WWII pilot celebrates his centenary
RAF veteran John McGrory MBE celebrated his 100th birthday in style with two family parties and a card from the Queen.
A resident for seven years at Abbeyfield Redland, John was born on July 31, 1921. He’s lived a full life, flying Lancasters on operations in the closing stages of World War II followed by a career as a Qualified Flight Instructor. John, who was married for 67 years, has a large family with four adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And he doesn’t feel his busy lifestyle has aged him yet.
“Ancient! It doesn’t feel any different and my whiskers still grow!” said John.
He began his birthday with a prosecco buffet lunch at home, joined by family and friends at the Abbeyfield. Chef Paul produced a wonderful birthday cake and guests enjoyed songs from the 1940s and ‘50s performed by singers, The Sundays. Next, it was onto a party for 60 people organised by his four children at Carlton Lodge, the RAFA Club in Westbury-on-Trym. John’s youngest brother, Michael, aged 95, was able to attend the party, along with John’s children and their husbands, wives, children and John's great grandchildren, nephews, nieces and friends. One of John’s nieces sang his favourite song and all joined in with a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’.
“Everyone went to so much trouble,” said John in what was a day to remember for all the family.
John was born in Manchester and brought up in Sale, the fourth of six children, to a family who owned a cooperage business, making barrels. Mechanically minded, he went into engineering on leaving school and joined the RAF reserve at the outbreak of World War II.
He was called up for service in 1942, and following basic training and flying aptitude tests, John was selected in the summer of 1943 for flying training in Canada where he was awarded his wings and promoted to Sergeant.
In the Spring of 1944 John returned to the UK and in May he married his girlfriend, Joan Morgan from Salford. The couple would go on to have four children, Christopher, Roger, Pauline and Anthony.
John then undertook pilot training on heavy bombers including Wellingtons. This presented a challenge, as John recalls: “It was big with four engines. Heavier to fly than most planes but we were taught well.”
He was posted in 1945 to 625 Squadron at RAF Scampton flying Lancasters on operations in the closing weeks of the war. John was one of the pilots involved in Operation MANNA, taking five dangerous trips to drop food to the starving Dutch. At first it wasn’t clear to fly as the Germans were likely to attack the pilots but a truce was arranged so that the Dutch could eat. Sackfuls of food were dropped from each plane with the pilots flying low and slow, making control of the aircraft difficult. At this time he became a pilot officer, gained a crew and was promoted rapidly to Flight Lieutenant.
After the war John returned to civilian life at his old engineering company but also joined the RAF reserve.
Following the outbreak of the Korean War, John was recalled to the RAF in 1952 and trained as a flying instructor, initially with the Harvard and Provost, followed by Meteor and Vampire courses. From 1955 to 58 John was with 8 FTS at RAF Swinderby as a Qualified Flying Instructor and flight commander on the De Havilland Vampire.
In the 1960s he was flying Chipmunks with Bristol and then subsequently Birmingham, University Air Squadrons. In 1966 John was promoted to Squadron Leader and awarded the MBE which was presented to him by the Queen at Buckingham Palace. After Birmingham UAS he was posted to Cambridge as Officer Commanding number 5 Air Experience Flight. This was followed in the 1970s with two tours on the Harrier OCU at RAF Wittering.