Wing Commander Hector MacLean
602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron
Hector MacLean must have been born with a certain amount of aviation blood in his veins as his Uncle A.C.H. MacLean had flown in the RFC During the 1914-18 War. He had in fact taken over Command of no.5 Squadron in October 1914, replacing their Commanding Officer who had been wounded. He eventually went on to become Brigadier General in 1918. Whilst training pilots in 1916 he had used the Avro 504 plane, the same type that Hector was to use during his training some twenty years later.
In 1929/1930 while still at school Hector read an article about Adolf Hitler and took an instant dislike to him. Hector had been brought up in the belief that the Great War was the War to end all Wars, but the rumours of rioting and shouting inMunich beer cellars made Hector think, God help us if Hitler ever came to power in Germany, then there would be another War.
Before starting his Law Degree in the early thirties, he joined a small party, led by a friend- George Coulson in Germany. Here they saw the up and coming Reich at first hand and this confirmed his school day thoughts.
Hector heard about the Auxiliary Air Force from Edward Howell, a more senior student with whom he sometimes sat with for lunch, and it was through these meetings that Hector decided that this would be his method of fighting against the menace of Hitler.
In 1933 Hector presented himself at Renfrew and was interviewed by Lord Clydesdale, the Commanding Officer of 602 Squadron. Lord Clydesdales’ Adjutant Flight Lieutenant Hodson then took him for a ride in a Wapiti; he enjoyed the flight except the slow roll where he found himself hanging by the straps. On returning the Commanding Officer seemed reasonably impressed, and explained to Hector what the full training commitments were. Hector realised the commitments were not possible at that time, as he was studying for his Law Degree at Glasgow University. He explained this to Lord Clydesdale, and it was agreed he would be reconsidered after graduating. This was done in 1935 after Hector graduated as a Bachelor of Law and he had completed his Squadron medical.
Findlay Boyd (he was to become one of the top scoring pilots in the Battle of Britain) and Hector were the new boys in November 1935.Findlay had been well advised to get his ‘A’ Licence with the Scottish Flying Club, because he was soon tested by Mark Selway- The Adjutant, and commissioned. Hector in hindsight wishes he also had gone to the Scottish Flying Club because he had to wait for instructors to become available who could find time to teach him.
He first took to the air on the 17th November 1935 in an Avro 504 with David McIntyre AFC, as his instructor, and as a result of his spread out training, only went solo on 15th March 1936 after eleven hours dual, and was thereafter commissioned as a Pilot Officer.
Hector did his first flight by night in October 1938, when he flew over Tait’s Tower at the Empire Exhibition, Bellahouston Park Glasgow in a Hawker Hind. As he flew overhead his aeroplane was illuminated by a blinding searchlight which flooded the cockpit and obliterated his view of the instruments, although the crowd below enjoyed the spectacle Hector had other thoughts.
In February 1939 602 changed from the Hawker Hector to the Gloster Gauntlet, (as Hector put it- a sprightly little bi-plane which looked as though it had been left over from the Somme).
This plane caused Hector to use up the second of his nine lives when his engine cut out shortly after a formation take off right above high grid pylons over the River Cart, he was lucky to land back on the aerodrome with a dead prop.
Spitfires were however just around the corner and they began to arrive at 602 Squadron (the first Auxiliary Squadron to get them) in May 1939. Hector remembers his first take off in one. After flying Bi-planes there was quite a considerable difference in power. WhenHector took his first flight in a Spitfire he was over Bearsden before he knew what had happened- it was so much faster than anything he had flown before.
With the Spitfires came mobilisation and the War.
Hector returned from the office in Glasgow on the 14th August, and was greeted at the door of the Mess by Arthur Charret, the Assistant Adjutant. “How does it feel to be in the RAF?” Hector was stunned and replied that he was an Auxiliary but was told “Not since 3.00 this afternoon”. And so it was but the ‘A’s never came off their uniform.
Hector went to bed that night with a sense of relief and exhilaration. Here was something definite at last.
