Graham Reese MAGILL
CBE, DFC and Bar, M.I.D.
Known as Digger
RAF Service Number: 39236
RAF Trade: Pilot
Date of Enlistment: 31st of August 1936 ( RAF)
Date of Retirement: 29th of January 1970 (from RAF)
Rank Achieved: Air Vice Marshall
Date of Birth: 23rd of January 1915, at Cambridge
Graham was the son of Mr and Mrs R.W. Magill who owned a drapery business in Cambridge before the war, before shifting to Ruakaka, Te Aroha. The family sold their business to Messrs Sayers and Ward, who were both also fathers
of Cambridge airmen-to-be.
Graham attended Cambridge Primary School before moving to Te Aroha, and later studied at Hamilton Technical High School. He became an electrical engineer after leaving school, amd he also worked in journalism and commercial work. He was also vocalist and often visited Cambridge for singing gigs.
But his passion was aviation and he learned to fly at the Waikato Aero Club, Rukuhia, before departing for England in May 1936, where he obtained a short service commission in the Royal Air Force. On the 5th of November 1942 Graham married Miss Blanche Marie Colson of Abbotshom, Devon, at Blackpool.
Service Details: Graham was already trained as a pilot when he got to England, where he applied for and was granted a Short Service Commission with the Royal Air Force. He was accepted for enlistment on the 31st of August 1936, and following a period of basic training he was made an Acting Pilot Officer (Provisional) on the 2nd of November 1936.
On the 5th of August 1937 the Waikato Independent newspaper published the following extracts from a letter Graham wrote to a relative of his in Cambridge, which describes his training - with a bit of added paraphrasing from the Independent writer:
Preparing For Exam
“We returned to Peterborough on June 18 after four weeks at North Coates. At Peterborough our stay was occupied chiefly with arrangements and practices for our passing out inspection on June 28. We did a lot of drill and had to get our aeroplanes spick and span.
"In that period we had a week-end off to visit Hendon for the annual R.A.F. display. It was a most interesting show, and attracted an exceptionally large crowd. The fly-past of 250 aeroplanes was the feature of the day, and was well worth seeing for itself alone. The new types on show were exceptionally interesting; to us all.
"I was recently promoted to squad commander and posted to No. 211 Bomber Squadron, which at present is at Mildenhall (the starting point of the Centenary Air Race). Our squadron has only just; been formed, and the permanent C.O. does not arrive until July. About the middle of August we are to go to Grantham. Although I was trained as a heavy bomber pilot, this squadron is to be eventually equipped with the renowned Bristol Blenheim medium bomber aircraft. Meantime we will be issued Hawker Audax machines.
"Keaney and Macnab, two South Africans, have been posted to this squadron also, so I am not a lone
colonial here. Two of the other four officers of the squadron are Australians, so the colonies outnumber the Homeland by five to two.
'Results of my passing out tests at F.T.S. show that I managed to maintain my position third with 85.5 per cent points, for the whole course. Of the first four placings in the whole course we three New Zealanders held second, third and fourth placings — Bethune got 87.2 per cent and Clousfon: 84.1 per cent.
"What is even more gratifying is the fact that we three and the top man, a Scotsman named Hume (87.9 per cent) have been recommended for “distinguished passes.” If granted it means that we will not have to sit the promotion examination for rank of flying: officer, and that our seniority will be advanced two months.
He Likes The Life
"It is too soon yet to form, an opinion of squadron life, but we hope that it will prove a pleasant relief from the at times irksome; F.T.S. existence, though we had many happy times at Peterborough. After nearly ten months of training: together we got to know each other very well, and were sorry to part company. The course is scattered all over England, and it is quite possible that in so large a service we may never run across many of them again, though we have tentatively planned a reunion in London at some future date.
"You will recall that when I left Yatesbury I was classed “above average” as a pilot,
and at the end of this latest term that was again recorded in my log: book."
Mr Magill mentions that he has missed the blue skies and summery weather of New Zealand, for until April he “had not experienced a day in England when the sky was completely clear of cloud; even days on which patches of blue were about have been very few until just before date of writing.”
He goes on to describe in racy style a visit late in April made by several officers to the Crystal Palace to see the opening meeting of the new road racing track there. The racing was of a high standard and the leading drivers were splendidly efficient. There must have been about 75,000 people present. The ruins of the Crystal Palance building in the background, looked very forlorn — a mere skeleton of its former beauty.
Reverting to his own doings, Mr
Magill told of Lewis gun ground exercises carried out on the range by the heavy bomber pilots early in May, when the writer managed to put up a very creditable showing. He adds: “However, it is going to be a different matter handling the gun in the air and fighting against the slipstream at the same time.”
