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Don McDonald

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Donald Kennedy MacDonald was born on 20th August 1918. His family came from Murrayfield, Edinburgh. He attended Marlborough College from 1932 to 1936 and then Peterhouse College, Cambridge where he read Mediaeval and Modern Languages.

Above image courtesy of and copyright the David Ross Collection.

He was a member of the University Air Squadron and was called to full-time service in November 1939 and commissioned. He completed his training at FTS Cranwell and was serving with 603 Squadron in July 1940.

David Ross records that "since his arrival at B Flight, Don had undergone a number of sector reconnaissance flights to acquaint himself with the local terrain. He struggled with the task which was not altogether surprising as throughout his entire flying training he had only flown over the flat Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire countryside. The difficulty had not gone unnoticed and Fred Rushmer and Laurie Cunningham [603's flight commanders] assessed Don's reconnaissance and navigational skills as 'technically laim' [sic] and later that day he departed for South Wales, where he underwent further training with 417 (General Reconnaissance) Flight at St Athan.

"Don had not been due to go up on the patrol [on 28 August] but he had begged Uncle George to let him do so. George tried hard to stop him as he realised he was 'pretty raw'. However he was eventually persuaded against his better judgement by Don's determination and enthusiasm.... At the time of his death he had only had approximately 25 hours on Spitfires."

He failed to return from his first combat with Me109s over Dover on 28th August 1940 in Spitfire L1046.

Don McDonald failed to survive what was his first combat sortie from Hornchurch. He was killed eight days after his 22nd birthday. Like Laurie, Don’s body was never found. Both are remembered on the Runnymede memorial. Don had not been due to go up on the patrol but he had begged Uncle George to let him do so. George tried hard to stop him as he realised he was pretty raw however he was eventually persuaded against his better judgement by Don’s determination and enthusiasm. At the time of his death, he had approximately 25 hours on Spitfires. In contrast Laurie Cunningham had over 200. The squadron had been bounced by 109s and neither stood much chance. A change in tactics reduced the risk and George Denholm and Ken quickly learned to lead the squadron on a reciprocal heading to that given by the controller and when sufficient height had been gained, they would turn and fly towards the enemy having negated or at least reduced any height advantage but in the case of Laurie flying experience had made no difference."
David Ross, 'The Greatest Squadron of them all' p189

In a letter written to their father, Ken McDonald recalled what had happened to Don on his last flight and that there was little hope for his survival:

"My dearest Daddy

You will I think have received an official signal informing you of Don. I am afraid it would be quite untrue to say that there is any likelihood of his turning up now. No one knows exactly what happened, but it is almost certain that he was attacked from above and behind by a diving Messerschmitt. We were patrolling high over Dover in a Squadron. The weather up there at 25,000 feet was sunny and clear. Suddently just out of the blue came about 20 Messerschmitts. They managed I think to get Don and Laurie and then beat it for home. We got some of them.

We did four patrols yesterday. Don was not in the first two, but went in third to relieve another pilot. It was from this one, his very first, that he did not get back. It was due to no fault of his and no lack of skill. It was mere chance that they should have singled out any one of us."

Don McDonald is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 9.

His elder brother, Harold (known as 'Ken'), was also killed in action with 603 Squadron on 28th September 1940.

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