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The Airmen's Stories - P/O K MacL Sclanders

 

Kirkpatrick MacLure Sclanders, known as Pat, was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1916. His father had been a trade commissioner in Saskatoon but the family moved east to Saint John in New Brunswick when he was appointed manager of the Saint John Board of Trade.

Pat was interviewed in 1931, aged fifteen, after he went solo at the local airport having completed just five hours and 40 minutes of dual instruction. He was wearing a leather helmet and a pair of goggles awarded as a prize to the top scorer in a technical quiz in an aircraft magazine. He had paid for his instruction by working for Pan American Airways at the civic airport during the school holidays and acting as Saint John correspondent for ‘Aero Digest’ magazine of New York. He told the reporter that a proper aviator should wear a moustache but his had so far refused to grow.

 

 

Sclanders graduated from Saint John High School in 1932 and went to work for the Evening Times-Globe newspaper.

He could not be granted a flying licence till he reached 17 years of age, when it arrived it was accompanied by a letter saying that he was at that time the youngest licensed pilot in Canada.

 

Above: Sclanders with DH60 G-CAVI, first registered in June 1928 and destroyed in a hangar fire at Fredericton, New Brunswick on 28th February 1947.

 

                                                                             Above: Sclanders seated, far left.

 

Sclanders went to England in 1935 and in September that year joined the RAF on a short service commission. He was posted to 3 FTS Grantham on 28th September and joined 25 Squadron at Hawkinge on 5th August 1936. He was rated as a highly competent pilot and was given awards for proficiency in blind flying amongst others.

 

Above: Sclanders on joining the RAF and before the award of his wings

 

Sclanders became ill with a stomach ailment in 1937 and was grounded, just before he was due to participate in the big annual aviation display at Hendon. He underwent a major operation and although he gradually recovered it caused him to fail his annual assessment and he lost his flying rating. Sclanders resigned his commission in September 1937 and returned to Canada.

 

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The following letter from Pat Sclanders to his good friend Don Graham illustrates both his state of mind following his dismissal from the RAF and his grasp of current world issues.

No. 25 (Fighter) Squadron,
Royal Air Force
Hawkinge,
Kent,
Telephone Folkestone 2271

22. 7. 37.
Dear Don,

So you’re a married man now, eh? Congratulations, boy, and very best wishes for your happiness. I was damned glad to hear the news. Sorry I can’t say yet that I too have taken the big step. I’d like to, but I’m, as usual, perpetually broke. It might interest you, however, to learn that Ian and Chris have finally become spliced (June 12) as have John Mosher, Jack Golding and Algy Brittain. And Hughie and Janice are neckin’neck (pardon the pun) in the race of the younger couples toward matrimony. Jack Brayley, too, is a recent victim. Bennie McElwaine thinks it’s a good idea but is like myself, still economically incapacitated.

Having given you enough material for a Winchell column, I’ll now proceed to the biggest news of this letter! I’m leaving the service on August 1. Don’t jump to the obvious conclusion, however, that I have been thrown out for getting drunk and stealing the CO’s plane or something. I’m going out on account of ill-health – I was sick this winter, in case you didn’t know - and, thank gawd, will receive sufficient money as a gratuity, to permit me eating for a while yet.

Haven’t many ideas on what to do but I’ll probably drift back to writing. At any rate, I won’t return to Canada – not without a job. I’ll stick around London, I guess. Been there so much these last two years that it seems like my home town.

How are you feeling by the way ? By now I expect you’re a second Tarzan again – hope so anyway.

Actually I feel all right but the RAF doctors seem to think I’m likely to pass out at any time so they have given me the old one-two. Ah, well, one drinks too much in the Air Force anyway so maybe its just as well I’m getting away from its insidious influence.

If the Spain racket is still good – which I greatly doubt, considering all this non-intervention hulabaloo – I’ll go there and make my fortune. China is another prospect which might prove worthwhile. I’ve always wanted to go there, and I don’t like Japanese. Also there’s a chance that a friend may find me something in Peru, another rather alluring place. Yesterday, just to get in shape for the arduous days to follow, I answered an add (sic) asking for people to work in Singapore, Penang and Sumatra. I just have to get away from this pommie country for a bit. It’s getting me down.

