Hendon objects (2)

As you may have seen from previous blog posts, in 2010, I went with my family to visit the RAF Museum at Hendon. It wasn’t all aircraft at Hendon, though. There were lots of non-flying objects and various pieces of metal rescued/liberated from aircraft as they awaited their turn in the scrapyard. And there were the medals of some very brave men……

Here is the Victoria Cross won posthumously by Ian Bazelgette, a Canadian from Calgary in Alberta and a pilot of No. 635 Squadron, Bomber Command, RAF:

Here’s the citation……

When nearing the target his Lancaster came under heavy anti-aircraft fire. Both starboard engines were put out of action and serious fires broke out in the fuselage and the starboard main-plane. The bomb aimer was badly wounded.

As the deputy “master bomber” had already been shot down, the success of the attack depended on Squadron-Leader Bazalgette and this he knew. Despite the appalling conditions in his burning aircraft, he pressed on gallantly to the target, marking and bombing it accurately. That the attack was successful was due to his magnificent effort.

After the bombs had been dropped the Lancaster dived, practically out of control. By expert airmanship and great exertion Squadron-Leader Bazalgette regained control. But the port inner engine then failed and the whole of the starboard main-plane became a mass of flames.

Squadron-Leader Bazalgette fought bravely to bring his aircraft and crew to safety. The mid-upper gunner was overcome by fumes. Squadron-Leader Bazalgette then ordered those of his crew who were able to leave by parachute to do so. He remained at the controls and attempted the almost hopeless task of landing the crippled and blazing aircraft in a last effort to save the wounded bomb aimer and helpless air gunner. With superb skill, and taking great care to avoid a small French village nearby, he brought the aircraft down safely. Unfortunately it then exploded and this gallant officer and his two comrades perished.

His heroic sacrifice marked the climax of a long career of operations against the enemy. He always chose the more dangerous and exacting roles. His courage and devotion to duty were beyond praise.”

Ian Willoughby Bazalgette was one of the individual RAF airmen that my Dad, Fred, as a member of 20 OTU came into regular contact with. Bazalgette was reputed by some of his contemporaries to have been a concert pianist.  He apparently had the habit of flying when others either could not or would not, go up into the air. It was as if he just wanted to experience how rough the weather could be or was seeking the thrills of being aloft when conditions really were too dangerous for flying.

Eventually Bazalgette was to win the Victoria Cross. There were, however, those, Fred Knifton included, who thought that he was the kind of pilot who would end up by getting other people killed. How ironic that was, given the circumstances of his death!

All this, of course, contrasted very strongly with Fred’s more usual opinion of bomber pilots, a group of men to whom, after all, he had frequently had to entrust his life. Fred saw the best pilots as steady characters, who could always be trusted to push on slowly but surely, and to get the job done. They formed a strong contrast with the fighter pilots, who were far more extrovert characters, capable of great triumph, but also perhaps of great failure. Not so the pilot of the four engined bomber which slogged on through thick and thin like some very, very deadly old bus.

Research has revealed that Bazalgette, despite his own wishes to form a new Pathfinder unit, was stationed with 20 OTU at Lossiemouth from September 1943, as commander of ‘C’ Flight. He was not transferred away, to No. 635 (Pathfinder) Squadron, until April 20th 1944, when he became a flight commander with the rank of Squadron Leader.

Presumably then, Fred must have been present with 20 OTU at Lossiemouth at some point in this period of September 1943-April 1944. He could well have been at Lossiemouth both before and after Bazalgette’s time there.

Fred also spoke of “Pedlar Palmer” who, to give him his correct name, was Robert Anthony Maurice Palmer. He too, like Bazalgette, was with 20 OTU at Lossiemouth.

According to Fred’s own handwritten notes, discovered after his death in 2003, Palmer was posted to 20 OTU as a Flight Sergeant after finishing a tour of operations with 75 Squadron at Feltwell on February 13th 1941. He was then promoted to Pilot Officer in January 1942, while still at Lossiemouth.

Serving briefly alongside Bazalgette in ‘C’ Flight, he too wanted to return to operations, and his wish was granted on November 9th 1943, when he was transferred to the Pathfinder Force at RAF Warboys. He was then posted to 109 Squadron in January 1944 and eventually went on, after his promotion to Squadron Leader, to win a Distinguished Flying Cross on June 30th 1944, while flying a Mosquito. Six months later, on December 23rd 1944, Palmer attacked Cologne, this time in a Lancaster, and won a posthumous Victoria Cross. He was buried at Rheinberg.

And here is the badge of 103 Squadron where my Dad, Fred Knifton, served. In his time they were stationed at Elsham Wolds in north Lincolnshire. There are lots of squadron badges at Hendon:

And here’s our final picture, a photograph of a piece of nose art, on the nose belonging to a captured Argentinian  FMA IA 58 Pucará.

And from closer up:

Well, I got “Fuerza Aerea Argentina”. I have no idea what “Rescate” means, though. Just look how the Argentinian pilot had a Scottish surname.



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11 responses to “Hendon objects (2)

  1. GP

    Men who should never be forgotten!

  2. How fascinating that your dad probably knew and mixed with Bazalgette in the OTU. It’s interesting to see your dad’s thoughts about him. That aside, I’m currently reading a book ‘Pathfinders’ by Will Airedale and can highly recommend it if you are interested in finding out more about the PFF. I’ve also invested in Donald Bennett’s book ‘Pathfinder’ and am looking forward to that one. It’s an interesting story indeed.

    • Yes, I did think twice about revealing what many men’s attitudes to Bazalgette seem to have been. Hopefully I have not denigrated a very brave man too much.
      Thanks a lot for the heads up about the two Pathfinder books. My pile of WW2 books which I have bought but not yet read is down as low as around 12, so these two stand a good chance!

      • You’re welcome John. I think we often forget that there’s always two sides to a story and not every ‘hero’ was the best all round person. Both Bader and Gibson, heroic and brave in their actions, had their flaws and were disliked by many, yet that’s kept quiet. In fact, in the book I mentioned, Gibson and Bennett were not always the best of pals, Gibson being less than cooperative with Bennet.

  3. As your visit to the RAF Museum at Hendon reveals, our lives are historically intertwined with others in unexpected ways.

    • Yes, they frequently are. It’s a pity that more people don’t remember that, but instead, rush straight into an argument or a confrontation. Depending on the circumstances, that can frequently have catastrophic results.

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