Sunday, 11 August 2013

Finding the Pathfinders - not long now!

What a hectic few months since I last blogged! We've been busy researching Dad's crews from 100 and 97 Squadrons for Sharon and Martin's upcoming documentary "Finding the Pathfinders" and in between attended Chris Keltie's book launch at East Kirkby and Newark Air Museum. We've been up and down to Lincolnshire so many times over the last few months, our car knows its way there now. We also went to Yorkshire and Suffolk to visit graves of Dad's crewmates and next week we're off to Belgium for a couple of days to film where Dad bombed in Courtrai and to meet a very special man - more will be revealed in the documentary so check out the fabulous trailer in this link and book your tickets now Finding the Pathfinders

Just as a reminder, it is being screened on Dad's 90th birthday on Wednesday 11th September at Kinema in The Woods, Woodhall Spa. Doors open at 11.10. Flypast (subject to weather and serviceability) approximately 12.30pm (time yet to be confirmed)

One of our many trips over the last few months was in May when we visited Waltham, near Grimsby. Waltham was home to 100 Squadron and is now home to a well-stocked museum; we were shown around by Sharon's friend, Roger who was extremely knowledgeable and told us stories about all the fascinating artifacts there. Each and every item had a very special story behind it .....I would loved to have spent more time there.

The Waltham Museum was full of  fascinating memorabilia

A haunting image of one night's mission to Duisburg

100 Squadron Memorial in Waltham

We met up with Mike, the son-in-law of Harry Wood, Dad's Wireless Operator in 100 Sq who shared some stories with us for the documentary. Here he is with Mum and Dad outside the Kings Head in Waltham. We took Dad to the pub thinking it may jog some memories for him as it would have been one of his local drinking establishments as it was within staggering distance of the base, but he didn't remember, sadly.

Martin looking very pensive in the background ... he's used to being behind the camera

When Dad walked onto the deserted airfield, it brought a lump to my throat ....especially after I had this poem in my head which my friend, Dave, sent to me shortly before we went .... *gulps*

Beautifully poignant isn't it

Twitter and Facebook have been invaluable helping us in our search for Dad's crews. Friends, Julian, Julia, Di and Dave have been incredible and have been like dogs with bones investigating all lines of enquiry for us!

I must just share the story of how I "met" Dave on Facebook. After the incredible Dambusters week in May, The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight posted a Facebook update to thank everyone for all their support over the week. I saw a comment by a Dave Donaghy which struck a chord with me "what strikes is the sheer volume of support and love for these magnificent aircraft and all that they represent, the bravery, the sacrifices, the sheer determination of a nation at war, a time when Great Britain shone out like a beacon, these beautiful aeroplanes must be kept and cherished forever". I "liked" his comment and said something like it was a lovely heartfelt comment and I couldn't have said it better myself and thanked him for making me cry. The very next day he sent me a friend request and I told him about what we were doing with Dad and sent him a link to the Finding the Pathfinders trailer and he was totally hooked from that moment onwards. Within a couple of days he booked his ticket and was doing his own researches into finding Dad's crews. He bombarded me with so much incredible stuff he'd found. He worked night shifts so said it helped ease the boredom. I don't think he or I will EVER forget the message I sent to him asking how his night shift was doing ..... but I missed off a crucial letter!!! I still blush when I think of it!

Shortly afterwards Di, Julian and Julia got involved through Twitter and Facebook and Julia opened up a Facebook chat for us all to share the information we had found. Sharon also made a Finding the Pathfinders Facebook page 

As a way of thanking our Research Team we invited them to the special Family Reunion Day at East Kirkby on 24th July where some of the families from Dad's crews got to meet Dad and we spent an emotional day filming with them. It was such a shame that some of the families we've found couldn't attend this wonderful event because of work commmitments etc.  BBC Look North were filming there all day and the following day a wonderful piece was shown on TV. Sharon has a copy of it on DVD but needs to find out about copyright before she lets any of us have copies.

A few of us were privileged to get on board Just Jane when her fabulous Merlin engines were fired up. It was an exceptionally hot day and inside Just Jane was like an oven! Sharon and myself proudly stood with Dad under his position of Mid Upper ready for when the engines were fired up .... what a very special moment for us which was captured on camera by Steve Crier, great nephew of Andy Barr, Dad's Flight Engineer from 100 Squadron. Sharon also had a hand-held video which she kept pointing at myself and Dad - dread to think what my face is like! 