Hector remembers the announcement of the declaration of war quite well.
It was Sunday Morning 3rd September 1939 in the ante-room of the Auxiliary Officers mess Abbotburn House, Abbotsinch. A small group of 602 Squadron officers were awaiting the Prime Minister’s statement. After hearing the announcement that confirmed that War would take place there were a few comments made, one of which was from Archie McKellar who said, “I only joined for the dancing”. On further reflection he then asked, “What do you think we’ll be doing in 20 years time?” A reply came from Norman Stone, “We will be down at the Cenotaph. Some unctuous prelate will be sounding off about the sacrifices made by those who fought for freedom. Then we’ll shuffle off back to our cheap Lodging House wishing we had an arse in our trousers”.
George Pinkerton’s sour comment- “well boys your life expectancy has now been reduced by about thirty years” soon quenched the mirth!
Hector recalls that the Docs at Fighter Command closed down 602 Squadron on day one when all ranks were inoculated against typhoid, Para typhoid, A & B and cholera. He well remembers the weary figure of his Flight Commander,Marcus Robinson trudging about his duties, dragging his left leg across the tarmac.
Talk quite often drifted to the harmonisation of guns, which at this point in the war were set at 400 yards. One day the Station Commander, Group Captain Jones who had been an RFC Pilot in the Great War, visited the Squadron. His message was “If you want to hit anything get in close to it”. This seemed common sense to Hector and he asked, “At what range did you open fire Sir?”. “As close as possible – sometimes we used to do it at 5 yards”. He had made his point!
On the 6th October ‘A’ Flight landed at Grangemouth to be joined later by ‘B’ Flight. Here 602 shared the Airfield with 603 Squadron who were converting to Spitfires, but 602s’ stay at Grangemouth was not to last. One evening early in October Douglas Farquhar the Commanding Officer ordered Hector to fly to Drem the next morning and have breakfast there. “ Watch you’re landing” he said, “there is a damp strip on the south side of the aerodrome so don’t go on your nose”. The last comment was a good one as Hector remembers that this was the most common of flying accidents in a Spitfire. Hector’s task was to find out what condition the grass aerodrome at Drem was, and what it was like to land on.
Hector realising that he was being used in the role of a guinea pig had a good look down at Drem. He saw that it was sighted on a hill-side with a slope down from north to south. As usual the wind was from the south- west. This meant landing down hill and there was indeed a lush green strip at the foot, right across the south side of the aerodrome. Hector landed successfully and taxied cautiously across the soft ground, and then went off to the Mess for breakfast.
On his return he reported that landing at Drem could be done with care. The Squadron took off for Drem the next morning-the 13th October and the Flying Training School at Drem moved to Montrose.
Hector was always intrigued by this incident and wondered – was he the Squadron’s lowest common multiple (or LCM) or was he the highest common factor. Put another way- if Hector could do it who couldn’t.
On arriving at Drem 602 were quite often scrambled to intercept what was supposed to be enemy aircraft when in fact they turned out to be friendlies, or as sometimes happened the radar stations would be reporting the fighters who would in effect be chasing themselves. This was called an ‘ Ogo Pogo’ patrol; caused by a mythical (bird) begotten by the Control and Reporting Organisation and which existed in the imagination of the fighter pilot. The bird infested theNorth Sea and was wont to fly round in ever decreasing circles until it finally disappeared up its own fundamental orifice.
Incidents such as the Ogo Pogo and other false alerts had undermined Hector’s confidence in the ability of sector control to identify enemy targets, and this was weighing heavily on his mind when the balloon went up on the 16th October 1939. About 1.30pm.
‘ A’ Flight was ordered to patrol Turnhouse. As they climbed to the east the sky above Edinburgh was filling up with dirty looking black smudges. Hector thought they were odd looking balloons, then he realised that it must be A.A. bursts. Nothing was coming from Control but their seemed to some sort of commotion going on over towards the Forth Bridge. The Flight dived down and Hector saw three twin engined planes flying east. He approached them looking for swastikas but found none, but he did see black crosses instead, valuable seconds had been wasted and the enemy ‘88s were going at full throttle and he could hardly catch them. Along the Fife coast Hector got in range and just as he was closing in another Spitfire (from 603 he thinks) swooped in behind the enemy just a few feet from Hector’s starboard wing tip. He was banked to starboard so obviously had not seen Hector. The Germans nearly got both planes it was such a near miss – another of his lives had gone.
