Killed in action overseas – details obscure

logbook Uplands page 1

This is what instructor Dove wrote.

cropped-walter-neil-dove-instructor-at-uplands-1942-1943.jpg

Walter Neil Dove

Killed in action overseas – details obscure

I was lucky to find more details in my search for Walter Neil Dove’s former student pilots.

mclean

Source of the following text

Like another Honour Roll airman, Lloyd Telfer, Donald (Don) McLean was a native of the Prairie Province of Saskatchewan. He was born in the university town of Saskatoon on 16 February 1920 to Allan G. McLean and Donalda (Weir) Mclean, and was followed by two brothers, Grant and Gordon. Their father worked as a salesman for a wholesale grocery firm, and later moved his family to Yorkton when his employer transferred him. Their newly adopted city, which lay in southeastern Saskatchewan, had been founded in 1882 by Ontario settlers brought in by the York County Colonization Society, which ultimately gave the place its name.

Initially the McLean newcomers lived in rented accommodations before moving to a purchased house at 41 Haultain Avenue. As a result, according to Margaret (Hamilton) Yaholnitsky, a friend from childhood, Don received his primary education at two schools, Simpson and Victoria. In September, 1926 he started in Grade 1 at the former, there being no kindergarten classes in the local school system. After completing Grade 7 at Simpson in 1933, he then transferred to his second school for the Grade 8 instruction. Though unidentified in the archival records, it was in all likelihood the Victoria School keenly recalled by his friend and classmate. In 1934, with his primary school education completed, Don moved on to Yorkton Collegiate Institute (YCI), one of the many secondary schools established across the country to meet the demands of a growing adolescent population. Unfortunately no student year books then existed at YCI so one can only speculate about the nature of Don’s extracurricular activities. He was apparently fond of hockey and may well have gone out and played for the school’s team.

The McLeans were staunch Baptists and soon became active members of First Baptist Church, which had opened its doors on Smith Street East at the turn of the century. The church, to quote a centennial history, “was born in the hearts of the settlers, who felt the need and the desire to meet together and worship”, first in a tent and then in a rented hall before moving into their full fledged church quarters in 1900. Don and his siblings were duly caught up in the social and religious activities of the Baptist Young People’s Union (BYPU). It supported missionary work and leadership programs, brought out its own modest newspaper, and helped to raise funds for First Baptist. On the lighter side, the young people’s group organized popular socials around such recreational pursuits as tobogganing and well attended camp fire meetings and wiener roasts at nearby York Lake.

After graduating from YCI in 1938, Don spent a year out from school and likely took a job or jobs in the community. That brief interlude ended, however, in September, 1939 when he returned to the books and to his birthplace, Saskatoon. There he enrolled in the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture, an institution ideally suited to the needs and requirements of Canada’s primary breadbasket. Part way through his second term at the College, Don learned that his family had ventured into politics, at least so far as his father was concerned. W.L. Mackenzie’ King’s Liberal government in Ottawa had decided to call an election in March, 1940, while the so-called Phoney War still characterized the limited action on the Western Front. King feared that a large scale springtime military campaign overseas, which many predicted correctly, would spur the Conservative opposition to demand a union or coalition government to meet the crisis. This was the last thing the Prime Minister wanted and he duly issued the election call.

In the subsequent campaign leading up to voting day in late March, 1940, Don’s father was prevailed upon to run as a Liberal in the Yorkkton riding. He stepped in for the retired and majestically named George Washington McPhee, who had long held the seat for the Grits. In his campaign, Allan McLean called upon the stenographic services of Margaret Hamilton, his son’s old schoolmate, who had recently completed a business course in Winnipeg. She later recalled that though her employer was a “fine man and a worthy candidate”, he lacked the speaking skills needed to make the necessary impact on the Yorkton area electorate. Thus, though the King government was safely returned, Allan McLean was defeated in his one and only bid for public office. He lost out not to a Tory but to George Hugh Castledon, who had campaigned for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a left wing party organized four years before, in the depths of the Depression.

Meanwhile Don was already beginning to contemplate, as his brother, Grant, would, a future beyond Saskatchewan. He made a decision at the end of the College year in Saskatoon to go East and enroll, perhaps at his parents’ urging, at McMaster University in Hamilton, a choice doubtless dictated in part by its strong Baptist credentials. Another factor was his parents’ impending departure for comparatively nearby Ottawa, where Allan McLean had been offered a position in the federal public service, one that probably came his way because of his highly visible Liberal connections, not to mention his loyal albeit unsuccessful exertions during the recent general election.

