Above,, L-R: John Searby (one of the PFF’s top aircrew and commanders) and Donald Bennett , AOC. Probably 1944. IWM CH 20628.

This IWM photograph of Bennett and Searby leaving the Headquarters of Air Defence of Great Britain, Bentley Priory, Middlesex, after a conference, captures something of Bennett’s extreme dislike of the Press and even of official photographers. He looks distinctly displeased about being photographed.

Bennett was strongly averse to publicity, unlike his great rival Cochrane in 5 Group who had his own PR specialists, one of several reasons why the Dambusters became so enduringly famous. One of the Pathfinders’ very distinguished Medical Officers, Squadron Leader Jackson, picked up this point in a post-war report. He describes 5 Group as “a rival firm”, intent on building up its own reputation as a specialised bomber ‘Task Force’:

The rivalry between the two Groups continued to the end [of the war]. There was a feeling that 5 Group was stealing PFF’s thunder if not her best available recruits. It might be said, without wishing to show partisan feeling, that 5 Group [created] the publicity before the service, and the reaction was handled magnificently, indeed by professional publicity men, whereas PFF, following the lead of its AOC, did not encourage publicity.

The feeling in PFF […] can be indicated by a discussion in a Mess as to who Princess Elizabeth would marry; it was concluded by a dismal voice from a corner saying, “I bet it will be someone from 5 Group, anyhow”.[1]

See also:

PFF Squadrons in 5 Group

Publicity and the Pathfinders

John Searby and the End of a Kiwi Gunner’s Tour

[1] NA AIR 49-78, Squadron Leader K V Jackson, ‘A Report on the Medical History of the Path Finder Force’, 4 October 1945.

Article published September 2022.