Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Canada 150 Vignette – 135 of 150
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

A World War II Memory - Sam and Glen Merrifield Part 13

​​
In this 13th installment of Brothers Two, Dressed in Blue in World War II, Glen and Sam provide an excellent description of how each flying component of the No. 405 Pathfinder was organixed and what thier duties were.
   
Preparations for the second front were in hand all through Britain and Steve Ridell who came to us for exposure in the fall of '41 as an airman visited us as a Flying Officer after receiving training as a Signals Officer. He gave a good report of the course which  included a lot of higher mathematics and Sam and I saw a means of advancing our education. Because John was our CO (Commanding Officer) and remembered us, our applications went forward well recommended and I left on a scheduled leave. I returned to be informed that we were deep in glue and headed for service in the army. They had given Sam a medical while I was away and discovered we were red-green color blind. Well we knew we were beaten but Fauquier was not ready to give up and insisted on us being sent to the RAF Hospital at Ely and being tested by a Specialist. There we passed the red but not the green. It was not easy but John had the Adjutant destroy all traces of the venture and so the status quo was maintained.
 
Bomber Command Squadrons had a large number of personnel. On February 29, 1944, we had 86 aircrew officers and 112 aircrew OR's 3 groundcrew officers, 288 groundcrew OR's and 9 WAAF OR's for a total of 498. These were 356 Canadian, 136 UK, 3 Australians, 1 New Zealand, 1 Rhodesian and 1 United States. Quite a mixed bag. The ones you knew best were your section workmates who often shared the same billet. In most instances groundcrew and aircrew stuck to their own kind except the groundcrew who were assigned to work at one aircraft in the flights. We quickly learned that it was easier to lose 
strangers than friends and so rarely sought friends in the aircrew ranks. Sometimes our work threw us together and we learned that the "better than thou" attitude so often attributed to aircrew was a good deal rarer than many thought.
 
Many of the aircrew were well known and very highly regarded by everyone for their achievements. One such was Flight Sergeant Bonikowski, who my memory tells me was one of the finest blind markers in PFF (Path Finder Force) and often had officers with ranks as high as Wing Commander flying in his wake or as his alternate. We lost him and his fine crew on their 20th mission on the night of January 30/31 1944 in a/c "S" for sugar.
 
While in Brisbane Australia in February 1988 I found a book entitled "Pathfinders light the way" by Harold J. Wright. On page 37 of his book he explains the PFF grading and I quote; "First of all, this is a Lancaster Squadron and there are four  

Lancaster aircraft and crew from 405 Pathfinder Squadron
- photo courtesy of the Bomber Command Museum
​grades of crews here. Supporters, backup, illuminators or blind markers, and lastly visual markers. Working up, there are the supporters, They are the crews in training for the other jobs. They carry only bombs and go in with the early wave to lend weight of numbers. Backers-up go in throughout the raid, to keep the target marked during the attack. They normally drop green Target Indicator Flares or T.I.s as we call them. Above them come the illuminators or Blind markers. They work on radar and go in before the zero hour. They mark the area with red T’s and drop illuminating flares which light up the target for the last group, the visual markers. They go in two to four minutes before zero hour to find an actual aiming point on the ground, a building, a railway or road junction or something which stands out."...
 
Now about the shite-hawk, the Pathfinders emblem,.. You wear it on your pocket flap below your wings or wing, but before you wear it you earn it. To earn it, we expect you to do six good supporters trips at least. You get temporary award then if we think you deserve it. It doesn't become yours permanently until you have finished your two tours of forty five ops unless you are shot down or wounded and taken off flying."
 
A section favorite with us was Danny Langley, a British Sergeant WAG who won the DFM at Pocklington when he repaired the TR9F in flight and got a vital message through. Danny was a P/0 and flew with W/C Reg Lane as "Master Bomber" in a/c "Y" Yorker in December 1943 which is the last record I have of Danny. Now flying with the Master Bomber is a great honor but also a great hazard because you are over the target for half an hour or more instead of two minutes. Danny was the WAG on the Ruhr Express so this is a good place to insert my anecdote of that name.
 
Late in 1943 W/C Reggie Lane arrived at Gransden Lodge with the first Canadian built Lancaster KB 700. We had on hand copies of McLean's Magazine telling us how this aircraft was already bringing Hitler to his knees, when we were asked to get it ready for a "milk run" op and then send it to 6 Group. My part was to install and wire up a plate cutting recording machine to the intercom just ahead of the rear turret to record the actual bomb run-up for posterity. On this first mission over the channel one of the Packard built Merlin engines failed and the a/c couldn't hold its altitude, which was uncommon for a Lancaster. All but one bomb was jettisoned. Still no good, mission aborted. Engines were changed to British Merlins and after a short trip over the channel without propaganda gear it was sent off to 6 Group - 419 Squadron I believe. Strangely enough, this "lemon" got its picture in "History of the RAF". As mention of the RCAF in this book is scant. I hope the author didn't feel this was our best effort.