156 Squadron was a Founder Squadron of 'Pathfinder Force' in Bomber Command, in 1942 flying Wellington Bombers first from Alconbury then Warboys, in Cambridgeshire, England. It eventually moved to Upwood where there is now a Memorial to their tasks in the Second World War. The motto of the squadron was We Light The Way. From the Log Books of '156', on 12th June 1942 we can read, "Three new crews received from OTU [Officer Training Unit], including two officers (F/Lt. Wilson and P/O McIlhagga). One cross country practice carried out. One aircraft ferried from Wyton".
The records of the Squadron contain details of the 25 missions that P/O W. McIlhagga went on. The practice was to establish crews that continued to work together and McIlhagga was part of one which included Sgt (later W/O) J.M. Hodgson as its captain, Flt/Sgt E.R. Henry, Sgt L. Davies and Sgt W.J. James. The details include sortie departure times (always at night), the target place and the time it was reached, the height at which the plane flew, usually 10-16,000 feet, and the time of return. The Comments on each operation included the number of planes involved, how many took off and how many returned, with a note of any crews lost. Often there are comments on the experience of a particular crew and plane. Among the places to which McIlhagga flew, some more than once, were Emden, Bremen, Wilhelmshoven, Dursberg, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Mainz, Flensburg, Frankfurt, Kassel, Nurnburg, Saarbruchen, Karlsruhe, Essen, Krefeld, Osnabruck and finally Torino.
Some of the comments, some perhaps written by McIlhagga, are as follows: 'Sortie abandoned owing to port engine overheating'; 'This aircraft returned early with starboard engine trouble'; 'Attacked primary [target] 01.37 hours from 12000 feet... Burst observed but location uncertain. Two FW 190 approached in line astern about 2000 feet below - no attack made. Bremen 01.45 a/c seen go down in flames'; '02.50 hrs, 1000 ft, aircraft hit by light flak in base of turret and centre of fuselage. One s/lt. shot out by rear gunner'; 'Abandoned 01.05 hrs height 13000' due to failure of oxygen supply to rear turret'; 'Abandoned owing to engine cowling coming adrift and causing aircraft to vibrate badly'; 'Ypres 01.45 hrs, 15000 ft, A/C seen to go down in flames and break up'; 'A/C was coned by app. 20 s/ls and was hit by heavy and light flak. Starboard wing fabric stripped between engine and fuselage. Dinghy tore loose and ripped fabric to rear turret...'; 'E/A attacked from port and starboard alternately, each making two attacks. Rear gunner engaged four times. Slight damage caused to our aircraft and all bombs jettisoned live'; 'Target not attacked, unable to identify visually owing to thick ground haze'; 'At 23.03 another Wellington approached from starboard. Our a/c dived to avoid collision, but our rudder and fin were struck by its fuselage'; 'Abandoned owing to arriving 22 minutes late due to slowness of A/C and that A/C would not climb'; 'Arrived south of Geneva too late to reach target in time and abandoned sortie'.
One can only imagine the strain and frustration of engaging in such warfare. And who was P/O W. McIlhagga? The average age of the newly trained members of the crews was only about twenty-two! And there is one man who fits the timing. William, son of Andrew McIlhagga and Sarah Patillo Wilson, was born on 2nd March 1922 and in 1942 would have been twenty years old. In March that year he had been married at Westminster, London, to April [Ella] Smith, and presumably had joined up and gone straight to an Officers Training Unit. Then he was posted a mere fifty miles away to Cambridgeshire. What happened to him after November 1942? He appears to be no longer with 156 Squadron. If we are talking about the right man we know that at some stage he emigrated to Canada and transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force in which he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His descendants live in Canada to this day.