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Library Reference Number: 049

'Strangers In the Night'

Bill MacRae, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA

The above title reflects the mysterious series of passengers, some of our members were asked to convey. In contrast to the present demand for 'open-ness' many of the events during WW2 were of a clandestine nature - if the element of surprise (and security) was to be sustained. Saltire Branch member Bill McRae from Glasgow, was a young Wireless Operator/Air Gunner well versed in the business of conveying Army Generals and other VIPs from one secret rendezvous to another. Bill was a member of No.230 Squadron flying Sunderlands, and although this Squadron was based in Singapore at the outbreak of war, they were now based at Alexandria, Egypt, when this account took place. Bill writes:-

Bill McRae"It was mid-1941 and while based in Alexandria and other locations, we had become accustomed to the unusual missions we were asked to carry out. On this occasion after being briefed on the task in hand, there was no mistaking the identity of the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden, who was to become our passenger, along with several other VIPs. During briefing, we had been instructed to fly our passengers to Gibraltar, where on arrival, the Foreign Secretary and others would be transferred to another Sunderland aircraft which would complete their journey to UK. The unexplained failure of this Sunderland to show up, left myself and crew little choice in deciding to convey our precious passengers to RAF Mountbatten, Plymouth, UK. Totally unprepared for this change of plan, we were still in tropical kit, unshaven and tired; somebody mistook us for POWs from the Desert War. We were cheered with a very short leave, and I actually made it back to Glasgow."

"Back at Mountbatten, we were then briefed to escort another aircraft to Gibraltar and beyond. We were surprised to note that the two members of the other crew were in civilian clothes; blue blazers, white shirts etc. We were even more surprised when the other aircraft emerged from a hangar; it looked like an 'Arado 196 floatplane' - in Luftwaffe livery !! Despite the Arado having a normal range of around 570 nautical miles, both aircraft made it to Gibraltar for refuelling. Both aircraft becoming airborne again from Gib, we continued flying over the Mediterranean. After about ninety minutes, the navigator of the 'Arado' stood up and saluted our Sunderland, before his aircraft turned north and faded from sight, presumably heading for Vichy France. I can assure everyone, that these recollections had nothing to do with all the parties back in Glagow during my brief spot of leave. Even now, I still wonder what this event was all about. Does anyone have a clue? Is it possible that anyone viewing this on the world-wide Internet can come up with an explanation?"

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