The only son of John Christopher and Maud Laidlay of Lindores, Fife and Perth, Pilot Officer John Laidlay RAFVR (79740) flew Bristol Blenheims with RAF 254 Squadron. He attended Ardvreck School, Crieff and Malvern College, Worcestershire between 1930 and 1934, a public school where he was remembered in 1940:
‘At school he was chiefly remarkable for his initiative and spirit of adventure, an ideal temperament for a Pilot Officer.’ (Malvernian, December 1940).
Lindlay was a member of RAF 254 Squadron. The squadron was reformed as a coastal fighter unit part of Coastal Command on 30 October 1939 at RAF Stradishall in Suffolk. The squadron moved to RAF Haston in the Orkneys on 24 April 1940 and then to RAF Sumburgh in the Shetlands on 16 May 1940. Sumburgh aerodrome was a grass field and tents and marquees. On 2 August 1940, they were on the move again, this time to RAF Dyce. The squadron was part of Coastal Command patrolling the North Sea on reconnaissance and convoy escort missions. They were equipped with Bristol Blenheim IV light bomber aircraft.
On Tuesday 3 September 1940 at 3 pm whilst practising attacks, Lindlay’s aircraft, Bristol Blenheim Mk Iv N3608 collided with Blenheim N3529 in the air at approximately 2,000-3,000 ft. It caught fire and ploughed into the ground. The main part of the fuselage with the engines were buried eight feet deep in ground eight miles north of RAF Dyce near Udny. Blenheim N3529 came down about a mile to the north west at Cauldhame. The pilots were recent arrivals at the squadron and were being trained for operation duties. They had previously carried out attacks both single and in formation.
There was according to eyewitness accounts no attempts to escape either aircraft by parachute; the wing tip fell off one aircraft and the other aircraft caught fire. Both aircraft burnt out with all the occupants killed:
Pilot Officer John Reginald Laidlay, RAFVR (79740), pilot, age 23
Sergeant Ronald John Whiffen, RAFVR (747997), wireless operator/air gunner, age unknown
Aircraftman 1st Class Donald Campbell, RAF (638834), age 30
Flight Sergeant Robert Charles Hanna, RAF (AAF) (816023), pilot, age 23
Aircraftman 2st Class Joseph Edward Mangion, RAFVR (948167), age 21
Laidley had 261.5 hours flying time in a Blenheim, Hanna had 202.15 hours. Laidlay was a young laird, the heir of Lindores House and is buried in Abdie Old Churchyard near Grange of Lindores. Whiffen was from Bournemouth and Aircraftman Campbell was from Glasgow. Hanna was from Belfast and Aircraftman Joesph Mangion was from Malta. He was the son of Lorenzo and Carmela Mangion, of Pawla, Malta. The inscription on his war grave reads:
‘Of Malta. Only Son of L. and C. Mangion who left his dear island to fight for the empire’.
Bristol Blenheim N3608 was one of 100 delivered to the RAF from the manufacturer, A V Roe at Chadderton, Lancashire between March and June 1940 under Contract No 774679/38.
Four aircraft from RAF 254 Squadron were dispatched to RAF Detling in Kent on 28 May 1940 to operate on sea patrols covering the Dunkirk evacuation.
RAF Dyce is now Aberdeen airport.
Perthshire Advertiser 7 September 1940
ROYAL AIR FORCE SQUADRON CRESTS (CH 9098) Original wartime caption: This picture is one of a series showing R.A.F. Squadron crests and mottoes. (Picture issued 1943). No.254 Squadron ‘FLJUGA VAKTA OK LJOSTA’ – ‘To fly, to watch and to strike’. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205448928
AIRCRAFT OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: BRISTOL TYPE 156 BEAUFIGHTER. (MH 5688) Beaufighter TF Mark X, NT921 of No. 254 Squadron RAF, on test with the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, loaded with two 250-lb GP bombs under the fuselage and two 250-lb depth charges under each wing. NT921 rejoined 254 Squadron at North Coates, Lincolnshire, and was shot down attacking a convoy off the Dutch coast on 8 August 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205126841
SECRETARY FOR AIR VISIT COASTAL COMMAND STATION (CH 3955) Original wartime caption: Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air, visited a station of R.A.F. Coastal Command. Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air, photographed during hjs visit to a station of R.A.F Coastal Command. [RAF DYCE] Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205444717
ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (C 2449) A crew of a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV of No. 404 Squadron RCAF, prepare to take off from Dyce, Aberdeen, in the evening of 17 May 1942, to take part in the attack on the German heavy cruiser PRINZ EUGEN off Norway. Six Blenheims were detailed to accompany the strike force of Bristol Beauforts in order to make dummy torpedo attacks on the cruiser so as to confuse the enemy anti-aircraft defences, an… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211339