Pathfinder Recruiter Extraordinaire
Thomas Gilbert “Hamish” Mahaddie DSO DFC AFC joined the Royal Air Force in 1928, serving in Egypt and Iraq during the 1930’s. Returning to the U.K. in 1937 as an experienced pilot, he found himself in an air force preparing for the inevitable outbreak of War. Hamish flew 2 Tours of Operations with Bomber Command, the 1st in the twin-engined Whitley and the 2nd in the huge 4-engined Stirling. He went on to become a founding member of Air Vice Marshall Don Bennett’s Staff at Pathfinder Force Headquarters where he was appointed Group Training Inspector, responsible for the supply of Crews for the Pathfinders. Following his Retirement from the RAF in 1958, he became an Aviation Consultant. In 1989 his Autobiography “Hamish, The story of a Pathfinder” was published. The Nanton Lancaster Society was honoured by his presence at the dedication of the Ian Bazalgette Memorial Lancaster in 1990.
Hamish Mahaddie DSO DFC AFC – he referred to this as ‘Avoiding Flak Cross’
Horsethief for the Pathfinders – he actually employed horse trading methods
Having risen through the ranks to Group Captain he was eventually taken off operational flying in March 1943 and given the task of recruiting aircrew for the Pathfinder Force and was later was C.O. of RAF Warboys.
Born in Scotland in 1911, Thomas Gilbert “Hamish” Mahaddie joined the Royal Air Force in 1928 and spent the 1st 3 years of his RAF Career being Trained as a Metal Rigger. In 1933 he was posted to the RAF base at Hinaidi, near Baghdad. The following year his quest to be accepted for Aircrew Training was successful and he earned his wings at No. 4 Flying Training School in Egypt flying Avro 504N‘s. During his 2 year posting to No. 55 Squadron, he acquired an Arabian Horse that he named “Hamish.” His fellow Pilots pointed out that he (Thomas Gilbert) bore a distinct resemblance to the horse and assigned him the nickname “Hamish.”
Aircrew returning from a Reconnaissance and leaflet dropping mission. Berkeley Denis Cayford is on the far left. Second from the right, with the full-length coat, is Thomas Gilbert Mahaddie (“Hamish” Mahaddie). He was born in Scotland in 1911 and joined the Royal Air Force in 1928. Tension and fatigue of returning from an operational mission – but also the relief to be back home safely – is visible on the Crew members’ faces.
As “Group Training Inspector,” Hamish regularly visited Operational Squadrons, giving lectures to 400 or more Aircrew on the changing Tactics and Techniques employed by the Pathfinders. Before visiting a Station, Hamish would have already identified Crews that he felt were Candidates for the PFF by studying Aiming Point photographs that indicated which Crews were dropping their bombs accurately on the Targets.
During an interview in Nanton, Lancaster Society, Canada, Hamish recalled, “This was a Pretext, that was to get in and to see the guys who I had identified. Generally, I met these people, individually and privately, in the pub that evening. Then, if a Pilot and Crew wished to apply to be transferred to the PFF, they would have to put in a written application to the Squadron Commander. What would then happen would be that the Squadron Commander would look at it and say, ‘Not fair! He’s too good!‘ and then tear it up and put it in the trash-can. Then the guy would put in another one and the same thing would happen. But the next time I was around, the Guy would make quite certain that he bought me a half pint at the local boozer down the street that someday. He’d say, ‘Look, what gives? I’ve put in 2 applications and the boss just tears them up.‘ I’d take his name and his Crew would then be Posted and 48 hrs later he’d be down at Warboys and starting his training as a Pathfinder.” Through this, and other techniques, Mahaddie recruited 1000’s of the most highly regarded Bomber Command Aircrew to the Pathfinders, including Ian Bazalgette VC DFC.