When the other Spitfire had broken off Hector gave the ’88 all he had but did no better than the 603 pilot unless, of course, it was one of the two 88s that went into the channel on their way home. NB: - the result of the Battle of the Forth was two shot down and two more going into the channel on the way back. Hector considers that had the guns been harmonised correctly I.E. to 250 yards and not the 400 yards that they were harmonised too, their strike rate would have been much better. It was Douglas Farquhar and Harry Broadhurst who got together much later to harmonise the guns of 602 and 111 Squadrons at 250 yards - this message was, Hector believes coming from the Hurricane pilots who had been fighting over France
A disastrous day came on the 21st December 1939, when late in the day about fourteen Handley Page Hampden bombers were returning from a low level raid over Germany to a temporary base in the Moray Firth. With their navigation out by about 100 miles they crossed the Scottish coast between St.Abbs Head and Dunbar.
Arriving all the way below radar cover they were unplotted and unexpected in the Turnhouse Sector Ops. Room.No warning had come from 13 Group or Fighter Command. Accordingly they were treated as hostile. 602 were the Duty Squadron at Drem that day and when the tannoy announced “All Squadrons scramble – Hostiles approaching”. Spitfires took off from their dispersal points in all directions. Fortunately Hector’s yellow section was not first off. The sun was going down behind North Berwick Law and visibility had become a foggy twilight when the “enemy” was sighted to the east of the town. The cry went out “Tally ho” but Hector hesitated, and looked again because the setting sun showed him that the silhouette was that of flying suitcases, as the Hampden's were nicknamed. Hector shouted through the RT to break off –they’re Hampden's but some of the pilots had got there earlier and were pressing home their attack. Two of the bombers came down in the sea. Most of the crew survived but one of them drowned in Aberlady Bay.
On the 16th May Hector was leading Red Section from Dyce when the controller’s voice came on the air,” Red Leader are you receiving?” Hector answered “yes” “300 plus approaching you from the east”.Good God Hector thought it’s curtains for Aberdeen”. Apart from that Red Section were out numbered by one hundred to one. Hector called Control - “Message received. I have three aircraft, can you send up reinforcements?” The answer came there are none! As it transpired it seemed that a flock of geese may have been having fun with the radar.
As the evacuation of Dunkirk continued 602 were held in reserve at Drem until the 3rd June when the Squadron were sitting in their aircraft at standby for take off to an undisclosed destination when the message came to stand down. The evacuation of Dunkirk was completed on 4th June, so 602 had been saved by the bell.
On the 13th August 1940 602 Squadron left Drem and “Suicide Alley” (as it had been nicknamed by the Lufwaffe) for Westhampnett to join the Tangmere Sector, which comprised of one Spitfire Squadron- 602 and two Hurricane Squadrons numbers 601 and 43.
602 did not have to fight every day and much of the time Hector says the Squadron would get scrambled only to find it was a false alarm, this often happened before breakfast when Hector reckons that the Luftwaffe came over to see what was going on, but did not hang around for too long, because Hector’s section never got any.
On the 18th August the enemy launched a large force of Ju87s escorted by fighters, to bomb Ford, an airfield on the Sussex coast. 602 arrived just in time as a long queue of dive-bombers were about to go down. The Squadron latched on behind hoping for some easy kills, but 109s jumped them and Hector was lucky to get away untouched. Dunlop Urie, his Flight Commander however was badly shot up by cannon fire, but he somehow managed to land what was left of his Spitfire (its back was broken) back at Westhampnett where he was taken to hospital with multiple shrapnel wounds. During this sortie 602 claimed six Ju87s destroyed. It is understood that these claims were confirmed later and that the Ju87s were never again employed on enemy attacks on our airfields during the Battle of Britain. No doubt the enemy had a less costly use for them elsewhere.
