Alan Arnett McLeod

RFC   Lieutenant   -   VC,   MiD

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Alan McLeod

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Born April 20, 1899 in Stonewall, MB

Died on November 6, 1918 in Winnipeg, MB



Fresh from a High School classroom at Stonewall, Manitoba, the late Lieut. ALAN ARNETT McLEOD was one of three Canadian airmen to win the Victoria Cross during the Great War, an honor he shared with Air Marshal W. A. Bishop and the late Lieut.-Col. W. G. Barker. Moreover, he won that coveted recognition for military gallantry while flying a slow, heavy aeroplane.
Military life had an early appeal for young Alan McLeod. He was born at Stonewall on April 20, 1899. When he was fourteen, he persuaded the commanding officer of the 34th Fort Garry Horse to accept him as a recruit and went away for summer camp training. He was a big boy for his age and bubbling with enthusiasm. When war broke out he was fifteen, but immediately began his efforts to enlist. The one stumbling block was his youth, but he kept trying and in due course, he had his reward. The big day in the young Manitoba boy's life came on April 20, 1917. He was eighteen at last, and his teacher and classmates gave him gifts at a farewell party in the school. The next day he was off to join the R.F.C. He received preliminary flight training at Long Branch, near Toronto, and at Camp Borden before proceeding overseas on August 20, 1917.
There was another disappointment in store for the youngster. When he was ready for active service, the officer commanding the training camp in England told Alan he could not go over to France until he was nineteen. So he was posted to a squadron protecting England from German raiders, and had the experience of being shot down over London, luckily without injury.
His eagerness was rewarded, however, and the young Canadian reported to No. 2 Squadron in France on November 29, 1917. Though he was several years younger than most of his brother officers, he proved popular and developed into a skilful service pilot. He needed this skill on one occasion when he had an inexperienced observer up with him over the lines in a heavy Armstrong Whitworth two-seater machine to spot for the artillery. A German fighter swung onto the tail of McLeod's machine and the observer signaled that his machine gun was jammed. McLeod shook off the German attacker, and had a hearty laugh later when he found that the nervous observer had failed to release the safety catch on his gun.
On January 14, 1918, McLeod performed a feat which won him mention in dispatches. He dived on a well-protected German observation balloon some 12 miles behind the enemy lines, a dangerous attempt for a slow, two-seater machine, and destroyed the big bag with a blast from his front gun. Immediately afterwards three Albatross scouts made a vicious attack. Lieut. Reginald Key, McLeod's English observer, shot one down and the other two made off.
Two days later McLeod took his vengeance upon a German anti-aircraft battery which had troubled him continually while he was spotting for the artillery. He roared down under heavy shell fire and machine gun hail to within fifty feet of the ground and turned his guns upon the battery. When the gunners had crumpled, he turned and bombed the guns themselves, then swung over to disperse a column of troops. Then McLeod peacefully resumed his "artillery shoot."
Lieutenant Key was soon parted from McLeod, of whom he wrote: "He was the finest pilot I have ever flown with, devoid of fear and always merry and bright. Often after getting out of a very tight corner by sheer piloting, with six or seven Huns on our tail, he would turn around to me and laugh out loud."
Then came his brilliant, selfless act which won him the Victoria Cross. The citation in the London Gazette officially described the action on March 27, 1918, when McLeod and his observer, Lieut. A. W. Hammond, M.C., were attacked by eight Fokker triplane fighters, three of which Hammond's gun accounted for, though he was wounded six times. McLeod, meanwhile, continued to maneuver his heavy machine, although he had been wounded five times. Finally, a German incendiary bullet penetrated the gasoline tank and the aircraft caught fire.
Fighting the flames and billowing smoke, McLeod's one aim then was to bring his wounded observer safely to earth. He stepped out on the bottom plane, leaning into the cockpit to grasp the control stick. In that position he sideslipped the plane from 5,000 feet to the ground, the wind pressure of the sideslip blowing flames and smoke away from the observer, who continued firing until McLeod flattened the plane out and made a crash landing in No Man's Land. McLeod, according to the official citation, "notwithstanding his own wounds, dragged Hammond away from the burning wreckage at great personal risk from heavy machine gun fire from the enemy's lines. This very gallant pilot was again wounded by a bomb whilst engaged in this act of rescue, but he persevered until he had placed Lieutenant Hammond in comparative safety, before falling himself from exhaustion and loss of blood."
British infantry rescued the two from No Man's Land and both survived their wounds. McLeod, however, had a long siege in hospital, which he reached after waiting for hours in the front line trenches constantly under fire. The summer passed slowly with McLeod recovering in Prince of Wales Hospital, London. His father went to England and was constantly at the boy's bedside.
Up and about again, McLeod went to Buckingham Palace, accompanied by his father, and received the Victoria Cross from the hands of His Majesty George V. Much to his regret, a recurring spell of sickness prevented him from accepting an invitation for his father and himself to lunch with the King at Windsor Castle.
Father and son returned to Canada in September and met a warm reception in Winnipeg before proceeding home to Stonewall. Late in October, the virulent form of influenza then sweeping the country struck down Alan McLeod. Smoke and flame of his last fight in the air had weakened his lungs, and he died at Winnipeg, November 6, 1918.

Painting & text from Clyde Scollan's booklet - Canada's Air Heritage

Featured in the booklet are

Billy Barker  Billy Bishop  Ray Collishaw  Alan McLeod




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