Why the Archive Began

The coffins of Sandy Grant and Tony Lawrence (nearest to the camera) in the mass grave at Cambridge City Cemetery, where 20 Pathfinders were buried in a row on 22 December 1943(RPA/Hind Archive)

The Archive has its roots in a tragedy which occurred on 16/17 December 1943, afterwards known as Black Thursday. At that time, the crew of Ted Thackway were serving with 97 Squadron, which was stationed at Bourn in Cambridgeshire.

Above, page from Ted Thackway’s logbook, written on or just before 3 November 1943 whilst the crew was at the Conversion Unit at Wigsley. It is possible that the listing of the crew reflects the fact that the crew had been accepted for the Pathfinders, but unfortunately a copy of the opposite page is not in the Archive. (RPA/John Thackway)

The crew’s first operation was to Berlin on 16 December. Returning safely to England, they crashed in a horrific accident caused by dense fog.

Five of the crew were killed: Edward Thackway, Robert Anthony Lawrence, Leslie Kenneth Alexander Grant, Jack Powell, and George Grundy. Peter Hughes Mack, the wireless operator, was critically injured but eventually recovered; he was lucky and survived the war. So many others did not, including the rear gunner on his aircraft at the time of the crash, Leslie Norman John Laver.

Les, as he was known to his loving family, was the only other survivor of the crash; he suffered minor abrasions and shock. Returning to operations one month later, he was killed on 14 January 1944 on what was his second operational trip, flying with the Steven crew.

The only survivor, Peter Hughes Mack, ‘Joe’, at home at Little Kendals in Radlett, Herts, summer of 1944, after recovering from his serious injuries. RAF Pathfinders Archive.

FIRE BY NIGHT, The Story of One Pathfinder Crew and Black Thursday, written by Jennie Mack Gray, the daughter of Peter Mack, was first published by Grub Street in 2000, with a second edition in 2011. The research carried out for the book, and the huge correspondence which came out of its publication, became the genesis for the RAF Pathfinders Archive.

This website commemorates all Pathfinder aircrew, but it particularly remembers the Thackway crew because of the horrific experiences they suffered in their very short flying career.

Si monumentum requiris circumspice

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