Deverill, at RAF Wyton last year.)

 

Thackway Crew Plane Crash

We have been very interested to find out that there is a Millennium Walk which allows walkers to get close to the site of the Thackway crew’s crash (on what was known as The Hay) on 17 December 1943. http://www.hardwick-cambs.org.uk/footpaths-walks/ This is significant because the crash site is on private land, well away from other public footpaths. See this description on the link:

Turn left and follow the public bridleway east to Hardwick Wood, then north to the junction at TL 357 583. From this point an optional diversion may be taken along a pleasant path to TL 361 591 (this point is close to the site of the plane crash on The Hay, on the night 16th/17th December 1943.), but it is necessary to return the same way, as there is no right of way past here.

18 years ago, the Thackway crew were the original inspiration for a website about 97 Squadron and the Pathfinders, which website eventually grew into the one you are looking at today.

A number of key pieces of the aircraft wreckage are now on display at the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton, including the piece of metal with the Lancaster’s engine number, proving beyond all doubt that this was the Thackway aircraft.

Wyton also houses other display cabinets of Lancaster wreckage from that night, including the aircraft of Scott and Deverill.

Re-dedication at Great Gransden

The beautiful church at Great Gransden, which was the local church for 405 Squadron at Gransden Lodge, contains a splendid window to the memory of the bomber boys, many of whom were Canadians. The window was dedicated thirty years ago, and on 19 May 2019, at 9.30, there will be a service of re-dedication. All are very welcome to attend. There will be a small display of archive material from the Gransdens Society, showing the day of the dedication, the war years, and the continuing association with 405 Squadron. It is hoped that the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton will also have a display at the church, and that someone from Wyton will be attending to represent the Pathfinders.

A Final Note on John Sauvage’s Funeral

John was buried in a suitably dramatic coffin. We were privileged to have been sent a preview of the design some days beforehand, but these photographs show show the dramatic reality of the actual coffin, enhanced by the visual impact of the medals on the velvet cushion and the beautiful flowers. John was certainly given a very splendid send-off, with around 100 people in attendance. His Excellency Derick Ally, the Seychelles High Commissioner, attended and spoke in his native French and Seychelloise Creole dialect, as a touching mark of respect for one of their most highly decorated and distinguished sons.

John Sauvage’s Funeral

John’s funeral will be on Monday 29th April 2019 at 3.00 pm. This will be held at Harwood Park Crematorium, Watton Road, Stevenage SG2 8XT. The family have issued an open invitation and all are welcome to attend.

Although this will in many ways be a deeply sad occasion, it will also be a celebration of an extraordinary man, a highly decorated Pathfinder, and a great character whose children remember his terrifying high-speed car driving which went hand in hand with his favourite saying:

Life consists of the quick or the dead, particularly when you have a Messerschmitt 109 up your arse.