Dambuster of the Day No. 87: Richard Macfarlane

MacFarlane 240913

Flg Off R Macfarlane

Lancaster serial number: ED936/G

Call sign: AJ-H

Second wave. Aircraft badly damaged and mine lost, flying low over sea on outward flight. Returned to base.

Richard Macfarlane was born in Glasgow on 12 December 1921, the older of the two sons of Daniel and Jessie Macfarlane. He attended Hyndland School and the High School of Glasgow. In 1939 he enrolled at the University of Glasgow to study law, but his studies were interrupted when he joined the RAF in 1941. He was sent to Miami in the USA to train as a navigator, and was commissioned on completing the course.

Macfarlane was posted to 19 Operational Training Unit at RAF Kinloss in July where he crewed up with Rice and two more from his Dams Raid crew, Bruce Gowrie and John Thrasher. They moved on to 1660 Conversion Unit at RAF Swinderby in October 1942 to complete heavy bomber training.

On 9 December 1942, the crew was posted to 57 Squadron at RAF Scampton to begin their operational career. The crew had flown on nine operations before being posted over to the new squadron being formed at the same base to undertake training for a special mission. As the most senior navigator in A Flight, Macfarlane became the Flight Navigation Officer.

Shortly before the raid, Macfarlane travelled home to Glasgow, on leave to see his family. In a 2013 newspaper interview, his brother recalled that they were obviously engaged in an important project:

We gathered he was going back to do something special. But he couldn’t tell us what it was.
 On the morning after the overnight raid we were listening to the wireless and heard the dramatic news. So we were pretty certain that was where Richard had been.
 They were given leave immediately and he was back at our home in Broomhill, Glasgow, sitting round the dinner-table and confirming he had been on the Dambuster raid that previous night.
The Herald, 16 May 2013

Macfarlane flew with Rice and the rest of his crew on the handful of successful operations they completed in the period July to December 1943, but they were unlucky on 20 December when they were shot down 14,000 feet above Merbes-Le Chateau in Belgium. Although Rice gave the order to bale out, there wasn’t time and the aircraft exploded. Rice seems to have been thrown clear by the explosion, and somehow landed in a wood but the bodies of the remaining six crew members were found in the wreckage.

Richard Macfarlane and his five colleagues were buried in Gosselies Communal Cemetery, near Hainaut, Belgium.

More about Macfarlane online:
Entry on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Page about Rice crew burial site, Gosselies cemetery
Wikipedia entry about his brother, Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden
Biography of Macfarlane at University of Glasgow website
Article in The Herald, 16 May 2013

KIA 20.12.1943.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Nigel Press, All My Life, Lancfile Publishing 2006
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
John Sweetman, David Coward and Gary Johnstone, The Dambusters, Time Warner 2003

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Further information about Richard Macfarlane and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.

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