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Archie McKellar - High scoring fighter ace

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

Archibald Ashmore McKellar was born in Paisley, Scotland on 10th April 1912. The family moved to Glasgow in 1915 and his father started a plastering business.

Educated at Shawlands Academy, McKellar left to work in a Glasgow stockbrokers office at the behest of his father. After some years McKellar overcame his father's opposition and began an apprenticeship with the family firm. His father was also opposed to him taking flying lessons but McKellar nonetheless took them secretly at the Scottish Flying Club at Abbotsinch where he obtained his A' Licence. In 1936 McKellar was invited to join 602 Squadron Auxiliary Air Force and he was commissioned in November. He was awarded his wings on 11th July 1937 and was a Flying Officer when called to full-time service on 24th August 1939.

Upon completing training McKellar was deemed to have exceptional eyesight which earned him a reputation as a good marksman in air-to-air combat. McKellar was a keen sportsman. He believed physical fitness was a critical attribute in aerial combat; fitness, he believed, would ensure that the mind and body were always at their peak of alertness and enable a pilot to react swiftly within a fluid battle situation. McKellar was also considered a capable leader in combat. Aggressive and instinctive, his fighting spirit was an inspiration to his squadron but according to one biographer, he was highly strung, vociferous and blunt with members of his unit. Nevertheless, his directness and socially confident nature singled him out for command. His dedication to his job as a fighter pilot and leader led him to refuse any leave from his Squadron while the Battle of Britain lasted. Invariably McKellar led from the front of his unit. He spent a large proportion of his time with his squadron practising combat tactics. While intensely loyal to anyone he considered a friend, McKellar's attitude to others outside the squadron was either of utmost friendliness or utter dislike. He is said to have tended to see everything and everyone in black and white.

In combat, McKellar was a formidable foe from the outset. On 16th October McKellar shared in the destruction of a Ju88 and on the 28th shared a He111. This enemy aircraft crashed in the Lammermuir Hills, south of Haddington, and was the first to fall on British soil in the war. On 20th June 1940 McKellar joined 605 Squadron at Drem as 'B' Flight Commander. The squadron was scrambled on 15th August to intercept a large force of German bombers of Luftflotte 5 based in Norway and on their way to raid Newcastle. Only 'B' Flight, led by McKellar, made contact. He destroyed a He111 and probably three more. His part in the action was subsequently recognised by the award of the DFC (gazetted 13th September 1940).

The squadron was ordered south to Croydon on 7th September. McKellar claimed three He111s and a Me109 destroyed on the 9th; he probably destroyed a He111 and shared another on the 11th; claimed two Me109s and a Do17 destroyed and a He111 probably destroyed on the 15th; and shot down a He111 at night on the 16th.

The CO of 605, S/Ldr. WM Churchill, was plagued with eye trouble at Croydon and from the 11th onwards McKellar generally led the squadron. When Churchill was posted away to form 71 Squadron, McKellar was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader on 25th September and given command. He claimed five Me109s destroyed and another damaged on 7th October; and three more destroyed and two damaged on the 20th, 26th and 27th. He was awarded a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 8th October 1940) and at some time in October his portrait was made by Cuthbert Orde (see below).

At 7.40 am on the morning of 1st November 1940 the squadron was mounting a standing patrol in the Maidstone area. At about 8.15am Me109 fighter-bombers, with escorts, crossed the coast heading for Canterbury. They were intercepted near Faversham by McKellar's Hurricanes. After a short sharp engagement, the other 605 pilots lost sight of McKellar and the exact circumstances of his last flight are not known.

An eye-witness saw his Hurricane, V6879, circling Woodlands Manor, Adisham, apparently searching for somewhere to land, a difficult task because of the anti-invasion obstacles in almost every field. After several circuits the aircraft suddenly flicked on to its back and ploughed, inverted, through some trees, finally coming to rest against the wall of the manor house after striking a garden wall. McKellar was dead when found. He was buried in New Eastwood Cemetery, Glasgow on 6th November. The funeral was attended by many people and there were more than a hundred wreaths.

McKellar was awarded the DSO (gazetted 16th November 1940) and received a Mention in Despatches (gazetted 1st January 1941). His decorations were presented to his family by the King at Buckingham Palace in early 1941.

As a man, McKellar was also a keen fitness enthusiast and, despite his short stature, built up a great physical strength. Though he enjoyed wine and smoked the occasional pipe or cigar he kept in peak physical shape until his death. Even at the height of the Battle of Britain he was always clean shaven and immaculately dressed. McKellar's 602 squadron comrades affectionately nicknamed him "Shrimp" owing to his short, 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m), stature.

His portrait was made by Cuthbert Orde (below).

Above image courtesy of Izzy & Tim

Photos and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website

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