Having presumably been granted a conditional admission at McMaster, Don arrived in Hamilton in late August, 1940, after a lengthy train ride from the prairies. He found himself room and board in the attractive residential district known as Westdale and then proceeded to nearby McMaster, where he made his presence known and was invited to fill out the official admissions form. The flat, spacious, and then tree-shy campus may have reminded him of his native Saskatchewan as he set about getting his bearings and completing his admissions paperwork. One of the referees he listed – the kind that would be welcomed by the administration – was Rev. Donald Carlson, who had been his pastor at Yorkton’s First Baptist Church. After his application was accepted, he registered in the popular Political Economy Option (Course 9) and stated his dutiful goal of becoming, as his father had, part of the “Public Service”. He may already have considered the possibility that this could include service in the armed forces, already being assembled to put teeth into Canada’s declaration of war against Nazi Germany the year before.

After Don registered, his faculty advisor had this to say about him, citing characteristics and attributes that some other educators may have spotted earlier: “He has to get set for study – Takes copious notes – Student is a serious boy, well organized for effective study and confines extracurricular [activities] to Political Economy Club and military training for exercise”. Given freshman McLean’s apparent gravitas, he was probably pleased that the traditionally uproarious initiation proceedings “were cut to a minimum because there was a serious [wartime] year ahead”.

Over the course of the session Don’s commitment to his studies and his organizational skills paid off, netting him a first in the economics class and above average grades in the rest, a happy result he may have owed in part to his restricted extracurricular ventures. Yet for his purposes membership in the Political Economy Club may not have been all that extracurricular. Its program of visiting lecturers and its tours of local business enterprises he may have seen pragmatically as helpful supplements to the instruction he received in class. He may also have been as pragmatic about his campus military service, clearly regarding it as a substitute form of “exercise” for the athletic regimen he declined on say, the hockey rink. All the same, he had no choice in the matter. Service in the McMaster Contingent of the Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) had been made compulsory following the disastrous turn the war had taken in the wake of the enemy’s successful Blitzkrieg in Western Europe. In any case, Don’s name understandably appears nowhere in the student weekly, the Silhouette, whose pages were almost entirely devoted to the extracurricular. Reminiscent of classmate Hank Novak [HR], he also went missing in the student yearbook, the Marmor, neglecting to show up for group photographs of the Political Economy Club and the COTC, which appeared in its 1940-41 issue. He may well have had other priorities that kept him out of camera range.

Although Don could have proceeded to the second year of Course 9, he made up his mind in the summer of 1941 to leave higher education behind – at least for the time being – and enlist for active service, a decision also taken by fellow student Novak. By this date Don’s parents had long since uprooted themselves from Yorkton and settled in the nation’s capital, where Don joined them after the close of the McMaster session. Not long afterwards, on 15 September 1941, he enlisted at the RCAF recruiting station in Ottawa. He probably did not realize it at once but that day was momentous in another sense. It marked the first anniversary of RAF Fighter Command’s narrow victory over the Luftwaffe and the forestalling of a German invasion of England, a spectre that had haunted that country and her Empire-Commonwealth all through the harrowing summer of 1940.

In the meantime Don had made his own momentous decision. A month after joining up and then enjoying an official leave, he was ordered to1 Manning Depot (MD) in Toronto, the first stop for many an Air Force novice. At about the time these events were unfolding, Grant, Don’s younger brother, who was excused form military service on medical grounds, joined the ranks of the National Film Board (NFB), where his photographic and executive skills were put to good use in the preparation of the NFB’s well received documentaries. For his part, Gordon, the youngest of the McLean brothers, later enlisted as a gunner in a field regiment and, like Don, served overseas.

Meanwhile the aspiring aviator in the family was being subjected at 1 MD to a variety of medical and physical tests and swiftly introduced to what was called airmanship. This was achieved through an ironically infantry-like regimen, made up principally of drilling, musketry exercises, route marching, and lectures from the training staff. Much of this was carried out in the cavernous “Cow Palace” of the Canadian National Exhibition, whose facilities had been pressed into service on behalf of King and Country, the common patriotic wording of the day. On 10 November 1941, having satisfied his superiors that he had achieved the necessary airmanship while still firmly rooted on the ground, Don was instructed to proceed to his next posting, 31 Bombing and Gunnery School (BGS), located at Picton on the scenic Bay of Quinte.

