Bomber Command – Failed to Return

I have just received a new book called Bomber Command – Failed to Return. From Fighting High Publishing in the UK, it contains eleven chapters, written by six different authors, each chapter concentrating on the story of a particular airman or crew who failed to return from operations. I was one of the contributing authors, writing a chapter profiling rear gunner Gilbert Pate. Keen eyes might also recognise the photograph that appears on the cover of the book. It is, of course, the only known photo of the entire crew of 467 Sqn Lancaster LM475, B for Baker.

This is the first time I’ve written anything for publication in an actual book, and it was rather exciting to spy on my front step the package containing my copy, open it up and see the front cover, with my name one of the six underneath the title. I’m also stoked that Steve chose the crew photograph for the cover. Its prominent position (and there’s a full double-page spread of it inside too) means that the story of B for Baker and her crew can now reach an even wider audience.

I am indebted to Gil and Peggy Thew, the nephew and sister of Gilbert Pate, who extremely graciously allowed me full access to and use of Gilbert’s papers for this project. Much of my chapter was based on those letters and reading them all gave me a very good idea of who the man was. I can only hope that in what I’ve written I’ve done justice to Gilbert’s story.

Steve says the book has received some very good feedback in the UK already, and there was a launch event in early September at Duxford, attended by among others two of the airmen who feature in the book. If you’ll excuse the blatant plug, copies of Bomber Command – Failed to Return are available from the Book Depository, or direct from the publisher.

© 2011 Adam Purcell

How many operations?

Gilbert Pate’s logbook is not held by the part of his family that I am in touch with. It appears that it was sent to his wife, who fairly quickly remarried after the war and then dropped off the radar. So I’ve been trying to ‘recreate’ his operational flights through other sources like the Operational Record Books of the two Squadrons he was part of. Here are the ones I found:

1. 03NOV43: Dusseldorf JB467 EA-T with Sgt WEBB – this as far as I can tell was his only operaion with 49 Sqn.

All the rest in this list come from the 467 Sqn ORB.

2. 28JAN44 to Berlin with Phil Smith in DV372. Tabor, Johnston and Hill also on this op; Purcell and Parker were not.

3. 15FEB44 to Berlin with Phil Smith and entire crew in EE143

4. 19FEB44 to Leipzig in EE143 with Phil Smith and entire crew

5. 24FEB44 to Schweinfurt in EE143 with Phil Smith, entire crew and 2nd dickie

6. 01MAR44 to Stuttgart in EE143 with Phil Smith, entire crew and 2nd dickie

7. 09MAR44 to Marignane with Phil Smith and entire crew in LM475

8. 15MAR44 to Stuttgart with Phil Smith, entire crew and 2nd dickie in LM475

9. 18MAR44 to Frankfurt with Phil Smith and entire crew less Jerry Parker in LM475

10. 22MAR44 to Frankfurt with Phil Smth and entire crew in R5485

11. 24MAR44 to Berlin with entire crew in LM475

12. 26MAR44 to Essen with Phil Smith and entire crew less Dale Johnston in LM475.

13. 30MAR44 to Nuremburg with entire crew less Jerry Parker in LM475

14. 11APR44 to Aachen with Phil Smith and crew in LM475

15. 18APR44 to Juvisy with Phil Smith and crew in LM475 – G/C Bonham-Carter came along too

16. 24APR44 to Munich with Phil Smith, entire crew and 2nd dickie in LM475

17. 28APR44 to St Medard en Jalles with entire crew in LM475.

18. 29APR44 to St Medard en Jalles with Phil Smith and entire crew in LM475

19. 01MAY44 to Toulouse with Phil Smith and entire crew plus second dickie in LM475

20. 03MAY44 to Mailly le Camp with Phil Smith and entire crew in LM475

21. 06MAY44 to Sable sur Sarthe with Phil Smith and entire crew in LM475

22. 10MAY44 to Lille with Phil Smith and entire crew in LM475. MISSING.

Crossreferencing with Phil Smith’s logbook confirms that Gil was on the operations noted in the ORB that he flew with Phil. 22 operations represents a significant contribution to the war effort. But, as is usual in this sort of thing, the picture isn’t as simple as that. I have a letter that Gil wrote to his little sister Joyce on 01MAY44 (A01-443-001) – the eve of his Toulouse trip – that contains the following list:

JOYCE – trips so far are:

BERLIN – 3 times









PARIS (La Chapelle) 1







Remember this list was written on 01MAY44 and so does not include the last four on the list I found in the ORBs. So if we include those, it appears that the Lille operation was Gil’s 26th.

Further muddying the waters is a transcript (via his wife Grace Pate) of a letter Gil sent to her on 02MAY44. It reads as follows:

Last night we went to Toulouse and as we only landed at 7am we have the day off. April was a very busy month for me and I managed 9 trips which were all that we were on. (A01-348-001)

The ORBs only show that Gil was on 5 operations in that time.

In total I can only find 22 in the ORBs – which leaves four ‘extra’ ops:

  • One extra to Schweinfurt
  • Paris-La Chapelle
  • Tours
  • Brunswick

Assuming the letter to Grace wasn’t being exaggerated, there’s a good chance that April 1944 is the month where the inconsistency lies.

The La Chapelle operation could be 21APR44, though 467 Sqn had a ‘make and mend’ day on that date and did not operate. The Brunswick trip is possibly 22APR44.

One other option is that I also have a letter Gil wrote to Joyce on 20AUG43 (A01-381-001) that says he was “on a sortie over Paris recently but things went off smoothly”. This was while he was at 17OTU at Silverstone, so I’m trying to find the ORB of that unit which might reveal a nickelling raid that he could have counted.

I need to do a little more digging to see if I can find his name anywhere else.

(c) Adam Purcell 2011

Incidentally, while I was working on these lists my research database file corrupted itself overnight. I had to redo a little bit of work that I’d done the previous evening but I was able to recover the file from a back-up that was only a couple of days old. Shows the value of having an effective back-up regime in place while doing any irreplaceable work with computers! Since the file died I’ve now got a daily back-up going automatically to secure online storage and I manually copy the file to a USB stick, in addition to the usual weekly backup that my computer carries out.

Paranoid, me???