Robert Leith-Macgregor

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Robert Leith-Macgregor
Born 23 August 1917
Died 14 November 2008 (aged 91)
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Royal Air Force
Years of service 1937–1962
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
No. 241 Squadron RAF
No. 208 Squadron RAF
Nigeria Regiment
Battles/wars Second World War Korean War
Awards Military Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross
Other work Marketing director

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Leith-Macgregor MC DFC (23 August 1917 – 14 November 2008) was a British Army officer and Royal Air Force pilot. He fought in the Second World War, initially as an infantry officer in the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, before training as a pilot and transferring to the Royal Air Force. He was shot down several times and eventually became a Prisoner of War.

Post-war he returned to the army, serving again with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers in the Korean War, and later commanding a battalion of that regiment.

Early life and Second World War

The stepson of an admiral, Leith-Macgregor initially trained at the Nautical College, Pangbourne but could not deal with the five hours of mathematics a day, and after three years transferred to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[1][2] On passing out he was commissioned into the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers as a second lieutenant on 25 August 1938,[3] and was posted to the 2nd Battalion. He served in Belgium in 1939 but became bored with serving as a soldier, and instead volunteered to be trained as an army liaison pilot, gaining an additional RAF commission as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force on 11 April 1940.[4] After training on a de Havilland Tiger Moth he was taught to fly the Westland Lysander and posted to No. 241 Squadron RAF. He was transferred to No. 208 Squadron RAF to fly the Hawker Hurricane in the North African Campaign, and twice crashed. He was first shot down, but survived with no injuries despite his crashed aircraft being strafed by three German fighters before he could escape.[1] On the second occasion his engines failed and he was forced to crash-land; it later transpired he had taxied 75 yards in an active minefield without detonating anything.[1] He had retained his army commission and was promoted lieutenant on 1 January 1941,[5] and in the RAF, war substantive flying officer on 11 April 1941.[6]

In June 1942, he was attacked by four Messerschmitt Bf 109s; he destroyed one, but was himself shot down. Despite again being strafed by the remaining planes he survived unharmed, and returned to his base just in time to find his flight sergeant (who had witnessed events) organising a burial detail. Leith-Macgregor was immediately awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[1] The citation was published in the London Gazette on 28 July 1942:

Air Ministry. 28th July, 1942.


The KING has been graciously, pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy: —


Distinguished Flying Cross.


Flight Lieutenant Robert Leith MCGREGOR (43105), No. 298 Squadron.

In June, 1942, whilst on reconnaissance duties near Bir Hacheim, Flight Lieutenant McGregor encountered 4 Messerschmitt 109's which attacked separately. Displaying skilful airmanship he accepted the challenge of each aircraft in turn and destroyed 1. His own aircraft sustained severe damage. With the remaining 3 enemy fighters still pursuing him, he flew towards El Adem where his aircraft crashed in flames. Flight Lieutenant McGregor was uninjured and immediately proceeded to send in his report from the nearest telephone. This officer has displayed high courage and great devotion to duty in the face of the enemy.[7]

He was again shot down in August over El Alamein and was trapped inside the aircraft with the ammunition exploding. Nearby German soldiers broke through the canopy with an axe and helped him escape.[1] After an attempt to escape, he was transferred to an Italian Prisoner of War camp where he was brutally interrogated and held in a cage measuring five feet by three feet. He was transferred to a camp in Gavi and after the Italian armistice sent to Stalag Luft III; he did not escape in The Great Escape but was instead transferred yet again to a naval prisoner of war camp near Hamburg, where a sergeant from the Scots Guards cut the wire and let the prisoners escape.[1]

Korean War and later life

On 26 August 1945, he relinquished his RAF commission to return to army duty as a lieutenant.[8] He rejoined the Fusiliers, was promoted captain on 1 July 1946,[9] and served with the 1st Battalion in the Korean War. While there, he was promoted temporary major, and given command of the battalion's Y Company. For the leadership he displayed on 3 January 1951, he was awarded the Military Cross for placing Y Company so well on a hill that, despite an attack by a massive Chinese force, the enemy were unable to dislodge them, and the company withdrew without a single man killed.[1][10] Brigadier Brodie, commander of 29th Independent Brigade described it as "a performance of the highest order" when countersigning the recommendation.[10] The award was announced in the London Gazette on 10 July 1951.[11] He received substantive promotion to major on 25 August 1951.[12] He then commanded a company at Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School followed by a spell as second in command of a battalion of the Nigeria Regiment and as training officer of the 7th battalion RNF (the Territorial Army unit associated with the regiment).[1] Promoted lieutenant colonel on 5 February 1960,[13] he commanded the 1st battalion before, aware he had no staff training, he retired on 5 December 1962.[1][2][14] In retirement he worked first as a Guinness representative, and later as a marketing director for Rank Hotels and the Park Lane Hotel.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 "Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Leith-Macgregor - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. 7 January 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Lt-Col Robert Leith-MacGregor, MD, DFC: pilot and soldier". The Times. 25 November 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The London Gazette: no. 34545. pp. 5477–5478. 26 August 1938. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  4. The London Gazette: no. 34840. p. 2557. 30 April 1940. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  5. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35077. p. 955. 14 February 1941. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 35171. p. 2946. 23 May 1941. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  7. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35646. p. 3303. 24 July 1942. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  8. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37289. p. 4851. 28 September 1945. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  9. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37635. p. 3375. 28 June 1946. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—Leith-MacGregor, Robert". DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 19 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. The London Gazette: no. 39282. p. 3752. 10 July 1951. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  12. The London Gazette: no. 39329. p. 4757. 7 September 1951. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  13. The London Gazette: no. 41985. p. 2016. 15 March 1960. Retrieved 2009-01-19.
  14. The London Gazette: no. 42847. p. 9460. 30 November 1962. Retrieved 2009-01-19.