From an unknown official to Jespersen’s father: The Air Force refers to your visit some time back and it is with sorrow that we have to confirm that your son, Lt. Finn Varde Jespersen, was shot down during the night of 5th and 6th June 1944. When the accident occurred, your son was serving as leader and captain (Pilot) of a Lancaster four-engined night-bomber that belonged to No. 97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron. See the rest of the letter …
John’s funeral took place yesterday, on 29 April 2019, and we have asked permission from the family to publish this very touching, and sometimes very funny, EULOGY of John, written by his son Paul. It tells a great deal about this extraordinary man who flew for the Pathfinders in 1943.
Further to the previous post and the Bryan de Grineau drawings in The Illustrated London News, 26 February 1944, it has suddenly become clear that the drawings are closely related to the Press photograph of Harris using a stereopticon which was on the link included in the post. See this further link Harris’s Office, Bomber Command HQ, which quite apart from the fascination of looking at Harris’s office shows once again how adroit the RAF were at PR.
In February we featured Captain Bryan de Grineau’s drawing of Lancaster gunners ‘Hotting-up‘ which was published in The Illustrated London News in December 1943. Now here is another fascinating Bryan de Grineau drawing, also from The Illustrated London News, of the underground room at Bomber Command which housed the Photographic Interpretation Section of the Intelligence Department. This drawing was published on 26 February 1944.
Sir Arthur Harris, the C-in-C, is shown examining a mosaic of the latest reconnaissance photographs taken over Berlin. In the bottom right of the drawing is an officer using a stereopticon. More about Harris and stereopticons.
The text tells us that ‘The Chief’ was on one of his visits from his office. Deputy C-in-C, Sir Robert Saundby, is the figure standing with his back to the artist, just to the right of Harris.
The WAAF officer in the foreground of the left side of the picture (below) is working on an enlarged photograph, outlining a forthcoming target for the Operations Room. It is perhaps her artistry which leads to The Illustrated London News to comment that the Photographic Interpretation Section ‘has more of the atmosphere of a studio than is usual in a command headquarters’.
We have recently been sent a number of very interesting photographs of the Montgomery crew (97 Squadron) which we will display on the website shortly. However, one particular detail on one of the photographs immediately jumped out in view of our recent posts on carrier pigeons. This photograph was taken at Woodhall Spa prior to the La Spezia operation on 13 April 1943. The crew are waiting to board the aircraft and with them are two boxes for carrier pigeons. This answers some of the questions posed on our page A Lancaster is Going to Germany.
The last post on carrier pigeons and Bomber Command has proved highly popular. That gives the perfect excuse to share a favourite magazine cover from November 1942, entitled ‘A Lancaster is Going to Germany’.
The text in the centre of the magazine has a paragraph which covers the use of carrier pigeons in Bomber Command. It reads: ‘These little winged friends are carried “in case anything happens”. They bring back the news. And they also call up rescue if the disabled bomber comes down in the sea.’ For more on this subject, see our new page: A Lancaster is Going to Germany
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
Pathfinder and Main Force Lancasters had identifying squadron codes and individual letters which made them easy to recognise in the air. For example, OF-D stood for 97 Squadron aircraft D-Dog (D-Donald at a later date). For a list of PFF squadron codes, see Pathfinder Squadrons by Type. For the individual letters (and one of our all-time favourite ground crew and Lancaster photographs), see our new page: Aircraft Codes & Letters
Before flying on ops, gunners got into their electrically heated flying suits, and it seems this process required quite a bit of help. A recent acquisition for the Archive is an Illustrated London News drawing which shows a Nissen hut in December 1943 where the gunners are undergoing their last preparations before the take-off. Some are already fully dressed up, wearing their parachute harnesses and flying helmets, and carrying their parachute packs. Others are being ‘valeted’ into their extraordinary clothing. See new page: Lancaster Gunners: Hotting Up
From ‘Beating the Odds: Superstition and Human Agency in RAF Bomber Command, 1942-1945 by S P MacKenzie, WAR IN HISTORY, 2015. Mackenzie makes the case that Bomber Command superstitions and mascots kept crews flying when the odds were stacked against them, and that this is why the authorities made no attempt to ‘curtail’ them (although frankly it is somewhat hard to see exactly how the authorities could have stopped crews believing in rituals and magic objects).
There was […] sound logic behind the widespread fear of flying with different crews and with strange aircraft. Ever since being brought together late in their training, the five or seven members of the bomber crew had been operating as a unit both in the air and on the ground. They had grown to recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses, quirks and habits, and thereby had developed a significant degree of mutual trust.
Flying in so-called scratch crews, made up of comparative strangers, or even going out as a last-minute substitute with an established crew, was rightly considered risky. The scratch crew necessarily would lack the level of coordination and personal understanding present in most established crews. Hence [one navigator’s] desperate desire to avoid being left behind by his crew despite a foot injury because of his fear that as a result “I would end up as a spare and that was a sure way of getting the chop.” […]
Even charms, talismans and mascots were not entirely a matter of superstition. In a great number of cases they had been given to the individual concerned by a loved one, and thereby provided a link with the world beyond the war and thus a degree of emotional sustenance.
Illustrations, 97 Squadron lucky mascots, living at RAF Station Bourn at around the same time in 1943. Above, the bomb aimer Billy Colson’s good luck pig, ‘Giness Gutz’ (Guinness Guts), complete with tiny bomb symbols, now on display at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton. And below, the Jones’ crew mascot ‘Ken’, in private hands. Ken lived in the toolbox of the flight engineer, Maurice Hemming. With thanks to David Layne for the copy of the article.