Monday, 27 August 2012

Pathfinder Sunday RAF Wyton 19th August 2012

How do I put into words a weekend that was so memorable in every way and one I will treasure in my heart always, the highlight being Pathfinder Sunday at RAF Wyton which we shared with our wonderful guest, Dirk.

The weekend started perfectly with a BBQ held on a gorgeous sunny day at our house in honour of Dirk, our good friend from Belgium. If you read my earlier blog post, it will explain how we met him I'm so Proud of my Dad

Dirk is a very hungry historian (retired history teacher) with a huge passion for knowledge of the Pathfinders and Bomber Command. Knowing this, Dad invited him to be his special guest at Pathfinder Sunday held every year at RAF Wyton, home of the Pathfinders. Tickets were very limited this year, due mainly I think to it being the 70th anniversary year, so sadly my sister, Sharon and her fiancĂ©, Martin couldn’t attend. I did offer my ticket to them but they wouldn’t hear of it as they were hoping to get a licence to film the day, which sadly they never obtained as £200 is a hell of a lot of money for them. I was absolutely gutted for them, but with kind permission of Helen Baxter from the media department of RAF Wyton they were able to film from the gate for the flypast of RAF BBMF Lancaster, City of Lincoln.

Here is a taster of what they could have filmed on the day. This was filmed by them at RAF Coningsby when the Lancaster returned home after dropping poppies over the Green Park Bomber Command Memorial on 28th June. Ermine Street Project Video  A truly wonderful piece of filming. Sharon and Martin also missed out on getting tickets to see the unveiling at Green Park so I was thrilled they got to see the City of Lincoln return back home after doing such an important job.

We arrived at RAF Wyton and first stop was the “church” service.  It wasn't actually held in the Church as numbers were too great but every effort was made to make it a very special service in honour of the heroes of the Pathfinders. When we arrived in the church we “lost” dad as they wanted the Pathfinders to sit at the front as there was some kind of presentation taking place. This was a presentation to all the Pathfinders who attended the service to be handed an Armed Forces Veterans Badge. All their names were read out and on hearing their name, seeing the veterans struggling to their feet and being helped up by fellow veterans really moved me and when I looked around, several people had tears in their eyes too. Very moving.  The RAF Wyton Area Voluntary Band were wonderful as they played the hymns we sang. There were also some emotional readings. I had to stop off in the ladies to re-do my make-up!

After the service we stopped for tea and coffee where we had chance to talk to other veterans and their families. Dirk was in his absolute element meeting them all and asking them to sign his book and various other things he had brought with him. He was like a kiddie in a sweetshop .... so eager to meet, chat and hear their amazing stories.

We then had a wonderful lunch in the Officers’ Mess. It was extremely warm in there and all the guests were taking off their jackets but sadly the RAF hosts, one to each table, were not allowed. I felt rather smug sitting there in my summer dress!

During the speeches, we were told that the Lancaster was due to do her flypast at 14:40 hours and as a special surprise, she was actually LANDING at Wyton and there may be an opportunity to get on her. Everyone was ecstatic. I will never forget the look on the veterans’ faces as my eyes scanned the room. Wonderful.

It was quite a way to the airfield and we were taken there by coach but as you can imagine, it takes quite a while getting the veterans and their families off the coach as many are unsteady on their feet and needed help. Chris and Dirk ended up walking as the coach was full anyway and just got there in time to see her land but sadly missed the display she gave us. I only just stepped off the coach in time to capture this last bit of her display. Lancaster Flypast

Anticipation was building in the airfield amongst the veterans and their guests. Seats were arranged for all to watch the landing. What an amazing incredible sight when she finally dropped her undercarriage, landed and taxied up to within a few yards from us all. There's something so very special about the noise of those Merlin engines, an unforgettable sound.

After her engines had been switched off and we had all got over the overwhelming excitement of her landing, the Pathfinders gathered for a group photo in front of their beloved Lancaster.

We had to join in on the act too. What a wonderful backdrop!

and then Mum and Dad joined in!

There was a ladder leading up to the Lancaster and the veterans were invited to climb the ladder to look inside from the ladder so Dad patiently waited in the queue for his turn, legged it up the ladder, had a look and got back down again, by which time Chris and I were in the ever-growing queue. By the time our turn came it became apparent that they were actually letting people get inside her and I couldn't find Dad to tell him to get back in the queue.

