Donald James Mackie

The following has been kindly written by both Donald's daughters, Mary-Jean and Rosemary ...

A/G Donald James Mackie
A/G Donald James Mackie
28th February 1915 - 15th August 1980

Dad was one of seven children, three boys & four sisters, born to Effie (nee Vause) & Charles Mackie at Matomahoe, New Zealand. Little is known of his childhood except the family seems to have moved around. Dad, like many of his generation left school at the age of 14 having had no secondary education.

In 1935 the family moved to a farm at Whitehall, some 20 minutes drive from Cambridge. An early photo, marked in Dad’s handwriting, “my camp” was probably taken on this property when the land was being broken in for farming. Dad’s three youngest sisters attended the Whitehall Primary School as in later years would his two daughters.

At the age of twenty, Dad enlisted with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, mustering as a LAC in October 1940. His older brother Stewart Mackie would join the NZ Army serving in Egypt with the Second Expeditionary Force. Dad sailed from Auckland in January 1941 on the Empress of Russia, bound for Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The object of this massive plan was to train air crew in the wide open spaces of Canada.

No.288 Sqdn, RAF Digby 1942/43
A/G Stan Marsh, A/G Don Mackie (2nd right) RNZAF, P/O Bill Sanders RCAF, A/G Geoff Leunig RAAF, P/O John Prescot, Unknow airman.
No.288 Sqdn, RAF Digby 1942/43

A favourite photograph shows Dad in his Air Force uniform outside the Cambridge Post Office prior to his departure for Canada. Four years would pass before he would see his home town again. It has been estimated that 23% of New Zealand air crew would never return.

The ship disembarked at Vancouver where he and other New Zealand airmen boarded a troop train crossing the Rockies in winter for the various training schools throughout the Canadian Provinces. Dad’s initial training was at No 1. Wireless School, Montreal, Quebec before going on to No 6 Bombing & Gunnery, at Mountain View, Ontario. He gained his wings and stripes in September 1941 and departed from Halifax, Nova Scotia in early October 1941 joining a troopship and sailing in convoy for Bournemouth, UK.

Records show he was with No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre in Bournemouth until joining 60 Operational Training Unit. In late March 1942 he was attached to 264 squadron based at Colerne, Wiltshire flying as a gunner in, I believe, Bolton Paul Defiants and possibly Beaufighters. I have never been able to locate Dad’s log book so some details are difficult to confirm. Three months later he was posted to 288 squadron, based primarily at Digby, Lincolnshire and again flying Defiants.

Don with his Defiant at RAF Digby, 1942/43
Don with his Defiant at RAF Digby, 1942/43.
Don (on the bike) with John Townsend (helmet on)
Don (on the bike) with John Townsend (helmet on).

In May 1943 he left the UK to join 200 squadron in West Africa, based in the Gambia and Sierra Leone. Two other airmen who I believe were also attached to 288 squadron at the time Dad was in Digby, accompanied him. One, an Australian, Flight Lieutenant Geoff Leunig and the other Flying Officer John Townsend from Stroud, Gloucester. A number of other New Zealanders were also in W. Africa operating out of Yundum and Rusifque, flying Liberators on reconnaissance, anti submarine sweeps and convoy escort missions. Malaria was a constant problem in this region of high rainfall and humidity.

On the 11th August 1943, Flying Officer Lloyd Trig along with four other New Zealand airmen, a Canadian and two RAF crew, including Flying Officer, John Townsend, bombed a German submarine that had been sighted off the W. African coast. Lloyd Trigg and all his crew perished in the attack when their Liberator BZ832 plunged into the sea. Seven of the fourty three submarine crew of U-468, including Oberleutant Klemens Schamong survived the attack and on the recommendation of the survivors, Trigg was post humously awarded the VC, the only VC given on the recommendation of the enemy. Dad’s diary records the event thus, “Trigg’s V.C. Aug 43 good show.”

No.288 Squadron, RAF RAF Digby, 1942/43
No.288 Squadron, RAF RAF Digby, 1942/43
Don Mackie (front row, 8th from left), John Townsend (front row 3rd from left).

Dad returned to the UK in December 1943 and was posted to Bomber Command’s training school, Base 11’s Heavy Conversion Unit 1667, Sandtoft, Lincolnshire in February 1944. Sandtoft, also known as Prangtoft lived up to its name as Dad recalls he experienced 3 crashes in 2 weeks. On the night of 26-27th April 1944 while on a night training flight in Halifax EB 146, the plane experienced severe vibrations in the port outer engine. The situation worsened and at 9.600ft the Canadian pilot, F/O CD McIvor gave the order to bail out. Dad and three other aircrew escaped but Sgt R D Jack, Air Bomber & Sgt J Irons, Wireless Operator along with the pilot died when the plane crashed near Marshfield, Wiltshire, at 0036hrs. Those who survived along with Dad,(Air Gunner) were; Sgt G A F Hearne, Flight Engineer, Sgt J A Tarrant, Navigator, & Sgt A H King, Rear Gunner.

The survivors were taken to nearby, RAF Colerne. Dad unfortunately landed in a tree and fell after releasing his harness, breaking his back, left leg and sustaining injuries to his chest. Dad then takes up the story. He said he called out for help and “Something I will never forget was a woman bringing me a cup of tea on a tray as I floated in the stream.” In 1977 he and Mum returned to the UK and with the help of staff from RAF Colerne found the tree he had been caught up in, but not the people who had come to his rescue who he really wanted to thank. However he was able to organise a reunion with two of the crew, George Hearne and Alfred King who managed to jump from EB146 before she crashed. Dad was repatriated back to New Zealand in February 1945 to his parent’s farm where his dog didn't recognise him; he had been away over 4 years. THEN he whistled and the dog knew immediately his friend had returned.

Don hanging from the very same tree in 1977, that he landed in back in April 1944
Don hanging from the very same tree in 1977, that he landed in back in April 1944.

Written by his daughters, Mary-Jean & Rosemary. We both have very fond memories of our Mum & Dad. We grew up a rural environment, loved and supported by parents who gave us the best education and a peaceful rural childhood for which we feel very blessed and thankful.

All the above text and images (unless other wise stated) have been supplied by both Don's daughter's, Mary-Jean and Rosemary. We would like to thank the both of them for all the help they have given us, without it, this page would not have been possible.