Baz had once attended a lecture given by Group Captain Hamish Mahaddie DSO DFC AFC at which he was introduced to the methods utilized by the Pathfinder Force which was designated as No.8 Group of Bomber Command. The challenges of becoming a Pathfinder Force Pilot were irresistible to Baz and he appealed directly to G/C Mahaddie who was in charge of Recruiting Crews for the Pathfinder Force. In his autobiography, “Hamish -The Story of a Pathfinder,” Bazalgette is referred to as, “one of many tour-expired Bomber Pilots that seemed to rot in our OTU’s.” Hamish recalled that Assessment of Baz’s 1st Tour signed by No. 115 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, W/C Fred Rainsford Clearly Baz wanted to continue flying on Bomber Command operations and felt he could make a contribution with the Pathfinders. It is also clear that he saw, even in August of 1943, that the end of the War was in sight and that he wanted to make this contribution before the War was over
16 Sycamore Grove
24 August, 1943
Sir: I understand from my telephone conversation yesterday with Flt. Lt. Rogers that Air Cdre. Kirkpatrick of No.3 Group requested that the PFF should not claim me, as there was a ‘special job’ for which I was required. No.115 Squadron has informed me by letter that I am posted to Lossiemouth on a routine exchange for a Flight Commander from that Station, with effect from the 1st September. The actual position, as I see it (and writing very unofficially), is that No.3 Group cannot obtain the particular replacement for me they require without offering me in Exchange. The upshot is that my application for the PFF is quietly squashed whilst I am on leave on the grounds of a ‘special job.’ The only work that I have heard of is either an OTU or a Stirling Conversion Unit. The real point is where can I be of the greatest value, and I am convinced that a PFF Tour does more good than a Flight Commander’s job at an OTU. My personal angle is that anyone missing Ops this autumn and winter has “had it.” I entreat you to rescue me before the 1st September if I can be of use to PFF. Again, I must apologise for bothering you with my personal affairs, but the incentive is very strong.
I am, sir, yours faithfully
Ian W Bazalgette
Bazalgette, “plagued me weekly with letters and telephone calls.” In a letter to the Nanton Lancaster Society, Hamish referred to, “begging letters I got from Ian beseeching me to take him back on operations and which I have always regretted because sadly he was killed on the occasion when he won his VC.”
3rd February, 1944
Dear Wing Commander Mahaddie: A pathetic appeal from the frozen north – my 6 months OTU tour expires at the end of this month and I must get to 8 Group at once. I feel that if I cannot break away now, I have “had” my 2nd Tour. It is my dearest wish to have another personal affair with Germany, before we deal with the yellow jobs (Japanese). This all reads like a line, but believe me, I am very sincere. The main essential, as far as I can see it, is to have it organized as an Exchange Posting, and to insist on the 6-month ruling being adhered to. If there is any question of it being to my advantage to stay here (you will remember the No.3 Group story) please disregard it. A few keen types scattered around the group are anxious to get back with me. In case there is any hope, I enclose a separate list of their names and categories. There is one point, Sir, on which we urgently need your advice -shall we all put in official applications though our various units, or keep quiet and leave it all to you?
Ian W Bazalgette S/Ldr
Hamish emotionally lamented the deaths of so many 1,000s of the Pathfinders that he had personally Recruited, including Canadian Ian Bazalgette VC DFC. Hamish also described during his visit to Nanton, that he had suffered, “174 cannon shells up his kilt.” on an Operation to Cologne on 1st Feb 1943.
Despite terrifying moments in the skies over enemy territory and the regular loss of friends in the squadron, Baz seems to have appreciated and even enjoyed his particular role in the war. In the last letter he wrote to his good friend Eric Biggs, with whom he served in the Searchlight Troupe in Scotland, Baz wrote, “Barring the occasional sticky effort, I feel that the RAF fights very luxuriously. If ever I prayed sincerely, I did for the Army as we did our stuff on ‘D-Day.’ I am as happy as a bee with a bum full of honey these days. My Crew are a grand bunch, and I am serving with a really grand Squadron.” Squadron Leader Bazalgette’s Logbook ends, as so many sadly did, with the word “Missing” and the Signature of one of the Squadron’s Senior Officers.
Chuck Godfrey remembered Ian’s dry sense of humour which made him one of the most popular members of the Mess. He also recalled Baz’s expertise in, “Doing the Muffin Man.” This feat involves placing a pint of beer on one’s forehead while standing. The next step is to sit down and eventually to lie flat on your back, all the time of course, balancing the pint of beer on your forehead. If you are successful to this point, you simply have to regain the standing position. “Baz was a real expert at that,” recalled Chuck after demonstrating the technique, without the pint of beer, in a videotaped interview for the Nanton Lancaster Society.