When my turn came, I nervously climbed the ladder in my dress and high heels, trying desperately to remain ladylike but ended up in a heap inside the aircraft, pulling a thigh muscle in the process whilst hastily pulling my dress down. I was so excited!! 

The moment when I pulled my thigh muscle

It was so hot inside her. I got up to the mid upper gunner position where Dad's spent his time in the aircraft, and took this pic.

Mid Upper Position

Me after having had "my moment" under Mid Upper Position

I must confess that I "had a moment" tears streaming down my face imagining what it must have been like for them. I fought back the huge lump in my throat and made my way back to the ladder, aware there were many others awaiting their special, unique experience. I think I must have exited the aircraft in THE most unladylike manner ever!! Chris asked the men to kindly avert their eyes as I made my descent and bless them, they all shielded their eyes as I clambered down the ladder in my dress and heels trying not to flash anyone too much and failed badly!!  A couple of the veterans kindly offered their arms for support.

Once I was on the ground I managed to find Dad to tell him to get back in the queue as they were actually letting people on her to which he replied that he'd have his turn when we visit Coningsby shortly and that there were others who wanted to have the chance to get on her. But then that's my Dad, totally unselfish and always putting others first.

I watched with bated breath as the veterans excitedly clambered aboard, some forgetting their bodies were now 70 years older and having to be helped up by their loved ones, their legs had to be actually lifted and placed onto each rung of the desperate they were to clamber aboard her. It was a sight that will remain with me always. Their faces when they exited I will never forget. Wonderful.

Whilst I was waiting for Chris to come down, can you imagine my surprise when his head suddenly appeared! It was hilarious!

What a huge privilege and I would like convey my sincere thanks to all at Battle of Britain Memorial Flight for allowing this to happen, the flypast, the landing and the huge privilege of being able to climb aboard PA474.

Dad and I beside Lancaster PA474

We all had a truly enjoyable and memorable day and thanks to all at RAF Wyton also for organising Pathfinder Sunday and for allowing us to visit the wonderful Pathfinder Museum there.

Veterans and families waving bye bye 

So pleased with this short clip of video as I actually managed to get her this time!! 

Whilst sharing photos of the Lancaster recently, one of my very good friends came across this piece of YouTube footage which is a recording taken during a mission over Stettin on 20th April 1943. Lancaster bombing raid banter - Stettin 20 April 1943

I checked Dad's log book as I do every time a date is mentioned for a bombing mission and found that Dad was indeed on that very same mission when he was with 100 Squadron. I found his ops records as you will see below. Bomber Command sent 457 aircraft that night. 100 Squadron sent up 9 aircraft, only 7 returned, one of the ones that didn't return was the Squadron Commander. Of the 7 who returned they reported having seen 18 aircraft shot down. Seeing my dad's name in the third crew down on this ops record sends shivers down my spine. It somehow makes it even more real, if that is possible.

When you listen to the recording in conjunction with the transcript  you hear the Bomb Aimer say  "and there go the incendiaries .... there goes my bottle". When Dad listened to it, he thinks the bottle he may have been referring to was a bottle of wee which would have been put in the bomb bay!

Pilot: Right oh...

BBC Sound Engineer: Right, we're on now.

Pilot: OK.

Bomb Aimer: Well, there's the target straight ahead, Skip.

Pilot: OK, now we're over the lake now...

Bomb Aimer: OK, now....

Pilot: ...just coming up.

Navigator: OK.

Pilot: What was the heading again?

Navigator: 146.

Pilot: OK, on 146...

Navigator: OK.

Pilot: ...and the airspeed?


Pilot: Yes, I've got it. Bang on.

Pilot: OK.

Navigator: Ten seconds. Two minutes, ten seconds, Bomb Aimer.

Bomb Aimer: OK, ??, two minutes ten seconds.

Navigator: Twenty seconds...

Bomb Aimer: You can weave a bit, Skip.

Pilot: OK, bomb aimer.

Navigator: Thirty seconds...

Bomb Aimer: There's...flares...just to the left.

Pilot: OK.

