b. 20/04/1899 Stonewall, Manitoba, Canada. d. 06/11/1918 Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Alan Arnett McLeod (1899-1918), the grandson of Scottish immigrants, and son of a doctor, was born in the small town of Stonewall, Manitoba, Canada on 20th April 1899. Educated locally, he was interested in the military from a young age. On 24th June 1913, he lied about his age and volunteered to join the local territorial force, the Fort Garry Horse, for their annual training at Fort Sewell. Once his age was found out, he was swiftly sent back to his school studies. He then waited impatiently to reach the minimum age required, and then promptly applied for pilot training with the Royal Flying Corps. He was accepted and enlisted on 23rd April 1917.
He began his flying training at Long Branch, Toronto, where he made his first flight on 4th June 1917. He flew his first solo flight five days later, and a week later, reported to Camp Borden for advanced instruction, and was awarded his RFC “wings” brevet on 31st July 1917. On 20th August he was among a large draft of Canadians which sailed in the SS Metagama to England, and on arrival he was posted to Winchester to complete his Service training.
His first operational assignment was to Lincolnshire, where he joined 82 Squadron RFC at Waddington. They were a new unit equipped with Armstrong Whitworth FK8 bombers. He was hopeful of a posting to active service in France, but by the time, 82 Squadron was deployed in November 1917, he had been transferred to 51 Home Defence Squadron.
His dreams were to be realised, however, when in late November 1917 he was sent to the RFC Pilots’ Pool at St Omer. He then reported to 2 Squadron RFC at Hesdigneul on 29th November. One of the RFC’s pioneer units, he was allocated to B Flight. Alan, who was now nicknamed “Babe”, despite being 6ft 2in tall, performed a number of routine duties, before completing sorties by ground-strafing German troop concentrations, trenches, and gun sites. He began to gain a reputation as a “young fire-eater” and on 19th December, calmly attacked a formation of eight Albatross scouts. In January 1918, he and his observer, Reginald Key, took part in several sorties against German observation kite balloons.
On 27th March 1918, the 7th day of the raging German Spring Offensive battle, over Albert, France, Second Lieutenant McLeod, with his observer Lt. Arthur Hammond, in an Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 destroyed an enemy triplane and were immediately attacked by eight more, three of which they brought down, but the petrol tank of the bomber was hit. The machine burst into flames and both pilot and observer were badly wounded. McLeod, by side slipping steeply, tried to keep the flames away from his observer, and when the machine finally crashed in No Man's Land, the young pilot, not minding his own injuries, dragged his comrade from the burning wreckage and under heavy fire carried him to comparative safety, before collapsing from exhaustion.
Hammond was found to have suffered six wounds, including a shattered leg. Their journey to expert medical facilities and safety was a long one. Having been carried through the reserve trenches for three miles to the nearest dressing station, McLeod and Hammond were stretcher-borne until an ambulance was found to transport them to Amiens, and then Etaples Hospital. On the following day McLeod was sent via Boulogne and Dover to the Prince of Wales’ Hospital, London, where for several weeks his young life hung precariously in the balance. Notified of his son’s critical condition, his father travelled from Canada to spend two months of almost constant vigil by his son’s hospital bed.
On 1st May 1918 the London Gazette announced the award of a VC to McLeod, and on 4th September, wearing the newly-introduced Royal Air Force uniform, the young Canuck, in company with his father, hobbled on two walking sticks into Buckingham Palace where he received his medal from King George V. Immediately afterwards he was sent home to Canada to convalesce, arriving in Winnipeg on 30th September en route to his home town of Stonewall. Back at home, his health began to steadily improve, but in November 1918 an epidemic of virulent influenza swept through Canada, and sadly, Alan McLeod, still weak from his ordeal, fell ill and on 6th November 1918, died. At 19 years of age, he was the youngest recipient of a VC for aerial operations during the 1914-18 War, and only the second youngest air VC of both world conflicts. On 9th November 1918, just two days before the Armistice in Europe, he was buried in Kildonan Cemetery, Winnipeg.
His companion, Hammond, also recovered from his wounds and was awarded a Bar to his MC, but had to have his leg amputated. He emigrated to Canada and settled in Winnipeg. McLeod’s medals including his VC, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 are held by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: KILDONAN CEMETERY, WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA. GRAVE 238
Alan McLeod's medals at the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Canada (Thomas Stewart).
St Clements Danes Church, Aldwych
Courtesy of the Canadian War Museum