Another paragraph reads: “We fly during the day in weather in which we would not even do dual instruction last term. Yesterday another chap and I tried to do Lewis camera gun practice from the air on to a ground target while it was raining quite heavily. It was so thick that on the way home from the target I could not fly above 500 ft, and even at that height I was in fairly heavy rain which nearly cut my face to bits when I ventured to look out from behind the windscreen.
"On changing over into the back seat the position was no better, for there one gets even more rain, and by the time our half-hour was up we were both pretty wet and not a little fed up. There was no wind, and from an actual flying point of view it was perfectly safe, but as regards comfort it was ‘not so hot.’ To make matters worse, water got on the lens and the whole film, was a washout, as nothing could be distinguished.
“I had a bit of a thrill recently, when I was being taxied across the aerodrome by L.A.C. Gale, who, as pilot, had just taken me to Cranwell and back, above the clouds.| We were proceeding merrily along when suddenly he spotted another machine coming in to land ahead of us. He applied his brakes in the usual manner, but for some reason or other they took rather drastic effect and up went the kite on its nose. As soon as I was sure he had turned everything off, we commenced to get out of the bus. And then the fun began.
“In such a position it is extremely awkward, and the rear cockpit is some distance from the ground. Gale climbed down between the wings, whereas I had to hop over the side and jump for it. My parachute harness caught on the way, with the result that I made a heavy landing, the seat of my pants hitting the ground first.
“As you can guess, that amused several of the lads who happened to be watching from the tarmac. By that time the fire engine and ambulance had arrived —as is the custom in the case of all accidents, no matter how slight. A couple of airmen turned up and took a snap of the kite. We climbed aboard the ambulance and took a lift back to the tarmac.
“The machine suffered nothing further than a broken prop., as she had gone on to her nose so gently. She is back in service again now, There was a bit of a dust-up about it, but nothing serious. Although only a passenger, I was not altogether free from the ‘blast.’ The flight commander of ‘D’ Flight did much the same thing one day since, but he made a regular mess of his kite, for he was going much faster than we were at the time of our misfortune.”
As mentioned in his latter, Graham's first squadron posting was to the newly reformed No. 211 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, arriving there on the 30th of June 1937. The squadron had only reformed on the 24th of June, having disbanded in 1919, so he was one of the original pilots of the new era. They were initially flying Hawker Audax light bombers but these began to be replaced by Hawker Hinds in August 1937, and the squadron was flying only the Hind by October. In the meantime Graham had received his commission as a fully fledged Pilot Officer on the 31st of August 1937, a year after he'd joined the RAF.
On the 30th of April 1938 Graham was posted to No. 47 Squadron at Khartoum in Sudan. At this time the squadron was flying Fairey Gordons and Vickers Vincents. He quite possibly flew Vincents there that later came to New Zealand for the RNZAF.
In 1939 the squadron began to replace its Vincents with the long range Vickers Wellesley bombers, a geodetic design by Barnes Wallis. These were faster than the Vincent and Gordon. Graham was promoted to Flying Officer on the 28th of February 1939, and less than two months later, on the 19th of April 1939 he was appointed as the Flight Commander of No. 47 Squadron, with the new rank of Acting Flight Lieutenant.
The war began on the 3rd of September 1939. Not a great deal happened in the Sudan till the 11th of June 1940 when Italy entered the war, and No. 47 Squadron made a successful daylight raid onthe Italian-held aerodrome at Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, that same day. This was Graham's first operation of the war, but he'd fly many more ops following this against enemy targets in Eritrea and Abyssinia.
On the 26th of June 1940 Graham was the pilot of Vickers Wellesley K7785 on a raid to Gura. Upon his return to base at Khartoum the undercarriage collapsed on landing, resulting in severe enough damage to the aircraft that it was struck off charge. On the 3rd of September 1940 Graham was confirmed in the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
No. 47 Squadron also flew operations in support of the British Army and its Allies. From August 1940 onwards Graham and the squadron worked a lot with the irregular soldier Orde Wingate, best known for his work behind enemy lines with his Gideon Force, and later his Chindits in Burma.
Graham was very involved in the aerial action above the Battle of Keren in Eritrea which went from the 5th of February till the 1st of April 1941. He was commaning the squadron by this time. During that battle he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his service in Africa on the 11th of February 1941. On the 24th of September 1941 he was also Mentioned in Despatches.
