Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings


Immensely confident and outspoken, Robert McNair of Springfield, Nova Scotia (15 May 1919-Jan 1971), was cowed by few. Once in a line of men being presented with decorations by the King George VI, he was cursorily asked how he was feeling. “Just fine, Sir,” McNair had replied. “How’s the Queen?” A high school graduate with good grades, he initially worked for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Natural Resources as a radio operator, but when war broke out, he decided to enroll in the RCAF. He joined the air force in June 1940, graduating as a fighter pilot in March 1941. Soon, he was on his way to England to join a neophytic, unruly and ill-trained Canadian squadron (No. 411). The squadron soon suffered massive casualties, many through accidents. The squadron diarist would later say of his unit: “Our motto Inimicus Inimico (Hostile to an enemy) — should have been more aptly read as ‘Hostile to Ourselves’.” Predictably, when volunteers were needed for overseas duties, McNair did not hesitate. He arrived on Malta in March 1942, just as the situation was becoming bleak. As a Flying Officer, he was posted to 249 Squadron, where he soon distinguished himself in battle and became the commander of ‘B’ Flight. By May, he had shot down five planes and probably destroyed or damaged another eight. He left the island in mid-June, with three more “kills” to his credit, but was a changed man, having witnessed the deaths of many friends.

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