Obituary: John MacPherson, 92

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AN Edinburgh University stalwart and Second World War hero who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace has passed away at the age of 92.

John MacPherson, who served as deputy secretary of Edinburgh University and a clerk to the University Court, died on July 4.

Originally from Inverness, John was a wartime pathfinder navigator, one of the few Bomber Command aircrew to survive five years of continuous flying from 1941 to 1946.

One of John’s closest shaves came on July 13, 1942, when his aircraft was one of 12 planes of 115 squadron to take off from RAF Marham on a mission to Duisburg.

They crossed the coast at Cromer and penetrated the defensive box of German Me110 fighters without incident. However, on their run they were bracketed by four 88mm shells. Canvas was torn from the fuselage and the starboard engine spluttered and died.

Forty minutes to the Dutch coast, and with crucial wireless and instruments gone, they were unable to tell their altitude as they crossed the North Sea.

Suddenly came a yell from the front turret: “Trees passing the port wingtip.” They ploughed across a field and emerged festooned with half an English hedge just short of a massive oak tree.

Navigator and tail gunner were sent to look for a farmhouse. John, with his Inverness accent and black leather flying boots, was assumed by the farmer to be German and was greeted with a double-barrelled shotgun – cocked.

Only the Anglo-Saxon expletives of the tail gunner convinced the farmer that all was well and the aircraft was consigned to the care of the Watton home guard.

Between November and December 1942 he completed five missions to Turin and Genoa, targets way beyond range and requiring exquisite traditional navigational skills.

For his navigational skills on these missions he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross which he received in 1943.

Following the war, he started his studies as a mature student at Edinburgh University in 1946, gaining a first class Honours MA in 1950 and subsequent LLB with distinction. He joined the university administration in September 1950 as personal assistant to the secretary.

Promoted to assistant secretary in 1954, his main work for 30 years was as clerk to the University Court. He also worked closely with the Faculty of Medicine throughout his career.

John was also awarded an MBE in 1971 and was for many years vice-president of the Sports Union.

He is survived by three children – Frances, Niall and Mark – five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren

His wife, Vera, who he married on August 13, 1942, died in 2004 and his son, Hugh, also predeceased him in 2001.