By the time the Battle of Keren was won, Graham had well and truly flown more than his tour of operations, so was aken off flying ops for a rest and moved on from No. 47 Squadron to a role as a staff officer in Cairo.
While in Cairo, with the rank now of (Temporary) Wing Commander, Air Vice Marshal Tedder chose Graham to become a liaison officer between the RAF and the 2nd Division, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Egypt and Libya. Graham was attached to the Division and was liaising directly with General Bernard Freyberg, Commander of the 2nd NZEF. He spent time in the front lines, including at Sidi Rezegh and Tobruk with the Army.
It was in Tobruk that graham left the Division and he flew back to Cairo. He was expecting to be given command of another operational squadron there but missed out due to a delay in getting back, so he opted to go back to England, which took some time as the ship went via the Cape of Good Hope and then Trinidad. and also broke down at one point.
However by May 1942 Graham was back in Britain and was posted to No. 226 Squadron, as a Flight Commander, flying Douglas Bostons from RAF Wattisham, then Swanton Morleyin England. He was now raiding targets in the Lowlands, orginally as part of Bomber Command but then the squadron was reorganised to become part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force. His most memorable operation in the Bostons was on the Philips Works at Eindhoven, the Netherlands on the 6th of December 1942.
His crew were Donald Walsh, the navigator from Australia, and 'Taffy' Gubbins, a Welsh gunner. Their Boston wore nose art with a boomerang, and with a kiwi on the front, a kangaroo in the middle and a Welsh dragon at the back of the emblem to represent his crew.
In January 1943 he took command of No. 180 Squadron, at RAF Foulsham, Norfolk, flying North American B-25 Mitchells, again as (Temporary) Wing Commander in order to lead this squadron. He took over command after the previous commander had been shot down and killed on this new squadron's first operation. Later the squadron moved to RAF Dunsfold in Surrey.
The squadron did a lot of medium level bombing ops on German targets including attacking the V1 and V2 sites. One of his memorable operations with the No. 180 Squadron Mitchells was leading a raid on Pas-de-Calais, on a site thought to house the top secret German V3 multi-charge cannon project. This was his last operation with the squadron.
On the 16th of November 1943 Graham was awarded a bar to his DFC for his service in these two day-bomber squadrons. Graham was also Mentioned in Despatches, and at the time he received his bar to the DFC, he had been given command of a new RAF station in England .
He was posted to Operations Staff, No 2 Group in October 1943, and reduced back down to Squadron Leader rank. On the 1st of July 1945 he was again given (T) Wing Commander rank due to added responsibility in the job.
Immediately after the end of the war, Graham commanded No. 14 Squadron, who were flying Mosquito B.16'sfrom RAF Wahn in Germany. Graham had decided to stay on in the RAF postwar, and so he was given permanent commission as Squadron Leader on the 4th of June 1946.
Promoted to Wing Commander on the 1st of July 1947. From 1949-52 he was on the staff of the RAF Headquarters, Middle East in Egypt.
He spent 1953-1955 as Commanding Officer of the Ferry Control Wing at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. This was followed by an appointment to HQ Allied Air Forces Europe, Fountainbleau, now as a Group Captain (promotion dated 1st of January 1955).
He then commanded RAF Upwood in Huntingdonshire, before becoming Director of Operations (Bomber and Reconnaissance) at the Air Ministry in 1959, ranked as Acting Air Commodore.
Next he was Commandant of the Royal Air Force College of Air Warfare ay manby in Lincolnshire. He was confirmed as an Air Commodore on the 1st of January 1960 and was promoted again to Air Vice Marshall on the 1st of January 1954.
Graham took up a new appointment to the position of Director-General of Organisation (RAF) at the Ministry of Defence on the 20th of July 1964.
On the 22nd of May 1967 he became Air Officer Commanding, No 25 (Training) Group.
14 months later on the 1st of July 1968, he was appointed Air Officer Commanding, No 22 (Training) Group He retired from the RAF on the 29th of January 1970.
Special Note: The Imperial War Museum conducted an audio interview with Graham about his wartime memories. You can listen to the recording here.
Died: 1st of December 1998, aged 83, at Glamorganshire, Wales
Connection with Cambridge: Graham Magill was born and brought up in Cambridge.
Waikato Independent newspaper reports mentioning Graham Magill:
”Great Coolness and Courage” awarded DFC 12 Feb 1941
Sqn Ldr mentioned in despatches 8 Oct 1941
Promoted to rank of Wing Commander 3 May 1943
Bar to DFC 25 Nov 1943
OBE 2 Nov 1945
Granted permanent commission 23 Nov 1945