29th June 2007 Unfortunately, due to a duff computer disk, part of the website became badly corrupted and some of the latest pages were lost. The usual object lesson in taking back-ups on a daily basis.
I am busy reinstating these pages, which run from 19th May to 3rd June (see below) - so far the Benton crew have been put back, but the Covington, Baker and K Brown crews are to follow, as are the ground crew page amendments and those for Jack Skingley.
Exasperating or what!!!!
3rd June 2007 The ground crew page has been somewhat neglected of late, so I am adding a photo of John Hill, who was an MT driver, and also a photo of some of his chums with two tankers - there is a fascinating glimpse in the background of Lancasters being worked on. Scroll down to the end of the ground crew page to find the new additions. 31st May 2007 Three crew losses have been added, crews BakerCrew Baker, Brown Crew Brown K and Covington Crew Covington. Covington and another member of his crew were succesful evaders, two of only 9 for 97 Squadron for the whole of 1943. 19th May 2007 Updates to Jack Skingley's page have been made, he was the author of "Our Heroes", and there is some new information on when and why the poem might have been written.
I have also added a page on the crew he flew with for some time, that of Bill Benton Crew Benton.
5th May 2007 Our linked site for Bennett and the Pathfinders has now been set up www.ww2-pathfinders.co.uk/. More to come on this, but please have a look at it and report back!
11th April 2007 This will be the last update for a week or so, and again there is more information to come on this pilot but as usual I could not resist putting his picture on the website as soon as possible Crew Riches.
10th April 2007 Absolutely delighted to get the Robert Mooney photo, so just putting it on the website today with a lot more information to come on him later Crew Mooney. Thanks to Peter and Jacqui Westley (Robert was her grandfather).
9th April 2007 Got the date wrong yesterday, now it really is the 9th! I also forgot to put the link in for the Caterpillar Club details as described below, so here it is: Crew Smith. As it seems a very appropriate moment to do so, I have also updated the page on Mooney's crew Crew Mooney, which was the second crew which baled out on Black Thursday. I am hoping to get a picture of the pilot, Robert Leo Mooney, very soon. I have now added the photograph of Godfrey Woolf, who was the only Aussie on the crew.
9th April 2007 I have now returned from a brief holiday in Devon - the plan is to move there this summer as I have a place at Exeter University to study History from October. My long-term hope is to get all the 97 Squadron research material into the University archives, so that it will have a permanent home.
Due to all the general kerfuffle of buying and selling houses, I may be a bit slow at times about updating the website with new material. However, I could not resist adding these two little items sent by John Arthurson (thank you very much, John), which are a relic of his crew baling out on Black Thursday, the Caterpillar Club pin and membership card which he has kept for 63 years. I wonder how many of these are still in existence today. The caterpillar pin is so small it could easily be lost, and many of them no doubt were.
21st March 2007 Some very interesting information on Cliff Chatten and his crew has come in, to do with the shooting down of their Lancaster by an Intruder in August 1943 after they returned from operations Crew Chatten. Recently permission was given by the MOD to excavate the crash site, and any further info on the crew would be most welcome, both to this website and more especially to Bill Welbourne, Secretary and Chief Researcher of The Fenland and West Norfolk Aviation Museum, based in Wisbech, who were supervising the dig. So if you know anything about the crew, please get in touch.
I am sure someone will correct me on this, but so far as I know this was the only shooting down over England of a 97 Squadron aircraft whilst the Squadron was at Bourn.
4th March 2007 Jack Skingley, who wrote the much-loved poem "Our Heroes", was a member of the Edwards crew lost from Coningsby in July 1944. There is more information to come on Jack and the crew, but for the moment this is just to note that they are the beginning of an index of 97 Squadron crews who often began at Bourn, or even earlier, but who lost their lives flying from Coningsby after the Squadron moved back to 5 Group Crew Losses after Bourn.
2nd March 2007 I am delighted that I have now managed to find a picture of Scott, the last pilot whom I needed to find a picture of, of the five killed by the fog on Black Thursday. Unfortunately we are still missing one of Brill, killed over Berlin with all his crew, but hopefully one day we will find one for him too. The page for the Black Thursday casualties is on this linkBlackThursday Memorial.
I have also included on the Scott crew page a picture of Fosxcroft one of the gunners, so it is brilliant to have put some faces to this crew, very very young Australians far from home who died in the cause of freedom Crew Scott.
Another very pleasing addition to the site is a picture of Alan Coleman, another Australian, particularly remembered by Des Evans, the former webmaster of the 97 Squadron Association website for Coleman's crew was the first he ever lost crew Coleman.
I should have said many thanks to Dave Cheetham for the Burns crew information included on his page, my apologies for the omission, Dave, and many thanks for your help.
1st March 2007 Burns crew page now added - there is some most interesting material on this crew and I have included it all, which is perhaps rather going over the top but 97 Squadron enthusiasts will love it crew Burns.
I have also changed the Aircrew page so there is a new section for Aircrew Losses whilst the Squadron was at Bourn Aircrew Losses. More updating to do here but hopefully it will make particular crews easier to find.
18th February 2007 More family problems, arghhh. But I am going to ignore them all from now on and get on with what really matters, i.e. this website.
Many thanks indeed to Linda Ralph for the picture of the Carlos crew Crew Brrown And my very sincere apologies to everyone who has sent me material recently which has not yet found its way on to here. I am going to have a blitz and get all the updates on in the next fortnight.
21st January 2007 After a very, very long Christmas/New Year hiatus due to family problems, I am back on the case. So look out for more updates shortly.
11th December 2006 This coming weekend, please remember in your thoughts, or in your prayers, those who died on Black Thursday 63 years ago. Black Thursday Losses
4th December 2006 Dennis Moore, the very unlucky member of Smith's crew who had to take the place of the injured flight engineer on Coleman's crew, was lost without trace on 3rd/4th December 1943, 63 years ago today. See crew Coleman.
25th November 2006 Most of the changes are in place now. Email me and let me know what you think!
19th November 2006 Just to let everyone know that I have not gone into winter hibernation. In fact, I have been making some major changes to the website, and as usual things have not progressed as quickly as I would like, so they have not yet been put up on the internet.
The main change will be one of focus, from Black Thursday to the whole of the Pathfinder Year at Bourn, and what happened to the crews who moved on to Coningsby or Downham Market.
I had originally intended to have two sites, one for Black Thursday and one for the rest of the Squadron topics, but once I got down to designing the second site I realised it simply would not work, as there would either have to be a lot of overlap or one would have to keep switching from one site to the other.
So what I will be doing in the long run is moving everything on to the new site, www.97Squadron.co.uk. It really should have been named 97SquadronatBourn.co.uk but this was such an appalling moutfhful that I have kept it simple.
I hope to have a lot of the changes up before the end of November, so please check in again to see if they have filtered through.
28th October 2006 It has taken me a bit of a while to include this email and the details on Samuel Joseph Peek - being somewhat overambitious I had hoped to get photos of the Scott crew by now, by applying to the Australian and Canadian national archives, but this has got a little delayed, and so for the time being I am posting the information on Samuel and this lovely email which arrived with the photo Crew Scott.
