Working on the post yesterday on the condolence letter to Jespersen’s father reminded me of another condolence letter, this time written on the Pathfinder station at Oakington in December 1943. It concerned a friend, Bob Butler, who was stationed with 97 Squadron at Bourn. The condolence letter was addressed to his mother, Ellen Butler.
Many grateful thanks to John Clifford who organised the revamp to the Black Thursday exhibition at the Pathfinder Collection, Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton, pictures of which can be seen here.
John also showed us round yesterday. He was on top form as the guide to what is basically a Pathfinders Aladdin’s Cave, containing countless riches connected with 8 Group’s history.
He was ably assisted by the hugely knowledgeable Carl Thomas. There was also the lovely surprise of a lighting visit by Peter Stanley, who began the original Pathfinder Collection in 1995, the basis of everything which can be seen today. Pete received a well-merited round of applause.
In December 1943, the only real facilities available to land in weather conditions of extremely poor visibility were FIDO and a system known as SBA (Standard Beam Approach).
FIDO, the Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation, was at that time only installed at three airfields:— the PFF stations RAF Graveley and RAF Downham Market, and RAF Fiskerton close to Lincoln.
On 16 December, Graveley was stood down for operations, but due to the terrible conditions elsewhere a number of aircraft converged there hoping to land using FIDO. READ MORE
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.
The night of 16/17 December 1943, afterwards known as Black Thursday, saw the worst RAF bad weather losses of the whole war. A heavy fog caused severe problems for home-coming aircraft and there were multiple fatal crashes. Amongst the dead were 50 Pathfinder aircrew.
Our two commemorative booklets for the 75th Anniversary of 16/17 December 1943 are published today. Together they create a unforgettably vivid picture of the dramatic events of that night which led to so many deaths in the Pathfinders and Bomber Command.
All profits from the sales go towards the RAF PATHFINDERS ARCHIVE and in particular to the funding of the DEVERILL COLLECTION, which we bought with the benefit of supporter-loans last year.
For full details of pricing and how to buy these publications: 75th Anniversary Black Thursday Publications
This year will be a busy one for the Archive. Following the acquisition of the Deverill Collection, we will be fund-raising this year in order to settle the interest-free loans from supporters which enabled us to buy the Collection at very short notice.
The Deverill Collection cost £42,000 (by way of comparison, Dambuster collections are selling for three times this, or more, in the current market). £28,050 has already been settled, having been funded by donations and Gift Aid. This leaves £13,950 to be fund-raised.
If you would like to make a contribution, please go to our DONATE page. Alternatively please CONTACT us if you would prefer an alternative method of payment such as cheque or postal order. All donations towards this most important collection will be very gratefully received.
We would also be very pleased to hear from anyone who would like to run a fund-raising project of their own for the Deverill Collection.
The Deverill Collection is now on display at RAF Wyton, and can be visited by appointment.
Early next month we will be adding the first details of our projected commemorations for the 75th anniversary of Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, which will centre around the Deverill Collection at RAF Wyton. We will be giving further details of our fund-raising for the Deverill Collection at the same time.