Bomb Aimer: OK, you can keep weaving for a while.

Navigator: Forty seconds...

Pilot: Check the position of the flares by your time run.

Bomb Aimer: Yes, I can see some ground detail in the flash of the flak bursts.

Navigator: Fifty seconds...

Navigator: One minute...

Bomb Aimer: Keep on weaving skipper.

Navigator: Ten seconds. One minute to go now.

Navigator: F-i-v-e

Pilot: All right now, you'll want some last minute corrections, bomb aimer...

Bomb Aimer: Yes...

Pilot: ...I'll fly her straight ahead

Bomb Aimer: Steer her nice, straight and level

Navigator: Ten...

Pilot: Bomb doors open.

Bomb Aimer: Bomb doors open.

Pilot: Give her a bit of extra time if anything.

Bomb Aimer: Yes...

Navigator: Fifteen...

Bomb Aimer: ...left, left

Navigator: Twenty...

Bomb Aimer: Steady...steady...

Navigator: Twenty five...

Bomb Aimer: Steady...

Bomb Aimer: Bombs away!

Navigator: Thirty.

Bomb Aimer: There goes the cookie...

Navigator: Lookie...lookie...lookie.

Unknown: Oh, we got lucky going over there!

Bomb Aimer: ...and there go the incendiaries....there goes my bottle.

Pilot: Umm, take jettison action.

Bomb Aimer: Jettison action now.

Pilot: OK. I think they're firing at us.

Unknown: Yeh!

Pilot: Bomb doors closed.

Bomb Aimer: Bomb doors closed.

Pilot: By jove!

Pilot: New course now ??.

Navigator: New course....

Bomb Aimer: Look at those fires boys...oh what a....

Navigator: ...185.

Pilot: OK, Turning on...185.

Mid-Upper Gunner: There's a Lanc up on your starboard beam.

Pilot: I see him, yes.

Mid-Upper Gunner: He's turning down. move...

Pilot: Yes, I can see him...starboard bow now.

Mid-Upper Gunner: Yes, he's right ahead...

Pilot: OK...

Mid-Upper Gunner: ...cross over...

Pilot: Right, give me that course again ??, well north of us.

Navigator: 185.

Pilot: 185, OK.

Pilot: That was direct hit over the target by the look of it!

Crew: yes...yeah...

Pilot: OK.

Unknown: Keep going, Skip, they're all turning off this way.

Pilot: OK.

Mid-Upper Gunner: There's a Lanc coming up on your starboard beam underneath our... wing...

Unknown: He's turned off...just moving off...

Pilot: OK.

Rear Gunner: There's a Lanc on our port beam.

Pilot: Yes, I can see him...ah...rear gunner.

Mid-Upper Gunner: There's a bloke still on our starboard beam, just down a bit.

Pilot: I know!

Pilot: right, Now, keep your eyes peeled for fighters, gunners. They're obviously milling around the target now flies.

Mid-Upper Gunner: OK, Skip.

Rear Gunner: Searchlight underneath our starboard wing, Skip.

Pilot: OK.

It really makes you think doesn't it.

Thanks for reading. Will blog again soon xx


  1. Lovely moving and thought provoking...wonderful xxx

  2. Thanks Kathryn. it was such an important and moving event I had to share it xxx

  3. Terrific write up, no wonder it took a while to do! Very detailed, moving without being mawkish. Absolutely fascinating recording with excellent pics and footage. Feels like I was there!

  4. Thanks Sue, glad you enjoyed it.
    Amazing recording wasn't it and humbling to think Dad was on the very same raid xx

  5. Thanks to sharing this emotional day with us all!

    As I read it ...I got goose bumps and could feel the special moment you had.
    Even I don't understand exactly all words *smiling* the meaning from all I understood completely.


  6. Sandy,
    Fantastic article about the day and the emotion that you and your family had at that time. I was the navigator on the Lancaster that Sunday and hearing how much it meant means a great deal to all of us who have the privilege to fly her.
    Kind regards
    Tony Beresford

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment Tony. I feel so honoured that you read my blog. It truly was a fabulous day and I felt so humbled to be amongst all those brave men, the faces of which I will never forget when their beloved Lancaster landed at Wyton. What a wonderful job you have xx