"My name is Russell Peek and have just come across your website dedicated to the men of 97 squadron . My grandfather Sgt Samuel Joseph Peek was one of the crew who died on "Black Thursday" - he was flying with Flight Sgt Scott.
I have only recently found out about my grandfather while doing a bit of family history. My own father died young and my grandfather's secret seemed to have been buried. So it was a great surprise when I discovered all of this information out, to say I felt proud would be an understatement ..
I would just like to say a big thank you to yourself and your website and the 97 Squadron Association website. .. Once again thank you so much for all your hard work, you have made me feel very proud of a family I did not know."
I have added pictures of two of the pilots, Johnson and Garlick (who was leader of B Flight once Wing Commander Nind, "Windy Nind", left the squadron) killed in the opening stages of the Battle of Berlin. Please click on the links Crew Johnsoncrew Garlick Johnson was a huge Aussie who seems to dwarf his fellow pilots. Garlick was formerly an Army officer, and I will be adding some more details of him shortly.
27th October 2006 Barry Sutton has sent us some memories of Tom Leak, who was on the Owen crew. To read these, scroll down to the end of Crew Owen.
15th October 2006 The Munro crew, which can be found at the following link Crew Munro, are a very well documented bunch thanks mainly to Arthur Spencer and his memoir of his time in the RAF. I will be adding some quotations from this memoir at some point, but for today am adding a very fine portrait of Jimmie Silk who lost his life when the crew were shot down in November 1943. This photo comes from his daughter, Hilliary, who was only 10 months old when he was killed.
Thanks to Simon Muggleton, I now have a photo of Leslie Henson, the only second pilot of the four flying on Black Thursday who survived that night and the next few weeks of the campaign - the three others were killed, Tommy Handley being shot down on Black Thursday; Clarke being shot down on 30th January, and Emerson being lost with all his crew in a horrific crash at Bourn in February. Crew Pelletier
I have also added a picture of Ron Easson, the navigator of the Nicholls crew, which should have been added a while back but got held up in the research log jam. Scroll down to the end of the crew page to see him. Many thanks to Ken Smith. Crew Nicholls
8th October 2006 There is now a new start page for the Battle of Berlin pages Battle of Berlin
Also added, the very moving accounts of the loss of S/L Garlick's Lancaster crew Garlick
7th October 2006 There are a lot of changes to be made to the site after the recent spate of research, but here are some to be going on with.
The ORB for December 1943 is now online, with the crew losses highlighted in blue. If you read down to the date 16/17th December, the full scale of what happened that night tends to hit home, and the terse words entered in the ORB betray what a shock it was to everyone on the station - "the Squadron had a disastrous night in aircraft losses and 28 aircrew being killed" Battle of Berlin - December 43
29th September 2006 Just a quick message to anyone keeping tabs on WHAT'S NEW to say sorry about the long gap but I have been doing a lot of research behind the scenes which has yet to be loaded onto the site. A great deal of new information has come in, and there is such a lot now that it is taking quite a feat of organisation to keep track of it. I hope to be doing a major update of the site over the next 7-10 days, so in early October there will be quite a lot more to see.
The plan now is to do a proper printed study of the material, including all photographs and as many contemporary documents as possible. This may or may not find a publisher, but given the amount of photographs to be reproduced I regard this as rather unlikely and so will probably be printing and binding the collection myself. It will, I think, be a quite unique record, a snapshot of one particular Pathfinder squadron in the Battle of Berlin period, winter of 1943-44.
And so back to work!
27th August 2006 I had added a very good portrait shot of De Wesselow, one of 97 Squadron's most distinguished pilots.
Only lack of time has delayed adding the very interesting details about his record and his crew - these will be added next time. Crew De Wesselow
And here's one of the fun ones - a recent photo of Dave and Ian who with the aid of their trusty metal detector found most of the best bits of the K-King wreckage - it was Dave who first identified the engine number which gave irrefutable proof of the aircraft's identity. Crash site page - scroll down for Dave and Ian
26th August 2006 I have added a new section on the Battle of Berlin, which will eventually cover all the losses suffered by 97 Squadron over the four and a half month period of the winter campaign. This was the worst period of the war for Bomber Command crews, and for 97 Squadron it was a particularly brutal time with the losses of Black Thursday making the chop rate extremely high. Battle of Berlin
23rd August 2006 There is now a very interesting short biography of Gerry Cruwys, the navigator on the Mansbridge crew, written by his niece Debbie Kennett. Gerry is, I beleive, unique amongst the 97 Squadron aircrew flying on 16/17th December 1943 in possessing the Croix de Guerre avec Palme awarded by the Free French for his work in aiding the Resistance. Gerry Cruwys
18th August 2006 This is going to have to be a very quick update message as I have run out of time as usual. I now have a lovely picture of the pilot Johnny NichollsCrew Nicholls and Kevin Bending has very kindly cleared up the mystery of the P. Walder on the Mansbridge crewCrew Mansbridge.
12th August 2006 Before I get onto the updates, I would just like to say that there are now only 6 crews remaining on whom the site has no information other than that in the official records. So anyone who is in secret possession of info or photos on the Flack, Mooney, Pelletier, Riches, Scott or Snell crews - please let me know anything and everything possible. On every other crew we have at least one member and in several cases the "full set". Everything goes to build up a picture of these young heroes of a lost world. Now for the updates ... I was in such a hurry to put the Peter Marsh information on last time I updated this site that I forgot to acknowledge the very great help that Peter Marsh's nephew, also Peter Marsh and named after his lost uncle, has given in this matter So somewhat belatedly, thank you very much, Peter. To see the fascinating contemporary documents concerning Peter and the tragic news of his death, please go to the following link. Peter Marsh page
I have been a bit remiss in thanking other people on this page, for example George Rennie for the George Borthwick info (he was a member of the Wilson crew), but have now updated the acknowledgements page (I hope I have not missed anyone out!).
It has been a very good week for new information, and there are now photos of all the Nicholls crew - some already on the site and some in the pipeline. As I had hitherto drawn a complete blank on this crew, I am more than delighted to be able to put faces to their names. The photos come from the flight engineer, Sid Smith, via his son Ken Smith, named after Kenroy Jolley, the young Australian bomb aimer on the crew. Kenroy was killed in the infamous Nuremberg raid at the end of March 1944, which saw the deaths in action of so many talented, brave and beautiful young RAF crew. Crew Nicholls
I have also had the great pleasure of receiving photos and information on Gerald Cruwys of the Mansbridge crew. This crew was sadly lost on 20th April 1944 and are buried at Heverlee War Cemetery, though there is a query over the rear gunner which I will have to sort out when I have some time. To see details of this crew and of Gerald Cruwys, who had the very rare distinction of being honoured with the Croix de Guerre avec Palme awarded by the Free French, please go to the crew page. Many thanks to Debbie Kennett and Peter Cruwys.Crew Mansbridge
26th July 2006 Some fascinating new information and photos for three crews, those of Roberts, Kirkwood, and Wilson. They concern crew members Peter Marsh and what seems almost certain to be a photo of his pilot, Roberts Crew Roberts; Kirkwood's bomb aimer George WigleyCrew Kirkwood; and George Borthwick on Wilson's crewCrew Wilson.
