Navigational difficulties left Stuart on wrong side of the Channel

A float-equipped Spitfire takes off with Stuart MacDonald at the controls
A float-equipped Spitfire takes off with Stuart MacDonald at the controls

This article, written by David Coxon, Tangmere Military Aviation Museum’s curator, is the seventh in a series of monthly articles on the people of RAF Tangmere.

Stuart MacDonald joined the RAF on a short-service commission in 1935.

Hawker Demons of No 41 Squadron, Aden 1935

Hawker Demons of No 41 Squadron, Aden 1935

After initial flying training, he was posted to No 41 Squadron in Aden to fly Hawker Demon biplane fighters, the squadron being mainly tasked with aerial policing duties.

In the run-up to the outbreak of war, after returning to the UK, he carried out flying instructor duties until taking command of No 213 (Hurricane) Squadron at Exeter on August 28, 1940, the squadron being moved to RAF Tangmere on September 7.

During the Battle of Britain, MacDonald was scrambled more than 80 times and claimed during the battle, one Bf 109 and two Bf 110s destroyed.

Later in life, he recounted one story which aptly illustrates the difficulty Battle of Britain pilots faced, with aircraft equipped with only minimal radio and navigational aids.

Wing Commander Stuart Wilson-MacDonald in 1948

Wing Commander Stuart Wilson-MacDonald in 1948

After engaging at high level with Bf 109s, he put his Hurricane’s nose down back 
to Tangmere, but then noticed the traffic was driving on the wrong side of the road! Realising he was not over Sussex, he re-crossed the Channel back to base.

Awarded the DFC on December 17, 1940, MacDonald embarked with his squadron on the aircraft carrier HMS Furious in May, 1941, bound for the Middle East where he remained in command until October, 1941.

During a HQ staff post that followed, he was selected to train pilots to fly Spitfires fitted with floats.

It was intended he should lead a flight of these Spitfires, based on the Dodecanese Islands, to intercept German 
Ju 52 transport aircraft.

However, the course of the war changed and this plan was dropped.

As the Mediterranean campaign moved on to Italy, he took command of two South African Beaufighter squadrons and his old squadron, No 213, now flying Mustangs.

This Wing (No 283) operated from the heel of Italy as the Balkan Air Force, supporting guerrilla movements in Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece in a ground-attack role.

Balkan operations required flexibility; on one occasion MacDonald operated on his own to a British destroyer’s request to help deal with enemy artillery on an Adriatic island.

On another occasion, together with 213’s commanding officer, he sank an E-boat. After returning to the UK, he was awarded the DSO 
in May, 1945.

Stuart MacDonald married in 1947 Rosemary Wilson, a wartime Wren who was his first cousin, and changed his surname to Wilson-MacDonald.

He remained in the RAF after the war and in 1948 led a flight of six Vampires of No 54 Squadron on the first transatlantic flight to be accomplished by jet aircraft – a three stage flight from Stornoway to Goose Bay, Labrador via Iceland and Greenland.

Among Wilson-MacDonald’s post-war commands were UK RAF stations Turnhouse and Middle Wallop and RAF stations Sylt and Geilenkirchen in Germany.

His log book shows 67 aircraft flown during his career, from Hawker biplanes between the wars to the Sabre, Hunter F4 and Swift FR5.

His last appointment was as Air Attaché at the British Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. After retiring in 1963, Wilson-MacDonald, an accomplished golfer, played with Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader and other celebrities at RAF charity tournaments.

He was always noted for his courage, charm, kindness and humility. Group Captain Stuart Wilson-MacDonald DSO DFC died, aged 83, on February 29, 1996.

More information on the museum, including opening times and entry prices, can be found on its website at www.tangmere-museum.org.uk