Posts Tagged: ‘Pathfinder Force’


16/12/2014 Posted by chris

It is with great sadness that I have to pass on the news, that the last member of Bill North’s Lancaster crew has left us. Dennis Bartlett – Bill’s mid-upper gunner – passed peacefully away on Sunday morning, 14 December 2014. Strangely this is the day before Bill North left us on 15 December 2011.

Way back in 2008, when Bill North suggested I write the book, Riding in the Shadow of Death, about his life – I had no idea of the incredible journey I was about to embark on, the extraordinary people I would meet, and how it would change people’s lives forever.

I feel like I have known Den all my life, and this is linked to my relationship with Bill North, and the photo of his RAF crew that I first saw in March 1970, when I was 7 years old. Den (first on the right) was in this picture that I had stared at many, many times over the years, wandering who these men were and what had happened to them.

The first thing Bill asked me to do was track down Dennis and find out what had happened to him. It took me 18 months, and I finally found out he was still alive and living in Camberley. It was an amazing feeling to meet a face from Bill’s photo, and he, just like Bill, was an absolutely lovely and unassuming man.

Dennis hadn’t shared his wartime experiences with his family, as he had like so many veterans internalised them. The first time we met, I showed him the pictures of their crashed Lancaster EE186. He was amazed when he saw his smashed mid-upper turret and couldn’t believe he had survived. He then shared what had happened on the 4/5 July 1944, when they were shot down over France. Thanks to pilot Bill North’s tenacity and courage the whole crew survived their nighttime crash landing. Daphne – Den’s sister – said that this was the first time that she had ever heard this story. Over the next 3 years, I spent many hours with Den talking to him, and he really opened up and shared many more experiences. We became great mates, and attended many events and book signings together.

The first thing was to reunite him with Bill North. It was truly an honour and a privilege to witness these two veterans meeting again after 67 years. Then, there was the Bomber Command Memorial Unveiling on 28 June 2012, when we met Prince Charles. Our book launch in June 2013, when Den met 97 Squadron mid-upper gunner Percy Cannings. Getting his Bomber Command Clasp for him and meeting the Prime Minister, David Cameron at the House of Commons, in October 2013. One outstanding moment was when Den got a 2 minute standing ovation at a book signing at Bill North’s old rugby club, Pinner and Grammarians. He had tears in his eyes as had many people in the room.

Daphne said I gave him back his self-esteem as he hadn’t felt important for many years. I will treasure this gift forever. This was a legacy left from the way Bomber Command crewmen were treated after the war, they felt unappreciated and overlooked. And I, and the many friends I have made along the way, feel we have gone some way to rectify this.

Den, you have had an extraordinary life, reaching the incredible age of 90 years old. You, Bill, and the crew, faced death many times during WW2. From the training crash landings at OTU in Stirlings, near misses on Operations, being shot down, and then surviving the Long March. You all rode through death’s dark shadow and lived to tell the tale.

To our lovely Den, reunited with your crew and your lost friends, we will miss you. xxx

Bill North's crew at 1661 HCU, Winthorpe - March 1944.


Dennis Bartlett, Bill North, Chris Keltie, May 2011.


Crash site of Bill North's Lancaster, 61 Squadron's EE186, QR-D, near Harquency, France.


Dennis Bartlett and Chris Keltie meeting Prince Charles at the Bomber Command Memorial Unveiling Ceremony, 28 June 2012.


Veterans, Dennis Bartlett, Jeff Gray and James Flowers meet the PM, David Cameron at the House of Commons, 9 October 2013.


Aviation Artist, Simon Atack, Dennis Bartlett and Chris Keltie, at the Bomber Command Memorial Unveiling Ceremony, 28 June 2012.


Two Lancaster mid-upper gunners finally meet. Pathfinder, Percy Cannings, 97 Squadron, and Dennis Bartlett, 61 Squadron. Riding in the Shadow of Death book launch, Newark Air Museum, 16 June 2013.


Dennis Bartlett, during aircrew training 1943.


