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:
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.
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.
Surviving congratulatory telegrams about a medal award, sent by one’s old Commanding Officer, seem to be somewhat rare. George Granger’s family must have been enormously proud of the high honour which George had received when he was awarded the DFM because they carefully preserved the telegram, together with the invitation to the investiture and one of the tickets to Buckingham Palace.
Still on the subject of Mosquito crews, Alistair Wood’s logbook contains details of the training course he undertook at Warboys under the auspices of 1655 MTU, (Mosquito Training Unit). It was here that he teamed up with Flying Officer Hicklin, seen above with Alistair on the right.
Alistair McKenzie Wood was a Pathfinder navigator who had first completed a somewhat dramatic tour on Halifaxes with 76 Squadron of Main Force before retraining for Pathfinder duties in a Mosquito. See the first of several pages linked to our very interesting archive of material related to Alistair’s two tours: Alistair McKenzie Wood & 105 Squadron, Bourn
As part of the reorganisation of the website, we have grouped the main pages about the creation of the Path Finder Force, its changing make-up, and its hugely influential leader, Donald Bennett, in one place, so that topics can be scanned through quickly. See: The Pathfinders and Donald Bennett, AOC We are working on a similar page about PFF HQ and HQ staff.
As part of the reorganisation of the website, we have grouped all the pages about Pathfinder training in one place, so that topics can be scanned through quickly. All future posts about Pathfinder training or training accidents will be added to this page. See: Training the Pathfinders
Wing Commander Dixie Dean, the commanding officer of the Pathfinders Navigation Training Unit, was so well thought of that in February 1944 he received a letter of the highest praise from Air Commodore Donald Bennett, AOC of the Path Finder Force. Bennett was not a man given to praise or hyperbole, which makes the letter all the more striking. See our new page: WingCo Dixie Dean, CO of the Pathfinders NTU
A very interesting article appeared in The Telegraph two days ago about Barr’s crew, who were shot down on 10 September 1942 near Echt in Holland, west of Dusseldorf, the target of that night’s operation. Only two men out of the crew of eight survived. Barr and another crew member are buried at Jonkerbos War Cemetery, but the bodies of the four remaining crew members had sunk deep into the marshy ground, and they are remembered at Runnymede. The article in The Telegraph concerns these last four crew members and one Dutch family’s long crusade to have the bodies recovered from the mud and honourably buried.
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.