• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Arthur Rae

Airman and journalist;

Born: August 16, 1923; Died: October 1, 2012.

Arthur Rae, who has died aged 89, only recently learned of his MI9 evasion report – almost 70 years after going on the run in enemy territory. The neatly typed statement, headed Secret, runs to less than two pages and contains a concise narrative that belies the courage of a 20-year-old Dundonian who was shot down over Belgium, and the bravery of the local resistance workers who gave him a passage to freedom.

Now held in the National Archives, it covers more than three months in the summer of 1944 as he was moved from house to house by partisans and given new identities.

He modestly dismissed the report as "another bit of history" but it provides a fascinating insight into the life-and-death decisions made by countless young men such as Mr Rae and the Secret Army of resistance fighters who sheltered them.

He was an apprentice linotype operator with DC Thomson when the Second World War broke out, having left Dundee's Harris Academy at 14 to follow his father into the newspaper business. He enlisted in the RAF in June, 1941. He was posted to Bomber Command as a bomb aimer and became a flight sergeant with 76 Squadron, flying Halifax bombers.

On the night of May 24, 1944, their mission was to attack strategic railway yards in the German town of Aachen but 90 minutes into the flight they were attacked by German fighters over Antwerp.

His MI9 report states the fate of his six fellow crew members was unknown but records Mr Rae's account: "I baled out and landed at Turnhout at 00.30 hours. I buried my mae west (life vest) but as my parachute was caught in a tree, I left it there." He then explains how he walked south until it became light and reached a farm at Royen. What it doesn't reveal is the dilemma he faced as a fugitive Allied airman in enemy-occupied territory: should he try to escape on his own or risk contacting a local, not knowing if they would be a Nazi sympathiser?

He decided to approach the farm and found the farmer was a member of the Belgian resistance movement. "There I was given some food and an identity card."

Next morning a man called for him and, with Mr Rae, six-foot plus and redheaded, on a bike in the guise of a Belgian farm hand, they cycled to Gheel where he was taken to a farm and provided with food and shelter until mid-July.

He then moved to a house in the village, meeting two other flight sergeants who were being sheltered. The partisans helped again and they were issued with new identity cards. After another month they were taken to Brussels, meeting an American sergeant on route. Mr Rae, who had just turned 21, spent another week with a woman who lived in the suburbs before being moved again.

On August 30 he was taken to a house in the town where he remained until making contact with the British forces on September 3. After being smuggled to Amiens, which had been liberated by the Allies days earlier, he was flown home on September 6 and interviewed the next day about his exploits.

It later transpired the rest of his aircrew had survived but were prisoners of war. He was next posted to India where he spent the rest of the war and rose to flight lieutenant.

He returned to Dundee and his old job as a linotype operator, marrying Kathleen in 1947. The couple emigrated with their two children in 1960 to Montreal, Canada, where he worked for a printing firm. Three years later they came back to Dundee where he sat his Highers and became a sub-editor with DC Thomson, working on the People's Journal and The Courier.

Though he had left school with no qualifications, he became well-read and knowledgeable on world events. He also had a way with words and was happy to help younger journalists learn their craft.

He retired in 1988 and away from the editorial floor was a keen sports fan. He played golf each week and served as secretary and captain of the McCheyne Cricket Club, was a past captain of the Dundee Press Golf Club and a member of Monifeith's Broughty Golf Club.

Although he didn't make a fuss about his war, he was proud of the fact he had flown Halifaxes and regarded the book, No Moon Tonight, by an Australian Second World War navigator, as the most accurate portrayal of the Bomber Boys and the life they endured.

A passage from the book, illustrating the uncertainty they faced each night they took off into a moonless sky, was read at his funeral. His fate that night in the Belgian countryside lay in the hands of strangers. He opted to put his faith in them and pulled off the greatest gamble he would ever take.

Arthur Rae is survived by his wife Kathleen, children Alan and Susan, five grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and his brother Douglas.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

124226