The Airmen's Stories - P/O W W McConnell
William Winder McConnell was born in Belfast on 9th June 1917 and educated at Belfast Technical School. In April 1934 he went to work as a clerk for the Electricity Board.
McConnell joined the RAFVR on 2nd February 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot and began his flying training at 24 E&RFTS Belfast. Called up on 1st September 1939, he was posted to 4 ITW Bexhill on 29th October and on 9th December moved on to 6 FTS Little Rissington.
At the end of the course McConnell went on one weeks leave with orders to report to an OTU afterwards. After two days he was directed to join 245 Squadron at Hawkinge. The CO was surprised when three new pilots arrived on 18th June 1940, none of them having flown a Hurricane.
On 19th September McConnell was attached to 32 Squadron at Acklington, on the 24th he was posted to 607 Squadron at Tangmere and finally to 249 Squadron at North Weald on 14th October.
McConnell was jumped by a Me109 over the Channel on 10th January 1941 and received a bullet wound in the left leg. He managed to turn towards the English coast and baled out near Dover, being picked up by an ASR launch.
His Hurricane, P3579, went head-on into the white cliffs. W/Cdr. FV Beamish probably destroyed McConnell's attacker.
McConnell was in hospital for four months. He returned to operations on 23rd May 1941 when he joined No. 1 Squadron at Redhill. He was with the squadron until 28th March 1942, joining then the newly-reformed 174 Squadron at Manston as a Flight Commander.
Above: McConnell with 174 Squadron, standing third from left
Awarded the DFC (gazetted 30th June 1942), McConnell was given command of the squadron when the CO, S/Ldr. EF Fayolle was killed over Dieppe on 19th August 1942.
Awarded a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 22nd September 1942), McConnell led the squadron until 14th February 1944.
On this day he was in Typhoon MM962 on a long range sweep over France. After dropping his auxiliary tanks, there was a fuel leak from the main tanks. McConnell reached the coast but realising he could not get far, he crash-landed near the village of Percy, south of St Lo.
Captured by the Germans, he was imprisoned in Stalag Luft III and Milag Nord at Tarmstedt.
McConnell was released on 9th May 1945 and returned to England. As a means of returning to flying, he applied for an instructors course and was posted to 2 EFTS Yatesbury on 10th October 1945.
McConnell had second thoughts and was released from the RAF on 17th December 1945 as a Squadron Leader.
On 1st October 1946 he joined Aer Lingus as a pilot. He served with them for 30 years and did a further year with Zambian Airlines before retiring in 1977.
McConnell died in 1998.