He arrived at the station on Armistice Day, as it was then styled to commemorate the end of the war that was supposed to have ended all wars. He promptly embarked not on practice flying, however, as he had doubtless hoped, but rather on another ground exercise, guard duty. This was routinely assigned when there was a buildup of recruits in the pipeline to the next air training station. Therefore for the better part of six weeks Don marked time, dutifully patrolling the station’s perimeter and observing the practice bombing runs and aerial gunnery drills that were its stock in trade and a herald of things to come. Then on 21st December he received the welcome news — almost a Christmas present — that signaled the end of his guard duty chores at 31 BGS. Clearly the pressure on the pipeline had eased, enabling him to decamp at last to his first genuine training experience at 5 Initial Training School (ITS) in nearby Belleville.

As he well knew by this time, it would determine what air crew trade he would qualify for: pilot, ordinarily the most coveted, followed by navigator, bomb aimer, and wireless operator/air gunner. If Don was typical he likely yearned for a commanding place behind an aircraft’s controls. After his arrival at Belleville on 22 December, he was ushered into a series of lectures and tests and underwent a number of physical, mental, and psychological examinations, all part of the trade screening process. If Don had indeed banked on being picked for pilot training then his wishes were granted some two months after he arrived at 5 ITS. Thankfully for him, his normal stature and build helped his cause, along with his other attributes. Apparently one unlucky Belleville candidate, acceptable in every other respect, was rejected on the grounds that his legs were too short to reach the pedal controls of an aircraft.

On 28th February Don, a recently promoted Leading Aircraftsman (LAC), bade 5 ITS goodbye and departed for 13 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at St. Eugene in eastern Ontario. (Obviously the station numbering in this case indicated that the Air Force was superstition-free.) Don reached St Eugene the next day, March 1st, acutely aware perhaps of the “washout” rate of would be pilots. He instinctively knew that he would have to have all his wits about him when he ventured into the air, either with an instructor or eventually on his own. The instruction would have started almost immediately on the Fleet Finch, a two-seater biplane that supplemented the operations of the better known trainer, the de Haviland Tiger Moth. Some four hundred Finches were in service at BCATP stations by the time Don started his training on the machine. As a concession to the harsh Canadian winter, the Finch that Don would eventually come to fly was equipped with a sliding canopy over the tandem seating.

Don spent over two months at St. Eugene, a time mercifully punctuated by at least one leave. In the end, he passed all the required tests on the Finch and on 9th May given the go-ahead to take on more specialized training at No. 2 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at Uplands outside Ottawa. Geographically his Air Force training career had come full circle and he was back where he had enlisted some eight months earlier and, as well, given an opportunity to see more of his family. At Uplands, where he arrived on 10th May, Don was introduced to the advanced and demanding low wing monoplane trainer, the North American Harvard, whose distinctive aerial snarl was known to all who lived in the vicinity of BCATP stations equipped with the machine. For a period of four months Don called 2 SFTS home, all the while checking out on the Harvard.

In all likelihood he also learned about a genuinely theatrical event that had enlivened the station some months before, when it had become the scene of a Hollywood film production. Inspired in large part by a Canadian writer attached to Warner Brothers Studios, a script was prepared for a film portraying the work of the BCATPO in Canada. Eventually the Hollywood moguls, who were openly in favour of aid to Britain, cast some leading movie stars for the project. Part of the film was shot at Uplands and when completed, it duly appeared in movie houses under the title, “Captains of the Clouds”. Even if he had not been before, Don was now dramatically made aware of the vital importance of the training program that had become an integral part of his existence. Ottawa in turn was delighted that the Canadian public, for whom movie-going had become a virtual way of life, was being vividly shown that fielding conventional armies – the stuff of the Great War — was now not the only way to fight and win a global conflict. The widely screened film and government-backed publicity programs brought the BCATP and the role played by Don and other aspiring airmen on to centre stage.

Meanwhile, as the summer of 1942 was drawing to a close, Don satisfactorily completed his training on the Harvard. On 28 August, at a ceremony at Uplands attended by his family he was awarded his wings (or pilot badge to use the official term), promoted sergeant, and then almost immediately, on the strength of his standings, appointed Pilot Officer. Officiating at the ceremony was Air Marshall Robert Leckie, who ironically had been less than enthusiastic about all the varied public relations schemes for raising the visibility of the BCATP.

