Development & Alumni Relations Office 

William (Bill) Earnest McCrea (died 8 February 2015, aged 93)

Full obituary, which appeared in the Irish Times on Saturday 25 April, can be found here.

Bill McCrea was a distinguished RAF officer, amateur golfer and club administrator.

During the Second World War, Bill McCrea, who has died aged 94, devised an innovative way of informing his family that against the odds he had flown his Lancaster bomber back from yet another raid over Europe.

As a pilot with RAF Bomber Command McCrea was one of a minority of officers to survive a full tour of duty. Of 125,000 Bomber Command aircrew 55,000 were killed, a further 8,500 wounded and 10,000 became prisoners of war.

William McCrea was one of the lucky ones. After every successful mission he would circumvent the censors by telegramming his mother happy birthday wishes, thus letting her know he had survived another mission.

McCrea left his mark both as an RAF pilot and as a top-class amateur golfer, sometimes managing to combine the two activities. He was involved in some of the biggest raids of the war including the attacks on Hamburg, in which 45,000 people were killed. He viewed this as a "terrible tragedy" for the people of the city, but added that "they were at war, he was a pilot officer, and his job was to get his plane and crew home".

Perhaps understandably he didn't speak much of his war time experiences until his grandson, Stuart, badgered him into opening up. He eventually wrote a book, A Chequer-Board of Nights, which he dedicated to his Bomber Command colleagues who died in the war. It was also the subject of a short film.

McCrea was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for valour. His citation reads "On the night of May 4th 1943 when returning from an attack on the Ruhr his aircraft was intercepted by a fighter. A prolonged combat ensued, but coolly and skilfully pilot officer McCrea finally succeeded in outmanoeuvring his adversary. The bomber sustained much damage but the pilot flew it safely to base."

Bill McCrea was born in Ramelton, Co Donegal in 1921. After his wartime experience he resumed his studies at Queen's, graduating in 1946 with a BSc in Geology and in 1948 with a BSc in Geography. He then re-joined the RAF as an education officer.

McCrea was an amateur international golfer between 1965 and 1967, debuting for Ireland at the age of 44. Among many successes he won the Austrian Amateur Open in 1965 and the Dutch Open in 1966.

He retired as an RAF wing commander in 1972 to become secretary at Walton Heath golf club in Surrey, helping transform it from a struggling to a top club. While there he played a major part in staging three European Open championships as well as the Ryder Cup in 1981.

Bill McCrea was predeceased in August 2012 by his wife of 68 years, Gwyneth, and is survived by his son, John, daughter, Sheelagh, grandchildren, Stuart and Sarah, brothers, Hugh and Basil, and sister, Emmeline.

Basil McCrea, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, is his nephew.

 

 

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