Naming Names

Posted 2010.11.11 10.30 in Spiritual by Stephanie

Alan Arnett McLeod

Born in 1900 in Manitoba, at age 17 he enlisted to serve Canada in fighting the Great War. He became a pilot, and was shipped over to France. Flying a biplane, he was the pilot and with him was his ‘observer’ who sat behind him and had a machine gun.

In May of 1918, while they were flying at about 5000 feet, they were attacked by eight German triplanes. The enemy came from all angles, but Lt. McLeod was able to maneover his plane around so his observer could keep shooting back, and they managed to shoot down three of the eight enemy planes. By this time, McLeod had been shot 5 times by the German machine guns. Then a bullet hit his gas tank, which was kept just under the upper wing, right infront of where he was sitting. The leaking petrol caught fire, engulfing the front of the plane. Remember, this is a biplane made of wood and paper and fabric. Struck five times by machine-gun fire, and now his cockpit in flames all about him.

So Lt. McLeod climbed out onto the wing of his plane, and stood on the wing while keeping an arm in the cockpit so he could fly while hanging on outside. He did a slideslip manoever to keep the flames to the opposite side of the plane as he flew. His observer was able to continue shooting at the attacking Germans. McLeod was able to bring his plane down in a ‘controlled crash’, but they crashed in no-mans-land right at the front, and immediately came under heavy machine-gun fire from the German lines. By this point, the observer had received six bullet wounds. McLeod, despite his wounds, pulled his observer from the burning plane then started to pull the man away from the enemy lines. McLeod was wounded a 6th time by a German bomb, but he continued the rescue till he had gotten his crewman to the safety of the friendly lines.

Shot 5 times, standing on the wing of his burning plane, crashing, getting hit by a bomb, and through it all still risking his life to save his observer, while under machine-gun fire and with bombs falling about him. All this, and he was just an 18-year old kid.

For this action, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour in the British Empire / Commonwealth.

Lt. McLeod was eventually shipped back to Canada and in December, 1918, he died in a Winnipeg hospital, at age 19. There are conflicting reports, some say he died of his injuries, others that he died of influenza. It may have been both – he was probably still recovering from his wounds when the influenza struck.

I’m not related in any way to Alan McLeod. I knew nothing about him till I came across a painting in a flying museum which depicted him standing on the wing of his plane whilst manoevering, as his observer continued firing at the enemy planes.

Rememberance Day is not just a time to remember the big concepts. Individuals like Lt. McLeod, and countless others who gave everything they had in the service of our country, all deserve to be remembered.