The Thackway crash, referred to in our post just now, 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.
Bobby Bear has 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.)
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.
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.
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’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.
Here is a message from John Clifford, one of our Trustees and Senior Curator at the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton:
It is with deep regret that due to circumstances outside my control or influence, the dedication for the Pathfinder Memorial planned to be held at The National Memorial Arboretum on Saturday 13th April 2019 at 13:00 hrs has to be postponed. This mainly due to the fact that the Memorial stone is still not in place!
Plan B is being hatched at present and once details are known, an update will be posted in the first instance.
We have received the very sad news this morning that John Sauvage, who so recently celebrated his 100th birthday, died yesterday after a short illness. We will be giving further details of John’s career in the RAF later this week. John is in the centre of this crew photograph. Rest in Peace.
It’s amazing how lots of little things relating to the same subject come together at the same time when one is researching. In February we published a page which gave a post and a page on Lancaster Gunners “Hotting Up”. In one part of the drawing, not included on the detail which we used, there was a pigeon in a carrier case. This clearly shows that carrier pigeons were still being used in Bomber Command as late as December 1943. For more details see our new page: Carrier Pigeons in the Bomber War
People sometimes confuse the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, Heritage Centre, and ourselves, the RAF Pathfinders Archive, which is understandable given the similarity of the names. Just to clarify: while the Pathfinder Collection and ourselves share digital material, and some of the Archive’s best artefacts are on display at Wyton, we are separate legal entities.
John Clifford, Senior Curator at the Pathfinder Collection, is a bridge between the two of us as he is also one of the RAF Pathfinders Archive trustees.
The page on our Partnership has just been updated and will hopefully make things clearer. If you want to arrange a visit to the Pathfinder Collection, all the details can be found there.
Display at the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton, which includes items on loan from the RAF Pathfinders Archive.
In our post of 5 September 2017, we wrote that the Path Finder Force Memorial had been completed and had been unveiled at RAF Wyton on Pathfinder Sunday. It was due to be relocated to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, where it would remain permanently.
Unfortunately, there have been a number of highly frustrating delays but it is now proposed to move it to the NMA at the end of this month, on the last weekend of March. The proposed date for the dedication ceremony is Saturday April 13th, time TBD, although John Clifford who has done so much to make this all happen suggests 13:00 approximately to allow for travel.
We will post an update when the details are confirmed.