Letter to Leonard Cheshire from Sergeant Thomas Joseph McLean DFM



Letter to Leonard Cheshire from Sergeant Thomas Joseph McLean DFM


States that Cheshire's previous wireless operator Flight Lieutenant Hill has suggested he write to Cheshire. Provides his history as air gunner with 102 Squadron in 1942 where he was credited with four aircraft destroyed one probable and two damaged. Subsequently he was screen medically. On regaining fitness he was posted to Coastal Command which he regards as a total waste of his skills. He requests that Cheshire provides any help he can in arranging a transfer to Bomber Command.




Temporal Coverage



Seven page handwritten letter


This content is property of the Leonard Cheshire Archive which has kindly granted the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive a royalty-free permission to publish it. Please note that it was digitised by a third-party which used technical specifications that may differ from those used by International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive. It has been published here ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre.





1059877 Sgt. McLean, DFM,
No 4. (C) O.T.U,
Raf Station,

Before proceeding with this letter perhaps it would be advisable to mention that my friend F/Lt. Hill DFC, DFM, who was formerly your wireless operator suggested that I contact you, and assured me that if anyone could possibly help me in my present predicament it would be you. I am fully aware that I am not at liberty to approach you on any Service subject but as this whole war - the whole outcome of the war - is built up on

[page break]

[underlined] 2 [/underlined]
taking chances, I decided to write you. Being aware of your vast operational experience and ability as a Bomber Pilot I think if anyone can help me you are the man. So please Sir, regard this letter as a purely tail gunner to Skipper affair.
I will attempt to outline the details.
In 1940 I remustered [sic] from my basic trade to Aircrew Duties. In 1941 I went through No. 14 I.T.W, No. 2 AGS, Conversion Unit and finally commenced operations with 102 Squadron in 1942. On my first operation (to Saabrucken) I shot down an me 109 into the channel. (Confirmed.. A/C HALIFAX [underlined] NO [/underlined] W7677. 28.8.42) During the following months I took a very keen interest in German and Italian night fighter tactics.

[page break]

[underlined] 3 [/underlined]
I put in an average of fifteen hours turret manipulation per week. I made a careful study of old combat reports, various methods of fighter evasion, and even “gened” [sic] up on a crashed crashed [sic] German fighter. During an inspection of this aircraft I made a very simple, but very important discovery which considerably assisted me in later combats. My previous Gunnery Leader, F/LT. Vaugn-Davies DFC can vouch for the fact that one week I put in 25 hours turret manipulation.
About my 9th or 10th operation we were attacked by three JU’88’s near Mannheim. I shot down two! Our aircraft was damaged. ([underlined] Confirmed [/underlined] A/C [underlined] NO [/underlined] W7952 night of 6.12.42). Previous to this I had damaged an me 109 on the return journey from Genoa (A/C [underlined] NO [/underlined] W1241, 10.11.42)

[page break]

[underlined] 4 [/underlined]
A couple of months later on the way back from Lorient we were coned by searchlights and attacked by two JU 88’s. Our aircraft was damaged and set afire. None of the crew were injured.
I extinguished the fire, destroyed one enemy aircraft and probably destroyed the second. We carried no mid-upper turret. (Confirmed A/C [underlined] NO [/underlined] (UNKNOWN) “E” EDWARD night of 16.2.43 (app.). The Captain of the aircraft was W/COMM. Hope).
Several operations later I was screened on medical grounds. I finished up with four aircraft destroyed, one probable and two damaged.
When fit again I naturally expected to back on Bomber Command. (I had become quite a useful member of a Bomber crew you must admit.) To my utter horror, when I was passed fit for operational flying,

[page break]

[underlined] 5 [/underlined]
[underlined] I was posted to this unit to do a Coastal Command O.T.U Course. [/underlined] I have nothing to look forward to now but a damned binding existance [sic] of these bloody “flying whales” they have here (Sunderlands). I have been here three weeks and at the moment I am in a “POOL” consisting of surplus aircrew awaiting the commencement of the next Course which takes place in two-three weeks time. During the first week or so I was engaged on the job of chopping wood and lighting fires for the classrooms. I approached the C.G.I. on the matter and I am now on a Test crew but still have to start the Course when it starts. I have been granted an interview by almost every Officer here but all my efforts to get back

[page break]
[underlined] 6 [/underlined]
on Bomber Command have failed. Now Sir I look at it from this angle. My heart is not in Coastal Command and never will be. From a patriotic viewpoint, I am only a hindrance to the war effort whereas on my old job on B. Comm. I would be an asset. After all Sir, I did work hard on B. Comm. and I am just as good a gunner today as I was when I was on 102 Squadron. In fact I think I’m better. My heart is not in flying boats and I can visualise myself becoming only a menace to a crew. After all, I did put my heart into my work on B. Comm. and took more than a keen interest in night fighter tactics so I feel that the least the R.A.F. can do is let me

[page break]

[underlined] 7 [/underlined]
continue where I [deleted] layed [/deleted] left off. I assure you Sir, I have endevoured [sic] to aquire [sic] an interest for Coastal Command work but find it absolutely impossible. Therefore Sir, if you could possibly do anything to assist in my transfer to Bombers I would be deeply indebted to you. As a typical Bomber Pilot, I think if anyone can help me that person is you.
In the meantime I shall resign myself to my monotonous existance [sic] and hope for the best. I shall put in an application to see the C.G.I. again but the outcome of my interview will undoubtedly be the same - no joy!
I Remain Sir,
Your Obedient Servant,
J Mclean, Sgt.



T J McLean, “Letter to Leonard Cheshire from Sergeant Thomas Joseph McLean DFM,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 27, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/16890.