As the end of the war approached, Bomber Command Lancasters began flying to Brussels and other Continental airfields to collect the liberated prisoners of war. Pathfinder squadrons’ ORBs contain many entries for what was known as Operation Exodus.
One of the most famous photographs of Operation Exodus shows a 97 Squadron aircraft, Lancaster PB422, after it has landed safely in England. Jack Beesley of the Fletcher crew is shaking hands with the pilot and everyone is making V-Victory signs and grinning their heads off. The aircraft has many joking messages chalked around the fuselage door, including ‘This is the only free thing you will get’. Repatriation
Not only liberated POWs were on board the Exodus Lancasters. See this heart-warming story in two parts:
By 29 April 1945 the end of the war was in sight. Lancaster bombers were diverted from their accustomed bombing operations to humanitarian missions. One of these was Operation Manna, which began today 75 years ago. See our new page: Operation Manna
The last of our topical posts for the time being on the type of restrictions and shortages which people put up with during the war. The three items all appeared in the same edition of the Manchester Evening News on 3 November 1943.
The main interest is in the marriage of Cyril Tate – he and three of his fellow pilots managed to get special leave for his wedding, a very unusual dispensation given that all four pilots would be away from duty at the same time. This is a particularly nice photograph of a wartime wedding, with everyone looking very happy.
Then we have the rather feisty Joyce Daisy Munro , who was summoned for going into a restricted area ‘for the purposes of pleasure’:
Lastly, for anyone grumbling because they can’t get any eggs from the supermarket (dried eggs were proverbially disgusting):
We have solved the mystery of the Bullimore ration coupon on the last post and where it came from (an anonymous donor). Looking through the Bullimore folder, we came across this other document about RAF restrictions on movement in 1943. ‘Within the bounds of this Unit’ meant those towns which an airman based at RAF Lichfield and carrying this pass was allowed to visit. This brought a wry smile given the current situation of lock-down in the UK and other countries.
According to the website History of RAF Lichfield, 51 MU moved into RAF Lichfield on 1st August 1940. Their job was to receive aircraft from the various manufacturers and carry out the modifications required before delivery to the individual squadrons. After the war, they took on a more destructive role and broke up large numbers of suddenly obsolescent aircraft.
Earlier this week we posted a page on H2S, a radar aid used extensively by the Pathfinders. Two connected pages concern the wartime death, in a Halifax crash, of Alan Blumlein, the inventor of H2S, and what was done after this tragic accident to keep the project going. The two pages are:
There has been a very committed campaign to create a memorial to Blumlein in the last few months, led by the Hereford Times, which wrote in January 2019:
We plan a permanent memorial to Blumlein and his colleagues in the form of a metal plaque mounted on a plinth near a riverside path overlooking the site of the tragedy. Our appeal has the support of the Blumlein family and Jerome Vaughan, on whose land the memorial will be placed. It is being spearheaded by Garth Lawson, the Hereford Times walks writer, who has long believed a tribute to Blumlein was overdue.
It is believed that the money for this memorial has now been raised, partly by a generous donation from EMI with whom Blumlein was working when he was killed.
In January we posted on Bennett and the Russians, not realising that there is a rather wonderful story in Bennett’s autobiography Pathfinder to which we should have drawn attention. So here it is at last. It is presumably the explanation why Bennett was awarded the Order of Alexander Nevsky, which had always seemed a bit of a mystery before.
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
When the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945, the aircrew had far too much spare time on their hands. As Joan Beech writes in ONE WAAF’S WAR:
After the cessation of hostilities, there were hundreds of aircrew cooling their heels in airfields up and down the country with nothing much to do. […] Something had to be found for the men to with their time, so someone had the bright idea of introducing ‘Cook’s Tours’ – trips over France and Germany in a Lancaster for any of the non-flying staff who cared to take advantage of it.
She then gives an account of her own Cook’s Tour which she found deeply uncomfortable and terrifying. The crew of the Lancaster who had done the trip many times at night were very blase until they came to Cologne (see the featured photograph).
At Cologne we turned for home, circling the great cathedral at what felt like an angle of forty five degrees. The massive stone structure stood out bravely amidst the miles of destruction, and the crew became interested as they hadn’t seen it in daylight before.
Joan began to feel that her troubles were over, but then they met up with another Lancaster returning from a Cook’s Tour, and ‘to my horror the two aircraft then flew wing-tip to wing-tip all the way home’. She eventually got back safely, vowing never to get in an aircraft again.
An excellent book. See pp.124-128 for the above account.
A page from 635 Squadron’s ORB, giving details of the squadron flying Cook’s Tours from Downham Market.
This report is not only of great interest because of the men involved in this particular accident, but also because it shows us the type of report which was compiled on flying accidents by the RAF. Unfortunately, due to the post-war ‘slash and burn’ attitude of the British towards their RAF records, this type of information is extraordinarily hard to obtain on RAF aircrew and it is usually only by going to the Dominion records (if a Dominion airman was on that crew) that one can get information on what happened.
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.