Obituary: Gp Capt Stuart Wilson-MacDonald

The Battle of Britain was fought nearly 46 years ago and the few who survived become fewer and fewer. Among them was Group Captain Stuart Wilson-MacDonald (he acquired the Wilson when he married his cousin Rosemary after the war).

Stuart Wilson-MacDonald survived not only the battle but a long series of combat tours, thereafter flying and commanding operationally until almost the end of the war. This five-year record was by no means unique among Second World War pilots, indeed it was not even all that unusual.

Initially Stuart MacDonald's prospects of a flying career were diminished by a series of boyhood illnesses, largely respiratory. However a period spent in Kenya probably contributed to his recovery, and by 1935 he was fit enough to win a short service commission in the RAF. Thereafter his time was spent almost exclusively on fighter aircraft and he was particularly associated with number 213 Squadron, which he led during the Battle of Britain, in the Middle East, and later had under overall command in the Balkan Air Force. Such close association with an individual squadron is rarely attained in the RAF, which for that reason has something to envy in the regimental system of the Army.

In September 1940, operating from Tangmere, the most geographically exposed of all front-line airfields, MacDonald led the squadron in the final hectic month of the Battle of Britain and proved himself not only an effective fighter pilot but an inspirational leader whose flew in combat more often than any other of his pilots. He personally destroyed at least three enemy aircraft while his own Hurricane was often severely damaged by enemy fire.

When the battle was complet-ed the squadron briefly moved north; but the demands of this still most critical period of the war led to its early return to intensive operations, this time in the Mediterranean theatre. MacDonald led the squadron to the Middle East by way of a transit aboard the aircraft carrier Furious, with a refuelling stop in beleaguered Malta.

After further action which included joining as a wing leader the unhappy campaign against the Vichy French in Syria and a brief spell on the air staff, he was once again back in the heat of the action as leader of 283 wing, which included his old friends 213 Squadron and also two South African squadrons.

As always he led the wing personally, this time largely in operations over the then Yugo-slavia, and learnt the problems and lessons of flying over that difficult and hostile terrain.

Only when the war in Italy and the Balkans finally ended was he given a rest from active service. He was also given a permanent commission and a number of command appointments in the British Air Forces of Occupation in Germany and senior staff appointments in Fighter Command. He retired in 1963.

Stuart Wilson-MacDonald was a big man in every sense of the word, big but never big-headed. Handsome and powerfully built, he exuded great bonhomie and a quiet charm. After the war he married and was as happy in that marriage as he always had been in the RAF.

Duncan Stuart MacDonald, pilot: born Oban, Scotland 5 March 1912; DFC 1940; DSO 1945; married 1947 Rosemary Wilson (one son, one daughter); died 29 February 1996.