Wartime flight engineer

Born: September 3, 1925;

Died: April 28, 2019.

ANDERSON MacCormick, who has died aged 93, was a flight engineer on RAF Lancaster bombers who swapped payloads of high explosives for food packages to save the lives of thousands of famine-struck civilians in the Second World War. Of all the missions he took part in, he was most proud of Operation Manna, the massive airdrop of aid supplies to the starving Dutch population who were still under enemy occupation.

For once, his heavy bomber was not raining death and destruction in the shape of 1,000lb blast bombs but, instead, sustenance for desperate civilians. Some 20,000 men, women and children died in the Dutch Hunger Winter famine of 1944-45.

Flying in at just 500ft, Mr MacCormick and his fellow airmen glimpsed ecstatic civilians along with now-silent German anti-aircraft guns, their crews curiously passive but in some cases, positively delighted.

He recalled: “The weather was atrocious but we saw people waving to us as they were coming out of their homes, some still in their night clothing. The German troops were walking in pairs on the street carrying their rifles over their shoulders. There was a light ack-ack gun crew there who literally followed us round with the gun. They could have opened fire and we had no guns at all; they’d been taken out of the aircraft.

“There was a wooden jetty going into the North Sea and at the end of it was a German soldier with his rifle on his shoulder and his tin hat in his hand and he was waving at us. It felt an awful lot better dropping food rather than bombs.”

He completed four sorties on Operation Manna, the parallel mission to the US-led Operation Chowhound, but was nervous on the first low-level trip, as the truce with local German forces was unofficial.

Anderson MacCormick was born on September 3, 1925 in Shaftesbury Street, Dalmuir, to John, a policeman, and Jessie, nee Anderson. The family moved to Hill Street, Alexandria, in 1933 and he later attended the Vale of Leven Academy. Leaving school at 15, he found work with Glen Photographers, working on both private commissions and supplying pictures to the local newspapers. This was where he gained his lifelong love of photography. His interest in flying was fostered by his membership of the Air Training Corps.

He quit his job in January 1944 and enlisted in the RAF, spending 10 months training as a flight engineer on Lancaster bombers Mks 1 and 3. He was posted to the heavy conversion unit at RAF Sandtoft and then to 100 Squadron in February 1945, flying from Grimbsby, Elsham Woods and finally Scampton.

Mr MacCormick recalled the terrifying experience of being “coned” by enemy searchlights on one raid over Keil and seeing German rockets launched and shooting towards his aircraft. On a daylight raid on Bremen, his Lancaster had difficulty climbing and was 2,000ft below the main bombing stream when the other aircraft released their bomb loads, which fortunately missed them.

The initial trip for Operation Manna was to Lyden on April 29, 1945, with his Lancaster one of the first to cross the Dutch coast that night. He then took part in the following mercy missions on May 1, 2 and 3, dropping food on Rotterdam and the surrounding area.

After hostilities ended, he was posted to Europe to ferry badly wounded service personnel and liberated PoWs back from Germany and Italy. He was demobbed as a sergeant in 1947, but remained in the RAF Volunteer Reserve and was a civilian gliding school instructor at weekends from 1948 to 1955, flying with No 66 Group in No 2 Combined Gliding School at Grangemouth. From 1960, he was a civilian instructor with No 663 Gliding School, before receiving a commission as a pilot officer in the RAF Volunteer Reserve (Training) to train and teach gliding and flying in Tiger Moths to air cadets. He resigned his commission in 1968 after being injured in a car crash.

After the war, Mr MacCormick joined Royal Liver Assurance, rising to become an insurance agent. He worked with the firm for 42 years. In 1955 he married Margaret Munro, flitting from Alexandria to Govan, Glasgow. The family briefly moved with his work to Huddersfield before settling back in Scotland, and Milngavie.

In May 1985, he and his wife were invited to Holland for the first of three commemoration ceremonies in which the Dutch people thanked former Allied airmen involved in operations Manna and Chowhound.

He enjoyed looking after his roses, fly fishing and taught his children to swim, which saved his son’s life after he fell into the river Helmsdale while fishing on holiday. Despite failing health, Mr MacCormick still managed to go on a few cruises to Norway, the Baltic and back to South Uist for one final visit in 2016.

Mr MacCormick was predeceased by his wife but is survived by a son, John, and daughter Anne.