James ‘Mac’ McCairns was one of the most famous pilots to fly from RAF Tangmere. On 6th July 1941 whilst flying with Douglas Bader’s Tangmere Wing, he was shot down to force land his Spitfire on a beach near Dunkirk. He was captured but managed to escape from a German POW camp in July 1942. On his return to England, he joined No 161 (Special Duties) Squadron as a pick-up pilot flying agents to and from France in Lysander aircraft. His first operation from Tangmere was on the night of 25th/26th November 1942 and during the next thirteen months he completed 25 successful missions. During his tour with No 161 he was awarded a remarkable three Distinguished Flying Crosses to add to the Military Medal he had been awarded for his escape in 1942. He survived the war but tragically was killed in a flying accident in 1948.
His son, Chris, also became an RAF pilot and, as a squadron leader, was a flight commander on No 14 (Jaguar) Squadron in 1980/81 when the Museum’s Chairman, Group Captain David Baron, commanded the unit at RAF Bruggen, Germany. On 9th May they were reunited when Chris presented to the Museum his father’s medals, his log books and an original Cuthbert Orde drawing of ‘Mac’ McCairns.
Main picture: Chris McCairns (left) presents his father’s medals to the Museum’s Chairman, Group Captain David Baron.
Bottom left: Chris McCairns visits the Museum’s SOE section.
Bottom right: James ‘Mac’ McCairns.