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The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. D O Finlay


Donald Osborne Finlay was born on 27th May 1909. He was educated at Taunton's Secondary School, Southampton and joined the RAF as an Aircraft Apprentice in September 1925, passing out in August 1928 as a Fitter, Aero Engines.

He married Gladys Selway in October 1932 in East Preston, Sussex.

Finlay was a well-known Olympic hurdler before the war, winning a Silver Medal in Berlin in 1936.

Finlay later remustered as an Airman u/t Pilot and on completion of his training he was granted a Permanent Commission on 30th April 1935 and posted to 17 Squadron at Kenley on 13th May. He went to 54 Squadron at Hornchurch on 16th March 1936 and on 29th August 1937 Finlay was posted to the RAF School of Aeronautical Engineering at Henlow for a course.

He was given command of 54 Squadron on 26th August 1940. Two days later he was shot down by Me109s over Ramsgate and baled out, wounded. His Spitfire, X4053, is believed to be that which crashed at Westbere Lake near Canterbury.

Finlay was taken to the hospital at Leeds Castle before being transferred on 9th September to Kent and Canterbury Hospital in Canterbury with 'Gunshot wound right buttock'. He must have recovered as his admittance record is marked 'Absconded 11th September'.


41 Squadron

Back row: F/O HC Baker, F/O DA Adams, P/O MF Briggs, Sgt. EV Darling, F/O JN McKenzie,

F/O ADJ Lovell (in cockpit)

 Front row: P/O DE Mileham, F/Lt. EN Ryder, Sgt. RA Angus, S/Ldr. DO Finlay, Sgt. TWR Healy,

Sgt. JS Gilders, P/O EP Wells, Sgt. RC Ford


In mid-September Finlay was posted to command 41 Squadron at Hornchurch. On the 23rd he claimed a Me109 destroyed, on 1st October damaged a Me109, on the 7th shared a Do17, on the 9th and 20th damaged Me109s, shared a Me109 on the 27th and destroyed Me109s on 23rd and 27th November.

In August 1941 Finlay was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and posted to HQ 11 Group as Engineering Officer. He destroyed a Me109 on 3rd March 1942, flying with 485 Squadron.

Finlay was awarded the DFC (gazetted 10th April 1942).

He damaged a Fw190 on 30th July 1942, flying with the Hornchurch Wing.

Posted to the Mediterranean, Finlay took temporary command of 608 Squadron at Montecorvino on 1st April 1944. He was promoted to Acting Group Captain soon afterwards and posted to be SASO at 210 Group, British North African Forces.

He was awarded the AFC (gazetted 1st September 1944).

In 1945 Finlay commanded 906 Wing in Burma. He stayed on in the RAF in the Engineering Branch and retired on 23rd February 1959 as a Group Captain.

Finlay was badly hurt and left paralysed after a car crash in 1966. He died on 18th April 1970.


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