Bill North and Dennis Bartlett, meet again after 67 years, 18 March 2011.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Lancaster (Thumper) - 'City of Lincoln' PA474. 50 and 61 Squadron Memorial Day, June 2013.


Dennis Bartlett, London Guildhall. Bomber Command crew dinner, 27 June 2012.

Riding in the Shadow of Death, is now available from Chris Keltie Publishing on Amazon. It has been noted that some book sellers are selling it for way above the listed price. The correct price is £12.99, plus £2.80, p+p, direct from Chris Keltie Publishing, please don’t pay any more than this.

All the best


Book order updates for: Riding in the Shadow of Death

22/09/2014 Posted by chris

Lancaster pilotF/Lt Bill North, 61 squadron, RAF Skellingthorpe, 1944.

‘We were coned for about 5 minutes by more than 26 searchlights.’ 

Mid-upper gunnerW/O Dennis Bartlett, 61 squadron.

‘When we were coned it was so bright, we virtually got blinded.’

Mid-upper gunnerPercy Cannings, 97 squadron, Pathfinder Force.

‘The main problem in being coned was, both gunners and pilot lose all vestige of night vision for at least 15 minutes; even if one catches you in passing – I did not like searchlights at all!!’

61 Squadron Operations – The ‘North Crew’.

24/25 June 1944 – Ops to Prouville, Par de Calais – Flying bomb site.
Lancaster Mk III – EE186, QR-D – Detailed bombing height 11,000 ft, bomb load 8,538 lbs, 21 Lancasters detailed.

Read about the ‘North Crews’ remarkable escape from searchlights that night, and many other extraordinary brushes with death, in –

Riding in the Shadow of Death, by Chris Keltie is now available on Amazon, from Chris Keltie Publishing – £12.99, plus £2.80 p+p.

Also available via PayPal direct from Chris Keltie Publishing at

Next-day delivery –  £12.99 + £2.80 p+p – UK only – Outside UK,  please confirm P+P prices with Chris.



This image is of BBMF ‘City of Lincoln’ Lancaster, PA474 – Thumper. Taken at the 50 and 61 squadron Memorial Day Flypast, 10 June 2012. (Edited in ACDSee)

Lancaster ‘coned’ by searchlights, 1944

‘Pathfinder’ meets a ‘Dambuster’

22/09/2014 Posted by chris

3 Lancs, East Kirkby, 14.09.14

I had the honour of witnessing my good friend, 97 Squadron, Pathfinder Force veteran, Percy Cannings, meet the legendary Dambuster, Johnny Johnson, at 3 Lancs, East Kirkby. Johnny signed a copy of his book, ‘The Last British Dambuster’ for Percy. Our Heroes…

'Pathfinder' meets a 'Dambuster'

Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre.

Chris Keltie and Bomber Command Veterans to meet PM David Cameron

17/09/2013 Posted by chris

Hi everybody,

I have some exciting news to share with you all. On Wednesday 9 October 2013, four of the Bomber Command Veterans who are featured in my book ‘Riding In The Shadow Of Death’ and I will be meeting the Prime Minister David Cameron at the House of Commons. We will be presenting a copy of the book to him. This is to say thank you for his work gaining recognition for Bomber Command Veterans past and present:- the Gold Clasp award and clearing the debt for the Bomber Command Memorial; also the award of the Arctic Star medal for the Arctic Convoy Veterans.

W/O Dennis Bartlett's Gold Clasp award

Bill North’s three sons, David, Alun and Rhys will be attending the event on behalf of their father.

The Veterans attending will be Bill’s Mid-Upper Gunner, W/O Dennis Bartlett (61 Squadron). Dennis is the last living witness to Bill’s extraordinary courage and bravery on the night that Bill crash landed their Lancaster Bomber in France on the 4/5 July 1944. It was at night, Bill was badly injured, the aircraft was out of control after a fatal Night Fighter attack, two of the crew could not bale out as their parachutes were damaged and Bill miraculously crash landed on a French hillside. 13 other Lancasters were lost that night, with remarkably Bill’s crew being the only ones who survived these losses. Somehow or other Bill received no decoration for his selfless and outstanding act of courage!