With Dunlop Urie being in hospital, Hector assumed the role of Flight Commander, still in the rank of Flying Officer, although he would be promoted to Flight Lieutenant on the 3rd September.
[When asked about the feelings after being scrambled Hector said that they did not have time to think – it was a case of getting into the cockpit, strapping up, connecting the oxygen tube, connecting the radio, checking the leader was ready, wave chocks away and take off. They managed to hone this down to one minute. After taking off you were in such a sweat you did not have time to think. You were always searching – searching for the enemy – searching backwards in case the Squadron was bounced.
Hector recalls that on four occasions he was in the middle of a dogfight with aircraft all around, then all of a sudden he was on his own. It was the weirdest feeling, but when this happened he headed back to base to get refuelled and rearmed.
On the 19th August Hector remembers a telephone rang in ‘ A’ Flight Nissan hut. It was the distant voice of a Wing Commander at White Waltham Aircraft Supply Depot. With Sandy Johnstone, the Commanding Officer not available, Hector dealt with the situation with, as he put it “with peasant cunning”.
The Wing Commander asked how Hector was placed for aircaft. Hector replied, “Very bad, Sir, I am looking through the window at the daylight coming through the holes in my late Flight Commander’s Spitfire”. “ How many do you want then” asked the Wing Commander. “Six” replied Hector – hoping to get two and a load of flannel about aircraft shortages. “We’ll have them there within the hour” he said. And so it was, fifty minutes later six brand new Spitfires, (all fitted with undercarriages you did have to pump up by hand) flown by the Air Transport Auxiliaries, were orbiting Westhampnett.
Hector led ‘A’ Flight for the last time on 26th August 1940 when the Squadron intercepted two large formations of enemy bombers over Portsmouth, one of Heinkel IIIs and the other Dornier 17s, also known as Flying Pencils. Messerchmitt 109s lurking up above in the sun heavily guarded them. ‘A’ Flight went in as quickly as possible before the 109s woke up, when Hector broke off there was not a friendly plane in sight, only German bombers turning to go home. Hector thought it was a pity to let them off the hook and not seeing any enemy fighters he followed the bombers out over the channel. He had just broken off his second head on attack on the leading formation, but had failed to notice a 109 in his mirror. An awful thudding began followed immediately by a fiendish pain above his right ankle. His right foot- still in its shoe, was hanging loose with his ankle minced up with his trouser leg. Hector released his safety straps expecting to bail out. He gazed down at the sea 16,000 feet below. It looked calm and inviting – the pain was getting worse every moment – he hesitated; he would not have much chance if he bailed out – then he realised that the engine was still running, and when he tried the throttle the engine responded. He was about thirty miles south of Selsey Bill. The blood was dripping, and Hector wondered if there would be enough to get him back? There was no time to try and put on a tourniquet so he put the nose down and raced for home doing about four hundred miles an hour. He was hoping to put the plane down on the first field in his path but all the fields had had poles erected in them as an anti- invasion deterrent. This actually stood Hector in good stead because it forced him to carry on to Tangmere, where he suspected the medical services would be more sophisticated than at Weshampett. As he came into Tangmere the airfield was obstructed with damaged and taxiing aircraft. Two feet would be needed to control the rudder without which a Spitfire would be uncontrollable on the ground (Hector had seen two Spitfires collide at Grangemouth with fatal consequences.) There was nothing else for it but to land with the wheels up minus safety straps. Hector reckons he was lucky to get out with just a bruise on his brow on impact. Dragging the remainder of his right foot he succeeded in crawling out on to the ground in order to avoid fire, which often finishes off a crashed aircraft. Billy Fiske’s burnt out Hurricane was still at its dispersal as a warning to those who had stayed too long.
Hector’s Spitfire had reached Tangmere with one strand of wire remaining on the elevator cable, and minus its rudder which- so he was told – was hanging by one hinge. Hector found it encouraging that his aircraft, ‘ H ’ for Harry was repaired and went back into service.
