Athol Charles McKINNON

Serial Number: NZ40772
RNZAF Trade: Pilot
Date of Enlistment: 12th of March 1940
Rank Achieved: Flight Lieutenant
Flying Hours: 671 hours (165 on Beaufighters)
Operational Sorties: 15 Ops (?)

Date of Birth: 27th of January 1917, at Leamington, Cambridge
Personal Details: Athol was the youngest son of Mr Hugh Alexander McKinnon and Mrs Elizabeth McKinnon, of Leamington. He was the husband of Mavis McKinnon, of Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand.

He attended Cambridge District High School, where he passed his matriculation exam in 1932. In 1933 he then gained his Higher Leaving Certificate at the school. On leaving school he worked as a clerk with the Electricity Branch of Public Works Department in Hamilton.

In March 1939, Athol applied for a Short Service Commission in the Royal Air Force, but due to the outbreak of hostilities in Europe he was unsuccessful. When he learned this he immediately applied for the RNZAF.

Service Details: Athol joined the RNZAF on the 12th of March 1940 at the Ground Training School, Weraroa, Levin. After his initial training, he was posted on the 8th of April 1940 to No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School. This was at RNZAF Station Bell Block, New Plymouth, where he was instructed in flying training on Tiger Moths and other light types.

He then proceeded on the 3rd of June 1940 to No. 2 Service Flying Training School at RNZAF Woodbourne. At this school he learned more advanced flying techniques in heavier biplanes such as the Vickers Vincent, and possibly the monoplane Harvards. He passed this course and was award his flying badge, or 'wings', on the 8th of August 1940. On the 21st of September 1940 Athol was promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer.

In early October he came home on leave, and was farewelled from Cambridge before embarking overseas for the United Kingdom.

On arriving in England, Athol was posted on the 9th of December 1940 to No. 56 Operational Training Unit at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire. At this school he completed operational training in Hawker Hurricane fighters.

The OTU course was completed in the new year and on the 24th of January 1941, Athol was posted to No. 256 Squadron at Pembray in South Wales. Whilst with this squadron, they moved to Colerne in Wiltshire, and then onto Squires Gate in Lancashire.

During July 1941 Athol reported to No. 1 Beam Approach School at Watchfield, Wiltshire to attend an instrument flying course. He returned to No. 256 Squadron at the conclusion of this course. No. 256 Squadron flew Boulton-Paul Defiant two-seat fighters, and with the squadron Athol took part in fifteen offensive operational patrols - nine of which were at night. Whilst with No. 256, the squadron converted from Defiants to Hawker Hurricanes. It's not known at this stage how many ops Athol did in this fighter type, if any. He was promoted to Flying Officer on the 23rd of September 1941.

Athol was posted on the 1st of October 1941 to the then-forming No. 153 Squadron at Ballyhalbert, in Northern Ireland. This squadron also operated Defiants as night-fighters, and it began to move into Ballyhalbert on the 14th of October, officially forming on the 24th. The squadron subsequently moved to Eglington, also in NI. In January 1942 the squadron began to slowly re-equip with Bristol Beaufighters to replace the Defiants, but they continued with both types together till May 1942 when the Defiants were withdrawn.

On the 20th of May 1942, Athol began a course at No. 7 Flying Instructor's Course, at Upavon in Wiltshire. He completed the course and rejoined No. 153 Squadron at Eglington.

Another move came on the 12th of August 1942 when Athol was posted to No. 488 (NZ) Squadron at Church Fenton in Yorkshire. He moved with the squadron to Ayr in Scotland on the 1st of September 1942. Athol achieved the rank of Flight Lieutenant on the 23rd of September 1942.

Details of Death: Athol was a member of 488 (NZ) Squadron, a nightfigther unit. On the night of Saturday the 5th/Sunday the 6th of December 1942, he was practicing a ground controlled interception (GCI) in Bristol Beaufighter IIF V8162. At the conclusion of the exercise at 0010, Athol was returning his aircraft to their base at Ayr, Ayrshire, when it collided with another 488 Sqn Beaufighter IIF T3385. The two crews died in the accident. Athol was aged 25

Buried at: All four men are buried at Ayr Cemetery, Scotland

Connection with Cambridge: Athol was born in Leamington, Cambridge and lived in the town till joining the RNZAF

Notes: Details of this airman's death were sourced from the excellent volumes of 'For Your Tomorrow' by Errol Martyn. See more details on these highly recommended books here


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