Battle of Britain: Willie McKnight
During the Battle of Britain (August-October 1940), Squadron No. 242, the “All-Canadians,” had one of the best kill to loss ratios in the Royal Air Force (RAF). This record was partially due to the outstanding efforts of Calgarian pilot William Lidstone McKnight.
McKnight was on the verge of being expelled from the University of Alberta and in the middle of a romantic crisis when he chose to enlist with the RAF in 1939. After finishing his training, McKnight quickly earned a reputation as one of the RAF’s top Aces and won a Distinguished Flying Cross after destroying nine enemy planes in less than three weeks. For many of his opponents the Grim Reaper painted on McKnight’s fuselage was eerily prophetic. Despite his killer reputation, McKnight—nicknamed Willie—was perhaps best known by his comrades for his large grin and romantic capers.
Shortly after being posted to England, McKnight found himself on duty on the same night that one of his favourite bands was playing. Unwilling to miss out he simply left the barracks, picked up his current girlfriend, and showed up at the concert… only to run into his commanding officer. Another account describes how during the Battle of France he attempted to smuggle his new girlfriend onto one of the RAF’s bombers. However, he was forced to leave without her during the Dunkirk evacuation.
The No. 242 suffered significant losses during the Battle of France and was forced to replace many of its lost Canadian pilots with Englishmen and Australians. Of the twenty-two original members of the squadron, only five, including McKnight, survived and served with the No. 242 in the Battle of Britain.
McKnight survived the Battle of Britain and added a bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross only to be killed five months later.
Main photo: William Lidstone McKnight. (Credit: the Canadian Virtual War Memorial)