19th July 2006 It is always a particularly brilliant moment when you get an identified crew photo and can put faces to several names at once. Kenneth Bowe, who has been researching the life of Ted Hubbard, a member of Kirkwood's crew, not only sent me a portrait photo of Ted but also a group photo which shows three other crew members. As I already have Kirkwood himself and George Wigley, this means that the only member of the crew whom I lack a picture of is the rear gunner, John Killen. Crew Kirkwood
There is a lot more information about this crew, which I have not put on the website as the website has grown so much it is becoming rather unmanageable. It seems best to restrict some of the information on line, but anyone who has a particular interest in this crew, which is now one of the best documented out of the 21 crews flying that night, is welcome to get in touch and I can share more information.
In the meantime, if anyone knows anything about John Killen, please let me know - it would be lovely to complete a full set.
29th June 2006 I had a marvellous time last weekend when I met Sidney Mathews' son Leon (and his lovely wife Caroline) for the first time ever. It is very sad that we managed to get together less than a year and a half after his father died, I would so like to have spoken to Sidney himself, but it was just great to meet Leon and to hear stories of his father. Leon brought with him the ancient newspaper cutting with the photo of his father just after receiving his medal for bravery at Buckingham Palace, probably in 1945 - I have now put this picture up on Sidney's page. Sidney Mathews
This was a very significant meeting for me, to talk to the son of the man who helped save my father's life. So no apologies for adding a photo of him with my brother and myself last Saturday.Leon, Rick, Jennie
10th June 2006 Have added details about Leslie Laver's last crew, and especially about the other gunner, Jack Skinner, who was on his 53rd op when he was killed. He could have quite easily have stopped operational flying at his 50th op, but (like so many others who lost their lives when they could have transfered to other duties) loyalty to his crew kept him flying. Leslie Last Crew
6th June 2006 Kevin Bending has been in touch about the Owen photograph and the date I suggested for it. He writes "I think the photo was taken about a year later than November 1943. I note that he has the DSO ribbon on his battle dress tunic, which he was awarded after completing his last op (on 5th October 1944) and which was gazetted on 15th December 1944." Many thanks to Kevin, and I am amending the date on the photo.
5th June 2006
I have had an extraordinarily exciting picture sent by email this afternoon, it is of Charles Owen, one of the most famous pilots 97 Squadron ever produced. There is no picture of him in the RAF from this period (or at least was not when I last checked) at the Imperial War Museum where his ops diary is held, so it is marvellous to be able to see him at last. He is wearing the Pathfinder eagle, so this photo was almost certainly taken around November 1943 to mark his arrival in the Pathfinders. Very grateful thanks to Oliver and Jess Owen. Crew Owen
31st May 2006
The tape recorded experiences of Tom Leak have been added to the Owen crew page. Many thanks to Barry SuttonCrew Owen
There is now a photograph of Tommy Handley, 2nd pilot on Brill's crew, and some details about Tommy. Very grateful thanks to Group Captain Benny Goodman. Crew Brill
I have also had two very good photographs of Tom (known as Nigel) Leak on the Owen crew, and a very good tape of his memories of his time in the RAF which I will transcribe and add to the site. Another very good thing is that the chap second from the left on what was thought to be an Owen crew photograph has now been positively identified as Tom Leak, so this is definitely the Owen crew.
Many thanks indeed to Barry Sutton for his help. Crew Owen
James Kirkwood's son, also James, recently sent me a very interesting packet of documents and photographs. I have added the formal picture of his father as a pilot, and will add other items later. Crew Kirkwood
21st May 2006 I have had a lot of other work to do so have not managed to get various exciting new pictures and bits of information on the wesbite, but hope to do so this week.
One thing which could not wait is that we have been very fortunate to at last (through the 97 Squadron Association website) make contact with Sidney Mathews' son Leon, who has supplied a photo of his father, taken in 1949, and therefore around 5 years after the crash.
More details on Sidney Mathews following very shortly, but his photo is now up where it should be, under his award for bravery. Sidney Mathews
29th April 2006 More crews added on Crew and Name index pages and not many more to go.
Also added obituary notice in local paper of Ted Thackway on his pictures page.
23rd April 2006 Still adding crews to the Crew and Name index pages, but one important new page concerns Sidney Mathews' British Empire Medal for the rescue of Peter Hughes Mack (my Dad) from the burning wreck of K-King.
17th April 2006 After some thought, I have decided that I am going to have to go for an easier and less time-consuming method of linking information to the aircrew index than by individual surname. This is mainly because new info is arriving all the time which means constant website link updates.
So the new idea is to leave the index simply as an alphabetical list of names, and the detailed information will all be kept under the crew as a group. If you do not know which crew your particular chap was with, look up his name on the alphabetical index and this will give the captain of the aircraft on Black Thursday. Then go to the crew pages and chose the captain. I know this is a bit long-winded but it is the quickest way of getting the information online.
2nd April 2006 The full aircrew list of those flying on Black Thursday has now been added. This can be found on the main website menu, or click here to go straight to the index page Aircrew Index
12th March 2006 I've finally managed to get the pages up about what happened to Leslie after the loss of his crew - this can be found under "Black Thursday" (Black Thursday)
There are still various photos to add, but in essence most of it is there.
I have also added various maps to the site, to help give a better idea of where the events in the story took place. There is a map of the Pathfinder Stations under the Bennett & The Pathfinders page (Bennett & PFF)
and also of the crash site and its geographical location in England on the K-King Crash page (Crash site maps).
May 25th 2009
A month's hiatus, but hopefully it was worth the wait. Updates have now been posted for the Deverill, Moore, and Hyde pages.
I was particularly pleased to get the McMillin picture on the Moore page, as he was one of the ones who felt like an old friend due to Joan Beech's account of him. If anyone knows how to iron out the newspaper screen on his photo, please let me know.
It was also of the greatest significance to me personally to get the James Benbow material for the Deverill page. James Benbow, the sole survivor of the crash, was in Ely Hospital at the same time as my father. I tracked down his records at East Grinstead, but they had no forwarding address for him. Though the newspaper cutting is undated, he must have died in the 1960s, hence the end of that of that particular trail.
April 19th 2009 It has only taken me a year to get round to adding a link to the excellent website set up by Christopher James for his father, Rodney James, who was shot down whilst with 97 Squadron. James was incredibly fortunate and survived when the rest of the crew were killed. James had been flying with the Bucknell crew.
The Coleman page has been updated with a photograph of James Earl Marchant, a Canadian, sent in by his niece Wendy Gammon.
March 31st 2009 Our thanks go to Simon Murphy, the nephew of Alexander Laing, for sending some very interesting though tragic material on the loss of the Armstrong crew. A very detailed account was written in 1983 by a Dutch civilian, J C Maarschalkerweerd, who as a child witnessed the aftermath of the shooting-down of the Lancaster over Utrecht.
Thanks to Simon also for the photograph of Alexander Laing.
