SECOND BOOK FROM FORMER CONSETT AIR CADET
November 2015 will see the release of a second book from former Consett Air Cadet and retired RAF fast-jet pilot, Paul McDonald. The new book is a dramatic new account of Malta’s war and was released to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the famous Second World War siege. Published by Pen and Sword, it is called:
Malta’s Greater Siege & Adrian Warburton DSO* DFC** DFC (USA)
While Paul was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he spent most of his early life in Moorside living with his parents Tommy and Joan McDonald, both now deceased. Tommy worked in the Plate Mill until its closure in the 1980s. Paul’s first home was a council-owned prefab in Delves Lane (Sunningdale), before the family moved to Surrey Crescent, Moorside. He attended St Patrick’s School in Consett, and then St John’s at The Grove before moving onto St Joseph’s Grammar in Hebburn. On leaving school, he worked for a firm of surveyors and estate agents in Medomsley Road, Consett (Arthur Bartley), and other offices in County Durham.
The Air Cadets proved to be a life-changing experience for Paul when he joined 1409 (Consett) Squadron. He qualified as a glider pilot at sixteen, and gained his Private Pilot’s Licence at the age of eighteen, before he could drive a car. He continued as an adult member of staff the Air Cadets and was commissioned in the RAFVR(T) until he joined the RAF in 1971.
He served as an RAF pilot for thirty-four years on aircraft ranging from photo-reconnaissance Canberras to strike/attack Tornados. He was decorated for gallantry in 1980 and was appointed OBE in 1995. He retired as a group captain in 2005 and now lives near York. His fascinating career, in which he saw fourteen years service overseas, is described in his well-regarded personal account of the Cold War, Winged Warriors – The Cold War from the Cockpit, published in 2012.
Paul’s links with the ‘light blue’ didn’t end on his retirement. He joined the RAF Reserve working with the Air Cadet Organization in North Yorkshire and South Durham. He now works part-time as a civilian Tucano simulator instructor with the current generation of RAF student pilots training at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. Paul and his wife, Jackie, live near Easingwold in North Yorkshire. Their son and his family live in Los Angeles; their daughter is a serving RAF air traffic control officer.
The new book is a dramatic and moving account of Malta’s war. At its heart is a touching but ultimately tragic love story between Adrian Warburton and a vivacious blonde from Cheshire called Christina Ratcliffe. The story takes the form of a quest to find out the truth about a couple who became part of Malta’s folklore.
Warburton was described by Lord Tedder as ‘the most valuable pilot in the RAF’, but to many he was simply known as ‘Warby’ or ‘Six-medal Warburton’. When the Middlesbrough-born hero went missing in 1944, he had flown over 395 operational missions, a staggering total; the majority from Malta in the most hazardous of circumstances. He was also credited with nine enemy aircraft shot down; a most unusual tally for a photo-reconnaissance pilot. He then lay undiscovered for nearly sixty years. To this day Warburton is the RAF’s most highly decorated recce pilot.
Paul McDonald was also an RAF recce pilot based in Malta but thirty years after the events described in this wide-ranging and insightful work. He embarks on a quest to establish the importance of Malta to the man behind the medals and the truth about his relationship with a dancer turned aircraft plotter described as, ‘Christina of George Cross Island’. The story begins in a cemetery in Bavaria and ends in another in Malta. In between the reader is taken on a journey full of drama to wartime Malta, then forward to present day locations, all closely linked with characters met on the way.
The son of a decorated submariner, Warburton was seen by many as a loner and a misfit. He had a dubious start in the RAF only just making it through pilot training. He was sent to Malta as a navigator, only becoming a recce pilot when someone went sick. Within three months, he was involved in the Battle of Taranto which contributed to his first Distinguished Flying Cross. Gallantry awards then came Warby’s way every six months, all six being awarded for service from Malta.
On the island, he met Christina and their relationship developed amid a desperate and close-run siege and air war. She was a cabaret artiste stranded on the island when Italy declared war. One of the most attractive girls on the island, she was a member of the Whizz-Bangs concert party before becoming an aircraft plotter in the top secret world of Lascaris, which lay deep beneath Valetta’s fortress walls. Later as captain of her watch and then assistant controller, she too was decorated for gallantry. She and Adrian became local celebrities and part of Malta’s folklore. Their story highlights the tensions and fears of an island under siege whilst being inextricably linked to the story of Malta, the RAF, the RN, and the Merchant Marine in the conflict.
One character we meet is Yugoslavian-born Tamara Marks. Her tales of life under incessant bombing are intensely moving. Another is Hugh Lloyd, the senior airman throughout Malta’s most difficult months and arguably the man responsible more than any other for winning the air battle. Jack Vowles was a 20-year-old engine and airframe fitter when he met Warby. Revered by the airmen, Warby stayed in Jack’s memory throughout his long life and Jack’s first-hand account of life in Malta is unique and not published in any other source.
What of Elliot Roosevelt, the son of US President Franklin Roosevelt? For a time, Warby was under his command. What role did he play in Warby’s mysterious final mission in an American P-38 Lightning?
The words of many bring this Malta story to life and illustrate how very real the situation was and how harrowing a time it was for all. The character which shines through is that of Malta itself and its resilient people.
Christina remained in Malta; she never married, living out her life in an flat she shared with Warby. She died there alone and unnoticed in 1988, a sad and forgotten recluse. It was months before she was discovered. She was then buried in a shared grave.
This a true story of war in the air, at sea and on land. It is also a tragic and touching tale of two people thrown together amidst dramatically unfolding history. It is aimed at both the history and military reader alike and anyone with an interest in Malta.
Both Malta’s Greater Siege and Winged Warriors are available from Pen and Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk).