Flying Officer James Emmett McNamara
On 17th June 1943, Kenley’s Canadian Wing engaged in an offensive fighter sweep over France, ‘Rodeo’ 231, which turned into a huge, confusing dogfight involving 80-100 FW190s of JG26 and 24 Spitfires.
No.403 squadron’s pilots all made it back to Kenley safely, except F/O Marshall who landed at Redhill because his Spitfire had been damaged in combat. No.421 squadron were less fortunate, losing Squadron Leader Phillip L. I. Archer DFC, and Flying Officer James E. McNamara in the area of St. Omer, France.
JAMES EMMETT MCNAMARA of Northcliffe Avenue, Montreal, was the son of Michael John McNamara, a railway employee, and Lucy Mary McNamara (nee. Francoeur). He had a sister, Phyllis, and a brother, Howard, who was serving in the RCAF with No.238 Squadron in the Middle East around the time of James’s death.
James left education in 1939 and took a job as a junior clerk with the Royal Insurance Company, prior to enlisting in the RCAF, in October 1940.
He succeeded in being accepted for pilot training and joined Course 18 at No.1 Initial Training School where his spirit and determination were noted, though a medical report says that James appeared to be a tense lad who thrived on praise but responded poorly to correction – “He realises he is nervous and tries too hard.”
He passed on to Course No.24 at No.11 Elementary Flying Training School and then moved on to No.9 Service Flying Training School at Summerside where he was awarded his ‘wings’ on 10th August, 1941. His instructor praised James for his hard work but said he was, “inclined to be overconfident to the detriment of his flying.”
James was posted overseas to the UK at the end of August 1941, and after a period at No.59 Operational Training Unit, joined No.416 Squadron at RAF Peterhead for training only. In the Summer of 1942, he was posted to Malta, served with 1435 Flight and was appointed to a commission.
James returned to the UK on 16th September 1942, and was sent to No.59 Operational Training Unit again, before joining No.421 Squadron on 19th December. In January 1943, No.421 Squadron joined 127 (Canadian) Wing and moved to Kenley on 30th. McNamara was also promoted to Flying Officer. At the beginning of March the squadron left Kenley for a couple of weeks to take part in “Exercise Spartan” and then moved to Redhill on the 24th.
McNamara arrived back at Kenley by air on 18th May with the rest of the squadron for what would be his final few weeks at the station. Throughout May he had flown operationally on sweeps and scrambles but they were generally “uneventful.”
On 20th May, ‘A’ Flight took off at 12.20hrs for a ‘Rodeo’ but were recalled by Operations before reaching the English coast. James arrived back at Kenley in Spitfire BS319, at 12.45hrs but misjudged his landing. His tail wheel was damaged as it clipped the end of the runway and the aircraft left the runway, as James struggled to keep it from going over on one wing. Although by this time, McNamara had flown 245 hours on Spitfire Mk.Vb’s, this was only his fourth flight in a Mk.IX. However, it was judged that he had disregarded the white touchdown line and the lecture about flying control that all pilots were given before flying from Kenley. Wing Commander ‘Johnnie’ Johnson considered this a “gross error of judgment” and recommended that his logbook be endorsed.
On 17th June 1943, Johnson led No.403 and No.421 squadrons for ‘Rodeo’ 231. The plan was for the Canadians to sweep Gravelines, Ypres, Thielt and Ostend ten minutes after the Northolt Wing had carried out a similar operation. The Controller warned them of enemy aircraft in the area and they were spotted west of Ypres. Johnson, flying as ‘Black 1’ led No.421 down to attack the FW190’s below, targeting the rear four aircraft, two of which were destroyed and one damaged, which was credited to Flying Officer McNamara who was flying as ‘Black 3.’ He was last seen during this combat by Pilot Officer Bullock, flying as ‘Black 4’, who witnessed him diving from 12,000 to 7000ft with black smoke and flames pouring from his aircraft – Spitfire IX, BS319, the same aircraft that he had damaged landing at Kenley on the 20th May.
No trace of James was ever found but his family held a funeral service for him in Canada when his brother Howard returned from Italy on leave. Having no known grave, James is remembered on the Runnymede memorial.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.