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The Airmen's Stories - P/O A McFadden


Aubrey McFadden was born in 1918 in Ashford, Kent, the son of Francis Edgar McFadden (1886-1924) and Lucy McFadden (nee Lee 1888-1952). The family were originally from Salford, Lancashire.

He attended Ashford Grammar School from 1929 to 1933. He joined the RAF on a short service commission in June 1939 and converted to Hurricanes at 6 OTU Sutton Bridge in April 1940.




McFadden joined 73 Squadron in France on 5th May.

On 11th May his Hurricane P2811 was badly damaged by cannon fire from Me110s and he force landed, unhurt, at Poilcourt, north of Rheims. On 14th May he attacked Do17s of 3./KG76 and was shot down by return fire and force landed in Hurricane L1891 near Sedan.

Suffering from shock he was made non-effective sick and posted to No. 1 RAF Depot Uxbridge. While in hospital his experiences were related in the 'Kent Messenger' (below).



After recovering he rejoined 73 Squadron from hospital on 6th July 1940.

He served with 73 throughout the Battle and claimed a Me110 destroyed on 27th September near Weybridge. He was still with 73 Squadron when it left Debden on 9th November 1940 for Birkenhead, to embark for service in the Middle East.

While with 73 Squadron in the desert he gave an account of their living conditions, transcription below.



By Pilot Officer Aubrey McFadden

I wakened at four in the morning to hear the tent flapping, the fly sheet beating a rapid tattoo on the side of the tent, and the door, which we had left open for ventilation waving to and fro in the high wind like a mad devil in a cage. Cursing, I emerged from the warm haven of my sleeping bag, and pulling on my slippers tied the door flap tightly to the pole. Our ridge tent was doing its utmost to part company with its moorings, and as I climbed shivering into my bed (for the early morning in the desert is bitterly cold) I could hear the uprooted tent pegs banging against the canvas wall as the guy ropes frantically twined themselves round each other.

In the tent a haze of fine sand made me cough and my eyes water, so pull-ing the sheet over my head I lay listen-ing to the creak of the poles, waiting for the crack that would bring the lot down on top of us.

'B.P.' was asleep opposite to me, and I threw a boot at him. Opening one eye, he let out a somnolent grunt. "Be a pal and help me fix the tent" I asked. He sat up, listened to the howling wind, and replied "Not likely" and promptly went off to sleep.



At 8.30 I threw the second boot, and we seriously discussed as to whether it was worth our while to get up for break-fast or stop in bed all day. Finally the motion was carried and we dressed. The wind was still blowing at a con-stant speed of fifty miles an hour, out-side the visibility was ten yards, the screen of wind-driven sand totally ob-scuring the multitude of tents surround-ing us. Donning goggles, and wrapping scarves over our heads, we battled our way across to the meal tent. Breakfast con-sisted of a sodden, gritty brown com-position called porridge, the bacon and eggs wallowed in a plateful of grease, the marmalade had assumed a veil of finely powdered dust, and when spread on the bread sounded like one was trying to eat a very coarse piece of emery cloth.

We started a poker school after the meal ended, every third hand making a solemn ritual of standing the card table (a collection of boxes) on end, to allow the sand to flow off. As we played we turned from young men to old, our hair turned grey, the wrinkles on our faces became accentuated with the deposit of sand, we developed 'dogs eyes' with little blobs of sand in the corner, liquefied by the water running in huge tears down our faces and cutting miniature wadis in the caked sand.

Occasionally one of the players would slap his clothes and a cloud of dust arose to be carried away by the swirling draughts which penetrated the tent through every crack and crevice; others sat motionless, the sand drifting onto their shoulders, forming tiny sandhills that grew larger until at last the sand began to slide, to form another series of hills on their knees.

The lamp suspended from the ridge danced a mad fandango, flickering on and off as the wires shorted through its furious oscillations, the tent creaked and groaned like a person in pain, one side collapsed and an ominous creak warned us that the tent pole would crack at any moment. So gathering up our stakes we made a hasty exodus to another tent, cursing the sand fleas which bit us everywhere and anywhere, and wishing we were back in England with its familiar fogs, ice, snow and rain.

Tea consisted of lemonade and chocolate biscuits, the biscuits being plain oatmeal but eaten with a piece of milk chocolate, the lemonade we drank out of the bottle as if we used glasses a deposit of silt formed at the bottom of the glass after a few minutes.


At 5pm the storm ceased, the wind dropped and we emerged from our refuge like animals from their burrows, blinking in the sunshine that poured down from a sky of flawless blue.

From the other tents powdery figures came out to view the damage; tents standing upright, wearing a look of smug satisfaction, sneering at their less fortunate comrades who had lost their fly sheets, or lay on the ground, their heaving canvas reminding one of some huge animal breathing with difficulty till the last bit of air was gone and they lay still, as though life had fled.

'B.P.' and I hurried across to 61, fearing the worst but there she was, proud and upright although her guy ropes were sadly twisted and tangled and a mound of drift sand had piled high against her side. Inside sand was everywhere ! - even in the sheets on the beds, so we carried everything outside and shook it well; then remade the beds and carried out the strips of canvas which served as carpets, each strip adding its quota to the rapidly mounting pile of sand.


Finally, pouring out our ration of water, now liquid mud, we stripped to the waist and washed, and as we slowly changed into fresh clothes, the Bisharin camels and their drivers wearily rose to their feet, shook themselves and plodded off over the horizon, following the ancient caravan route.

We walked across to the meal tent, heard the welcome chink of glasses and grinned at each other, another day finished !




By April 1942 McFadden was serving with 258 Squadron, based at the Ratmalana and Colombo Racecourses in Ceylon. 258 Squadron were scrambled on 5th April when an attack was launched by Japanese carrier-based aircraft at 0700. All the squadron’s aircraft managed to take off and along with pilots of 30 Squadron gave a good account of themselves, despite being outnumbered about six to one. The attacking force comprised 36 Zero fighters escorting 53 Kate attack bombers and 36 Val dive bombers.

Although only three Japanese aircraft were shot down near Colombo, it would appear that about seventy actually failed to rejoin the aircraft carriers of Admiral Nagumo. Apart from those damaged by the RAF fighters many were hit by the guns of the Ceylon Garrison Artillery and the Royal Artillery plus AA fire from Royal Navy ships in the harbour.

McFadden was killed on this day when his Hurricane I Z5665 was shot down into the sea. He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial.



Whether on his own initiative or obeying a service recommendation, McFadden wrote a letter to be sent to his family in the event of his death (below).




All images courtesy of the late William James Thompson via his daughter Susan Barclay. WJ Thompson was the executor of McFadden's mother Lucy and safeguarded her son's papers.

(WJ Thompson served in the Royal Artillery in WW2 from the Dunkirk evacuation when he lived in the tunnels below Dover Castle to service with the 8th Army in North Africa and then Italy, including the landings at Salerno).


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