Kathleen McLeod – 19th December 1922 to 6th May 2021
Kath McLeod moved to Marlow in 1964, but she also had an busy and fascinating life to that point, including vital top secret activities during World War II. Last year saw the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and there was an increased media focus on the “hidden heroes”, and Kath was interviewed on Radio 2, and had a feature in The Times among other many other places. This year an RAF charity published an article on Kath “Two generations of RAF service inspired by one woman” , noting how she also inspired her daughter and grandson to join the RAF!
We felt it important that Kath’s life is recorded for posterity, and are proud to publish this detailed obituary, written by Martin Blunkell:
Kathleen “Kath” McLeod was born Newport Monmouthshire on 19 Dec 1922. Her family moved to London when she was six months old and she attended Ealing Primary School, followed by Haberdashers Aske in West Acton where she excelled at sport. She volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1942 and was originally selected to be a Clerk but was asked to “volunteer” as a Clerk (Special Duties) as she had school certificates in maths and science. The special duties meant working in various operational roles in the highly secret Dowding Radar System which, at the time, was vital to the defence of the UK. On completion of her specialist training in 1943 she was posted to Trelanvean which provided cover for Falmouth.
In 1944 Kath moved to another long-range surveillance unit at Ringstead near Weymouth but on D Day, the 6th of June 1944, she was operating at a low-level surveillance unit at Portland Bill. Here she witnessed both on the radar screen and from the ground an almost endless stream of aircraft flying to and returning from the Continent. Kath recalled that “It felt strange.”
Kath returned to Ringstead by which time the German VI – the first cruise missile – campaign was in full swing; Ringstead was at the western limit of the attacks but some attacks in the early phase crossed the Isle of Wight and were detected and tracked by the unit. The Arado 234 was the first operational jet aircraft and was used by the Luftwaffe mainly for reconnaissance and they made frequent reconnaissance runs along the south coast far outstripping the defending fighters.
Known to the surveillance teams as ‘photo Freddy’ Kath was on duty on a number of occasions detecting and tracking these aircraft. As the Allies advanced across Europe Kath was posted to the long-range surveillance unit at Canewdon which was now in the front line of the defence against the V1. The first V2 rockets fell on London on 8th September 1944 and it was quickly discovered that certain long-range surveillance units on the East coast could detect the missiles in the boost phase of the launch.
Kath was posted to the long-range surveillance unit at Gt Bromley which was one of five units which were rapidly modified to detect and track V2 launches. The new equipment was complex and crews that were trained to operate this equipment were screened from posting because of crucial nature of the role they were undertaking. There was no defence against the V2 at the time but the system of defence that started with the surveillance units provided warning of an attack to key organisations and a process using the information from the surveillance system and a precise point of impact was created to determine launch points rapidly so they could be attacked by allied aircraft. With Kath’s death one of the very few remaining links with the remarkable work undertaken to defend our homeland has been severed.
After the end of the war, Kath was demobbed and married Ian at St Pauls Church in Ealing in November 1945. They set up home in Wembley leading a normal married life. Along came three children, Barbara in 1947, Ann in 1951 and finally Keith in 1955. During this period they moved to a larger house but still in Wembley. Disaster struck shortly after the arrival of Keith when Kath contracted Polio. She was rushed into Neasden isolation hospital where they managed to put her on a ventilator thus saving her life. After several weeks she was transferred to the orthopaedic hospital at Stanmore where she spent many months regaining use of her limbs.
On moving to Marlow in 1964 Kath immediately became very active in the local sporting community. She played competitively and taught the juniors at the Marlow Lawn Tennis Club and was a volunteer coach at Beaconsfield School of Lawn Tennis. She played competitive tennis into her eighties. Kath was also a member of the Riverside Badminton Club and joined Flackwell Heath Golf Club in 1978 where she entered competitions, won cups, and played in the matches against other local clubs. Kathy continued to play golf into her nineties after which she became a social member of the club. Kathy was also a member of Marlow Bowls Club where she also played in both mixed and ladies matches. She also loved playing bridge.
Recognising her RAF service Kath was latterly invited to the RAF Museum at Bentley Priory and attended the annual Battle of Britain Memorial service at Westminster Abbey on a number of occasions. It was at the reception following one of these that she was introduced to Prince Charles.
She continued driving her little Nissan Micra until about eight months ago when following a number of minor scrapes she was persuaded to give it up and replace it with a mobility scooter. At the end of last December she had a fall at home which resulted in a fractured hip. Following a period in a local care home she returned home determined to cope with life, despite all the difficulties presented by the pandemic. This was typical of the very determined lady that she was.
Widowed in 1996, Kath died on 6th May and is survived by her brother, three children, six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.