March 30th 2009 The anniversary of the Nuremberg raid, where Bomber Command suffered the most appalling casualties. F/Sgt John Fairburn, on returning to Bourn from his own flight over Germany with his skipper Perkins, wrote in his diary:
"2 missing again (Hyde and Rowlands including Putt) and so to bed, seems unnatural without Putt. Awake at 2 and 4 by SPs [service police] collecting Putt's effects. Got two brass crowns from his overcoat. Feeling mentally bashed today. 96 missing from 800, nearly murder."
The ORB records:
"Fighters were up in great strength. Command experienced their heaviest night's loss in 96 aircraft. F/Lt Rowlands and crews and F/Lt Hyde and crew failed to return. P/O Edwards was badly shot up, returned safely."
March 6th 2009 The very interesting website site up by Clifford Shnier's family has now been linked into his page on this site. To go directly to Clifford Shnier's site, follow this link: http://clifford.shniers.com/
Thanks to David Layne for finding this website.
February 27th 2009 A page has been added for the Shnier crew .
February 21st 2009
Today is the 65th anniversary of the Emerson crew crash. A couple of days ago, the niece of William Duncan (the rear gunner) was bored at work and in an idle moment looked up her uncle on the internet. On this website she found - to her very great surprise - two photographs of Billy. The family photos of him had been lost over the years, and for his surviving brother, now 77 years old, it was very moving to once again see a photograph of Billy - through this website.
Many thanks to all who who helped with photos and info in this very touching reuniting of one brother with a lost brother's image.
I have also added to the Emerson page a brief contemporary diary entry by John Fairbairn (a 97 Squadron w/op who himself was to die in a horrific air accident in England in June 1944).
The power of the Internet and the speed of email communications has been awesomely demonstrated in the way that material has come together about this crew. When I first put this page on the site 3 or 4 months ago, nothing was known about them other than what appeared in the ORB. Now we have assembled a great tribute to them. Many thanks to all concerned.
February 15th 2009
Very sadly it looks as if the airman who sent the romantic Valentine's Day card did not survive the war. David Layne emailed this morning:
Think we have him! It's so sad too! Crowe, Robert Frederick
Cemetery: St. Desir War Cemetery
Rank: Sergeant (Air Gnr.)
Official Number: 1824369
Unit: 15 Sqdn.
Force: Royal Air Force
Details: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.
February 14th 2009 Some remembrances. Firstly, Ernest Clarke's sister has sent us a very touching short piece on her brother, please page down the Clarke page to find this.
Secondly, Keith May has sent us a photo of Deverill's grave in Docking Churchyard, looking somewhat neglected and unloved. The words on the tombstone are almost ironic given how quickly such a brilliant airman's name was forgotten.
"Tranquil you lie,
Your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed
In the land you loved."
The words come from Sir John Arkwright's poem , "O Valiant Hearts", published in 1919 in a collection of poetry entitled "The Supreme Sacrifice". (information from "Imperialism and Music - Britain, 1876-1953", by Jeffrey Richards, Manchester University Press).
On a much lighter and happier note, see the beautiful Valentine's Day card from a Bomber Command airman.
February 7th 2009 I have now added the Marks crew.
With regards to the Emerson crew, I am very grateful to Kevin Bending and Henry Pedersen for pointing out that pictures of the two gunners can be found on other crew photographs, and I have now put Geoffrey Wood and William Duncan on the Emerson page.
Another thing which Henry Pedersen has pointed out is that Geoffrey Wood was the rear gunner for the Flack crew on Black Thursday, on the flight in which Emerson was Second Pilot. Wood must have taken a liking to Emerson and vice-versa because he was not with the Flack crew when they were shot down, but lost his life the following month with Emerson.
February 5th 2009 The Black Thursday pages have now been combined with the Battle of Berlin pages to create a website within a website. This has been a massive feat of reorganisation and it would not surprise me if there were several problems lurking around which I have not yet spotted.
Amongst other things, the index for Black Thursday has been completely updated, and the Battle of Berlin overview revamped. To access the new pages, go to the Battle of Berlin/Black Thursday website
For the moment the old crew pages for the months of November 1943-March 1944 are still accessible through this website; however, this will be changing shortly.
February 4th 2009 The Black Thursday pages have now been split off from the 97 Squadron website, so if there are any mistakes, broken links, or other horrors please let me know!
February 3rd 2009 Two new crews lost in the Battle of Berlin. Nothing known but the basics on both of them, so please - internet sleuths! - find some more information. Crew Cooper Crew Moroney
February 2nd 2009
1) A very moving first-hand account of the loss of the Emerson crew by Des Evans.
2) The Moore crew now have their own page. On this page is another very moving first-hand account by Joan Beech of one of the crew, James Parker McMillin.
3) And again a first-hand account, Arthur Spencer's recollections of the raid and subsequent diversion in which pilot Reilly lost his life.
29th January 2009 There are a number of updates to post over the next few days but here are the first:
1) a new page for the Armstrong crew whose a/c crashed in the city of Utrecht in June 1943.
2) A translation of the Dutch report on the loss of the Clarke crew. It serves as a most salutary reminder of the horrors of the air war, for civilians as well as aircrew, and demonstrates once again the intense gratitude of the Dutch people to those who fought to liberate their country.
18th January 2009 A somewhat lengthy gap over the Christmas hols, caused by researching and writing some 37,000 words on Anthony Cotterell at Arnhem. I need a break so now I am back on the RAF again!
There is a new page for the Reilly crew, who like those on 16/17th December 1943 were also the victims of bad weather, though in this case only Reilly himelf died. If anyone knows what subsequently happened to the other members of the crew, please let me know.
16th December Today is the 65th Anniversary of the Berlin operation of 16/17th December 1943, which resulted in such huge loss of life due to fog over England. If you have time today, remember the Lancasters taking off from Bourn at around five o'clock this afternoon, to return after 11 o'clock at night, having been to Berlin and back across hundreds of miles of enemy territory. Then the endless circling and circling of Bourn airfield, whilst the fuel gauges dropped towards zero.
For me, the figures never lose their power to shock. For 97 Squadron, 151 men were flying that night, composed of 21 crews of 7 men, plus 3 Second Pilots who were getting their hand in for operational flying, either as new bods or experienced pilots returning for a new tour of duty.
On the return to England, 28 men were killed in 5 separate crashes.
4 men were severely injured and would not return to flying, including my father on Ted Thackway's crew.
3 were slightly injured, would return to operational flying with another crew - 2 of these then lost their lives on
operations, including my father's rear gunner Leslie Laver.
Had you been in the briefing room that December afternoon with pre-knowledge of what was going to happen, you would have known that every two men out of three in that room would die within the next nine months. Nearly all of them went either on Black Thursday, or in January-March 1944 when the Battle of Berlin reached its worst phase.
The survival rate for the 151 men who took off that night was appallingly low, just under 50 survived the war.
Those who got down safely lived to see another day, but many would survive only a few days or weeks more. I had an email from Kevin Bending yesterday, which pointed out a connection to me that I had not made: writing of Clarke's crew, he wrote: 'I am not sure if you are aware that F/L Ernest Sumner Clarke got his mention in dispatches for Black Thursday when, as second pilot, he landed Cawdery's Lancaster in the fog. This adds to the tragedy of his death only 6 weeks later.'
