Born: July 25, 1921; Died: August 29, 2012.
SQUADRON Leader Max Riddell, who has died aged 91, was one of the first RAF fliers to take part in bombing raids over Germany and one of the service's last "pre-war regulars" who had signed up in the 1930s.
The Motherwell boy left Hamilton Academy to train with the RAF and would go on to fly, as a combined wireless operator and air gunner (WOp/AG), on bombing or intelligence missions over occupied France and Norway, as well as Germany. He was once wounded in the back and legs by a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt fighter plane but managed to help get his damaged aircraft back to England.
In all, he flew more than 90 operational combat and Special Operations Executive (SOE) missions. His bravery won him the Distinguished Flying Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for "an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy".
Maxwell Alexander Dick Riddell was born in Motherwell and educated at Hamilton Academy, which was later to merge into Hamilton Grammar School. (His initials, MAD, would later win him the nickname Mad Max among his wartime comrades, long before the Mel Gibson movies popularised that name.)
Defying his family's advice and fascinated by aeroplanes, he left school at 14 and headed south on his own to join the RAF's Trenchard Scheme, a training scheme set up by Lord (Hugh) Trenchard, Chief of the Air Staff, after the end of the First World War. Having fibbed that he was really 15, he became one of what became known as "Trenchard's Brats" and went through three years' training at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire. The RAF assumed legal guardianship of the teenage recruits in loco parentis.
His initial missions were as a WOp/AG, first in RAF 144 Squadron and later in 61 (Heavy Bomber) Squadron. Following the Nazi invasion of France, he flew as a WOp/AG on the very first night bombing raid on Berlin. In late 1940, already having flown more than 30 sorties for RAF Bomber Command and received the DFM, he was posted to the new 207 Squadron at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, a squadron specially set up to introduce a new generation of heavy bombers: the Stirling, the Halifax and the ill-fated Avro Manchester, which eventually begat the more successful Avro Lancaster.
All of the new bombers had teething problems, the worst by far being the Manchester with its powerful but under-developed twin Rolls-Royce Vulture engines.
Mr Riddell was wireless operator and air gunner on one of the most famous Avro Manchester raids of the war, over Berlin. After being hit by German ack-ack fire on September 7, 1941, the pilot, WS "Kipper" Herring struggled to get the plane back safely, an incident immortalised in the book Avro Manchester – The Legend Behind The Lancaster, by Robert Kirby.
Flak had pierced a coolant pipe on the port engine, which quickly overheated and had to be shut down. Flying on a single engine, Herring and Riddell decided to reduce weight by ditching everything they could – including the Browning machine guns, heavy oxygen bottles and armoured doors. After a five-hour struggle, Herring landed the plane at West Raynham in Norfolk. (Squadron Leader Herring would later be declared missing, presumed dead, in the plane crash in Gibraltar which killed Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski).
After 16 months in 207 Squadron, Mr Riddell was part of an RAF team sent on a "heroes' tour" of the United States to help sell War Bonds, during which time he met President Franklin D Roosevelt and Hollywood stars including Loretta Young. In all, 207 Squadron, flying mostly at night in Manchesters and Handley-Page Hampden aircraft, lost 68 personnel and had 35 taken prisoners of war.
Posted later to 138 (Special Duties) Squadron, he found himself flying SOE agents, weapons and ammunition into Nazi-occupied areas of Europe. After one "nasty" mission into Norway in September 1944, he was awarded the DFC. According to the citation: "Shortly after leaving the target, the (Handley-Page Hampden) aircraft was involved in a fight with an enemy aircraft. Much damage was sustained. Flight Lieutenant Riddell was wounded in the back and legs. Nevertheless, he would not leave his post ... he set a fine example of courage, fortitude and devotion to duty."
After a spell in hospital, he finished the war with 161 (Special Duties) Squadron and after the war flew Lancasters for 120 Squadron in Palestine, when he was promoted to Squadron Leader. He retired from the RAF in 1954.
In his civilian career, Mr Riddell worked for Pye Electronics, Rolls-Royce, Honeywell and Burroughs before retiring to Auchtermuchty, Fife, to a house conveniently located between the village pub and the cricket pitch. He played golf and rugby for RAF teams and loved to watch village cricket in Freuchie, not far from his home, and take care of his dogs, cats and other pets.
He died in Strathview Retirement Home in Auchtermuchty. His first wife Anne (nee Campbell, whom he married in 1941), predeceased him, as did his second wife Dorothy (nee Paterson, whom he married in 1982). He is survived by a daughter from the first marriage, Kay, and a brother, Archie.
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