[thankfully my Grandmother's knickers have not survived for posterity]
[Although David trained as an Air Gunner he was actually the Wireless Operator. It was Len Such, my Great-Uncle, who was the Rear Gunner]
[The story about the dog is true, Pathfinder Alec Panton Cranswick did take his dog, Kluva, on many operations (see Cumming, M. Pathfinder Cranswick (London, William Kimber 1962) p108-111)]
Dave “Shag” Cleary’s was an odd superstition. Most of Pathfinder Force had their own private good luck charms to protect them against the special danger of their task, and Dave Cleary always flew on missions with a pair of his girl friend’s knickers in his pocket. It was his only comfort in the rear turret of the Halifax during the cold black hours before they reached the target, staring at blackness around and above him and, most of all, below him, where the fighters came from as the bombers lumbered in front of the moon. Pathfinder Force was the nucleus of RAF squadrons, formed in 1942 to lead and direct with flares the previously haphazard night bombing of German cities. For 30 years it has been commemorated by a small downstairs club in Mount Street, Mayfair. But now these premises are to be vacated. The Pathfinder Club merges this week with the Sesame Club, which is devoted to the Arts. The economic blizzard brings odd bedfellows indeed.
Few of the original Pathfinders are now left. In later years, Membership was made available to anyone who had served in the RAF. But this was the last night in the old club. It brought together a collection of the men who still call themselves “master bombers”, largely ex-NCO’s with, here and there, a Pathfinder albatross badge or the relic of a handlebar moustache. The walls around were covered with empty hooks, all the Pathfinder squadron badges having wisely been removed before the celebration. To Dave Cleary, it is a source of wonder that he could ever have been so young. He was only 17 when he flew the first of his 30 missions with 35 Squadron. In his double-breasted blazer, small, quick to upset or to laugh, his chaotic adolescence is oddly preserved. He has always kept the knickers which accompanied him and which were decorated by a fellow prisoner of war after he was shot down. He remains, at the same time, fiercely misogynistic. Women in Pathfinder Force were a jinx. “Our Flight Engineer got married. That’s why we went down.”
Jimmy Hughes now with the investment department of Coutt’s and Co, flew with Cleary in 35 Squadron. They were discussing their various superstitions with Alex Thorne from 635 Squadron, a public relations officer. I knew someone who always flew in his pyjamas, Jimmy Hughes said. Pyjama Joe we use to call him. Another one always went on missions with a French letter in his pocket. He used to say, you never know.
See Bill Potter over there. His whole crew baled out but the pilot – he put the aircraft into a dive, put the fire out, flew home alone, and Bill and the others went into the bag.
I knew someone who always took his dog up with him, Dave Cleary said. Cranswick did, when he flew with McRobbie.
Tommy Blair used to take his boxer up with him. He had an oxygen mask made to fit it.
What are you having Alex? Port, thank you.
Robin Richardson, the club chairman had brought his wife Bunny to the party. He met her when she was a WAAF driver and could siphon petrol to put into his old Morris car. Remember we used to sleep in that little 2ft 6in bed? She said, nudging him. We weren’t married. Remember that night when two bombers collided on the circuit and they thought it was a raid? He had to hide me in the bathroom. She looked again, fondly at him. Marriage can be built on worse foundations.