I had not realised this before Kevin pointed it out, and it does make all the work which has been done on the Clarke crew website page this month truly relevant to today. I have now put in a link from Cawdery's crew to Clarke's. Jennie
13th December Sometimes things move very quickly with crew research, and such has been the case with the Clarke crew, see entry for 12th December. In less than 24 hours, thanks to Jan Nieuwenhaus, we have acquired information and photographs of three of the other crew members, particularly Eric Thomas, the Australian rear gunner.
For full details see the Clarke crew page.
David McMahon has emailed to give details of the Clarke crew, lost on 30th January 1944. He writes: "Flt Lt Ernest Sumner Clarke (Paddy), my brother-in-law, and his crew were killed on that night when their aircraft were shot down over Kolhorn in North Holland province and they are buried in the churchyard there. Ernest was Mentioned in Despatches when a Pilot Officer and his name was published in the London Gazette on 1 January 1942 though a search of the Gazette's website has failed to find any citation. I include a picture of Ernest." There is also a Dutch crash report which we are looking for a volunteer to translate. If you have any further information on this crew, please let us know. Some months back the website included details of a crew lost in training. They are representative of the crews which came into 97 Squadron from Wigsley, including my father's and Charles Owen. They were all killed before joining an operational squadron. A book has now been published on the crew, written by Harry Green, the cousin of the w/op, Tom Green. For details of how to obtain the book, check the top of the Wigsley Crew page.
30th November Well, I hope you have all rushed out and bought your copy of the Observer today, a marvellous article on Charles Owen by his son Oliver Owen - so good to see 97 Squadron's men remembered in this way.
Updates today include an excellent new photograph on the McEgan page with a scan of the back of the photo, well worth reading for what it tells of aircrew attitudes.
Also from Julian Rice's McEgan archive is an Australian casualty list, a very moving reminder of the human cost of the war.
29th November For the time being the 97 Squadron Association website is not being updated, and I have agreed with Kevin Bending, the webmaster and author of "Achieve Your Aim", a history of 97 Squadron, to put their updates here. This involves setting up a section (initially called 97 Sqd - the wider picture) for 97 Squadron's years which have hitherto not been covered on this website. It will take a while for this to look a little more populated than it does today, but, as with all these website matters, time will see it come to fruition.
Also, in cooperation with Kevin Bending, I have today set up a page for the Palmer crew who were lost in July 1943.
Having lost the location of the details on F/L Hind, 97 Squadron's Adjutant, whose marvellous archive has provided several of the photos on this site, I have now found him again and given him his own page. More to come on that later.
Now on to less exciting stuff.
I have begun the torturous process of splitting apart the Black Thursday (Firebynight) website from the 97 Squadron website. This is necessary because the amount of information on the websites is now so large that updates are taking forever. The reformed sites will not be going live for probably 3-4 weeks, but once they do there are bound to be a number of errors, so once it happens (and I will of course announce that here) please advise if you spot anything wrong. In the meantime regular visitors to the site, please update your links. Currently the sites, which are of course: www.firebynight.co.uk
are a mirror image of one another. To give an example the main menu is identical for both sites and has the same name except for the very first section: http://www.97squadron.co.uk/website%20menu.htmlso http://www.firebynight.co.uk/website%20menu.htmlso
Once the changes take place, the main menu will only be found on the 97 Squadron site, which will be the "parent" site, so that is the address you will need to set in "Favourites".
All Black Thursday material will remain on the Firebynight site, this will include the 21 crews flying that night and all information on the Battle of Berlin. Everything else, including all information on Bourn and all the crews not flying on Black Thursday, will remain on the 97 Squadron site. However, there should be easy links between everything, and just as in the splitting off of the Pathfinder site, eventually there will be no noticeable difference to how it all works at present.
26th November I will be doing another update at the weekend, but in the meantime for anyone who is remotely interested in the person who has been luring me away from 97 Squadron for the last 7 months, here is my website on the journalist-soldier Anthony Cotterell. He disappeared in September 1944 after the battle of Arnhem, whilst in the hands of the Germans. The website is in its infancy and will take a while to grow.
Last update for a few days. I have added a page for the Emerson crew who were killed on the edge of Bourn airfield when their aircraft failed. Having collided with another aircraft over Berlin, they made it all the way home only to die 300 yards short of the runway.
I would particularly like more information on this crew who met such a sad end. So if anyone can help ...
Finally! After about eighteen months delay, the ORBs for the Battle of Berlin are now all on line.
14th November Re the Carter picture posted yesterday, Oliver Owen has drawn my attention to his father Charles Owen's ops diary for 6 June 1944, which gives a brief but vivid picture of D-Day and the shooting down of Carter's Lancaster. For details see updated Carter crew page.
I have begun a reorganisation of the site, starting with the Aircrew pages. There are new links to details on the two RAF Stations at which 97 Squadron was stationed pre- and post-Bourn: Woodhall Spa and Coningsby (and further info to come). There is a very nice photograph of F/L Kirkwood-Hackett, known as Ben, outside the Petwood Hotel, which was the officers' mess when 97 Squadron was at Woodhall Spa. The photograph was sent by Ben's daughter, Geraldine Gaskell - it is the only one she has of him, and she writes about her father:
"Mum and Dad parted company when I was 3 in 1950. Mum would tell me tales about Dad's RAF exploits - one was when he [made a forced landing in the sea], I think the Channel or North Sea. I have been trying to find out about it, I have tried the Goldfish club and trawled through the old newspapers but nothing. Could any of your contacts help?" So if anyone can help, please let me know.
13th November A somewhat momentous month has caused a delay in updating the website. Howsoever, here we all are again.
Remembrance Day has just passed and I am including a photograph of Remembrance crosses in Canada, as a reminder of how many Dominion crew members were lost in the battle for freedom. Robert Leader was only 21 when he died; his nephew, Ted Joynt, sent the photograph and will be sending a photograph of Robert shortly.
Before I get on to the other updates, there is some extremely exciting news for those who follow 97 Squadron's wartime fortunes. The Observer colour magazine is due to print an article by Oliver Owen, Charles Owen's son. This is scheduled for 30th November in just over two weeks time. The article concerns Charles Owen himself and by extension 97 Squadron. So do not forget to buy a copy.
I will be doing some more updates tomorrow, but could not leave this one off tonight. We at last have a photograph of Edward Carter, the Commanding Officer for 97 Squadron for 6 months in 1944. He was killed on D-Day. Please check these links: For Carter and his crew For 97 Squadron's COs
Catching up with a few more updates. Arthur Spencer, probably my most long-standing correspondent, wrote to me at the end of the August, pointing out an error on the Cliff Chatten (or 'Chick' Chatten) page:
"Nice to see you in business again, but try 20.15, not 08.15 for Chatten's take-off time; I know; I was there!"
In my defence I would say, that unless there has been a transposition error, this is what the original ORB read. Clearly 8.15 in the evening was meant, but someone somewhere typed it as 8.15 hours, obviously not correct. Cliff Chatten
I am trying something out on the PFF website, which may or may not prove a success - it is a postboard for men of other squadrons than 97 Squadron as there is nowhere else for them to go at present. If you have anyone you would like to see on there, let me know.www.ww2-pathfinders.co.uk/post%20board.html
9th October 2008
Late again, but I am finally getting round to a pile of updates.