At St. Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, he lay for what seemed like an eternity before chloroform and the surgeon. The delay was; in fact, deliberate in case he died of shock – Hector however felt like wringing their necks. He came too later, still experiencing excruciating pain-the right foot was gone despite stupid assurances given by some nurses that they could save it. The surgeon presented Hector with the 20 millimetre explosive shell head, taken from the shards of his shin. It had come in from behind, under the armour plate, which did not reach down far enough below the back of the pilot’s seat.
Hector spent the autumn of 1940 recuperating in Kilmacolm but was getting more and more restless due to fact that the war had just begun and he wanted to see it through.
With operational flying out of the question Hector thought that Fighter Control would be the best way of utilising his experience.
Hector took delivery of his artificial limb just before the New Year of 1941. To begin with the leg fitted quite well, so off they went into Edinburgh to celebrate the event. The next day Hector began a watching brief in the sector operations room at Turnhouse, which at that time was responsible for the defence against air attack for the whole of Scotland, with 602 (returned from Westhampnett 17/12/40) and 141 at Prestwick, and 603 at Drem.
After about a fortnight watching the proceedings in the Sector Operations room he was attached to Wing Commander (“Windy Joe”) Bradford’s controllers course at Woodlands, Clamphill near Stanmore in North London.
On his way there Hector met a young Canadian officer who was going to sample London’s night life, and planned to spend that evening in the Café de Paris, which at that time was all the rage. He asked if Hector would like to join him, Hector was tempted but he was having leg fitting problems together with jagging pains, known as “pings”, from the severed nerves in his stump. Hector went to the Strand Palace Hotel, pleased in the knowledge that he was only half way up the building. Sure enough a raid began but Hector was too lazy to go down to the shelter, reasoning that that any bomb with his name on it might not reach his level before exploding. He slept soundly, but the next morning he heard the news that the Café de Paris had been hit and the young Canadian he had met must have been killed.
Woodlands were a large three-storey building with a big lawn, which was used to simulate the interception of enemy raids by our fighters. This was done by using specially adapted ice cream vendors tricycles fitted with R.T. to communicate with a student controller situated in the model sector operations room inside Woodlands house.
Unfortunately the designer of the trikes had not bargained on a rider with an artificial leg, and sure enough Hector’s leg got trapped between the pedal and the wooden shield, with the result that the whole lot keeled over and down it went on its side, together with its trapped pilot, onto the lawn. Hector was is in no doubt that he was the only pilot to crash at Woodlands! Joe Bradford took it in his stride and returned Hector to Scotland for duty as a Sector Controller.
During his short stay at Turnhouse Hector had his first experience of a UFO. This was reported by the Observer Corps as an aircraft they could not identify, somewhere between Kincardine and Alloa, with no apparent direction and without a reported height – Hector scrambled a section of 603 Squadron led by Flight Lieutenant Boulter, one of their Flight Commanders. The object was still reported visible, but 603 could not see it, so after a while Hector sent them home and then the daylight faded and the object disappeared.
In early 1941 Hector was posted as a Controller to RAF Station Ayr, a new fighter base in the course of being constructed at Heathfield near Ayr. The Station Commander who was also the Sector Commander, was Wing Commander Loel Guiness, an Auxiliary Officer who had Commanded 601 County of London Squadron. It was said that when he came to Heathfield - shortly before Hector arrived - that things had ground to a halt. When Loel contacted the contractors he was told the Air Ministry were dragging their feet and the contractors had not been paid. Loel Guiness asked how much was owed, wrote a cheque and buildings began appearing almost like magic!
Heathfield proved to be a sound tactical and strategic decision, although at the time it did appear to be a waste of money and effort with Prestwick already in use for fighter operations. Soon, however, the true strategic significance of Prestwick began to emerge. The Trans-Atlantic Control Centre was established at Redbrae – a large house across the road from the Orangefield Hotel now situated inside aerodrome. The aircraft from the United States began to arrive.