Taken by Steve Crier

Arriving for filming (pic courtesy of Stephen from Laburnum House)

Dad sitting proudly in Cockpit

Sharon being filmed for BBC Look North

Standing under his Mid Upper position

Steve Crier with Dad

Mum and Dad with Mitch Reid (son of Dad's pilot, Bill on 97 Sq) with Bill's wife

Family Reunion

After a highly emotional and enjoyable day, a few of us went back to Laburnum House B&B with the lovely Stephen and Sue who run this wonderful Bed & Breakfast which has its own Lancaster Suite, Wellington Room and Hampden Room. Sue had made us some refreshing iced tea and gorgeous homemade lemonade. If ever you're in Lincolnshire and need a base to stay to explore, then look no are guaranteed a very warm welcome and Sue is a fantastic cook too!

After lots of chat and laughter we headed out to Sean's pub for dinner, The Blue Bell Inn  at Tattershall Thorpe .... which I can type better than I can say... too many s's in it for my lisp to cope with... ok, so there's only one, but for some reason I just cannot say it! 

Mum has a very soft spot for Sean and he always makes a fuss of her

I don't think she'll ever be the same again!

Sean asked Dad to sign the famous ceiling of The Blue Bell .... seeing Dad's name alongside names of fellow comrades from 70 years ago was a "gulp" moment for sure!

We had an excellent meal and many laughs with Stephen and Sue. Shirley, Sean's girlfriend, who cooked the meal came out of the kitchen to meet Dad.

After the meal I was reading out loud an article which had just been published on BBC website  Sean's waitress was listening intently and after I'd finished she asked with tears in her eyes and her voice cracking with emotion that she wanted to shake Dad's hand ... she then disappeared off into the kitchen in floods of tears, bless her heart. Dad seemed slightly bemused by it all - so typical of him!

I'm going to jump back to June now which is when we attended Chris Keltie's book launch weekend. On the Saturday it was held in the Briefing Room at East Kirkby on a bright sunny day with a few torrential downpours. During one of Dad's eye-witness accounts, the sound of the torrential rain lashing down on the briefing room roof and the roar of the thunder and lightening was an eerie experience ... you felt like you were transported back to 1944  as we struggled to hear Dad's voice above it as he recounted his memories ....

Dad with Pam Livingstone, daughter of  Bill North's Bomb Aimer, Norman Jarvis, 
Chris Keltie and Rhys (Bill's son) and
Bill North himself overseeing the proceedings

Pam reading eye-witness accounts about her father from the book

Dad doing his duty - a bit of book signing

Bill North's crashed plane

Chris Keltie presented a very professional and extremely emotional book launch. There were moments when I don't know how he held it together and his voice cracked with emotion when he spoke about his beloved neighbour and friend, Bill North. There were many tears amongst his captive audience I can tell you and not just me!

At the end Dad carefully got a piece of paper out of his pocket and tentatively stood up to read out a brief tribute of his own to Bill North. It had everyone, including him, in tears. "This story should have been told long ago. I consider Bill North should have had a Decoration of at least DSO or even a Victoria Cross as he was able to bale out, but he put his own safety on hold to try and save his comrades who could not bale out and decided to try and crash-land in unknown territory and almost certain death". 

To read the fabulous 5 Star reviews of this wonderful book and to purchase click here Riding in the Shadow of Death

The following day saw us visiting the Cockpitfest (and yes I remembered to put the "pit" in this time!) at Newark Air Museum. A very special person attended this event, Mid-Upper Gunner, Dennis Bartlett, the only surviving member of Bill North's crew. The moment when these two Mid-Upper Gunners met was extremely moving.

Di and I trying to compose ourselves (tissues in hand)
after witnessing the wonderful moment when Dad met Dennis

This book launch was captured on camera by Martin ... every time I watch it I am moved to tears. Book Launch Video at Newark  The sensitive way that Martin zoomed in on these two veterans' faces gets me every can almost see the memories flashing through their eyes ...

Shortly afterwards we all went outside to await the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flypast. The unmistakable sound of those Merlin engines were soon within earshot. We huddled together with Dad watching this wonderful spectacle ..... there wasn't a dry eye to be seen.