Julian Rice, the nephew of Frank McEgan lost during the Battle of Berlin, has been in touch with some marvellous information from the family archives, some of which has now been placed on the McEgan page.
Also, it is really wonderful to have a picture of another of the Black Thursday pilots, Charles Wilson. Out of the 21 pilots flying that night, there are now only four left to find: Brill, Flack, Snell, and Pelletier, and as there is rumoured to be a picture of Jeff Pelletier in the Austalian archives, that really only leaves three. So internet sleuths, please see what you can come up with.
15th September 2008
A most splendid photograph of PFF HQ staff in December 1944 has arrived via David Layne. This is the first time I have been able to identify everyone. This means it should be easier to put names to the faces in some of the other PFF staff photographs.
I am off to Arnhem this week, for a memorial service and the annual commemorative celebrations. Will update the site again before starting University in October.
29th August 2008
A photograph of Cliff Chatten and Cyril Baumber has been added.
Meanwhile, on the Riches crew page, details of Christopher Nordhoff, one of the very rare crew fatalities on board the aircraft with the rest of the crew surviving.
13th August 2008
I have added details of the Robertson crew, which included what the Adjutant Hind described as 'three inseperable Canadians'.
29th July 2008
I have added details of 97 Squadron's three Commanding Officers during the period at Bourn. Anyone who can supply a better photograph of Carter will earn my undying gratitude!
Also, Roger Marsh has emailed to say that Eaton-Clarke did indeed survived the war. Post-war details can be found at the bottom of the Alabaster and Eaton-Clarke page.
16th July 2008 Well, that break took slightly longer than intended. Howsoever, I am back and here are two updates. Firstly I have added some details of Charles Wilson, a pliot who survived Black Thursday but was lost with all his crew at the end of the following month.
Secondly I have added details about Ken Foster to the Fletcher page, and a greatly more attractive photograph of him, the other was so unflattering it was a travesty.
15thJune 2008 Life has been getting progressively more complicated. I am clearing out the house in Sussex next week (which has finally got sold after many harrowing months) prior to moving the last bits and bobs to Devon at the beginning of July. I have also begun work on a book on Anthony Cotterell, a journalist turned soldier who was killed at Arnhem in September 1944.
However, as always, the RAF and 97 Squadron will remain my first love. I have updated the Fletcher page today with some new photos, but there will be no more updates for about 10 days due to the other stuff mentioned above.
Also, it seems to me that a great deal of time needs to be expended in reorganising this site, in particular the indexes which are grossly out of date. There is therefore going to be quite a bit of work going on in the background, which will not be evident for some weeks. I will keep you posted on what is going on, but one of the main things will be to organize a better index of everyone on the site, not just those flying on 16/17 December 1943.
1st June 2008 After having been AWOL for over a month, I am back and ready to pick up the threads of research again. It has been a mildly stressful end to the University year, but I am thoroughly glad that I have been on the course and I have learnt a huge amount.
There is one more exam to do on 10th June
en I have the whole summer to dedicate to this siteDecmebemnd to writing a book.
Please bear with me whilst I get all the paperwork and emails organised, and then I will start updating the site again.
Today I have added a poem/song on the airmen commemorated at Runnymede, who have no known grave.
26th April 2008
Some new information has come in about Leslie Henson, and he has now been given his own page as has been intended for some time. There is a link from him to the Pelletier page as he flew with Pelletier on Black Thursday.
Pelletier's is one of the few crews from Black Thursday for which there is just about no information. Can anyone help on this? The other crews I particularly want to get some info on are all Black Thursday crews, and their pilots were Wilson, Snell and Flack.
David Layne has come up with the personnel for the very interesting picture of what was needed to keep a Lancaster operational. David writes:
You asked some time ago for a picture relating to the personnel required for keeping a Lancaster in the air. I knew somewhere that I had seen one and could visualize it perfectly. About three weeks ago I found the picture for sale on e-bay at a ridiculous price. The seller stated that the picture came from the estate of a person associated with the Daily Herald.
Yesterday when searching for a Churchill/ Lancaster picture I opened one of my Lancaster books that I have not looked at for years and there it was again, just as I remembered it. That book is "Lancaster-The Story Of A Famous Bomber" by Bruce Robertson, published by Harleyford in 1965.
I hope this clears that up. I don't know who to tell you to give credit to for the photograph, to me that is such a gray area.
Thanks as always, David.
24th April 2008 Alas, my cherished picture of Churchill with a Lancaster has turned out to be something quite different. Dave Cheetham emailed me to break the bad news, "Just been looking at your excellent site and noticed a small error. It is not Churchill with a Lancaster, its Churchill with a Stirling and the location was almost certainly Oakington." I then had another look at the supposed Lancaster and saw that the nose was all wrong. Stupid of me.
Dave emailed further to say that Churchill visited Oakington in 1942 and that the Stirling taxiing in the background had a 7 Squadron identification code of MG. To further rub salt in the wounds, he pointed out that the engines are different (radial), the undercart is much higher and the nose is much shorter, concluding, "I'm very sorry but I can't turn it into a Lanc when it is so obviously a Stirling!"
So the substitute relevance for this picture being on the site is that Oakington and 7 Squadron joined the PFF in August 1942, though I don't know if this had happened by the time Churchill went there.
If anyone finds a picture of Churchill with a real Lancaster, please let me know.
23rd April 2008 Susan Charles, Lionel Boyton's daughter, having received her father's service record at long last, has been able to work out the reason why he left the Kenneth Brown crew, he was re-selected for training as a pilot. Please scroll down Lionel Boyton page for more details.
20th April 2008 After a lot of fiddling about, things seem to be straight now. I have added a very interesting crew, that of Wing Commander Alabaster who though a navigator was the Captain of the aircraft piloted by Eaton-Clarke. Alabaster was a supremely gifted airman who went on to qualify as a pilot in his own right.
I have also started a page for the Doug Jones crew but not quite had time to finish it. Another day ...!
19th April 2008 Still having some odd problems with the computer, but I thin that all the PFF website stuff has been updated okay, if not please let me know.
For some reason I am having particular problems with updating this What's New page, so it may have to be replaced with something new.
As it is the fifth time I have tried to update the links to the PFF site changes, I am now just appending a list rather than a blurb because time and patience have both expired. Churchill and a Lancaster Keeping Lancs on ops New PFF staff profiles PFF Flares cascading
17th April 2008 A number of updates have been made to the PFF site today, but my computer has started to crash merrily at every opportunity so please take this as notice that at least something is new on the websites!
15th March 2008 Last updates for the 15th March. The remaining crew pictures have been added to the Hart crew page.
15th March 2008
CHANGES TO THE PFF SITE
Further pictures of the Pathfinder HQ have been added, together with one of the blue plaque outside (thanks once again to Steve Hanglands). This is the only blue plaque I know of to some aspect of Bomber Command's work but maybe some of you will know of others. Also I would very much like a wartime photo of HQ, or at least soon afterwards, so send 'em in if you have 'em!