The new sector operations room responsible for the west and north west of Scotland were just coming on stream at Rosemount, a secluded country house about two miles up the Kilmarnock Road from Monkton. The presiding genius under the Sector Commander, was the Senior Controller, Sir Archibald Hope, Bart, DFC, also an ex Auxiliary from 601 Squadron. Huseph Riddle soon joined them, ex 601, andFrancis Blackadder DSO, ex 607. All including Hector were promoted as Acting Squadron Leaders.
Despite the array of talent there was not much they could do when the night raids began on Clydeside. As Sector Commander Loel Guiness had 602 Squadron – who were resting at Prestwick pending the completion of Heathfield – by day and 141 Squadron equipped with the Bolton and Paul Defiant for night defence.
Hector was on watch when the raid developed over Clydebank and Greenock. Group ordered a “fighter night” by which a block of the atmosphere above the target area, and above a prescribed height, was allotted and reserved for the fighters, so all the night fighters available were sent up. Sandy Johnstone and some of the 602 pilots who had been stood down also scrambled off over the target area but got nothing better than a view of bombs pelting down on Greenock and Clydebank! Hector was glad when Archibald Hope and Loel Guiness arrived to take charge of this one sided battle. But Hector had done all that could be done by depicting the area where the battle was raging. One lucky Defiant, caught a bomber in the moonlight, broadside, and the anti-aircraft defences claimed another bomber.
The ops room had an anxious moment in the April when one of 602 Squadron Flight Commander’s (Al Deere) engine seized up over the Heads of Ayr (Al Deere relates to this incident in his book Nine Lives.) He managed to land wheels up in a farmer’s field.
On the 10th May 1941 during the six to midnight watch, at about ten thirty, a “hostile” appeared on Hector’s plotting table. The aircraft was in the vicinity of Selkirk and flying west. The Ops Room sprang into action. Fortunately there was two Defiant's fully armed airborne practising with their AI (aircraft interception). Hector contacted them and told them to orbit Kilmarnock. Hector then contacted the Controller of the Royal Observer Corps centre in Ayr to ask about identification- to his surprise he was told it was an Me110. Hector’s heart sank, he thought it was going to be another cock up for sure. He told them that they better have another look because if it was a Me110 then it did not have enough petrol to get back to Germany. This was a tricky situation for the Controller because he had to warn the Defiants that doubt had arisen whether the aircraft was hostile. There was very little Royal Observer Corps cover over the Southern Uplands and night was falling fast. No more plots appeared and no more sightings were reported. Foiled again!
It was about an hour later that the phone buzzed. Ops B answered. “It’s a Police Sergeant! wants to speak to you Sir,- from Eaglesham Police Station, I think”. Hector took the phone and enquired what the matter was? To be told that the Police were holding a German Captain, who had landed by parachute, at their police station, and that he wanted to talk to the Duke of Hamilton. Hector thought this odd and asked if the German could identify himself, to which the Sergeant replied that he – the pilot- would not say any more. Hector then told the Sergeant to leave it with him and he would deal with it.
Hector was fortunate in that he knew the Duke of Hamilton as a past Commanding Officer of 602 Squadron. On contacting his opposite number at Turnhouse Control Room he was told that the Duke had gone for the night. After a certain amount of opposition the Duke of Hamilton came on the line and asked Hector “What’s all this about Hector”. Hector told the story to which the Duke of Hamilton enquired why he wanted to see him. Hector suggested that it might be a good idea to go and see him to which the Duke of Hamilton agreed.
The German Captain as it transpired was non other than Rudolf Hess – The Deputy Fuhrer.
Hector was told by Sandy Johnstone that the German who called himself Alfred Horn had mistaken Hector’s Defiants for Hurricanes and had decided to bail out before the “Hurricanes” could draw a bead on him.
Hector read an article in the Daily Telegraph in 1991 where it was suggested that Hess had been let in deliberately. Hector reputes this theory, by saying that he had not heard of any such orders, and all enemy aircraft had to be identified and destroyed.
