Battle of Britain profile of courage: Pilot Officer Kirkpatrick MacLure Sclanders

Biography / August 28, 2015

By Major Bill March

242 (Canadian) Squadron, Royal Air Force

Kirkpatrick MacLure “Pat” Sclanders was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in 1916, but soon after his birth the family moved to Saint John, New Brunswick.

It seems that this young New Brunswicker had always had a love of flying. At 10, he won a contest sponsored by Flying Aces magazine, an American publication, by identifying the greatest number of mistakes in a technical description of an aircraft. The prize, a leather flying helmet and a pair of goggles, came in handy when he soloed at the Saint John Flying Club, located at the Millidgeville Airport, when he was 15 years old after a mere five hours and forty minutes of dual instruction. He paid for his lessons by working for the Pan American office at the airport and by serving as the Saint John aviation correspondent for Aero Digest, published out of New York City. Writing was also in his blood; after graduating from the Saint John High School in 1932, he went to work for the local Evening Times-Globe newspaper.

Sclanders lived, breathed and dreamed aviation. His only regret was that he could not grow a decent moustache – a “must have” for any serious aviator. At 17, he worked his way across the Atlantic on a cattle-boat bound for England and, although he lost all of his belongings due to a mishap on the voyage, he arrived safely and was accepted into the Royal Air Force (RAF) in September 1935. After instruction at 3 Flying Training School at RAF Grantham in Lincolnshire, he was posted to No. 25 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Hawkinge, Kent.

Then fate, in the form of a serious stomach ailment, stepped in, causing Sclanders to fail his medical assessment. In a 1937 letter he informed a friend that “I’m leaving the service on August 1. Don’t jump to the obvious conclusion, however, that I have been thrown out for getting drunk and stealing the CO’s [commanding officer’s]plane or something. I’m going on account of ill-health – I was sick this winter…and thank gawd, will receive sufficient money as a gratuity, to permit me eating for a while.” Even with this bad news, the young Canadian was determined that “despite the ominous statements of the Air Ministry’s medical pundits, I look forward to flying again very soon.”

Released from the RAF and back in Canada, his medical rating prevented him from enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Looking further afield, he considered going to China to fly against the Japanese, but then, in 1939 Sclanders learned that the Finnish Air Force was accepting volunteers to help in their struggle against the Soviet Union. Though accepted by the Finns, the Winter War (November 1939 – March 1940) ended before he departed Canada. By then, however, France was seeking pilots, so Sclanders changed his travel plans and ended up in Paris. He arrived just at the climax of the Battle of France and soon found himself a refugee in London. He re-applied to an RAF desperate for pilots and willing to relax their peace-time medical requirements.

RAF Pilot Officer Sclanders (for the second time) was rushed through training and arrived at No. 6 Operational Training Unit, RAF Sutton Bridge, on August 2, 1940, for advance training on Hawker Hurricane fighters. A little more than three weeks later, he arrived at RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, a new member of 242 (Canadian) Squadron. The squadron, now under the command of Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, and somewhat less “Canadian” due to an influx of RAF pilots to replace losses, was in the thick of the air battle over England.

On August 30, the squadron was temporarily operating out of the airfield at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, and found itself in combat against the Luftwaffe throughout the day. Pilot Officer Sclanders was involved in a massive dogfight late that afternoon; while returning at dusk, one of his wings clipped a parked Hurricane, tipping his aircraft up on its nose. Slammed face forward as his “kite” came to an abrupt halt, Sclanders had the unfortunate experience of his face making intimate contact with his gun sight. Shaken, bruised, and somewhat chastened due to his poor landing, he was feeling a bit low when he met his squadron commander in the officers’ mess that evening.

Bader was elated with the unit’s 12 victories and with a congratulatory message from the Chief of the Air Staff praising the squadron’s “magnificent fighting” and noting that “you are well on top of the enemy and obviously the fine Canadian traditions of the last war are safe in your hands.”  So, when Sclanders approached him to apologize for “pranging” his Hurricane, Bader waved the incident away, slapped him on the back, and said with a smile: “Hell, we’ve got lots of Hurricanes. We’ll get another one tomorrow – but I doubt if that eye will clean up for a week or so.”

Pilot Officer Sclanders lived just long enough to see his bruises fade. Ten days later, in the early evening of September 9, 1940, No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron was part of the RAF response to a large German force of some 120 aircraft attacking London. Sclanders’ Hurricane was engaged by two German fighters and severely damaged. On fire, trailing a thick plume of black smoke, his aircraft plummeted to earth near Marden Park Farm, in southeast England.

The 24-year-old Canadian, sporting a magnificent aviator’s mustache, is buried in Saint Luke’s Churchyard in Whyteleafe, Surrey. 

With files from Battle of Britain London Monument.

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