Over the past weekend, a number of veteran airmen from 578 Squadron attended the Squadron Association’s annual re-union, during which a Service was held at Selby Abbey. Amongst these was 87 year old Don McDonald, an Australian pilot who attended the event for the first time, having never before had the opportunity to make the long trip to do so. Following a request from fellow Association members David McSherry, of Hemingbrough, and Norman Davidson, 578 Squadron Association Chairman, from North Sheilds, arrangements were made for Don McDonald to make a special visit to the Yorkshire Air Museum on Monday (19th May) to see the Museum’s unique restored Halifax bomber. This was the first time that Don had stepped inside a Halifax since the end of the war and was without doubt a fitting end to an emotional weekend.
Don, accompanied by his wife of 30 years, Ailsa, both sprightly for their age, were shown around the Halifax by Museum volunteer Phil Kemp, of Wilberfoss, who has been involved with the restoration of this aircraft for over 15 years. Both were excited at the prospect and although Ailsa had not been expecting to go inside, she was amazed by the experience of seeing where here husband had sat to carry out his duty.
Don was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 7th October 1920. He joined the Royal Australian Air Force in his hometown in December 1941, and was transferred to Europe in March 1943, where he joined 578 (Burn) Squadron as a pilot at the height of the Allied bombing campaign. After a full tour, during which he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, which he modestly puts down to ‘simply having the good fortune for not being in the wrong place at the wrong time’, he moved to Norton in Marsh in the hazardous role as an instructor, before taking on a second tour of duty with 466 Squadron, Driffield. Instructing was indeed a dangerous, but vital role, as the aircraft used were often those that had been repaired after mission damage but not deemed fit for operational use.
Don recalled the raids over Germany’s industrial heartland which would see over 600 aircraft attack their target, in waves of 200 or more over a short time period of just 9 minutes, saying that it was all down to luck that your aircraft was not involved in a mid-air collision or shot out of the sky, as so many were. However, we suspect that there is more to his earning the DFC, but he is not telling.
Ian Richardson, museum spokesman, said: “It was wonderful to meet Don and Ailsa and hear Don’s story. Those of us born many years after the end of WWII can only imagine what these young men went through at the time and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. We must also never forget that our Commonwealth stood firm behind Britain in our hour of need and all of us at the Museum were delighted to assist in the arrangements to make this visit to see the Halifax possible. We hope that this will not be the ‘one and only’ time we see Don and Aisla at Elvington.”
Source: Yorkshire Air Museum
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