Some many members of No II(AC) Squadron have been honoured throughout the years, too many to list here just yet, but we explore five notable awards here:
Alan Arnett Mcleod was born on 20 April 1899 in Stonewall (near Winnipeg) Manitoba, Canada to Scottish emigrant parents. An attempt at the age of fourteen of signing up with a local territorial unit as a Trooper was foiled when his real age was discovered after a fortnight. He was quickly sent home with the stern message 'never to do something that silly again' but undeterred he finally fulfilled his military ambitions and joined the RFC in April 1917. On 29 November 1917 in the rank of Temporary 2nd Lieutenant, he joined No. II Squadron, then flying under command of Major WR Snow DSO, MC. His boss would have been unaware that his latest recruit was shortly to become the Squadron's second Victoria Cross.
Alan McLeod was a very tall man with a boyish appearance which soon earned him the nickname, 'Babe'. He was allocated to B-Flight as a pilot on the FK-8 two-seater biplane and soon demonstrated he was a skilled pilot who was not afraid to take risks. Indeed, within a month of being on the Squadron his deeds had already earned him the honour of being mentioned in dispatches.
On 21 March 1918 a German offensive was set in motion which initially forced the Allied troops to retreat. No. II Squadron was hastily ordered into the Amiens battle area to stop the German advance at Baupaume. At the same time, as part of the enemy reinforcement, local German air force units were also moving in - including Manfred Van Richthofen's famous Flying Circus. The Red Baron was to occupy Lechelle airfield, directly across the front line from No. II Squadron’s base at Hesdigneul.
On 27 March, seven FK-8s took off from Hesdigneul tasked to bomb and strafe infantry in the Bray-sur-Somme area. It was a very misty day and the aircraft quickly became isolated as they desperately tried to locate the enemy. It was not long before most pilots realised that they were completely lost. McLeod and Hammond flying B5773 crawled through the clouds for two hours before a break revealed an airfield below and allowed a landing at Asvesnes-le-Comte where No. 43 Squadron was based. Unfortunately their relief was tempered by a rough landing when McLeod severely damaged the tailskid of their aircraft.
At 13:00 hrs, after the aircraft had been repaired and refuelled, they took off again but the weather had not changed at all. With no improvement in sight and thoughts of returning to base, McLeod was about to abandon the sortie when he suddenly spotted a German balloon in the distance. The FK-8 dived toward the enemy but before the balloon came into firing range a Fokker Triplane came into view. McLeod changed his mind and decided to redirect his attack at the Fokker. After a successful engagement the Fokker Triplane fell into an uncontrolled spin and to the satisfaction of McLeod and Hammond crashed on the outskirts of the village of Albert. However, the attack had not gone unnoticed for at the same time a formation of eight Fokker Triplanes belonging to Jagdstaffel 10 of the Flying Circus witnessed McLeod’s victory and dived on the 'Big Ack'.
As the first Triplane attacked, Lt. Hammond responded with a long burst and the German fell in flames. The other Fokkers then attacked from all directions, including a viscious assault from below by Leutnant Hans Kirchstein who raked the FK-8 from nose to rudder inflicting two serious wounds on Hammond. A simultaneous attack by a second Fokker from the beam resulted in a third wound for Hammond whilst at the same time McLeod was hit in the leg. In spite of agonising pains Hammond levelled his gun sights and fired a burst of bullets into the fuel tank of the second Fokker which exploded in flames. Leutnant Kirchstein reacted instantly at the sight of his comrade’s demise and banked steeply toward towards the FK-8 firing his Spandau machine guns managing to rupture the fuel tank causing the 'Big Ack' to erupt into flames. The fire soon burnt away the fragile structure between the cockpits, destroying Mcleod's cockpit floor and melting his knee-length flying boots and lower skirt of his leather coat.
With the instrument board and control column smouldering and with no other means of support, both crew were forced to clamber out their cockpits; Hammond desperately clung to the gun mounting to prevent himself from falling while McLeod braced himself on the port lower wing root. From this position and holding onto the smouldering column with one hand, he managed to bring the FK-8 into a sideslip to prevent the flames from burning Hammond alive. A inquisitive Fokker pilot followed the FK-8 to witness the inevitable crash. Unfortunately he paid the price for his curiosity when Hammond succeeded in giving him a final burst with the machine gun as he closed in.
A short while later Allied infantry saw the FK-8 crash violently in No-Man’s-Land during a heavy exchange of fire between the two opposing armies. McLeod, badly burned, bleeding and in shock managed to pull his Observer from the aircraft wreckage before the bombs it was still carrying exploded. With Hammond on his back he began to crawl towards the allied lines and finding himself the target of the German machine-gunners sought refuge in a shell hole. While doing this he was again wounded, this time by shrapnel. Exhausted, they were both eventually rescued by South African troops and taken to an outpost where McLeod finally collapsed.
The German barrage continued and the pair was trapped for a further five hours before a lull allowed them to be moved to a dressing station from where a long road of convalescence followed. Initially, they were treated at Etaples Hospital before being admitted into the Prince of Wales' Hospital in London. For weeks, McLeod's life hung in the balance whilst the injuries to Hammond, his Observer, had resulted in him having his leg amputated.
On 1 May 1918 the London Gazette announced that a Victoria Cross had been awarded to Babe McLeod. At nineteen years of age he was the youngest recipient of an 'Air VC' and the youngest serviceman ever to receive this great honour.
On 4 September, he walked on crutches into Buckingham Palace, accompanied by his father who had sailed from Canada to be with his son. Immediately after the King presented him with the VC McLeod returned to Stonewall in Canada for further convalescence.
His observer was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross (click here to see the commendation) but as a consequence of the extent of his injuries he was unable to continue service and Hammond left the RFC to return to his home in Canada.
Sadly, McLeod did not live long enough to enjoy his medal. Having survived the horror of the First World War and safely returned to his homeland it was in November 1918 that an epidemic of virulent influenza swept through Canada which the young hero contracted and subsequently died.