1942 saw Hector posted to 82 Group to take charge under the supervision of the SASO(Senior Air Staff Officer) - Group Captain (Minnie) Manton.
At Stormont the air-staff consisting of Evone Kirkpatrick ex 603. Jack Riddle ex 601. Was preparing and patiently waiting for the enemy to invade Southern Ireland, and Hector who was in charge of the Control & Reporting Operating System – they all sat together in one of the ceremonial robbing rooms for the senate. During this time Hector observed that the proportion of WAAF personnel was increasing to the point that there must have been about five hundred women in the control and reporting organisation, all strictly out of bounds for officers in uniform and married men; though some fell by the wayside!
Hector enjoyed the next six months at Stormont where he came directly under the SASO, Group Captain G A L Manton who allowed Hector just enough reign to sort all kinds of problems which arose almost daily from the operation and manning of the considerable control and reporting empire.
Air Staff was in time reduced to one Staff Officer, and Hector was promoted acting Wing Commander and appointed Senior Controller of the Group Sector.
Hector’s time as Senior Controller in Northern Ireland passed to its conclusion without any interruption from Hitler or Goering; but one incident stays riveted in his memory. A Dutch Squadron at Ballyhalbert, equipped with Spitfires, was training to become operational by night. Their Commanding Officer was keen to fly but Hector tried to put him off, because the weather report was a bit ominous. But he would not listen and off he went. Being uneasy in his mind Hector went up to Stormont after supper. No sooner had he arrived there than Squadron Leader Tope, who was controlling, got a call on the Radio Telephone from the Dutchman to say that his compass had failed. Hector reasoned that this must be a gyro compass – this was an instrument in the Spitfire which enabled the pilot to fly the aircraft on to any course by turning the fore and aft line of the aeroplane to coincide with the compass reading on what looked like a tape, right in the pilot’s view. Hector suggested he try the pilot’s compass, but the reply came back that that too was out of use. Hector thought that quite incredible, but did not argue the point. With the storm clouds getting lower and lower over the County Down coastline the pilot was told to orbit while a plan was thought out. Hector thought, how about the moon, “Ask him if he can see the moon?” “Yes he can.” Hector went along the corridor to ask the duty-met officer from which direction the moon was shinning. He then dashed back to the Senate Chamber. “Tell him to keep the moon behind his right shoulder, and come right down and he should break cloud at about 500 feet over the Irish coast”- and he did. The matter of the pilots compass was never explained, but at least they had one live Dutchman!
During 1943 it was found that the stump on Hector’s leg was still not healing and a re-amputation was advised. A Liverpool Surgeon-Air Commodore Osmond Clark carried this out at the RAF Hospital Halton. The operation was painful but nothing like it was after the destruction of the limb on the 26th August 1940. It did not stop the burning in his phantom foot, nor did it improve his temper in the office.
As earlier stated by 1943 Hector had been appointed Senior Controller of the Group Sector in Northern Ireland at Stormont in the rank of Wing Commander, which he would gladly have relinquished to take part in the Second Front in a reduced rank,- but not a hope – all the RAF control jobs were already bagged. His medical category was back at A1B, so he could have tried for Bomber Command but he reckoned the show would probably be over before he could be ready for ops on heavy bombers.
In February 1945 Hector was posted to HQ 11 Group Uxbridge as a Group Controller.
Although the Luftwaffe was almost finished by the beginning
of 1945, they had a freak card up their sleeve, known as the “piggy back aircraft.” This was a seaplane designed to carry a huge bomb. As it could not take off armed, the strike aircraft was mounted on the back of a flying boat, which could be flown towards the target to release it at flying speed and send it on its way. On a day early in March 1945 Intelligence got word that a piggy-back aircraft was coming that night. Hector was due on at 21.00 hours but received a phone call from Jack Riddle, to come in quarter of an hour early.