This morning I’m duty pilot – a ground job, strange as it seems – and am privileged to sit in the hut and watch other people flying my machine. It hurts. However, despite the ominous statements of the Air Ministry’s medical pundits, I look forward to flying again very soon.

The Trans Atlantic P. A. A. (Pan American Airways) ship blew into – or should I say flew into - Southampton a short time ago. On reading the newspaper accounts I discovered that the engineer officer was C. D. Wright, a chap with whom I worked for P. A. A. in the summer of thirty-one. I wrote him a goddam nice letter, practically enclosing the key to every RAF mess in the country. But I guess having four big engines to tend, has just gone to the boy’s head. No answer!! Nice fella, eh? He might at least have sent the clipper’s tail plane as a souvenir….

Sorry to hear Mr.Graham is at a loose end, again I wish he could get over here. I think he could get an Air Force pilot’s job. Tell you what, there’s a nice old padre here with a Scots squadron at present and I’ll ask him. Please give your father my very kindest regards and tell him I have never forgotten him and miss him very much.

Incidentally he might like to know that we are dining in the traditional Scots manner these days – being piped in to dinner and entertained by the pipers marching round and round the table after the King. The Squadron CO is Lord Douglas Hamilton whom your father may know. The pipers wear the Hamilton tartan with a drastically modified regulation tunic.

Very little to report since I last wrote. Hendon was a grand show – what I saw of it from the bar tent. I went with Caz, my English woman, who is a lovely of lovelies and unorthodox enough, too. The mass flypast was most spectacular.

That still goes about the European situation – “to hell with it”. But I do hate to see that bastard Franco getting on. If he wins, Britain’s position in the Mediterranean will be horribly dangerous and France will be greatly weakened too, for her 15000,000 (sic) reserves from French Africa, will be unable cross in the event of [words torn off] war. But I still say “the hell with it.”

I’m damned glad you’re getting on so well with your job. It sounds very much to me like the opening paragraph of a success story. Keep it up, boy.

And now I’ll go back to Mr.K*A*P*L*L*A*N of the New Yorker whose doings in the old copies of that magazine have kept me amused for a week.

I’m damned glad to hear that you consider me still one of your best friends. It’s mutual boy. I can honestly say that my friendship with you has been one of the finest of my life. I only hope we’ll be able to see each other again before too long.

My best regards to Mrs. Graham (that sounds good, eh?) As ever, Pat

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His condition also prevented him from joining the Royal Canadian Air Force and for the following two years he edited a house magazine for a large industrial corporation.


In 1939 Sclanders, now fully fit, assembled with other Canadian and American volunteers intending to serve with the air force of Finland, that country having been attacked by the Soviet Union. However in March 1940, before they could set off, the two sides ceased fighting and came to terms.

 

              

 

Sclanders sailed to Europe anyway to enlist in the French Air Force but after three weeks in Paris, surrounded by refugees and a collapsing infrastructure, he had made no progress and he was forced to escape from southern France by boat along with some Polish refugees.

He reached England and then London, making contact with a longtime friend of his family, Sir Andrew Rae Duncan. He was able to cable the Sclanders in Saint John saying that their son was safe and well. This was particularly appreciated as Sir Andrew’s son George had been killed in action in Belgium just days previously.

Sclanders was able to rejoin the RAF and was commissioned. He arrived at 6 OTU Sutton Bridge from RAF Upavon on 2nd August 1940 and converted to Hurricanes. He was posted to 242 Squadron at Coltishall on 26th August 1940. The squadron, commanded by Douglas Bader, had a large number of Canadian pilots.

On 30th August 242, operating from Duxford, were involved late in the day in a major combat near North Weald. Returning at dusk, Sclanders after landing clipped a parked aircraft, his own aircraft tipped up on its nose and his face struck the gunsight. Later in the mess he apologised for causing such damage but Bader, elated at the day’s score of twelve destroyed, slapped him on the back saying “We’ve got lots of Hurricanes. We’ll get another one tomorrow but I doubt if that eye will clean up for a week or so."

Sclanders was shot down and killed in combat with Do17s and Me110s over Thames Haven on 9th September. His Hurricane, P3087, crashed at Marden Park Farm, Caterham. He was 24 years old and is buried in St Luke's churchyard, Whyteleafe, Surrey.

 

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Additional research and images courtesy of Richard Thorne and Harold E Wright (of 410 (City of Saint John) Squadron).

 

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