Wg.-Cdr. T. G. Mahaddie, D.S.O., D.F.C., A.F.C.
PFF Air Staff: from 20.3.43
Mahaddie was a larger-than-life character who was unforgettable to all who met him. Even children were entranced by him, see the children’s party story in: The Engineering Officer at Warboys
Born in Scotland in 1911, Thomas Gilbert “Hamish” Mahaddie joined the Royal Air Force in 1928 and spent the first three years of his career being trained as a metal rigger. In 1933 he was posted to the RAF base at Hinaidi, near Baghdad. The following year his quest to be accepted for aircrew training was successful and he earned his wings at No. 4 Flying Training School in Egypt flying Avro 504N’s.
During his two year posting to No. 55 Squadron, he acquired an Arabian horse that he named “Hamish.” His fellow pilots pointed out that he (Thomas Gilbert) bore a distinct resemblance to the horse and assigned him the nickname “Hamish.”
Mahaddie’s second tour of operations began in August 1942 with No. 7 Squadron. In October he began Pathfinder operations. A raid on Frankfurt on 3 December was his fiftieth operation. Then, over the period of only eight weeks and following his promotion to Wing Commander, he was awarded a second AFC, the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), the Czechoslovakian Military Cross, and the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The various citations included phrases such as “consistently attacked heavily defended targets with coolness and determination often in adverse weather”, “powers of leadership of a very high order”, and “unflagging enthusiasm has had an inspiring effect on his comrades.”
Hamish completed his operational tour with the Pathfinders during March 1943, upon which he was promoted to Group Captain and assigned to No. 8 (PFF) Group Headquarters to become “Group Training Inspector”. This role included recruiting crews for the Pathfinders from operational squadrons whose commanding officers were not particularly interested in having their best crews recruited. Hamish became notoriously successful at this, referring to himself as, “Don Bennett’s Horse Thief” and it is in for this that he is best remembered.
As “Group Training Inspector” Hamish regularly visited operational squadrons, giving lectures to 400 or more aircrew on the changing tactics and techniques employed by the Pathfinders. But before visiting a station, Hamish would have already identified crews that he felt were candidates for the PFF by studying aiming point photographs that indicated which crews were dropping their bombs accurately on the targets.
During an interview in Nanton, Hamish recalled:
“But this was a pretext, that was to get in and to see the guys who I had identified. Generally I met these people, individually and privately, in the pub that evening. Then, if a pilot and crew wished to apply to be transferred to the PFF, they would have to put in a written application to the squadron commander. What would then happen would be that the squadron commander would look at it and say, “Not fair! He’s too good!” and then tear it up and put it in the ashcan. Then the guy would put in another one and the same thing would happen. But the next time I was around the guy would make quite certain that he bought me a half pint at the local boozer down the street that same day. He’d say, “Look, what gives? I’ve put in two applications and the boss just tears them up.” I’d take his name and his crew would then be posted and 48 hours later he’d be down at Warboys and starting his training as a pathfinder.”
Mahaddie’s final assignment of the war, from 24 July 1944, was as the Station Commander of RAF Warboys, the home of the PFF Navigation Training Unit, the NTU.
Lt. General Reg Lane, former commanding officer of No. 405, the Canadian Pathfinder Squadron, recalled:
‘Hamish had a fabulous personality – an extrovert of extroverts. He could charm anybody. I got to know him when he was at No. 8 Group Headquarters and I used to see Hamish frequently. Anyone who’s met Hamish Mahaddie will never forget him.’
Source for the details of Mahaddie’s career: the Lancaster Museum in Canada. The best place to read about Mahaddie is his own memoirs, Hamish, The Story of a Pathfinder, first published in 1989.