William Neil McKechnie

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Group Captain William Neil McKechnie (1907-1944) was a pilot in the Royal Air Force who was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal in 1929 and was killed in action over Germany in 1944.

Early life[edit]

W.N. McKechnie was born on 27 August 1907 the son of Lt. Col. William Ernest McKechnie, I.M.S. and Marion A. McKechnie. He attended The Perse School in Cambridge.

He later married Mary Roma McKechnie of Musselburgh, Midlothian.

Winning The Empire Gallantry Medal (later The George Cross)[edit]

McKechnie earned the Empire Gallantry Medal for an act of bravery in saving Flight Cadet C. J. Giles after an aeroplane crash on 20 June 1929 whilst still a Flight Cadet aged 22.

The London Gazette of 18 October 1929, gives the following details in announcing the award to Group Captain McKechnie of the Empire Gallantry Medal:

"On 20 June 1929, an aeroplane piloted by Flight Cadet C. J. Giles crashed on landing at RAF College Cranwell and burst into flames. The pilot was stunned, but managed to release his safety belt and fall out of the machine in a dazed condition. Flight Cadet McKechnie, who had landed in another aeroplane about the same time some two hundred yards away, left his machine and ran at full speed towards the scene of the accident. The petrol had spread over an area about ten yards in diameter, in full blaze, with Giles lying in it semi-conscious. McKechnie, without hesitation, ran into the flames and pulled out Giles, who was badly burned. McKechnie, who was himself scorched and superficially burned, then proceeded to extinguish Giles's burning clothing. There is no doubt that without McKechnie's assistance Giles would have been burned to death, as he was quite incapable of moving himself. His machine was entirely destroyed, and the ground for some distance around was burned up by the spread of the ignited petrol."

RAF career[edit]

Attended RAF College Cranwell - where he won The George Cross

In January 1939 he was commanding No. 27 Squadron RAF at Kohat, India.

During World War II McKechnie was a Group Commander based at RAF Metheringham with 106 Squadron from 11 November 1943 until his death. He was involved in The Battle of Berlin in which he flew in an Avro Lancaster that completed thirteen operations against Berlin and four other operations over Germany, when the plane was lost it had flown 638.05 hours. Their eighteenth, and final flight, on 29 August 1944, was an operation over Königsberg where 106 Sqdn lost two planes, including McKechnie's, without trace.

Those killed in action were:

  • G/C W.N.McKechnie GC
  • Sgt R.B.Clarke
  • F/S H.W.T.Carter RCAF
  • F/O E.E.Fletcher
  • Sgt C.C.Jeffrey
  • Sgt D.Forster
  • F/S E.L.Collins

There is no known grave for McKechnie, or any members of his crew, but they are commemorated on Runnymede Memorial panel 200, Surrey.