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
In January this year we featured a magazine cover with a lovely picture of a bulldog posing as ‘Pilot Officer Prune’ and his unknown human friend, a pilot. We later discovered that the pilot was Flight Lieutenant Leslie Barr.
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.
This week we are publishing three connected pages on the Pathfinders and H2S, starting with one about H2S itself. H2S produced a map of the ground over which the aircraft using the equipment was flying. The highly accurate navigation and target-marking which were critical to the success of the Pathfinders could not have been achieved without this radar aid. There is a fascinating and tragic backstory to its development, which will be covered later this week.
People sometimes confuse the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, Heritage Centre, and ourselves, the RAF Pathfinders Archive, which is understandable given the similarity of the names. Just to clarify: while the Pathfinder Collection and ourselves share digital material, and some of the Archive’s best artefacts are on display at Wyton, we are separate legal entities.
John Clifford, Senior Curator at the Pathfinder Collection, is a bridge between the two of us as he is also one of the RAF Pathfinders Archive trustees.
The page on our Partnership has just been updated and will hopefully make things clearer. If you want to arrange a visit to the Pathfinder Collection, all the details can be found there.
Display at the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton, which includes items on loan from the RAF Pathfinders Archive.
Here’s an amazing story. We will let Peter Banting tell it in his own words:
Have just discovered your great website, may be interesting for you to learn that, as a radar navigator and bomb aimer with 7 Squadron, am in regular communication with our pilot, Kenneth Rothwell, an Aussie, also my age, 95, who secured our safety in 28 ops, until the war ended.
He lives in New England, I learnt that he was living in New England, and phoned every Rothwell there, until …..I said “Is that Ken Rothwell?” He replied …. “Hello, Peter”, he knew my voice.
Ken and Peter flew three flights in the iconic operations at the end of the war known as MANNA (see below) and EXODUS. The first was the dropping of food supplies in starving Holland, the second the bringing home of prisoners of war, in Ken and Peter’s case from Lubeck and Juvencourt.
Below: Peter Banting and Kenneth Rothwell at the RAF Club in 2002, standing before a painting of Operation Manna.
OPERATION MANNA: We will set up a page on this topic, but on one of our Facebook posts in December we included this info:
I found this whilst answering a comment just now about our post on the 97 Squadron page. Well worth looking at. Operation Manna delivered thousands of tons of food to the people of the Netherlands, many of whom died in what came to be known as the Hunger Winter. Great to see the magnificent Lancasters being used in this context.