18.03.1944 No. 439 Squadron Hurricane Mk.IV LD564 F/O Roswell M. MacTavish
March 1944 (Saturday)
No.439 Squadron (Westmount)
Hurricane Mk. IV
Location: Near the southern tip of Loch Doon, Ayrshire, Scotland
Roswell Murray MacTavish RCAF J/22385 Age 24 Killed
as No.123 (Army Cooperation) Squadron as part of No.3 Training
Command in early January 1942 they were soon relocated to Debert Nova
Scotia to where F/O MacTavish was posted on 15 January 1943. During
his time at Debert he flew Lysanders which were used to patrol the
entrance to Sydney harbour during the latter months of 1943.
MacTavish and the
rest of his squadron embarked for the United Kingdom for training as
an operational unit on 14 December 1943 arriving at No.3 PRC
Bournemouth, on 22 December.
After a week in Bournemouth, he was
posted to RAF Wellingore on 1 January 1944, where 439 Squadron was
being formed from the renumbered 123 Squadron.
The members of
the squadron had no sooner arrived at Wellingore when a signal
arrived from the Air Ministry advising them that they were to move
immediately to RAF Ayr to train on Hurricanes leading to flying
Typhoons as part of a Fighter Bomber Squadron supporting the planned
assault on Europe.
On the eighth of January all the squadron
personnel departed by train for Ayr except for Squadron Leaders Smith
and Kelly who flew up in the units only two Hurricanes.
Gradually as the squadron got organized several more Hurricanes arrived and pilots who
had no experience on that type began training flights as the weather
Towards the end of January, the squadron
received the first of their Hawker Typhoons and by the end of that
month their complement was increased by the delivery of a further
On 8 February, F/O MacTavish completed his first
solo flight in a Typhoon.
Training for thesquadron continued with formation flying, cross countries, air to air
and air-to-ground firing as well as dive bombing practice.
February 1944 the squadron learned that they were to move to RAF
Hurn, near Bournemouth, on the 15 March.
complement of aircraft had grown to eighteen, seven Typhoons and
eleven Hurricanes, to be flown down to Hurn. While the rest of the
squadron traveled down by road and rail on the fourteenth, 18 pilots
were scheduled to fly out on March 17 but the prevailing weather
conditions forced a cancellation of the flight.
day, the seven Typhoons took off at 10:10 hours landing for refueling
at RAF Woodvale at 11:00 hours arriving at Hurn in the early
At 10:20 hours the
eleven Hurricanes, one of which being piloted by F/O MacTavish, took
off and arrived at Woodvale at 11:25 hours minus two aircraft.
piloted by P/O Bernhart, became separated from the formation but
arrived safely at Hurn later that day.
The other aircraft, that
of F/O MacTavish, was seen about seven minutes into their flight
flying at about 3300 feet between two banks of clouds when suddenly,
it nosed over and headed straight down. No distress signal was
reported as being heard from MacTavish.
The following day a search and rescue team located the crash site and recovered the body from the wreckage that was strewn over a wide area indicating that the Hurricane had hit the ground at a high rate of speed. No official cause of the crash was determined.
was the only son of Wilfred and Edith MacTavish who also had two
older daughters. Born in Regina Saskatchewan, Roswell completed his
schooling in Winnipeg, Manitoba before enrolling at the University of
Manitoba in 1937.
He was employed as a reporter, columnist and
a copy editor at the Vancouver Daily Province until his enlistment in
A very good athlete he competed in a wide variety of
sports and enjoyed writing and journalism as a hobby.
After enlistment he
was taken on strength at No.2 Initial Training School, Regina,
Saskatchewan on 12 April 1942 following which he was posted to No.2
Elementary Flying Training School at Thunder Bay, Ontario on 19 July
1942. Posted to No.11 Service Flying Training School, Yorkton,
Saskatchewan on 13 September, he gained his pilot's wings and a
commission on 30 December 1942.
MacTavish was then
posted to 123 Squadron, Debert, Nova Scotia until 19 November when he
was struck off strength and sent to Y Depot, Halifax to await
embarkation on 14 December 1943.
F/O Rowell Murray MacTavish Memorial Cairn
Mike Smith and his good friend Megan Fowke having earlier visited the site of another crash that claimed the life of F/O Kenneth O. Mitchell of No.438 Squadron, which occurred the same day in the same area, noticed that a memorial had been erected to his memory. Upon visiting the crash site of F/O MacTavish and seeing that no memorial existed for him they decided to take it upon themselves to rectify the matter.
During the Autumn of 2019, carrying their tools and materials over half a mile they hiked to the crash site near the southern tip of Loch Doon in Ayrshire, and began to build the cairn that they would later dedicate to F/O MacTavish. Taking a break as the winter weather closed in, Mike and Megan set about researching the lost pilot and found his portrait which they intended to mount on the cairn.
Resuming their task in the Spring of 2020, Mike and Megan completed the cairn, installed the portrait, and quietly together dedicated it to the memory of F/O MacTavish.
Fittingly, the link between Scotland and Canada remains some 77 years after Canadian Rowell MacTavish lost his life over the rugged Galloway Hills with the thoughtful, caring and highly commendable actions of two young people. Mike, a native of Ayrshire, and Megan a Canadian from Brandon, Manitoba who came to Scotland six years ago and teaches English at a high school.
Mike states that his ambition is to place a photograph at every grave that they visit so that others may see that each grave site represents a young man or woman who gave their lives while serving their country.
Mark Smith & Alfie with the remains of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine
Part of the main wing spar
The debris field
F/O Roswell Murray MacTavish Ayr Cemetery, Ayrshire Scotland. Sec. R. 1931 Div. Grave 2721. Son of Wilfred Lawrence and Edith Jane (McInnis) MacTavish of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo and additional credits:
Memorial and crash site photographs courtesy of Mike Smith and Megan Fowke
Grave photograph courtesy "Dreameralilu" Find A Grave
National Archives, Kew, UK
Library and Archives Canada
Researched and compiled by Colin Bamford for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the family of F/O R. M. MacTavish