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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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439 Squadron
18.03.1944 No. 439 Squadron Hurricane Mk.IV LD564 F/O Roswell M. MacTavish

Mission: Aircraft transit

Date: 18 March 1944 (Saturday)

Unit: RCAF No.439 Squadron (Westmount)

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk. IV

Serial: LD564


Base: RAF Ayr

Location: Near the southern tip of Loch Doon, Ayrshire, Scotland

Pilot: F/O Roswell Murray MacTavish RCAF J/22385 Age 24 Killed


Initially formed 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 conditions permitted.
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 three units.
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.
On 28 February 1944 the squadron learned that they were to move to RAF Hurn, near Bournemouth, on the 15 March.

The squadron’s 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.

The following 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 afternoon.

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.
One, 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.

Roswell MacTavish 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 1941.
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

Burial details:
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

CHB 16.02.2021

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Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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