Jack handed Hector four sheets of paper,densely typed on both sides. The raid was expected to come in somewhere between the Thames Estuary and Burnham on Crouch, on the border of 12 Group area – complaining noises were already coming from the 12 Group Controller at Watnall. One thing became clear, as he read the instructions. If 11 or 12 Group got there first, everyone would be the heroes and darlings of the press; but if the seaplane got through! then the fall guy would be none other than C. H.MacLean. At this point the AOC came on the line, asking Hector if he had read the instructions, and did he understand them. Hector told him he understood and that he was still studying them – “Do you know what to do”? was the next question.” Yes, I think I do,” replied Hector “But I shall have to deal with the situation in my discretion as it develops”. This reply did not go down very well. Hector was posted to Middle Wallop two days later, but much to his surprise, still as an acting Wing Commander.
When he arrived at Middle Wallop, as Senior Controller, he came under Wing Commander John Dunlop Urie as Sector Commander. Also at Middle Wallop was another ex 602 member – Flight Lieutenant R.Muspratt-Williams who was the Sector pilot, so it must have felt like the old days back at Abbotsinch.
Hector managed to get in some flying on a Spitfire MK IX, which he thought was a magnificent aeroplane and a considerable improvement on the MK I he had flown during the Battle of Britain. He did have yet another brush with the Reaper while flying the Auster from Middle Wallop. The Auster was fitted with dual control with two separate joysticks connected laterally by a stout aluminium bar down below knee level. The wind was blowing at 50-60 miles an hour which required a steep gliding angle with plenty of air speed coming into land. The moment came to flatten out, so Hector pulled back on the control column. To his horror it was frozen solid. “My God” he thought, “I’m going to be killed in a bloody Auster”. Immediately he glanced down and there was the connecting bar jammed against the aluminium casing of his artificial leg. He pulled his leg clear, and back with the stick, just in time to land with not more than a second to spare. Another life had been used up. Hector lay awake that night wondering what conclusion the fatal crash enquiry would have reached on the evidence. “Rusty Staff Officer failed to cope with a new type”.
From Middle Wallop Hector was posted HQ 14 Group at Drumossie, just south of Inverness. As the war was nearly over there was not much left for Hector as Wing Commander on the staff responsible for planning, except for the planning of a few large-scale exercises. However the work did provide an opportunity of flying by Proctor or Oxford to various establishments under their command, which enabled him to visit places such as Stornoway and Orkney.
Hector was released from the RAF on the 3rd September 1945 at Wembley, where he was given a raincoat, a pair of trousers and a jacket, together with a cheque for £150, if he remembers correctly.
Flush with his gratuity and wearing his new raincoat he went home, took some leave and resumed employment as a clerk, but soon to become a partner in the legal firm of Montgomerie, Flemings, Fyfe, MacLean & Co in Glasgow.
In 1947 the Fighter Control Units (FCU’s) were raised in the newly named Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF) and Hector was recommissioned as a Wing Commander and given Command of 3602 FCU based at a rather uninspiring RAF depot at Bishopbriggs.Hector was lucky to have a small group of auxiliary officers with wartime experience including Tiny Gemmill RFC, RAF, as his second in command.
After his remarriage in 1949 Hector handed over 3602 to Flight Lieutenant B S (Barney) Sandeman who had been an acting Group Captain in the war. Wing Commander Bill Walker in turn succeeded him.
Speaking with Wing Commander Hector MacLean and reading his book “Fighters in Defence With Memories of a Glasgow Squadron” has given me a greater insight into what kind of young man gave up their youth (a great many permanently) in order that we in Britain live as we do now, and not as we would have done, had The Battle of Britain not been won. The RAF Fighter Command, Coastal and Bomber Command Air Crew and Ground Crew gave us the freedom that we in Britain take too much for granted. The next time any of us pass a War Memorial please take the time to stop, and thank those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, because they gave their today so that we could have our tomorrow.
I am very grateful to Wing Commander MacLean for giving up his time to talk over his memories again. Wing Commander MacLean agreeing to do this made it possible for me to compile this article.
The bases of the article are taken from Fighters In Defence, with memories of the Glasgow Squadron. By Hector MacLean.