History – From trooper to pilot

An energetic and entrpreneurial young man, Alexander Cleveland McArthur, was born in Manitoba, Canada in1888, and came to NZ with his family in 1901. By 1914, he was a shopkeeper of a general store in Silverdale in partnership with Frank Mappin (later Sir Frank), having already run a real estate business and bred horses.

Trooper Alexander McArthur joined the Auckland Mounted Rifles in August 1914 and embarked with the Main Body in October 1914. He arrived at Gallipoli in May 1915 where he was wounded by shrapnel in his left thigh on 26 May and evacuated to hospital in England for several months.

He returned to his unit in Egypt in early 1916, which joined with the Australian Light Horse Brigades with the new title of Anzac Mounted Division and began the campaign to secure the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal from the Ottoman Army. He was transferred to the Machine Gun Section of the 3rd Squadron in July. At the Battle of Romani, the troops encountered enemy planes for the first time, which may have sparked an interest in flying in Alexander.

Always one to try something new, Alexander became a cadet in the Royal Flying Corp from November 1916 and trained as a pilot in Egypt the following year. From there he was sent to England to train as a flight instructor before finally being attached to 71 Squadron, which appears to have been an Australian Flying Corp, with whom he served in France until October 1917. Alexander then spent time at the School of Special Flying before joining No. 43 Squadron. and during the year he spent there, the Royal Flying Corps merged with the Royal Navy Air Service to become the Royal Air Force in April 1918.

As the war began to draw to an end, Alexander was posted to various flight schools from where he joined 471 Flight as a Sopwith Camel pilot in France. He was a versatile pilot who flew eight different types of aircraft during WWI. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant before being discharged in May 1919.

Lieutenant McArthur joined the NZ Air Force (Territorial) in June 1923 moving to the retired list in 1930. However, with another war looming, in 1939 he was posted to headquarters in Wellington. He became the chairman of the Aircrew Selection Board and was promoted to Squadron Leader in 1940.

Alexander was Commanding Officer at both No 2 Depot, Waterloo and RNZAF, Levin. He finally retired at his own request in May 1944 aged 55 years, to facilitate the promotion of younger officers.