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Donald McLaren

Donald Roderick MacLaren was born on 28 May 1893 in Ottawa. Seven years later, Donald and his family moved to Calgary where he attended public school before entering Western Canada College. He and one of his brothers later travelled back east to Montreal where they entered McGill University.

Early in 1914, MacLaren left school because of poor health. When he recovered, he joined his father and brother in exploring the lower Peace Keg River. The trio then worked together operating a fur trading post.

Motivated by the news of setbacks encountered by British troops and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in May 1917, MacLaren decided to join the RFC, while his brother joined the Royal Navy.

MacLaren completed his training for the RFC at Long Branch, Armour Heights, and Camp Borden in Ontario. He received a commission as a second lieutenant in August, then travelled to England where he continued his training on advanced aircraft at Number 34 Training Squadron at Turnhill. MacLaren flew Avro 504s, Bristol Scouts, Nieuport 12s, Sopwith Camels, and de Havilland DH-5s.

At the end of November, he was sent to the front to fly with Number 46 Squadron. His first action over the lines of Flanders occurred on 13 December when he flew a Camel with Number 3 Squadron.

MacLaren was on a patrol with four others on 6 March 1918 flying a Camel when three German Hannover CL.III two-seat aircraft were spotted 1,000 feet above them. They ascended to meet the German aircraft and initiated an attack. MacLaren fired about 100 rounds at one aircraft, sending it into a spin. This was his first recorded victory. On 10 March, he engaged a German Albatros D.V. earning his second victory. MacLaren was then appointed deputy flight leader.

One of the greatest offensives by the Germans on the Western Front started on 21 March 1918. MacLaren carried out a mission that included dropping four 25-pound Cooper bombs on a German long-range run. He went on to flame a balloon that was over Biache St. Vaast, and continued on the same day to shoot down two LVG two-seater aircraft. The next day, he shot down two more German aircraft over Bullecort, one of which he shared with Captain Marchant. MacLaren shot down or assisted in downing three more enemy aircraft. On 24 March, he flamed another balloon, and caused a Junkers J.I to go down out of control.

On 1 April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service and RFC merged, and the Royal Air Force (RAF) was born. On 6 April, the famous Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron, shot down Sydney P. Smith, leader of Number 46 Squadron. Don MacLaren was made new captain and leader of the squadron. Later that month, on 21 April, another Canadian, Roy Brown, shot down the Red Baron.

MacLaren increased his number of victories that day when he sent an Albatros D.V out of control. At the end of March, MacLaren received the Military Cross for the victories he had amassed over the month. May was another very active month for MacLaren and when his number of victories jumped up to 32, he was awarded a bar for his Military Cross. His victories continued to mount rapidly in July and August, resulting in his receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.

September and the first week of October continued to be very successful for MacLaren, as his total victories mounted to 48 aircraft and six balloons, which made him the highest scoring Sopwith Camel pilot, and third best of all Canadian aces.

On 10 October, Donald MacLaren was having a friendly wrestling match with one of the junior officers in his squadron when he broke his leg. Unable to fly, MacLaren was posted back to England on 6 November 1919. Five days later, on 11 November, the war was over as the Germans surrendered.

MacLaren was given the Distinguished Service Order on 6 February 1919. Added to the honours he already received, MacLaren was awarded the Croix de Guerre and was made a Compangnon de la Légion d’Honneur by France.

After the war, when the short-lived Canadian Air Force (CAF) was organized, MacLaren played an important role. He located and shipped to Canada surplus aircraft that could be used for the CAF and the Canadian Air Board.

After returning to Canada, MacLaren saved enough money to buy a Curtiss JN4, and formed a new company called Pacific Airways. Immediately successful, he was able to purchase a HS-2L flying boat that allowed him to carry out patrols for the Department of Fisheries on the Pacific Coast.

MacLaren’s Pacific Airways offered charter passenger service to Vancouver and Victoria by the time he sold it to Western Canada Airways in 1928. Western Canada Airways changed its name to Canadian Airways in 1931 and MacLaren was given a position as its manager. Also in 1931, MacLaren was appointed honorary wing commander with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was placed on the Reserve Roster as a squadron leader for the RCAF in 1932.

Canadian Airways eventually became Trans-Canada Airline (TCA) in 1937, and MacLaren became vice president of operations. Based in Ottawa, he selected pilots, who were often former bush pilots, for the airline. He retired from TCA as executive assistant to the president in 1958.

Donald MacLaren passed away on 4 July 1989.


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