During the book launch, various eye-witness accounts were read out, and we were reminded of the horrific crash that Dad witnessed. This occurred on 23rd June 1944 during a daytime flying formation exercise, Dad being piloted by Bill Reid. Six Lancasters from 97 Squadron were flying in two V formations of three. Whilst attempting a gentle turn Van Raalte's aircraft sideslipped over Perkins' aircraft and dropped suddenly, removing the entire tail from Perkins' aircraft and smashing the nose of its own, pieces of wreckage narrowly missed Dad's plane. Both planes immediately spun out of control and all of the occupants in both aircraft were killed with the exception of one, Sgt Coman, who managed to bale out. Sadly, he was later posted off the station as LMF (Lack of Moral Fibre) unsurprisingly he had lost his nerve and was unable to fly again.  What a horrific experience for all of these brave men who, just a few hours later the surviving crews were up again on a raid to Limoges. Huge respect to them .... lest we forget.

Dad showing Mitch Reid the wreckage of the tragic training exercise on 23rd June 1944.
This was the first Mitch had heard of it as his Dad never spoke of it ...

Mitch showed us his Dad's poignant last entry in his Log Book after two tours "That's The Lot Boy!"
I was in bits when he showed me this

Whilst looking at the pictures and information about this tragic crash I noted that it had happened over Crowland, near Peterborough, so I suggested that we try to find the crash site on our way home. We drove up and down Cloot Drove but couldn't find it. We stopped and asked several people and knocked on a few doors, but nobody knew anything. Its so very sad that this hasn't been marked in any way. A service was held for the 60th anniversary where a wooden cross was laid, but there appears to be no permanent marker. It will be 70 years next June.....and also the day of my 50th birthday.

On the way home from Crowland I sent out a random tweet that we had tried to find the crash site. This made Di's ears prick up. She replied saying "Did you just say Crowland?" I said yes, why?  To which she replied "OMG .... that's where the propeller to my memorial came from ...." A few gobsmacked tweets followed that I can tell you! 

Over 10 years ago Di was asked by a family friend if she could do an investigation into a plane crash which he witnessed in his village, Staunton-in-the-Vale, Nottinghamshire. The memory of this crash had stayed with him and since that night he had wanted to know more about what happened and who the men were. He handed Di a piece of wreckage from the crash site. After many years of painstaking detective work Di managed to find out about the crew of Lancaster W4270 and when it came to making a permanent memorial to them she wanted to find a Lancaster propeller as she thought it would make a fitting tribute. She went to the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group and they said she was in luck as they had a propeller that came from a crash site in Crowland .... *cue hairs on back of the neck standing up* - this was such an incredible coincidence that even now we are still trying to get our heads round!!

Di told me she had often stroked the propeller of her Memorial and wondered what the story was behind it .... and now we know. Here's Dad with it ... a poignant moment ... what was going through his mind I wonder? ....

More details of Di's story of The Last Crew of Lancaster W4270 here

When we get back from Belgium next week, Martin will have the enormous task of editing all the pieces together whilst Sharon will be preparing her moving narrative. It's sure to be an emotional and fitting tribute to our Dad and the thousands of brave men of Bomber Command. Sadly, the number of veterans still with us are dwindling, so their stories need to be documented. I feel so lucky to still have my Dad and whenever I've needed a question answering during research for the documentary, I've been able to ring him up or 
pop round to see him.  

I'm so very proud of my Dad. Next Friday, 16th August I'm extremely honoured to be attending The Pathfinder Dinner with him at RAF Wyton. To be amongst these incredibly brave men and to be able to chat with them is so very humbling. Looking forward to their cheeky humour too!

One final reminder if you haven't yet purchased your tickets to the screening of Finding the Pathfinders ... Buy Tickets Here!



  1. This is more excited than ever to see the documentary now! xx

  2. Brilliant summary, must've taken you ages to write and do all the links and photos etc. Incredible record xxx

  3. Hope I can get my hands on the documentary over here in Holland :-)
    Have checked my "World War II Allied Aircraft Crashes in The Netherlands" Internet Database ( ) and found 10 Lancasters of 97 Sqn and 12 of 100 Sqn which crashed in Holland. Could be more though as my database is not (yet) complete; Currently 1126 aircraft are listed (of which 174 Lancasters) and 5537 crewmen (of which 1243 are Lancaster crewmen).