Lancaster EE186,QR-D crash site 4-5 July 1944

Also attending will be Bill’s comrade from 61 Squadron Lancaster pilot F/Lt Jeff Gray, W/O Percy Cannings (100 Squadron and 97 Squadron Pathfinder Force) and his daughter Sandy. Finally Rear Gunner W/O James Flowers from 50 Squadron, who shared the Bomber Command Station at Skellingthorpe with 61 Squadron. James is representing 50 and 61 Squadron Association and has shared many of his experiences as a Rear Gunner in the book. His work posting the Veterans albums on 50/61 Squ’s website is outstanding.

The Daily Mirror article by Richard Smith detailing Bill’s courage and his reunion with Dennis Bartlett after 67 years.

James Flowers at the 50/61 Squ Memorial Day Skellingthorpe 10 June 2012

The whole thing was suggested by F/Lt Jeff Gray who is also featured in the book and has become a very good friend. We both wrote to Downing Street to explain the idea and were very surprised to be told the PM would like to meet us all!

F/Lt Jeff Gray's WW2 medals (pic Chris Keltie)

The medals in the above picture are left to right:- DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal), 1939-1945 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal and 1939-45 War Medal. (The new Gold Clasp award attaches to to 1939-45 Star).

Some other exciting news is the launch of Percy Cannings’, ‘Finding The Pathfinders’ film.

On Wednasday 11 September 2013 (Percy Cannings’ birthday) a film called ‘Finding The Pathfinders’ was launched at the Kinema in the woods, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire.

The film was made by Percy’s daughter Sharon Cannings and her partner Martin Nicholls. It records the emotional journey of Percy Cannings to track down the crew members he served with in RAF Bomber Command during WW2. Attending the launch were family members of Percy’s crew that had been tracked down, alongside his many other friends and family members. Sharon and Martin have have made a truly excellent film. With no external funding, they have put together an extraordinary film that will make you laugh and cry. Leanne Brown from BBC Look North news covered the event and information about the film can be found at the link below.  http://erminestreetproject.blogspot.c…

BBC Look North TV news clip:-

Just before the film premier there was a wonderful talk by Sean Taylor. Sean is the Safety Officer and guide at the Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby, Lincolnshire. It is the home to Lancaster Bomber NX611 ‘Just Jane’. Sean took me on an interior tour of this Lancaster about 3 years ago with Fred Panton’s granddaughter Louise Bush. I will never forget his enthusiastic and charismatic approach to sharing his detailed knowledge of the history of Bomber Command and its crewmen. Sean yet again, never fails to disappoint his audience whether it is one to one, or hundreds.

The presentation details a day in the life of a Bomber Command Lancaster crew (focusing on the Air Gunners) and the highs and extreme lows of a combat Operation over Europe. We really can’t complain about our average daily stresses compared to what these these courageous young men went through and to whom we owe so much to.

Day in the life of Bomber Command Lancaster crew, Sean Taylor:-


If anybody is trying to order the book online from Amazon, it comes up as unavailable. Please don’t be put off by this, there are plenty of books available. Click on the ‘order now’ icon and the orders will come directly through to me where I honour them.

Another excellent book on the history of 97 Squadron Pathfinder Force (Percy’s Squadron) called ‘Achieve Your Aim’ by Kevin Bending is also available online.

Percy Cannings at the Kinema, Woodhall Spa. 11 Sept 2013 (pic Chris Keltie)

Above Pathfinder Percy Cannings receives a replica of his faithful 97 Squadron Lancaster, ND807, OF-P. Presented by Jimmy Blackwood from RAF Wyton for his birthday outside the Kinema at film premier of ‘Finding The Pathfinders’. Left to right, Sandy Cannings, Simon Atack, Percy Cannings and out of sight Jimmy Blackwood.

Best wishes all

Chris Keltie



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