Victoria Cross recipient honoured with new grave marker

News Article / May 19, 2017

By Martin Zeilig

A First World War air force hero was honoured on the blustery, bright morning of May 9, 2017, at historical Old Kildonan Cemetery in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Second Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod was a Canadian airman who served with the Great Britain’s Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force) during the First World War. On September 4, 1918, he was awarded a Victoria Cross, which is presented for gallantry “in the face of the enemy”, for his actions on March 27, 1918. He was severely injured at that time, and returned home to Winnipeg to recover from his injuries where he died of influenza on November 6, 1918.

“Lieutenant McLeod, VC was buried in his family’s plot with a black granite marker,” said Brigadier-General (retired) David Kettle, formerly the Canadian Armed Forces’ chaplain general and now secretary general of the Canadian Agency of Commonwealth War Graves Commission, based in Ottawa, Ontario, during the ceremony.

“His military service was recorded on the marker, including inscriptions of the RAF crest and the Victoria Cross. In recent years, cemetery officials questioned why Lieutenant McLeod’s burial site was not also marked with an iconic Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone. The Commission agreed and installed this upright marker and plaque to honour this brave man and outline his heroic actions.”

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone, engraved with the Victoria Cross, and a commemorative plaque has now been placed at his burial site, next to the family headstone. The ceremony dedicating the new markers attracted about 100 people, both military and civilian.

Alan McLeod was born on April 20, 1899, in Stonewall, Manitoba, about 37 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, to parents Dr. Alexander Neil McLeod and Margaret Lillian McLeod.

“He displayed a passion for the armed forces from a young age, joining the Fort Garry Horse Militia in Stonewall at the age of 14,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Morrison from 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg. “Following attempts to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps on his 18th birthday in 1917 in Manitoba.”

He was sent for pilot training to the Royal Flying Corps Canada’s Long Branch airfield, near Toronto, in the summer of 1917.  He was considered a natural-born pilot, taking his first solo flight after two hours and fifteen minutes of dual flying time. He graduated in July and sailed for England in August.

On March 27, 1918, 18-year-old Second Lieutenant McLeod and his observer, Lieutenant Arthur Hammond, members of 2 Squadron, were flying an Armstrong Whitworth FK reconnaissance aircraft when they were intercepted by eight enemy planes. Their fuel tank was hit and exploded, engulfing their aircraft in flames. Lieutenant McLeod, forced to fly the aircraft from the wing, entered it into a side-sweep to keep the flames from scorching him and his observer. Nevertheless, during the encounter, they shot down three aircraft. Second Lieutenant McLeod was wounded five times and his observer received six bullet wounds.

Victoria Cross Citation

Official Account of Deed for which Award was made”

Whilst flying with his observer (Lt. A. W. Hammond, M.C.), attacking hostile formations by bombs and machine-gun fire, he was assailed at a height of 5,000 feet by eight enemy triplanes, which dived at him from all directions, firing from their front guns. By skilful manoeuvring he enabled his observer to fire bursts at each machine in turn, shooting three of them down out of control. By this time Lt. McLeod had received five wounds, and whilst continuing the engagement a bullet penetrated his petrol tank and set the machine on fire. He then climbed out on to the left bottom plane, controlling his machine from the side of the fuselage, and by side-slipping steeply kept the flames to one side, thus enabling the observer to continue firing until the ground was reached. The observer had been wounded six times when the machine crashed in "No Man's Land," and 2nd Lt. McLeod, notwithstanding his own wounds, dragged him away from the burning wreckage at great personal risk from heavy machine-gun fire from the enemy's lines. This very gallant pilot was again wounded by a bomb whilst engaged in this act of rescue, but he persevered until he had placed Lt. Hammond in comparative safety, before falling himself from exhaustion and loss of blood. Victoria Cross.

 

“From the burning wreck Lieutenant McLeod dragged his unconscious observer to a nearby shell crater when he was hit a sixth time by German gun fire,” continued Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison. The two survived the encounter and, for his actions, Second Lieutenant McLeod was awarded the Victoria Cross. He “returned home in the fall of 1918 [to recuperate from his injuries] where he succumbed to influenza on 6 November, 1918.”

He was the youngest of three Canadian airmen who received the Victoria Cross during the First World War. Lieutenant Hammond received a Bar to his Military Cross for his part in the action.

Among those present at the dedication were Hamilton, Ontario, resident Alan Adams, a nephew of Alan McLeod, and Kathleen Williams, a grandniece of Arthur Hammond. Although he never knew his heroic uncle, Mr. Adams said Alan McLeod lives on in his imagination from the stories passed down from the family.

“Lieutenant Arthur W. Hammond was a veteran RFC observer who had already earned a Military Cross when paired with the young Alan McLeod in the spring of 1918,” says information provided by Ms. Williams. “Hammond’s skill and experience and McLeod’s fearless ability created a very strong team. They only survived because of each other. Hammond was lying on the ground beside the aircraft. Both men were suffering from bullets and burns. McLeod pulled Hammond towards Allied territory, but suffered another bullet in doing so. Hammond’s right leg was amputated later at a Red Cross hospital.”

"May this commemoration to the enormous personal sacrifice of Lieutenant Alan. A. MacLeod, VC, leave us with a poignant physical reminder of the war and be remembered by the generations that will follow,” said Brigadier-General Kettle at the conclusion of his remarks.

“Lest we forget.”

 

Editor’s note: While many sources indicate Second Lieutenant McLeod’s rank as lieutenant, he passed away before he could be promoted to that rank.

With files from RCAF History and Heritage.

 

Date modified: