The Wider Picture

Whilst the Archive’s central focus is the Path Finder Force, there are many aspects of life in Bomber Command, the RAF, and the military and civilian world beyond them which put the experiences of the aircrew in context. This is an enormous subject, of which only a few items can be covered on The Wider Picture pages. Those appearing here either have great significance or because they are especially interesting.

Brown, Kenneth, raid card Lorient




At the end of the war, Bomber Command Lancasters started flying to Brussels and other airfields to collect British prisoners of war recently liberated from the camps. 97 Squadron’s ORB contains several entries for Operation Exodus. One of the most dramatic is the following:

ORB for 10th May 1945
Sixteen aircraft carried out “Exodus” operation. Aircraft OF/Z, piloted by F/Lt C Arnot, crashed on take off from BRUSSELS airfield and was totally destroyed by fire. All occupants uninjured, except for two ex-PoW and one other passenger – slightly injured.

The best times must have been when they could bring back one of their own. This happened when Jack Beesley of the Fletcher crew came back in Lancaster PB422 – see photograph above, Beesley is second from the right, shaking hands with the pilot. This must have been one of the happiest moments of his life, and indeed of all his fellow passengers.

According to the MOD RAF website (2005 60th Anniversary site which is now apparently defunct – we will try to find another source for these figures), 469 flights were made by aircraft of Nos 1, 5, 6 and 8 Groups before the war ended and approximately 75,000 men were brought back to England by the fastest possible means.

Many thanks to Alex Bateman for the photograph.

Aiming Point Raid Cards

The following aiming point cards were kindly supplied to us by Susan Charles, who found them amongst her father’s possessions after he died. Her father Lionel Boyton was one of the Kenneth Brown crew, but left them to re-train as a pilot before the tragic  deaths of the entire crew.

The cards were awarded to the Brown crew whilst they were in 97 Squadron, but before 97 Squadron moved to the Pathfinders; the Squadron at that stage belonged to 5 Group. Technically, therefore, these are not Path Finder Group material, but in line with our policy of painting a general picture of life in Bomber Command they are included.

Arthur Spencer, who had a long successful tour with 97 Squadron flying with Jimmy Munro, commented upon these cards in 2008:

“These were actually certificates awarded in  5 Group when one achieved an aiming-point photograph; each member of the crew received one, and they were awarded only if the photo was right on the aiming point. We achieved five, the most prized one being Essen.”

The cards were often signed by members of the crew (though not these above). Ralph Cochrane, the AOC of 5 Group, signed the Spezia one, and here is an enlargement of his signature.

Brown, Kenneth, raid card Spezia, Cochrane

Keeping a Lancaster Flying


Lancasters and Mosquitoes were the main PFF aircraft. The picture above, though not specifically of a PFF Lancaster, gives some idea of the personnel needed to keep these magnificent aircraft operational.

Top row, left: petrol bowser and crew; top row, right: mobile workshop and crew.

Second row down: Corporal mechanic, four aircraftsmen (mechanics), engineer officer, fitter (armourer), three armourers, radio mechanic, two instrument repairers, three bomb handlers, fitter.

Third row from bottom: Bomb train with WAAF driver and bombing-up crew

Second row from bottom: Flight maintenance crew, from left as follows: NCO fitter, mechanic, NCO fitter, five mechanics, electrical mechanic, instrument repairer, two radio mechanics

Bottom row, from left: Flying Control officer, WAAF parachute packer, meteorological officer
And then the aircrew: pilot, navigator, air bomber, flight engineer, wireless operator/air gunner, two air gunners.

(With thanks to David Layne, who discovered this gem in Lancaster – The Story Of A Famous Bomber by Bruce Robertson, published by Harleyford in 1965.)

Valentine Card

The following story relates to a member of 15 Squadron, which was a Main Force squadron and not in the Pathfinders.

Valentine Card Lancaster (2)

David Layne wrote to Jennie Gray in February 2009:

“I bought this on Ebay about 10 months ago for £1.00 and have been saving it ever since.  It’s a lovely ink drawing measuring 4.5” by 3.5.”  The border around the picture consist of tiny flowers each individually drawn.

One cannot help but wonder what became of R. Crowe.  Was his love returned?  Did he survive the war?  Questions I would suggest that will never be answered.”

It is perhaps inevitable that the outcome of further research uncovered a tragedy. It transpired that R Crowe had been killed, aged only 20 years old, on 25 July 1944, and these are the details recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


Crowe, Robert Frederick
Cemetery: St. Desir War Cemetery
Country: France
Area: Calvados
Rank: Sergeant (Air Gnr.)
Official Number: 1824369
Unit: 15 Sqdn.
Force: Royal Air Force
Nationality: British

25th July 1944. Age 20. Son of Magnus McKay Crowe and of Mary Forbes Crowe (nee Huband) of Dundee. Coll. grave VIII. C. 1-8.


There the trail appeared to end. However, David Layne, not one to let these matters rest, carried on researching, and eventually sent another email message in July 2011:

“You will perhaps recall that a couple of years ago I sent you a valentine drawn by Robert Crowe of 15 Squadron.  I am pleased to tell you that I have managed to track down Robert’s niece who lives in Canada and made her a gift of the valentine.  She in return sent me a photograph of Robert that I attach.”

Valentine card, Robert F Crowe