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Alan McLeod V.C. Falls in Love with Flight

For the week of April 25, 2016.

On May 1, 1918, Lieutenant Alan McLeod, confined to a hospital bed in London, England, learned that he would be awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. The 19 year-old from Stonewall, Manitoba, was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during the First World War.

Alan McLeod V.C.
© University of Manitoba, Winnipeg Tribune Photo Collection: Victoria Cross Winners, PC 18/6917/18-5987-014

Growing up, McLeod was enthusiastic about the military. At 14, he joined the local militia cavalry regiment known as the Fort Garry Horse. When war broke out in Europe in 1914, McLeod wanted to join immediately, but he had to wait until his eighteenth birthday to enlist in the RFC. He underwent intensive training in Toronto, which included physical drills as well as classroom instruction on topics such as wireless communication and using maps. In a letter to his parents, McLeod wrote, “the fellows are all sore and most of them have given up, they are rushing us so fast we haven’t time for half the work.”

On March 27, 1918, while on a bombing run with five other planes, McLeod and his observer, Lt. Arthur Hammond, encountered several German aircraft. After shooting down three of the enemy, their plane was hit, Hammond was shot six times, and McLeod was shot five times. The lack of parachutes meant that they had to ride the flaming aircraft to the ground. McLeod successfully landed the plane and pulled Hammond to safety into a trench.

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McLeod in London
© Canadian Department of Defence / For Valour, Canadian Airmen and the Victoria Cross

Alan Arnett McLeod was awarded the Victoria Cross for this act of bravery. Both airmen survived their wounds, but McLeod’s lungs had been weakened, likely from the smoke of the burning plane. He was eventually sent back to Canada to recover, but sadly became a casualty of the Spanish Influenza pandemic. McLeod died on November 6, 1918.

In 2016, we commemorate the third year of the centennial of the First World War. Canadian Participation in the RFC is a designated national historic event. To learn more about other First World War pilots read Billy Bishop: An Ace up Canada's Sleeve, Protector of the Air, Pioneer of Bush Aviation, and The Canadian Military Reaches New Heights. Also see Spanish Influenza Sweeps the Globe in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @Parks Canada! Find out more about Canada’s history at the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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