I have also added a very interesting scrapbook cutting about the Pathfinders, probably dated around December 1943. This has special reference to the Battle of Berlin which was taking place at the time. There are other fascinating pages in this scrapbook, and I will add them gradually.
CHANGES TO THE 97 SQUADRON SITE Re the raid card for La Spezia. David Layne sent this by email today, with the following comment: "Looking at the site today I saw the raid card for the La Spezia raid. My father was on this raid too and attached is a drawing by the same artist, A Pollen, for the same raid."
For the time being I have added this card to the end of the Fletcher crew page, which is about to have a major update and the La Spezia card will then be relocated.
14th March 2008
I had not quite finished the changes and corrections to the Lionel Boyton page, but these should now be complete, and there is a new raid card or certificate, for La Spezia, signed by Ralph Cochrane, the AOC of 5 Group. 97 Squadron was, of course, with 5 Group before it was transferred to the PFF and it returned "on loan" to 5 Group in April 1944.
9th March 2008
A few changes and corrections to the Lionel Boyton page, including a most interesting piece of information about the raid cards included on it. This came from Arthur Spencer, who had a long successful tour with 97 Squadron flying with the Jimmy Munro crew. He writes about the raid cards:
"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."
8th March 2008 A complete photographic update on the Hart crew, with a lovely photo of the pilot replacing the one which I got completely wrong! I believe that the crew attributes are now correct as they come from information given by Bill Jones's sister Veronica to the BBC. I have also included a photograph of the Dutch farmhouse on which the Lancaster crashed, tragically killing most of the family - this is a salutary reminder of the civilian casualties in friendly countries which occurred in the course of the bombing campaign Hart Crew.
The page also now includes a link to the YouTube video by Steven Hanglands on this crew.
2nd March 2008
The story of the unfortunate Taylor crew has now been included on their page Wigsley HCU crew.
23rd February 2008 A lot of updates have been made to the PFF website, too numerous to mention, so just have a look and see what has happened to it! To mention just one thing, there is a current day photograph of Bennett's HQ at Huntingdon. Anyone with a wartime or immediately post-war photo of it please let me know.
On this site, on the latest update I am having a bit of a break with tradition, and yet I feel it is a perfectly valid one. I am including photographs on the website of the crew of Ewan Taylor, who were all killed whilst on a training exercise from Wigsley, 1654 HCU.
Had this crew lived, they might well have been posted to 97 Squadron, or one of the other PFF squadrons. They were at Wigsley at the same time as my father's crew, and also the crews of Coates, Flack, Wheble and Owen, all to become 97 Squadron stalwarts.
Their deaths. whilst still in training, serve to remind us of the other 5,320 officers and men killed in Bomber Command training units between 1939-1945 (figs Max Hastings). In other words, almost 10% of the RAF war dead were killed whilst at the training units. This includes tutors as well as pupils.
The crew of Ewan Taylor also have other dramatic links with 97 Squadron, not least of these being that the aircraft they were flying had been on the famous Augsburg raid of April 1942. L7575 was in 97 Squadron's second section on the raid. Its call-sign was Y-Yorker and it was flown by Ernest Deverill. Severely damaged on the raid, L7575 was patched up afterwards and used in the training units. This often happened to Lancasters deemed no longer fit for the extreme stresses of operational flying.
Another link with 97 Squadron is that their CO at Wigsley, who authorised their last flight, was Edward Porter, who was to join 97 Squadron in 1944.
The story of what happened to this unfortunate crew of trainees will be posted on the next website update.
10th February 2008 A 635 Squadron loss has been added today. They moved from 97 Squadron to the newly formed 635 Squadron with the rest of "C" flight on 19th March 1944 635 Sqd - Leader.
5th February 2008 Lately we have received some exciting new information about the crew of David Brill, shot down over Berlin on 16th December 1943. It comes from Allan and Mary Corran, the brother-in-law and older sister of Robert Butler. Mary still has a prayer book which her mother gave to Robert, known as Bob, a few weeks before he was killed. It did not come back to the family with his personal effects, so everyone assumed he had had it with him.
Allan writes: "Quite without any explanation this was returned to Mary's Mum via the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, having been handed to the American Forces I believe in the 1950s. There is a message in this which we have had translated. Since there is no sign of burning, receiving the prayerbook made the family very relieved but mystified."
Subsequently I have come across a "Post Presumption Memorandum" dated March 1949, which says that the Lancaster crashed at Schillerpark, Berlin (i.e did not totally disintegrate in mid-air as has always been believed). The only other information is about the numbering of the graves of Robert Butler, Norman McIntyre, Gordon Little and Ernest Battle. It says that Pilot Officer Little's body has been found and buried, and that the Grave Number for Flying Officer McIntyre has been corrected. I have added the photographs of Robert Butler and Ernest Battle, who for obvious reasons was nicknamed "Fairy", to the crew page Crew Brill. There is more information to come on these crew members, which will be posted shortly.
20 January 2008 Updates to the Pathfinder site are still going on but not yet downloaded on to the web, as usual it takes much longer than anticipated to re-organise a website.
In the meantime, I have added a very interesting page on Lionel Boyton who flew with the Kenneth Brown crew but unlike them survived the war. On his page can be seen some fascinating raid cards Crew Brown K - Boyton.
With reference to the Carter crew below, when I first put the Conley photo on the site, I wrote 'Unfortunately the only known photo of Conley is splashed with ink'. Now a kindly RAF Samaritan by the soubriquet of 'Caoimhin' has stepped in and somehow wizarded all the ink away, see the revised group of photos on the Carter page Comingsby crew Carter.
Have also made a start on a crew about whom a great deal is known, and much more to come on this page Crew Fletcher.
12th January 2008 There have been quite a few updates to the Pathfinder site, too numerous to mention here, but if you have a look at the website menu there you will see the updates highlighted Pathfinder website.
One thing which is a bit of an innovation though is that I have set up a Forum for people to raise their own points or discuss other people's. The first topic on this is the sector clock at RAF Wyton http://www.ww2-pathfinders.co.uk/Forum.html,
but feel free to send in other subjects.
I am still going on with the archive sorting, and generally up to my ears in it as usual!
30th December 2007 Nearly the end of 2007, a most eventful year as far as I personally am concerned and not one to be repeated in a hurry.
I have been spending a lot of time over the winter hols reorganising my archive material for 97 Squadron, and today only have time to add a page on 97 Squadron's Commanding Officer in June 1944. He was lost on D-Day with his crew, all of whom were highly experienced. I have photos of four of the crew, but not of Carter, and would very much like to get one. If anyone knows where one can be traced, please let me know Comingsby crew Carter.
Some website reorganising (behind the scenes) has also been going on, with more to come, so if you see any peculiarities on any of the pages, I would be most grateful if you would let me know.
I hope to do another post tomorrow, but if it does not happen, I wish you all A Very Happy 2008!
16th December 2007 As always on this day of Remembrance for those killed on 16/17th December 1943, we ask you to remember our brave aircrew in your thoughts and in your prayers BlackThurs Memorial.
