To: The Path Finder Force
From: Air Vice-Marshal D C T Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO.
Great Britain and the Commonwealth have made a contribution to the civilised world so magnificent that history alone will be able to appreciate it fully. Through disaster and triumph, sometimes supported and sometimes alone, the British races have steadfastly and energetically over many long years flung their forces against the international criminals. VE Day, 1945 – Victory at the Pathfinders
Vernon Smith of the McCollah crew was awarded the DFM in May 1945. Vernon was a gunner, part of a highly regarded Marker crew, most of whom also received decorations at that time. The paperwork for the medal recommendation is very interesting, as is the faint trace of Bennett’s signature giving final authorisation for the award.
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.
In December we posted information about Bennett’s Mae West, preserved after he was shot down in Norway and now owned by the Australian War Memorial (AWM) at Canberra.
The Bennett Memorial at the small regional Toowoomba Airport in Queensland, close to Bennett’s place of birth, is believed to be the only memorial to Bennett in his native Australia. To say it is somewhat low-key for a man of his attainments would be an understatement. Part of the problem is that the plaque is mounted facing the runway, so that the memorial just looks like a block of granite from the street.
There is also a collection of Bennett material in Queensland which we are hoping to learn more about this year. However, it does appear that Bennett’s memory is not particularly revered in his own country, perhaps because he made his career with the RAF rather than the RAAF, and never returned to live in Australia. This paragraph on the AWM website on 50 Australians who were prominent in wartime, a list which incidentally does not include Bennett, perhaps betrays a historian’s bias against those who gave more allegiance to England than their mother country:
Air Vice Marshal Sir Hughie Idwal Edwards, VC, KCMG, CB, DSO, OBE, DFC (1914–1982)
Edwards joined the RAAF when he was 21. Following pilot training he transferred to the RAF in Britain under a pre-war arrangement. Another to do this was Air Vice Marshal Don Bennett, regarded as the founder of the Path-finder Force. “It was ironic that the two most successful Australian air commanders in Europe earned their reputations as members of the RAF,” noted an air force historian. (AWM: 50 Australians – Sir Hughie Edwards )
Photographs and additional information courtesy of Ian Campbell
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.
See AWM Item: REL34487
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.