14 September 2007

We were pathfinders once and young

This is a group photo of some of the last survivors of the RAF Pathfinder Force. It was taken at their annual memorial day at RAF Wyton (the Pathfinder Force HQ during WWII) last month. All of them are in their 80s or 90s now. At 81, my father is the youngest of the group. He is on the far left in the blue/grey suit. He chooses not to wear his service medals (The Defence and War medals, the 1939-45 Star, the Aircrew Europe, Africa, Italy and Burma stars).

About 3700 Pathfinders were killed during WWII, a high death rate even by RAF Bomber Command standards (45% of all operational aircrews were killed. Only one in three survived the war without injury)

As I have mentioned before my father had two very good reasons not to serve in WWII: firstly, he was a citizen of Eire, a neutral country; secondly, he was only 15 when he joined (The RAF probably still thinks he was born in 1923 rather than 1926!). Despite some awful experiences, he never regretted his war service and he is still proud to have been a member of an elite force.

He was one of many Irish men and women in the British services who uttered the well worn phrase to a fellow citizen "Aren't you glad Dev kept us out of the war!"


YTSL said...

A lot of the survivors actually look amazingly good, especially for their age. Thanks for sharing the photo.

A. said...

My father too was an Irish man in the British forces, in the RAMC.

When looking at a picture like that it's important to remember first that they were all young but also just how very young some of them were.

jams o donnell said...

I didn't go this year with dad. My sister went but I have been with him befire (In drive so he can have a drink!). They are a great bunch of men. They have such great tales to tell. RAF Wyton is now a support base but the personnel are so proud of the connection to the Pathfinders.

A. I am glad the Irish government has finally acknowledged the part played by the tens of thousands of irish men and women in WWII.. and in WWI by paternal grandfather was an "old contemptible" and was taken prisoner right at the start of WWI

elasticwaistbandlady said...

I'm waving at your dad. Hi Jams' Dad!!!

I saw the gathering pictures and stories you posted last year. Very interesting stuff.

Cats~Goats~Quotes said...

This is a wonderful picture.
I suspect there are some very, very interesting stories there!!

jams o donnell said...

THanks ewbl! Oh they do have some great stories. I will share a very funny one on this blog soon about teh man on the far right of the picture

Anonymous said...

My late father not-in-law was a UK citizen from Fermanagh, and had the option of serving in either the British Army or the Irish Army. He chose the latter. It included a stint driving De Valera

Anonymous said...

One of my friend's father was an American pathfinder who dropped into France in advance of the Normandy invasion. They throw at party for him in the French town he landed in on major anniversaries... he's a local celebrity.

jams o donnell said...

He could call his autobiography Driving miss Dev, Gert!

Ah, the British and AMerican pathfinders were very different. Did he go in with the Rangers or the US parachutists?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

My Father was a Pathfinder with 139 Squadron. I am trying to trace his Navigator or anyone who may have known him. Long time ago but worth a try and I wondered if anyone may be able to help. Unfortunately he was killed in 1953 flying a Vampire Jet. Hope So.
Dave Wakeford