© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons
454 RAAF Squadron
Squadron Leader Ronald Christopher McCathie
Baltimore Light Bomber Squadron Desert Air Force
Service Number 401315
Squadron Leader Ronald (Ron/Mac) McCathie
11 3/4" moustache unwaxed - probably
taken in Alexandria, Egypt
Ron McCathie was born in New Zealand on 8 June 1908 and died at 90 years of age (9.1.1999). He enlisted for aircrew a few weeks beyond the maximum acceptable age - 32 years. Some years before joining he had completed a diploma course Hawkesbury Agricultural College, the funds for his studies having been provided by the Repatriation Department's Soldiers' Children Education Scheme, his father having died as a direct result of war (WWI) caused disabilities.
Mac has described his pre-WW2 life and career as well as his war service in a most interesting unpublished memoir/autobiography matter-of-factly and with humour - 'Come Fly With Me'. The single copy is carefully housed in the archival section of the former Hawkesbury College Library at Richmond, now a Faculty/Campus of the University of Western Sydney. It is available for restricted reference.
As an Agricultural Diplomate, Ron McCathie practised as a rural consultant, with special reference to the use of fungicides, and had become a Branch Manager for his employer.
Enlisted as an aircrew trainee he studied at Air Observer/Navigation Schools in Australia and was commissioned on course.
He completed a tour of operational duty with 1437 and 1438 Strategical Reconnaissance Units in the Mediterranean and Aegean sea and then with 26 AACU and his second tour was with No. 454 Baltimore Squadron of the RAF's Desert Air force.
SLdr Phil Strickland - Pilot - eventually a 454 Flight Commander
SLdr Ron McCathie - Navigator/Bomber Aimer and their two Wireless Operator/Air Gunners Magee and Dibb.
Strickland and McCathie were a highly successful formation bombing leader team, their "Tedder Carpet Bomb patterns" from medium level (10,000 and 13,000 feet) being very effective against battlefield and Gothic Line targets.
When the Squadron converted to night intruding offensive individual bombing and strafing sorties they were equally successful in harassing the Axis divisions in the Po Valley and Lombardy Plains providing a welcome 8th Army Support role.
Mac is especially remembered for his well kept "handle bar" moustache. About 5'5" in height his whiskers (without waxing) had a span of 11 3/4 inches. The ends were visible from behind whether he was wearing his Aussie fur felt hat, or cap. On return to Australia it is reported he walked along Collins Street, Melbourne and George Street, Sydney, to display his "fungus"; unfortunately the newspaper photographers missed their great opportunity.
Prowess as a champion clay-pigeon marksman pre-war, armed with his silver plated Purdey shot gun, he was pitted against champion shooters in Egypt, on one occasion with King Farouk's duck hunting champion, following "beaters" sending up live birds in the marshes around Alexandria. The winner is shrouded in secrecy.
The stories about Mac, our 454 character and marksman "extra-ordinaire" are often hilarious. On a Strickland-McCathie led formation strike on the high, mountainous terrain of the independent, neutral Republic of San Marina, very clearly defined by very broad white borders, they were briefed to attack massed batteries of 88mm AA guns, at that time creating havoc for 8th Army forces, but were to be careful to avoid any bombs over the border line. Mac and Strick, rather than bombing at a recommended indicated airspeed of 210 mph at 13,000 feet stepped up the speed over the target to 250-260 mph thereby over-shooting and crossing the boundary line.
Though no international outcry was heard from, or about, San Marino, it was claimed (? by Mac) there was a significant fall away in the 88mm barrage for a time.
Again there is the well publicised fearless "kill" of a very large buck breeding rabbit, which was peacefully grazing in the grassy farmyard of a house very close to the officers' tent line, with the poultry flock belonging to an Italian lady. Suddenly a Purdey shot rang out. Shot at point blank range (and in "self defence" it was unconvincingly asserted later) there were two important consequences for Mac and his mates - first a beautiful rabbit stew lovingly prepared on a Primus stove with the author sharing in the unexpected treat and secondly a very loud and acrimonious confrontation between an angry Italian lady and a somewhat bemused and uncertain Wing Commander in the CO's command trailer, the upshot being payment for the rabbit, no more "looting of farm produce" and proper market prices for farm goods - especially dried tomatoes thereafter. Mac's silver plated Purdey stayed in its silver plated case thereafter.
The summery vision of Mac skinning the "trophy" rabbit wearing his slouch hat, shorts and boots (no shirt) has been captured on film for history and could probably turn up in a "show trial" next century.
Incidentally the farm lady conducted some good business at Falconara, though the ensuing 2 months of mud, slush, sleet and rain curtailed her marketing opportunities.
Long after war's end some old friends kept in touch with Mac and his favourite dog friend. We look back on a no-nonsense experienced airman who had the stuff of which leadership and character are woven.
(Written by George Gray for the 2000 Bulletin)
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