Flight Lieutenant Alastair Donald Macintosh Gunn (60340)
Alastair Gunn was born on the 27th September 1919, the second son of Doctor James Turner Gunn and Mrs Adelaide Lucy Frances Gunn of Deansland, Auchterarder Perthshire in Scotland.
He was educated in the local private school until he was 10 years of age and then went to Cargilfield School in Edinburgh from 1929 – 1934. This was followed by Fettes College also in Edinburgh from 1934 – 1937.
He was in the Rugby XV 1st squad and the cricket 1st squad during 1936 /37. He left school in 1937 with the view of taking up engineering and served as an Apprentice to Harland and Woolf Ltd at Govan in 1938 – 39.
Interested in fly fishing, mainly Salmon and Trout, he also enjoyed cars and motoring.
Gunn volunteered for the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of war by going to No.2 Reception Centre at Cardington to enlist. While waiting for his call up he spent time at Pembroke College Cambridge returning to Cardington on 22nd June 1940 where he was mobilised and became No 952477 Aircraftman Class 2 Aircraft hand/Pilot. Two days later he was down at Bexhill on the south coast at No.4 Initial Training Wing starting his service career with the obligatory square bashing. (marching and drill).
After a couple of months he moved to No.51 General Pool in the August of 1940 staying only a few days before going to No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Ansty in Warwickshire. Here, Alastair, nick named ‘Sandy’ was re-mustered to Group 2 Pilot and reclassified as a Leading Aircraftman.
Accumulating just over 46 hours on the Tiger Moth Sandy left on the 27th September to pastures new at No.12 Service Flying Training School at RAF Grantham in Lincolnshire for further flying training.
Here he learned to fly the single engine Fairey Battle medium bomber aircraft.
On 18th January 1941 Sandy was awarded his Flying Badge or ‘Wings’ as more commonly known.
Along with his wings came a further promotion, this time to Sergeant. From the heady heights of being a Sergeant he was discharged of that rank just seven days later when he was awarded a Commission becoming Pilot Officer 60340.
As a newly Commissioned Officer he moved onto No.3 School of General Reconnaissance at Squires Gate Blackpool for Navigation training in the Avro Anson and Blackburn Botha aircraft.
Moving onto ‘C’ Flight, No.3 Operational Training Unit at RAF Chivenor in April 1941 Alastair learnt to fly the twin engine Bristol Beaufort aircraft as well as further training on the Avro Anson but this time including additional night flying.
210 hours 30 minutes of flying later Alastair is sent to 48 Squadron at Hooton Park in Cheshire on 2nd July 1941 for a few weeks before moving to Stornoway also with 48 Squadron.
Here he flew the Avro Anson over the Atlantic which included him covering 10 convoy duties.
For the next three months he flew operations from Hooton Park and Stornaway before moving down to RAF Benson and joining No1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) on 4th September 1941 to convert to long range PRU Spitfires.
No matter how good a pilot anyone was who joined the PRU they all had to undergo additional training so that they became proficient in the art of taking photographs at different heights and at speed. Alastair had in one way gone back to basic flying as he was given a DeHavilland Hornet Moth, Tiger Moth and Fairey Battle to fly before they would let him loose on the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire.
Flying out of Benson as part of ‘D’ Flight his first operational mission which was carried out on the 16th of the month flying Spitfire R7043 leaving at 11:45 for Le Harve which was covered in cloud. With the odd break he managed to successfully photograph the required areas plus took photos of the aerodrome at Caen on his returning trip, landing at 13:55.
In total Alastair had flown 16 Operational sorties over Europe flying out of Benson and accumulated 57 hours 15 minutes over areas such as Caen, Cherbourg, Le Harve, Orleans, Tours, Dieppe, Wilhelshaven, Bremerharven, Hamburg, Rostuck, Stettin, Swinemunde and Bonn.
By the 12th of February Alastair now promoted to Flying Officer (on 25th January) had moved on detachment to ‘C’ Flight at Wick in North of Scotland as part of the team which kept an eye on the German Battleship Tirpitz in the Norwegian Fjords.
On the 19th February he flew in Spitfire AA797 to Aalsund, Molde, Trondheim Fjord and Aas Fjord to find the Tirpitz location. Flying down the Trondheim Fjord he photographed the ship while it was steaming in a North-Easterly direction. The time taken for this sortie was 5 hours 45 minutes and on landing he had just 25 gallons of fuel left in his tanks.
On March 1st 1942 Alastair was flying AA797 once again over to Norway but on arrival found that there was full cloud over everything so turned for home. On his return he had trouble in finding Wick and for forty minutes convinced himself that he was not where he should be so flew due south for eight minutes then turned onto another course where he eventually saw land, the very tip of the Shetlands. Eventually after five hours and five minutes flying he landed at Wick. He had the compass swung immediately and found that it was 10 degrees out. Had he stayed on his original course he would have run out of fuel and ditched into the sea.
Spitfire AA810 was his next and last aircraft he flew leaving Wick on the 5th March 1942 at 08:07. Flying along the coastline near Trondheim Alastair he was attacked by two German aircraft, Messerschmitt BF109’s flown by Leutnants Heinz Knoke and Dieter Gerhard. His aircraft was hit several times requiring him to take to his parachute and land in the snowy mountains near Surnadal.
Found by some local Norwegians they planned to take him to the Swedish border but he had no Ski’s so Alastair took the decision to give himself up rather than hinder his new found friends.
After three weeks of questioning by the Germans he was sent to the German province of Lower Silesia near the town of Sagan. Today the town is known as Zagan and is in Poland.
During his time in the Prisoner of War (POW) camp he was given further promotion to Flight Lieutenant as of 25th January 1942 and also became a member of the tunnelling team which resulted in the now famous ‘GREAT ESCAPE’ of 24th March 1944. This was made famous by Paul Brickhill’s book and the Hollywood film of the same name.
Alastair was captured on the road to Gorlitz which was south of the camp. Taken to Gorlitz prison he and all the other re-captured prisoners were interrogated quite harshly. On the 6th of April 1944 a truck pulled up outside the prison and the names of Deny’ Street, Neville McGarr, Jack Grisman, Alastair Gunn, Harold Milford and John F Williams were called out to go into the truck.
Everyone thought they were being taken back to their POW camp at Stalag Luft III. Sadly, none of the prisoners were taken there, they were taken to a desolate spot and all were shot, with their bodies being cremated at Breslau and their ashes returned to Sagan for burial.
Alastair had flown in total 404 hours 40 minutes.
Alastair was mentioned in dispatches on 11.6.1942 and 8.6.1944.
He was awarded the following:
Atlantic Star with clasp “Aircrew Europe”
War Medal 1939/45.
For taking to his parachute in order to save his life the manufacturing company Irvin issued a certificate and letter in his name to his father along with a small metal Caterpillar badge.
We are very grateful that Alastair’s nephew who was named after him has gracefully given RAF Benson the story and photographs of his uncle so others can learn about this ‘GREAT ESCAPE’.