Grahame Donald

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Sir Grahame Donald
Royal Air Force Maintenance Command, 1939-1945. CH7738.jpg
Air Marshal Donald, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, RAF Maintenance Command, at his desk in his Headquarters in Andover, Hampshire.
Born(1891-07-27)27 July 1891
Died23 December 1976(1976-12-23) (aged 85)
Hampshire, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Navy (1914–1918)
Royal Air Force (1918–1947)
Years of service1914–1947
RankAir Marshal
Commands heldMaintenance Command (1942–1947)
No. 1 (Indian Wing) Station (1932–1933)
School of Naval Co-operation (1929–1931)
No. 201 Squadron (1928–1929)
No. 3 Squadron (1921–1923)
No. 205 Squadron (1920–1921)
Battles/warsFirst World War
Second World War
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Force Cross
Mentioned in Despatches (2)
War Cross, 2nd Class (Greece)

Air Marshal Sir (David) Grahame Donald, KCB, DFC, AFC (27 July 1891 – 23 December 1976), often known as Sir Grahame Donald, was a Royal Naval Air Service pilot during the First World War, a senior Royal Air Force (RAF) officer between the wars and a senior RAF commander during the Second World War. In February 1939, Donald was appointed Director of Organisation at the Air Ministry.[1] He was also a rugby union international having represented Scotland twice in 1914.

Early life[edit]

Grahame Donald was the son of Dr David Donald, and was educated at Dulwich College[2] where he played in a school team that featured five future international rugby footballers. From Dulwich he went on to University College, Oxford,[2] and from there entered the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve[3] in 1914 as a surgeon probationer.[4] He served aboard a hospital ship, torpedo boat and a destroyer before transferring to the Royal Navy Air Service in 1916.[4]

Rugby career[edit]

Grahame Donald
SchoolDulwich College
UniversityUniversity College, Oxford
Rugby union career
Position(s) Prop
Senior career
Years Team Apps (Points)
1911–1914 Oxford University (served in First World War in this time) ()
National team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
1914 Scotland 2

Whilst at Dulwich College he played in an unbeaten first XV in 1909 which contained five future internationals dubbed the 'Famous Five'.[5] These five would all go on to play in the 1913 Varsity match (and also produced the captains of both Oxford and Cambridge in 1919), and all served in the First World War. They were Eric Loudoun-Shand and Grahame Donald, who went on to play for Scotland, W. D. Doherty, who went on to play for and captain Ireland, J. E. Greenwood, who went on to play for and captain England, and the record-breaking Cyril Lowe.

From Oxford, Grahame Donald was selected in 1914 to play for Scotland, who he represented as a prop against Wales on 7 February, and Ireland on 28 February. His participation in the First World War and subsequent career in the military ended his international rugby career.

Military career[edit]

Donald also became famous for his miraculous escape from death having fallen from his Sopwith Camel at 6,000 feet (1,800 m) in 1917. On a summer's afternoon he attempted a new manoeuvre in his Sopwith Camel and flew the machine up and over, and as he reached the top of his loop, hanging upside down, his safety belt snapped and he fell out. He was not wearing a parachute as a matter of policy. Incredibly, the Camel had continued its loop downwards, and Donald landed on its top wing. He grabbed it with both hands, hooked one foot into the cockpit and wrestled himself back in, struggled to take control, and executed "an unusually good landing". In an interview given 55 years later he explained, "The first 2,000 feet passed very quickly and terra firma looked damnably 'firma'. As I fell I began to hear my faithful little Camel somewhere nearby. Suddenly I fell back onto her."[6][page needed]

Eleven Royal Air Force aircraft based at Biorko, Finland, under the command of Squadron Leader D. Grahame Donald stage a dawn raid on the Bolshevik naval base at Kronstadt during the Baltic campaign of the Russian Civil War. After the raid, Donald reports that "a destroyer depot ship disappeared and was not seen again." [7]

He was appointed Officer Commanding No. 205 Squadron in 1920, Officer Commanding No. 3 Squadron and Station Commander at RAF Leuchars in 1921 before he moved on with his new squadron to RAF Gosport the following year.[4] He joined the Directing Staff at the RAF Staff College, Andover, in 1924 and became Officer Commanding No. 201 Squadron in 1928.[4] He went on to be Officer Commanding the School of Naval Co-operation in 1929, Officer Commanding No 1 (Indian Wing) Station at Kohat in India and then rejoined the Directing Staff, RAF Staff College in 1935.[4] After a tour as instructor at the Imperial Defence College in 1937 he became Director-General of Organisation, a post he held at the start of the Second World War.[4] He was made Deputy Air Member for Supply and Organisation in 1941 and Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief at Maintenance Command in 1942 before retiring in 1947.[4]

Honours and awards[edit]

Personal life[edit]

His first marriage was to Gwyneth Martin in 1916.[4] Had a son, born 1917, Flight Lieutenant Ian David Grahame Donald, who was shot down off Dover in a Boulton Paul Defiant and died in 1940.[12] After the death of his first wife he married Ailsa Stevenson[13] in October 1947.[4]


  1. ^ "No. 34594". The London Gazette. 31 January 1939. p. 689.
  2. ^ a b "Flight" directory of British aviation – Page 43, Kelly's Directories, 1946
  3. ^ Sir David Grahame Donald – RNAS Personnel
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Air Marshal Sir Grahame Donald". Archived from the original on 22 November 2008. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  5. ^ Jan Piggot, Dulwich College: A History, 1616–2008, 2008, ISBN 0-9539493-2-X
  6. ^ On a Wing and a Prayer by Joshua Levine
  7. ^ Dobson & Miller 1986, p. 257.
  8. ^ "No. 31378". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 June 1919. p. 7041.
  9. ^ "No. 31703". The London Gazette (Supplement). 22 December 1919. p. 15840.
  10. ^ "No. 35204". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 July 1941. p. 3736.
  11. ^ "No. 36309". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1944. p. 4.
  12. ^ "Flight Lieutenant Ian David Grahame Donald (1917-1940) - Find A Grave Memorial".
  13. ^ "Ailsa (née Stevenson), Lady Donald". National Portrait Gallery.
Military offices
Preceded by Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Maintenance Command
Succeeded by