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Harry McKendrick

Bomber Command navigator and teacher

Bomber Command navigator and teacher

Born: July 10, 1922; Died: March 25, 2014.

Harry McKendrick, who has died aged 91, had the key role of navigator on Lancaster bombers in the RAF's famous Bomber Command during the Second World War. During the last year of the war, he flew almost daily or nightly raids over German cities with the aim of bringing Hitler's Nazi régime to its knees, which the bombing eventually did. Having survived anti-aircraft fire and come home alive, he faced a somewhat different daily challenge as a teacher in Glasgow schools, latterly as headteacher at Carntyne Primary.

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Flying sometimes during the day, but often at night, as navigator his job was to get the plane to its target, ensure the bombs were dropped in the right place, and guide himself, his pilot and crew back to the UK, often under heavy fire from the ground. By the time the war was over, he had spent 359 hours cramped in a Lancaster on daylight combat missions and 207 hours in the pitch black of night, lit up only by Nazi ack-ack fire.

Like many, if not most of his RAF comrades, he did not like to talk of the war during his later life. He felt he had being doing a job, pure and simple, and he was acutely aware that the boys on the ground had done the same.

One of three brothers, Harry George McKendrick was born in the east end of Glasgow and brought up in Riddrie. His father was a South African who was wounded fighting for the allies during the First World War and shipped to his ancestral home, Scotland, to recuperate, where he married a Glasgow girl.

Young Harry went to the old Whitehill Secondary School in Dennistoun, at the time on Whitehill Street, where one of his younger schoolmates was the future comedian Rikki Fulton. He signed up for the RAF as soon as he turned 18 in July 1940, only days after British intelligence had learnt that Hitler was planning to invade Britain, making the Battle of Britain inevitable. His brothers Charles and Ian joined the army.

The Battle of Britain, with the RAF at the forefront, made Mr McKendrick even more determined to serve. He was sent for a year to Canada under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), which trained would-be airmen from the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He was posted to 8 AOS (Air Observer School) at what was then called L'Ancienne Lorette airport outside Québec City, now Jean Lesage International Airport. What were then called "air observers" would later be known as navigators but his courses also included aerial photography, reconnaissance and "bombing and gunnery," in the knowledge that flight crews would have to stand in for each other if any of them were killed, which was often the case.

Mr McKendrick, later to become Warrant Officer McKendrick, was taught on board Avro Anson aircraft how to navigate by dead reckoning, using an aeronautical chart, magnetic compass, accurate watch, trip log, protractor and, of course, pencil and paper. Landmarks down below were crucial.

At his graduation ceremony in Québec in August 1943, his mates - yanks, Aussies, Kiwis, Englishmen and fellow Scots - wrote the following for his presentation: "Jock went to school and played soccer before entering the RAF. He delights in retailing Scottish assets and really holds his own. He has gone out of his way whilst at 8 AOS to become bosom friend of all and is our undisputed authority on duty watch." What that meant, we may never know: it was an internal joke among young men about to go to war.

Back in the UK, Warrant Officer McKendrick was assigned to RAF 186 Squadron, at the time based at RAF Tuddenham in Suffolk, and flying Avro Lancaster bombers. Fortunately, by then, navigational technology had moved on, making the life of the navigator somewhat easier, although the guns on the ground had also moved on technologically.

Within two months, 186 Squadron had moved to RAF Stradishall, just south of Bury St Edmunds, where it would remain for the rest of the war until its disbandment in July 1945. In all, 186 Squadron flew 1254 operational sorties and dropped 5773 tons of bombs. His squadron's last operation was bombing Nazi marshalling yards at Bad Oldesloe, northern Germany, on April 24, 1945. Six days after that raid, Hitler gave up the war and the ghost.

In the last days of the war, Warrant Officer McKendrick took part with his squadron in Operation Manna, dropping thousands of tons of badly-needed food supplies to starving Dutch people in The Hague and the still-not-liberated western part of the Netherlands. The boy from Riddrie was proud of dropping food instead of bombs, a fitting end to his war. He was equally proud of taking part in Operation Exodus, again seeing his Lancaster in a peaceful role, flying back grateful airmen, infantrymen and Royal Navy personnel who had been liberated from Nazi POW camps.

After the war, Mr McKendrick went, under an ex-services scheme, to Jordanhill teacher training college, partly with the aim of telling children that peace was a better alternative than war. He taught at several schools, including Whiteinch Primary but mostly in the east end of Glasgow, where he retired in 1982 as the much-loved headteacher at Carntyne Primary. In the meantime, he had met, at Riddrie Primary, the love of his life, fellow teacher Thelma Lang from Shettleston.

In retirement, he loved to walk the West Highland Way, "just to clear his head," his daughter Fiona said. "They were keen golfers and bowlers, enjoyed their holidays on the Cowal peninsula and eventually moved to Dunoon, where mum finished her career in 1990 at the Toward Primary School. Mum died in February of this year, just six weeks before dad. He didn't want to go on without her."

Mr McKendrick's two brothers predeceased him. His wife Thelma died in February of this year. He is survived by their daughter Fiona and grandchildren Lisa and James.

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