Sergeant Robert Charles McLaren (1515312) served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during World War Two. He was a navigator with RAF 626 Squadron.
Robert Charles McLaren, known as Charlie, was the son of Thomas J McLaren and Emma McLaren of Sixmilecross, Co. Tyrone. He began training with the Royal Air Force while attending Queen’s University, Belfast where he studied medicine.
McLaren joined 1 Operational Air Flying Unit on 12th January 1943. By 27th April 1943, he was with 81 Operational Training Unit and on 12th July 1943 joined 18 Operational Training Unit. He joined RAF 626 Squadron on 11th December 1943.
McLaren with RAF 626 Squadron
With RAF 626 Squadron he took part in raids on Mannheim, Germany on 20th December 1943. The bombers of 626 Squadron departed from their base at RAF Wickenby, Lincolnshire, England. This was his first mission with the bomber squadron.
Sergeant McLaren died on 14th January 1944 aged 20 years old. This was only his second sortie with RAF 626 Squadron, a raid on Brunswick, Germany from Wickenby. He was the navigator in the crew of pilot Flight Sergeant Kenneth Neal Elkington on board Lancaster ME576 UM-A2. The squadron lost JB141 on the same operation.
Lancaster ME576 crash in Germany
RAF 626 Squadron took delivery of ME576 on 1st January 1944. The raid over Brunswick was its first operation with the squadron. It totaled only 7 hours of flying time. Elkington’s crew left RAF Wickenby at approximately 1645hrs.
The plane came down near Halberstadt, around 60km south-east of Brunswick in northern Germany. The other crew members were:
- Pilot Flight Sergeant Kenneth Neal Elkington (1437743).
- Sergeant Basil George Martin (1604936).
- Wireless Operator Sergeant Leonard John Pasfield (1213898).
- Warrant Officer Arthur Manley Goodall (RCAF R142689).
- Sergeant Maxwell Anderson Brooks (1570097).
- Sergeant Albert Alexander Johnson (1812397).
Charlie had become friends with Flight Sergeant Goodall, the Canadian member of his crew. The two visited Northern Ireland together in 1943.
Authorities located McLaren’s body after the war. They identified the young navigator by a silver cigarette case bearing his initials.
Reports from eyewitnesses in Germany suggest the burial site of the crew was in a community cemetery in the village of Gunsleben. The village lies between Halberstadt and Brunswick around 15km west of Oschersleben.
Remembering Robert Charles McLaren
Much of Charlie’s RAF career remains shrouded in mystery. His mother’s grief was so intense after his death that she destroyed all his letters and all but one photograph. His father kept his RAF log book safe.
Robert Charles McLaren’s grave is in Section 14, Row A, Grave 5 of 1939-1945 War Cemetery, Charlottenberg, Berlin, Germany. His headstone bears the inscription “until the day break”. Family from Northern Ireland have visited the grave many times over the years.