War-time RAF pilot and oil worker.

Born March 28, 1923;

Died November 4, 2019.

Jack Mckerracher, who has died aged 96, was a teenage office worker who volunteered for the RAF in the Second World War and became a pilot of both fighter-bombers and gliders.

He trained as a shipping clerk at Grangemouth docks and after the outbreak of war in 1939 was a member of the Local Defence Volunteers, the armed citizen militia that later became the Home Guard, as he was too young to enlist in the forces.

He joined the RAF in 1943, passed selection for aircrew and was sent to Moose Jaw and North Battleford in Saskatchewan, Canada, for flying training before returning to the UK. He completed his training on Airspeed Oxfords and expected to be sent to a Mosquito advanced flying unit, until reality dawned on arrival at Harrogate to find hundreds of other new pilots with the same expectations.

He recalled: “I was lucky to be given the job of flying trainee navigators around the south of England for several months, but that was too good to last. On returning to Harrogate the situation hadn’t changed much, so when the request for pilots to form glider squadrons came through, I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Mckerracher found the conversion from powered aircraft to gliders “quite a culture shock”; gone was the fingertip control and instant response of the warplanes he had trained in, to be replaced by the sluggish controls of the glider. “In fact on my first trip in the Hotspur glider, I thought I was about to do a slow roll at the end of a rope. However, after getting used to making counteractions to any manoeuvre, things weren’t too bad.”

He then converted from Hotspur to Horsa gliders, a straightforward process apart from the night flying phase at Brize Norton, which he described as “hair raising”. He wrote: “We had a station pilot with us to show us the ropes and took off until the towing aircraft disappeared into the cloud at about 500 feet, the station pilot released from the towing aircraft and there was only one way to go.

“We hit the ground quite heavily, bounced and fortunately landed the right way up. Apparently we had bounced across a road and why the Oleo leg (hydraulic shock absorber) didn’t come up through the fuselage is a mystery. Night flying in blackout Britain was like flying in thick fog. Maybe my diet was short on carrots. Even the runway lights looked as if someone had forgotten to feed the meter.”

By this time a member of 669 Squadron, at the completion of his training in 1944 he was granted a short leave before the squadron was flown out to India and the gliders were shipped out by sea. He was now part of 343 Wing RAF, formed in India to enable a large-scale airborne operation to supplement the rapid advance of the "Forgotten" 14th Army and turn the course of the Burma campaign against the Japanese.

Awaiting the arrival of their aircraft at the squadron base at Basal, on the North West Frontier (now in Pakistan), the airmen visited Poona, Belgaum and the jungle survival course at Mahabaleshwar. At this time, 669 Squadron distinguished itself by being the best squadron in operational training and commando training, and was awarded a special commendation from the air officer commanding-in-chief, India.

Mckerracher’s imminent entry to airborne operations was to suffer a setback when it was discovered that the glue used to fix the fabric to the wings of the Horsa gliders melted in the extreme heat. They were replaced by US-made Waco CG-4, named Hadrian in British service, which he found pleasant enough to fly but not as manoeuvrable as the Horsa.

But it was still not plain sailing, or flying. He recalled: “The Horsa had flaps like barn doors and could be landed on a sixpence, while the Hadrian had spoilers on top of the wings and required a little more finesse. It was then discovered that the temperature under the Perspex canopies was high enough to make them unsafe. One of our pilots passed out on the approach and flying was suspended.”

The squadron was moved up to cooler climes at the hill station in the Murree Hills, where a pleasant time was had by all and the lack of serious training led him later to suspect plans were already in place to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. “When the Japanese finally surrendered, a sigh of relief went up all round,” he wrote. “Our colleagues in Europe didn’t fare so well but I suppose it is the luck of the draw.”

John Seffen Mckerracher was born in Pumpherston, West Lothian, the youngest of five children. He grew up there and in Grangemouth, where he was schooled before starting work at the docks with Gillespie & Nicol as a shipping clerk. After being demobbed from the RAF at the end of the war as a sergeant, he returned to his job but later travelled to Bahrain to work with Caltex at their oil refinery, remaining there for more than 30 years and raising his family among the expat community.

The Mckerrachers enjoyed the outside life in the Middle East, fishing on their much-loved boat, golfing, playing tennis and socialising. He never slowed down after retiring back to Grangemouth, playing golf three times a week in all weathers as a member at Muckart Golf Club, pottering in his garage and listening to his favourite music. He was also a loyal member of the Scottish Saltire Aircrew Association, to which he contributed memories of his war-time service.

Decades after Mckerracher’s war-time return from India, his son Gordon found himself based in Islamabad, also working in the oil industry. He managed to get his parents out there one Christmas and they visited Mr Mckerracher’s old haunts, such as Basal and Fateh Jang airfields, where some of the local villagers remembered him, Muree hill station and Fat Sam’s nightclub, since turned into a restaurant.

Jack Mckerracher was predeceased by his wife Joyce, known as Joy. He is survived by Gordon, daughters Maureen and Sharon, six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.