Our indomitable Paul Hannah who has supplied us with an ever growing number of small, but intriguing, historical snippets has come up with this small jewel of a story about a truly impressive woman – read on…….

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McRoberts’s Reply

Lady Rachel Workman MacRobert (1884 -1954) , was indeed a woman to be reckoned with. In an age when few women did more than a couple of years of high school, she obtained a degree in Geology from the University of London and went on to post graduate studies at the University of Edinburgh. She published a number of academic papers and was in the first group of eight women admitted to the Royal Geological Society.  She was 38 when her husband, Sir Alexander MacRobert died and the title of Baron passed to their eldest son Alasdair.

He held the title until just before World War II when he died in a flying accident at the age of only 26. The Baronetcy was then held by his brother Roderic a pilot in the RAF. However, tragedy followed tragedy, when he was also killed in action, again at the age of 26 when leading a flight of Hurricanes attacking a German airfield in Iraq. Her youngest son, and only remaining child, also a pilot took the title but was killed in action only six weeks later while flying a Blenheim bomber in the Shetland Islands.

Lady MacRobert had no more sons to give to the Allied cause and we could easily forgive her if she donned the traditional mourning dress and retired from the world to face the rest of her life in solitary sadness. However this woman was made of sterner stuff. Her husband had left her well provided for and with no heirs to pass on either the family name or its money, she came up with a plan that ensured her family name will be one forever remembered for its indomitable spirit.

She wrote out a cheque for £25,000 and bought a Short Sterling bomber for the RAF, with the request that it be named simply McRobert’s Reply. She followed that donation with a further £20,000 with which she bought four Hurricane fighters the first three named after each of her sons in the last after herself and dedicated to Britain’s ‘Brave Russian ally’. In those days her donation of £45,000 would buy a dozen ordinary suburban homes.

Her generosity lives on today in the form of the MacRobert Trust, which carries on benefiting people and organisations today. The RAF’s XV Squadron continued the legacy of this marvelous woman by naming aircraft ‘McRoberts’s Reply’ from that day until the squadron was disbanded in 2017.

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