Today is the anniversary of the Dams Raid, the most famous Bomber Command raid of the war. Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross for his leadership and the account in the London Gazette is still thrilling today, 77 years later.
Although the Pathfinders had no part in the Dams Raid, several of our aircrew had flown with Gibson earlier in the war. Amongst these was Donald Margach, a navigator, who was to lose his life flying with 582 Squadron in July 1944. See: Donald Margach and Guy Gibson
Another man who flew with Gibson was Oliver Lambert, a gunner, who would lose his life flying with 97 Squadron in August 1943. See: Burns Crew
Some Pathfinder aircrew worked with Gibson after the Dams Raid. This was at 54 Base, centred at Coningsby, which provided target-marking and illumination for 5 Group operations. It was ‘a place of tactical innovation’ (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995, p.252), and the place for the cream of RAF pilots. John Simpson had moved there from 97 Squadron (by then, of course, in 5 Group), as had Charles Owen, another 97 Squadron superstar.
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:
In the current Covid-19 situation, there have been various mutterings about rationing becoming necessary, so now seems a good time to take a quick look at rationing in the Second World War …
It is perhaps a little-known fact that aircrew, whose food was provided by their station, still sometimes needed ration cards. These were for their periods of leave or duty, and lasted either seven days or fourteen days.
These temporary ration cards very rarely survived. They were used and then discarded. However, one such ration book belonging to Leslie Jones, a member of 97 Squadron, has survived until the present day. The square which has been cut out of the side would have contained a printed coupon.
Leslie, one of the heroes of the Augsburg raid in April 1942, died before 97 Squadron joined the Pathfinders. He has no known grave, his name being remembered at Runnymede.
With many thanks to War and Son for permission to photograph these items.
Here is a different sort of ration document, one belonging to AC2 Leslie Leonard Bullimore. It is a coupon for ‘Cigs’ and ‘Choc’. Again this is a very rare survival.
This has turned up in a ‘Sort This Out’ file, one of those rag-bags of everything waiting for a proper home, and we are not currently sure of where it came from.
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 …
To add to the previous information on Finn Varde Jespersen, the Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot who was lost with all his crew on D-Day when flying with 97 Squadron, we have a very interesting photograph of him and fellow Norwegians when they were in training in Canada in 1941. For more details: Jespersen Crew, D-Day
We would still like to find information about where Jespersen and the Norwegian members of his crew are buried in Norway.
Hugh Baker was killed on 30 July 1944 when his aircraft was shot down over France. Of the unusually large crew of nine, only three survived, including Squadron Leader Peter Stevens, who was 97 Squadron’s Navigation Officer.
At this stage of the war, 97 Squadron was under the control of 5 Group although it still nominally belonged to 8 Group, the Pathfinders.
Squadron Leader Peter Stevens was probably flying with the crew to refresh his flying skills (it was not uncommon for the ‘leaders’ of the various trades to fly in order to keep their skills up to date) or was with them as an observer. READ MORE
Further to our recent post about Frank Smith and Patch the Dog, Frank’s son-in-law has kindly sent a copy of Frank’s logbook and there is a very interesting entry on 4th May 1945 which reads:
13.10 Base to Juvincourt
and then on the next line:
17.15 Juvincourt to Dunsfold, evacuation of 23 ex P.O.Ws
The flight from Juvincourt took one hour and forty-five minutes, and the Harrison crew returned from Dunsfold to base (Coningsby) on the same very eventful day.
It is thought that this may very well be the day that Patch was brought back from the Continent.
Juvincourt was one of the largest Luftwaffe airfields in Northern France before it was seized by the Allies after the Normandy invasion. It is some distance from the Belgian border, but family history recounts that Patch came from Belgium. Given the very short timeframe, it seems unlikely that the crew had time to go to Belgium, so perhaps one of the ex-POWs had him and gave him to the crew, and in particular to Frank Smith, for safe-keeping. The POW would have been entering the extensive programme of care for ex-POWs which was waiting for them when they came home, and the chances of being able to keep the dog were minimal.
For details of Operation Exodus, the evacuation of POWs, see this page.
Another copy of TALES FROM THE ARCHIVE is now available, which has details of the Reid crew, the loss of Wing Commander Edward Leach Porter on the Stettin Bay Mining Operation, and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service.
For more extensive details of the STETTIN BAY MINING OPERATION, which demanded the most enormous courage from the Controller, Porter, and the two marker Deputies, Squadron Leader Parkes and Squadron Leader Locke, follow the link.