Anderson’s Logbook: First PFF Sortie

I had the honour of being in the first to cross the enemy coast. How we came to ‘cane’ the engines to make sure that we had that enviable distinction is just nobody’s business.”

William Anderson was one of the handful of Staff Officers at PFF HQ who was in at the beginning of the Force. Anderson was an outstanding navigator, and there is much more come about him; however, in this month which celebrates the 80th Anniversary of the formation of the Pathfinders, we cannot resist this absolutely wonderful gem relating to the PFF’s very first sortie, to Flensburg, on 18 August 1942.

With many thanks to Liz Morris for the image and also for identifying Jacko.

Due to the logbook’s fragility, it had to be copied in single pages rather than double pages, which accounts for the step in the composite image here.

Jacko was William Grierson Jackson, RCAF, who would later publish his wartime memoirs We Band of Brothers under the name Bill Jackson. Jacko writes ‘Horrid line!’, using RAF slang for line-spinning or ‘shooting a line’ – this was the phrase used if a member of aircrew bragged extravagantly about his heroic exploits, something which was hugely unpopular. (N.B. Bennett, AOC of the Pathfinders, also used this phrase and it is in his memoirs, Pathfinder, notably on p.187 in the original 1958 edition, when he writes about flying an unknown aircraft in the dark: “At this point let me interject a ‘line shoot’.”)

In this case ‘Horrid line!’ is a teasing joke as Anderson was actually the most modest of men about his high achievements, and Jacko was a good personal friend.

Anderson writes most affectionately of Jacko in his memoir Pathfinders. Jacko was a very determined and focused character, as one amusing passage makes clear:

Jacko was the navigation instructor on [the] job of training new Pathfinder crews. [… He was] a man of infinite resource and sagacity – I journeyed with him one night to Bremen, and I never knew a man to carry so much paraphernalia with him on a sortie. Mysterious bags and boxes and oddments and pieces of junk all cunningly contrived so that if he did have to bale out, he could with their aid make his way back to Gibraltar and at the same time provide himself with a three-course dinner every evening and a book of poetry and a hot-water bottle to lull him to sleep at night.[1]

When Jacko returned to Canada, Anderson and his three small boys, who loved Jacko, were all sorry to see him go.

[1] William Anderson, Pathfinders, (Jarrolds, London, 1946), p.70.

The quotation at the head of the page is from p.52.