After a short embarkation leave spent with family and friends in Ottawa, Don was dispatched on 11th September to 1 Y Depot in Halifax, the marshalling point for an overseas departure. His days in Canada were coming to a close, but, as it turned out, not immediately. Apparently, as in the case of fellow McMaster airman, Hank Novak, a shortage of shipping, a recurring problem at the time, put off Don’s departure for nearly two months. Finally, in late October the necessary troopship materialized and he sailed out of Halifax in a convoy bound for Britain and the war. After a comparatively lengthy ten-day and presumably uneventful passage, he disembarked at an undisclosed port in the UK on 4 November 1942, and like most safely landed servicemen cabled the comforting news to his family.

Although his service record makes no mention of it, he must have been routinely transferred, once he had collected his belongings, to a Personnel Reception Centre (PRC) because there is virtually no other way to explain the 13-day gap between his arrival in the country and his first formal posting to a station. If in fact he did proceed to say, No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre in Bournemouth, as most newcomers did, he would have been medically checked out, briefed on his responsibilities and forthcoming duties, taken in lectures given by experienced aircrew, issued his battle dress and flying gear, and, finally, assigned his next posting. Wherever Don may have been in that unexplained interval, one thing is certain. He was indeed given a posting. On 17th November he found himself at a Pilots Advanced Flying Unit ([P]AFU), where an overseas airman’s training was reinforced and expanded by specialized instruction based on actual battle tactics and experience.

The (P)AFU in question – No. 14 – was based in the sylvan rural setting of RAF Ossington, named for the nearby Nottinghamshire village. Pleasantly described as “standing embowered amidst a wealth of trees”, it was a far cry from the scenes a prairie boy like Don would have known. The station, before being transferred to RAF Flying Training Command in January 1942, had served as a secondary bomber base equipped with two hangars and the conventional three runways, one long and two short. All this 14 AFU inherited and used for its own purposes.

Upon his arrival, Don was greeted by an architectural gem, the like of which he had never laud eyes on before, that is, outside of books. Ossington Hall, very much a part of the station scene, was, according to a local account, “one of the most picturesque of the stately homes that adorn the county”. Once the ancestral abode of a John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington, it had been converted by the demands of war into offices as well as living quarters for some of station’s personnel, including perhaps Don himself. Before long he was probably told of the ancient spirits that supposedly haunted the place and challenged the airmen’s less than patrician intrusion.

In any case, for the better part of three months – punctuated by a Christmas celebration, Don’s first and last overseas — he was put through the paces on 14 AFU’s primary trainer, the Airspeed Oxford, a low wing twin-engined aircraft that often stood in for the other staple trainer, the Avro Anson. It was Don’s first taste of piloting a twin-engined machine, his experience hitherto restricted to the Finch and the Harvard. Like Barney Rawson [HR] he may have found the Airspeed Oxford a fine aircraft to fly but “a bastard to land”. Clearly his destiny in any event was with Bomber Command, which by early 1943 had already launched a series of heavy multi-formation raids against Nazi Germany’s cities and industrial plant.

After successfully completing his advanced flying stint at RAF Ossington, Don spent part of his 23rd birthday, 16 February 1943, journeying mostly through another scenic stretch of rural England to his new posting at 29 Operational Training Unit (O T U), based at RAF North Luffenham in Rutland in the East Midlands. Some two weeks after his arrival there he received what amounted to a belated birthday present, his promotion to Flying Officer. His new service home, built in 1940 for Training Command, had since been taken over by 5 Group, Bomber Command, which was equipped with the heavy, multi-engined Avro Lancasters deployed in the expanded bombing campaign against the enemy. Don was well aware that he was getting ever closer to front line combat. For the time being, however, he would be engaged in pre-operational exercises on twin-engined Vickers Wellington bombers retired from active operations and more or less put out to pasture in a training role. Once Don passed muster at 29 O T U he would ordinarily be sent to a Heavy Conversion Unit and tested on the four-engined “heavies”, the last stop on the road to actual operational flights. That, however, never happened.

At 21:45 on 25 April 1943 Don took off on a night cross-country exercise in Wellington X3816, accompanied by his four-man RAF crew: Sergeants V.A. Rice (presumably the navigator), G. Dunn, J.G.P. Adams, and J. Riley. The aircraft had been aloft barely fifteen minutes when it ran into trouble, possibly from a stall or some other lethally disabling malfunction. As a result, the Wellington faltered, then plummeted to earth and burst into flames on impact, lighting up the night sky. The crash occurred near Stocking Farm, close by Belgrave in the northeastern suburbs of Leicester. There were no survivors. Don and his crew perished from multiple injuries and what an accident report starkly called “incineration”. The cause of the disaster was not definitively determined.