I am very pleased to be able, today of all days, to add the photos of William Colson who lost his life with the Mackenzie crew on the edge of Bourn airfield 64 years ago Crew Mackenzie. My thanks to the PFF Museum at Wyton for these pictures. The photo with the crew in front of the Lancaster is most intriguing for this is not the Mackenzie crew but another crew with which Colson flew, though he seems to have flown with several crews, for example Fresson and Dunnicliffe (neither of whom are the pilot here) or Flack (we have no photo of Flack and therefore cannot rule him out). If anyone has any idea at all who the others are, please let me know. Another most welcome addition to the website is a lovely crew photo of the Mansbridge crew, just after they joined 635 Squadron Crew Mansbridge. Just in case you are not aware of the fact, 97 Squadron was broken up in March 1944, "C" Flight going to 635 Squadron. The following month, the remaining two-flight Squadron was "lent" to Cochrane of 5 Group, against the strongest opposition from Bennett.My very grateful thanks for the Mansbridge photo go to Chris Coverdale who is completing a history of 635 Sqd. Details of this book will be given in due course.
24th November 2007 I am rather struggling to keep up with things at the moment, so this is a short post. I have added a number of photos to the PFF site, which are most interesting but which need captions and a commentary - still, they are well worth looking at even without explanation, for they are photos taken this year, by Steven "Hanglands", at Graveley, Upwood., Little Staughton, and Warboys, which show what remains of the old airfields Ruined PFF airfields.
End of term at the University is in two weeks time and I hope to catch up with the website fully then.
10th November 2007 We had the very sad news recently that Johnny Nicholls has passed away, one of the lastof the 97 Squadron pilots. Ken Smith, son of Johnny's flight engineer Sid, emailed me, "I'm sorry to have to report the passing of Johnny Nicholls. I had a communication from Joan Nicholls yesterday, needless to say I was very sad and choked to hear this, as I now have lost the last living link with my fathers crew. And possibly he was the last surviving pilot from 97 Sq flying on Black Thursday? He had been very ill for the past two years and passed away in a nursing home at 7AM Sept 18th age 85.
Joan god bless her has had serious heart failure while Johnny was ill in hospital, she is back home now but on oxygen for some of the time.
If I can find it I will scan a photo of Johnny taken a few years ago which you may like to post on the site with this as a short obituary.
Time and the grim reaper march on, some times we think our friends and family will go on for ever, sadly not. So the importance of work like yours increases with the years, long may it continue." The picture of Johnny, taken on an Anzac parade about 10 years ago, is now included at the end of the Nicholls's crew page Crew Nicholls.
Another new item is a replacement photograph for the one previously on this site of the Hart crew which was of extremely poor quality. A friend of "H", sorry, I don't know his name, has very kindly spent time enhancing the photo and colouring it, which purists may object to but it is certainly a new way of us looking at one of these vanished crews Crew Hart. Lastly, many thanks to everyone who sent kind messages about my Shetland mare. Her foal, Belle, had picked up splendidly and is now twice the size and very fat, with a a two inch thick chestnut coat.
20th October 2007 Very sadly my Shetland mare died, leaving a six week old foal. The foal has now chummed up with an orphan black calf at the vet hospital, but we hope to have her home next week.
This sad little story and other thngs have meant more delays in getting the website moving again. Today I have posted a further update on the Pathfinders site, concerning 405 Squadron and Black Thursday - three of the boys killed that night were all from the same extremely small Canadian town, Grande Prairie, a loss which was understanding devastating for the community.
There is a bit more to add on this story, but it will have to wait until next week.
I have also posted a very good photo of the Carlos Brown crew from 97 Squadron, lost in November 1943. This was sent in by David Little's son, who sadly did not know his father as he was killed when he was two months old. It has the crews' names written across the front, so that for the first time we can confirm exactly who they are. It is always such a delight to be able to put a name to all the faces. Many thanks to Rod Little.
12th October 2007 The entry beneath could be taken as an object lesson in "Don't count your chickens ..", everything but everything subsequently went wrong, and in the last 5 days alone I have had, amongst other things, going down with flu, dealing with a car crash virtually outside the front gate, putting in my first university essay (oh dear!), amd coping with a serious medical emergency with my Shetland pony mare and foal, who are now in vet hospital. However, mother and baby are now doing reasonably well, and I am making a second attempt at getting on with the website. End of complaining session.
Updates today are of the Hart crew - someone known as "H" has very kindly emailed us with an identification of the faces in the photograph - and of the Kirkwood crew memorial plaque, a very moving dedication of which took place on 15th September.
29th September 2007 At long last things are back in some kind of order and with Broadband up and running at last I can get back to updating the website. I expect to be able to do some updates in the coming week, so please check back next weelend.
28th August 2007 The website will be very short of updates in the next 2-3 weeks as the Devon move is imminent. There is a lot of material yet to post, and I hope you will visit again some time in mid-September!
5th August 2007 Another update to the PFF site but a much more major item than the sector clock. This is the story of Black Thursday and its aftermath told from the angle of 405 Squadron. Based at Gransden Lodge, 405 had as serious problems as 97 Squadron in trying to land their Lancasters, and only five of the thirteen operating that night would eventually touch down at their home station. Three crews crashed, one near Marham (where three of the squadron's other Lancasters landed safely) and the other two at Graveley. 14 men lost their lives. The very moving story is told by William Francis (Bill) Bessent, twin brother of one of the men who was killed, and Jane Pilling-Cormick, a researcher Pathfinder website update
On quite a different note, Des Evans who used to run the 97 Squadron Association website, has branched out in an entirely new direction - as he was one of the original 97 Squadron ground crew at Bourn, you can guess how old he is, so it is an inspiration to us all that he has now become a published writer of fiction www.niknakbrikabrak.co.uk.
29th July 2007 Back at last from my travels and the million things that piled up whilst I was away. Not much time for updates this afternoon, but I have put the first item in what I hope will eventually be a virtual museum of PFF and Bomber Command artefacts - the sector clock at PFF HQ PFF sector clock.
16th July 2007 This is the last update for a week or so, and an extremely quick message as I am off on some travels very soon. Have set up a page for the crew of Alan Hart Crew Hart, this is well worth looking at as it is a most unusual and rather horrific story, showing clearly that there could be tragic civilian casualties as well as RAF casualties when aircraft were shot down. Yhe page also give details of the marvellous database of Jan Neuwenhuis on Texel.
8th July 2007
I have now set up the page for the Porter crew, lost in August 1944 from Coningsby. Two members of this crew, Les Smith and Johnnie Rogerson, had previously flown with the Benton crew, all other members of which survived the war. Porter was flying with Les and Johnnie because he had returned from leave early, and took another pilot's place for the operation that night. All his usual crew, not with him that night, survived the war. Such were the quirks of fate for aircrew in Bomber Command.
1st July 2007 Everything should now be back where it should be after the recent data corruption, but if you see anything suspicious please let me know!
Right, with that settled, I should be able to get some proper updates done next week.
Please be aware that due to various changes to the website over the years, some of the links in the entries below are no longer working. If you cannot find a page you want, just email me (email address above) and I will send you the new link. Return to Current What's New