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The Airmen's Stories - Lt. (FAA) RC Hay


Ronald Cuthbert Hay was born at Perth on 4th October 1916 and educated at Graveney House School, Hampstead and Ampleforth.

An ancestor was Admiral of the Fleet Lord John Hay (1827-1916), who served ashore in the Crimean War with the Naval Brigade and later took formal possession of Cyprus for the Crown from the Turkish authorities.

By his own account Hay failed exams for the Royal Navy and instead joined the Royal Marines in 1935 and was commissioned on 1st September. He was attached to the Fleet Air Arm on 6th March 1939 and posted to 23 E&RFTS Rochester for training.

He moved on to No. 1 FTS Netheravon for No. 3 Course, which ran from 8th May to 4th November 1939. In May 1940 Hay was serving with 801 Squadron at Detling, carrying out photo-reconnaissance flights over the Channel ports and making some bomb attacks.



He was aboard HMS Ark Royal for the Norwegian campaign. On 27th April he shared a He111 while flying a Skua. He also took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. Hay joined 808 on 1st July 1940 on its formation at Worthy Down. The squadron moved to Casletown on 7th September where it was put under Fighter Command control.

The Advanced Flight of 808, under the command of Hay, arrived on the 7th and the remainder of the squadron arrived next day.

808 moved to Donibristle on 2nd October 1940 and embarked on HMS Ark Royal on the 31st. Hay served on Ark Royal in the Mediterranean in 1941 on the Malta convoys. He shared in destroying a SM79 on 8th May, shared a Cant Z506B on 23rd July and shared another on 28th September.

After surviving the sinking of Ark Royal in November 1941 he was awarded the DSC (gazetted 25th November 1941).

From August 1942 Hay commanded 809 Squadron, flying from HMS Victorious and took part in Operation Torch, the landings in North Africa. In August 1944 he was appointed Wing Leader 47 Wing, operating from Victorious against the Japanese in Sumatra.

In December 1944 Hay was made Air Coordinator to the 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron and led all the strikes against oil refineries and airfields. On one occasion he attacked a train most of which was in a tunnel.

He was awarded the DSO (gazetted 1st May 1945) for gallantry in air strikes against oil tanks at Palembang and a Bar to the DSC (gazetted 31st July 1945).

After the war, Hay continued flying until he overshot in a Seafire fighter and took six months to recover from his injuries. He returned to corps duties with the Royal Marines, reverting to his substantive rank of captain, and served with 40 Commando in Malta, Cyprus, Hong Kong and Malaya.

However peacetime duties as a Royal Marine proved frustrating and he transferred to the Fleet Air Arm in 1951.

Hay served as Lieutenant Commander (Flying) in the carrier Indomitable before attending the Staff Course at Greenwich and joining the Admiralty Plans Division.

In June 1955 he served as Commander (Air) at the Royal Naval Air Station Stretton from 1955 until 1957. Next he attended the Joint Services Staff College at Latimer, before taking up a NATO post in Germany, where he also became secretary of the British Kiel Yacht Club.

On returning home, Hay served again in the Admiralty and at the Joint Warfare Establishment before taking up another NATO appointment in Turkey. Hay retired in November 1966 as a Commander and spent the next 12 years in boat charter work in the Mediterranean.

In retirement, Hay and his wife lived in Wiltshire, renovating an old mill at Amesbury near Stonehenge.

He died on 22nd November 2001.


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