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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. R I Laing


Robert Inglis Laing was born on 11th March 1913 in Wynyard, Tasmania. He was working as a bank clerk in New Zealand when he volunteered for flying duties after the outbreak of war. He went to the Ground Training School at Weraroa on 20th November 1939, moved to 2 EFTS New Plymouth on 18th December and then to 2 FTS Woodbourne on 11th March 1940.

With the course completed, Laing sailed for the UK on 12th July in the RMS Rangitane. After arrival on 27th August he went to No. 1 RAF Depot Uxbridge and then to 5 OTU Aston Down on 11th September. After converting to Hurricanes he joined 151 Squadron at Digby on the 30th.

Laing flew two operational sorties in October, on the 18th and 27th.

On 7th November 1940 he joined 73 Squadron at Debden. He left there on the 9th for Birkenhead, where the squadron embarked on the carrier HMS Furious on the 10th, en route for the Middle East.

The Hurricanes were flown off to Takoradi on the 29th and they took off in sixes on the ferry route to Heliopolis, via Lagos, Accra, Maidugari, Khartoum, Wadi Halfa and Abu Sueir. The Blenheim leading Laing’s group lost its bearings and the Hurricanes had to make a forced-landing in the Sudan. There was some delay whilst some aircraft awaited repairs.

On arrival in Egypt the 73 Squadron pilots were attached to 274 Squadron in the Western Desert and 73 Squadron did not become operational on its own account until early January 1941. On the 6th Laing damaged a CR42 south-east of Tobruk. In April the squadron was operating within the perimeter of Tobruk.

On 23rd May 1941 Laing flew one of six Hurricanes that were sent to Crete to strafe enemy ground targets. He was the only one to reach the island. Two Hurricanes were shot down by British warships and three others lost contact with the guiding aircraft. Laing landed but before he could take off again his aircraft was destroyed in an attack by German bombers.

He was later picked up by P/O GE Goodman of 73 Squadron in a Hurricane and flew back to Tobruk with Goodman on his lap.

Some time later Laing was strafing a German landing ground. After setting fire to two enemy aircraft on the ground, his own radiator was hit by flak. Fumes poured into the cockpit as he headed for Tobruk, closely pursued by two Me109's. Hit again, Laing began to lose height.

He skimmed across the clifftops and crashed in flames in a wadi. Convinced that he was still in enemy territory, Laing got out of the burning aircraft and hid in a cave, where he was found by a British patrol and taken in to Tobruk.

Commissioned in October 1941, Laing was awarded the DFC (gazetted 3rd April 1942), still serving with 73 Squadron. He returned to New Zealand in late 1943 and went on to the Reserve in March 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant.

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