Searby & the End of a Kiwi Gunner’s Tour

John Henry Searby – IWM CH 8485

John Searby was one of the best known and most revered of the Pathfinder squadron and station commanders. He won an immediate Distinguished Service Order for his leadership in the operation against Peenemunde on 17/18 August 1943:

Supplement to the London Gazette, 7 September 1943

Entry in 83 Squadron ORB

The Imperial War Museum has a number of images of Searby, but one of the most intriguing shows him with Bennett, the leader of the Pathfinders. Neither appears particularly pleased about being photographed (Bennett hated publicity of any sort). They are leaving the Headquarters of Air Defence of Great Britain, Bentley Priory, Middlesex, after a conference. The date is unknown but, judging by the weather and background foliage, appears to be in the summer of 1944. (From February 1944 until just before the end of the war, Searby was Command Navigation Officer at Bomber Command HQ.)

Searby and Bennett – IWM CH 20628


This rare handwritten commendation for New Zealander Pat Menzies’ service with 83 Squadron was written by Searby, his commanding officer. It appears in Menzies’ Flying Log Book at the end of his second tour of operations:

A keen and conscientious NCO who has done excellent work in the Squadron.

J H Searby, 19 September 1943

(Note that opposite Searby’s commendation, on the left-hand page, is the certified sign-off on the tour by the Operations Officer.)

Whilst on 83 Squadron, Menzies (second from left, below) initially flew with Pilot Officer Moore. After a few operations, he flew the rest of his second and last tour with Squadron Leader Smith. It is not known which of his two pilots is in the photograph. The very scuffed and scratched Lancaster in the background shows 83 Squadron’s identifying code: ‘OL’.

The very unusual page in Menzies’ Flying Log Book which contains the commendation by Searby also records his last operation. It was to Berlin, and the crew were coned, meaning held in a web of enemy spotlights, for an unusually long time, something which could quite easily have been the end of them. His log book reads (the symbol ‘ being a standard abbreviation for ‘minute’): “coned held 13′ Flak”

With many thanks to Kevin Menzies for Pat Menzies’ logbook image and the crew photograph.