Death of war hero pilot and local solicitor, Mr Gordon Neill

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THE DEATH has occurred of a much-respected retired Arbroath solicitor, Gordon Neill, DSO, Croix de Guerre, at the age of 91.

Mr Neill had had a distinguished career as a Spitfire pilot in the Second World War. His flying of fighters and bombers covered six years.

As a young man he graduated from St Andrews University with a degree in law, and worked as a partner in several legal firms in the town, including latterly Neill & MacIntosh. He retired in 1985 and the firm became part of the Thornton group.

Mr Neill was an Honorary Sheriff.

He was a former president and honourary member of Arbroath Rotary Club, and attended meetings with meticulous regularity, even in the week before he died.

In 2008 the Rotary Club learned that Mr Neill had tried at a Leuchars Air Show to see a Spitfire again close up for the first time since 1941, but it was removed from public view before he had a chance.

So Leuchars personnel were contacted and it was arranged that he should travel to the Fife base and receive preferential access to the Spitfire.

When he was persuaded to talk of his wartime exploits, his audience would be spellbound.

At the time of his visit to Leuchars, the Arbroath Herald quoted him as saying: “I was pursuing a couple of German fighters when they split and one came round behind me. I took evasive action, diving to my right but, just as moved, he fired and I flew into his shots. There was no way he could have known which way I was going to go, it was luck on his part.

“There was a metal plate at my back that protected me but every part of my body, including my broad shoulders, that stuck out past the plate were struck by shrapnel.

“My seat supports were also shot out so I ended up sitting on the floor, it was certainly an interesting journey home!”

Then coming in to land he realised that he was left with only one wheel on his landing gear.

“I had to land on one wheel keeping the aircraft level before the speed was reduced,” he continued.

“It was probably my most memorable flight but the whole period was exciting.”

Mr Neill received the Distinguished Service Order in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in 1945 after one flight which concluded in the successful bombing of a railway yard outside Paris, despite his craft suffering severe damage from anti-aircraft fire enroute.

He was awarded the French Croix De Guerre on two occasions. The first saw him gain the silver star following an attack on Vaives in July, 1944, and he was later awarded the silver gilt star following the end of the war.

Mr Neill’s other interests included golf and angling, as well as a continued interest in powered flight and gliding.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, children Fiona and Victor and three grandchildren.