The squadron was first formed on 1st December 1917 at Waddington in Lincolnshire. It saw some service in the closing months of the Great War and afterwards, but ceased to function in 1920 when it became part of 60 Squadron.

It remained in a dormant state until September 1935, was then reformed, but for the next five years led a somewhat changeable existence, disbanding and reforming, sometimes being operational, sometimes a training squadron.

It was only in February 1941, once again at Waddington, that it was reformed as the operational squadron which would fly so dramatically through the rest of the war.

From 1941 onwards it was known by the somewhat ponderous title of 97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron. This was in gratitude for a very large donation made by the Malay Straits Settlements for the purchase of some Avro Manchester bomber aircraft.

The Manchester was a somewhat unreliable aircraft and when the first Lancaster was delivered to the squadron on 14th January 1942, spirits rose for here was a superb new aircraft, the supreme heavy night bomber of the Second World War.

In March 1942, the squadron relocated to Woodhall Spa, a satellite station of Coningsby.  Some of the crew who will become familiar names on this site first joined the squadron here.

Wodhall Spa was a very different place to Bourn - for example the Officers' Mess was The Petwood Hotel, which had been requisitioned for the duration of the war, a large Tudor-style building of some comfort and style.

It was from Woodhall Spa that the famous Augsburg Raid was flown, which was described at the time as "the most daring raid of the war".


On 17th April 1943, the squadron became part of No 8 Group, the Pathfinder Force, and moved to RAF Station Bourn. Three crews  who were close to completing their tours stayed behind to join the newly formed 619 Squadron, but the rest of the Squadron moved on to their new home.

The full details of the Squadron's life prior to its move to Bourn (and all its subsequent history up until the time it was disbanded after the war) are covered in Kevin Bending's history of 97 Squadron, "Achieve Your Aim", and the following quotation from the book describes how the move to Bourn was made:

"Before the move to 8 Group, 97 Squadron flew its last sortie as a Main Force squadron on the night of 14th/15th April ... By 4.30 am, [the operational] Lancasters were back at Woodhall Spa and this particular part of 97 Squadron's war was over. Later that day the advance party under the command of Pilot Officer Pratt, left Woodhall Spa to travel by rail to Bourn. The squadron's stores and equipment were loaded onto transport and sent by road to Bourn over the next couple of days until the main party ... embarked on the rail trip to Bourn on 17th April. As they did so, the Squadron Commander, Wing Commander Jones, and the adjutant, Flight Lieutenant Hind, travelled by road with Pilot Officer Henry who was in charge of the secret and confidential documents. Finally, on the morning of 18th April, the airborne party, led by the "A" Flight Commander, Squadron Leader Burns, and consisting of fifteen Lancasters and their crews, flew from Woodhall Spa in formation. It is fair to say, given that the pilots were not particular familiar with daylight flying, that the formation was not the tightest, but it was a noble effort by 97 Squadron to bid a fond farewell to the station that had served them so well."

Many of the station staff remained behind, for there was already a sizeable population of ground crew and Waafs at Bourn.

For the squadron, it would be a time for the making of new working friendships with their ground crew, known affectionately as "erks", and the taking on of very new responsibilities.


97 SQUADRON
The Pathfinder Year - 97 Squadron at Bourn