The PFF crews thereafter found their way in the Force via varied routes; Crews or Individuals could volunteer at any time while serving with Main Force squadrons, while Aircrew who showed promise in their training could also find themselves seconded into the Force. Some crews in mid-tour could also be transferred into PFF when numbers were needed to be made up to Establishment where required. Recruits were given a 2-week course in Marking Techniques at Warboys before posting to a Squadron. Bennett addressed each intake personally and the Crews came to have an intense sense of loyalty, pride and professionalism in their membership of No.8 Group. The PFF crews were also granted a step up in Rank, and increase in pay, but had to do a 45 trip Tour rather than the usual 30 trips, for as long as they were serving in PFF. In the end, Harris was proved wrong about PFF’s effect on morale – the coveted PFF badge allowed to be worn on their uniforms was genuinely a sought-after achievement.
At 1st the task was carried out by an appointed Pathfinder in the 1st Wave of Target Markers. Flying initially a normal Lancaster Bomber, he would assess how accurate the markers were and then, circle the target, he would talk to the incoming bombers on radio and correct their bombing. Not a pleasant task, as circling the target would mean your Aircraft stood out from the Main Stream by its actions alone. This would allow Radar controlled anti-aircraft guns to single this Aircraft out. From 1944 most Pathfinder Squadrons flew the wooden Mosquito Aircraft, thus were able to fly numerous spoof raids to different targets to confuse the night defences, plus it made the job of the Master Bomber a little safer as the Aircraft did not show up so well on the German Radars. It is said that a German Night Fighter Pilot shooting down a Mosquito, would be credited with 2 ‘Kills’ Which shows how annoying these Aircraft were to the Germans. Undoubtedly, anyone who flew a Bomber in WW2 was a brave man. To become a Pathfinder and ultimately a Master Bomber is well above the call of normal Duty.
F/Lt John William Peart Reader – The Officer in Charge and Chief Technical Officer of RAF Warboys and the Maintenance Wing Satellite Stations; which included 105, 109, 139 Squadrons, RAF Oakington & RAF Upwood, de Havilland Mosquitos; 83 & 97 Squadrons & Night Training Unit, RAF Wyton, Avro Lancasters; to 1946. He was the Station Entertainment Officer and organised amongst other events a visit to Warboys by the RAF Squadronaires. One Children’s Christmas Party on the station when Group Captain Mahaddie came in and said he was going to start it by firing his Pistol which he was wearing as he was on Duty. No, he didn’t actually fire it, he just waved it around. A bit like Captain Mainwaring of Dad’s Army.
Mahaddie’s finest hour came in 1968 when he was recruited by Harry Saltzman to find as many WW2 Vintage Aircraft as possible for the aviation epic “Battle Of Britain“. The producers had realised that with the film being made in colour, using Wartime footage and models was not acceptable. Hamish Mahaddie managed to persuade the RAF to lend many of its Aircraft as static airfield dressing and in addition to this found 9 Airworthy Spitfires and 3 Airworthy Hurricanes. Mahaddie’s big coup was finding the Spanish Air Force were still using licence built Heinkel 111 bombers and Messerschmitt 109 fighters, ironically with Rolls-Royce engines. He persuaded the Spanish Air Force to co-operate in the filming of “Battle Of Britain”. This enabled the film to have its spectacular dogfight sequences, using real Aircraft in a real Sky, something that CGI effects cannot match. During the filming of “Battle Of Britain”, Mahaddie lent his Mosquito Bomber to Mirisch for their film “Mosquito Squadron“, a lame “sequel” to “633 Squadron” that re-used many scenes from the earlier film. The Mosquito RS712 was eventually sold by Mahaddie in 1972 and now resides in Florida, its flying days apparently over. Mahaddie was also Advisor to the short-lived British TV series “The Pathfinders“. After this the trail goes cold, as related earlier Mahaddie did not detail the Films he was involved with in his Memoirs.
Pathfinders is a 1970s ITV drama set in the WW2, telling the story of the fictitious Royal Air Force 192 Pathfinder squadron. The Pathfinders were specialised RAF squadrons that marked targets for the RAF’s heavy bombers. The series used radio controlled Avro Lancaster models for the flying scenes. The technical adviser for the series was Group Captain Hamish Mahaddie.
Group Captain Hamish Mahaddie died on 16th January 1997.