Over a good many years, at every Easter time, Margaret Yaholnitsy made a point of bringing flowers to First Baptist Church, where she herself worshipped, to honour the memory her lost friend and schoolmate. Don’s parents, as reported in the Yorkton Enterprise, presented to the church an inscribed silver communion service, which is still in use, as part of their commemoration of their son’s wartime sacrifice. The dedicatory ceremony unfolded on Sunday, 21 October 1956 and was attended by the entire family, including Don’s siblings, Grant and Gordon. Thankfully for everyone concerned the latter had survived unscathed his wartime service with the Canadian artillery. By this time Allan McLean had retired from the public service in Ottawa and returned with his wife to the familiar surroundings of Saskatchewan, taking up residence in Regina, the provincial capital.

Donald Rae McLean is buried in the Church Cemetery at Burton-on-the-Wolds, Leicestershire, England.

C.M. Johnston

*****************************************************

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Cheryl Avery, Lori Barsi, Richard Blood, Lorna Johnston, Russell Johnston, Edward Magas, Lynel Martinuk, Therese Prince, Melissa Richer, Steven Rosluk, Randall Schuster, Leonard Smith, Sheila Turcon, Alan Wells, and Margaret Yaholnitsky, all made important and varied contributions to this biography. Lynel Martinuk supplied the Yorkton school records noted below, Therese Prince, Yorkton’s City Historian, provided key information, photographs, and leads, and Rev. Steve Rosluk of First Baptist Church, Yorkton, furnished a history of the church and the productive lead to Mrs. Margaret Yaholnitsky. Richard Blood of Leicester, England supplied a picture of the McLean grave marker and other cemetery images.

SOURCES: National Archives of Canada / Wartime Personnel Records: Service Record of Flying Officer Donald Rae McLean (includes Hospital or Sick List Record Card, Official RCAF Casualty Notification, and Province of Ontario Death Certificate); Commonwealth War Graves Commission: Commemorative Information on F/O Donald R. McLean; W.R. Chorley, RAF Bomber Command Losses in the Second World War, 1939-1945, Vol. 7: Operational Training Units, 1940-1947 (Hinckley UK: Midland Publishing, 2002), 215; Spencer Dunmore, Wings for Victory: The Remarkable Story of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995 ed.), 262-4, 266-71, 272-3, 335-6; Les Allison and Harry Hayward, They Shall Grow Not Old: A Book of Remembrance (Brandon: Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, 1996), 503; J.W. Pickersgill. The Mackenzie King Record, I: 1939-1944 (Chicago and Toronto: University of Chicago Press and University of Toronto Press, 1960 reprint), 60-73.

Board of Education Archives, Good Spirit School Division (Yorkton ): Attendance Records of Donald R. McLean / Simpson School, Yorkton Collegiate Institute; Canadian Baptist Archives / McMaster Divinity College: McMaster University Student File 7517, Donald R. McLean (contains, among other items, admissions application and faculty advisor’s report), Biographical File, Donald R. McLean, Records of First Baptist Church Yokton: BYPU Files, newspaper clipping: Yorkton Enterprise, 25 Oct. 1956, First Baptist Church 100th Anniversary History Book, 1900-2000 (Yorkton: Cy-BAR Christian Services, 2000), 9; McMaster University Library / Special Collections: Marmor (no Donald R. McLean entries), Silhouette (no Donald R. McLean entries though relevant background information is supplied in the issues of 1 and 24 October 1940).

Internet:

http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorkton,_Saskatchewan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/canadian_federal_election_1940

http://www.invink.com/x362.html

http://airfieldarchaeology.fotopic.met/c919173.html (RAF Ossington)

http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/articles/ossington.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_North_ Luffenham

LAC McLean killed in action overseas… details obscure?

At 21:45 on 25 April 1943 Don took off on a night cross-country exercise in Wellington X3816, accompanied by his four-man RAF crew: Sergeants V.A. Rice (presumably the navigator), G. Dunn, J.G.P. Adams, and J. Riley. The aircraft had been aloft barely fifteen minutes when it ran into trouble, possibly from a stall or some other lethally disabling malfunction. As a result, the Wellington faltered, then plummeted to earth and burst into flames on impact, lighting up the night sky. The crash occurred near Stocking Farm, close by Belgrave in the northeastern suburbs of Leicester. There were no survivors. Don and his crew perished from multiple injuries and what an accident report starkly called “incineration”. The cause of the disaster was not definitively determined.

McLean

Source of the image

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s