MacRoberts Reply - The RAF Donation

by tirial

When Lady Rachel Workman MacRobert lost her sons during WWII, she donated funds for a Short Stirling bomber for what she called "A mother's immediate response".

When Lady Rachel Workman MacRobert lost her sons, who were RAF pilots in the second world war, it created one of the RAF's most enduring piece of history. She donated funds for what she called "A mother's immediate response", a Short Stirling bomber named "MacRobert's Reply".

Many versions of the tale are available, but the original news articles cover the actual events and its follow up, "MacRobert's Salute to Russia".

The Legends and Rumours

Spitfires, Stirlings or Hurricanes?

The story of the grieving mother donating to the RAF gained legendary status over the years and has been retold in many different versions. A lot of these variations can be found online. The lady's name is spelled in assorted combinations of McRobert's, Mac Roberts and others, making research a little complicated.

There are two main variations: that McRobert's Reply was a Short Stirling Bomber, or that she purchased five spitfires. The details may vary.


  • The post suggests Lady McRobert lost three sons, and purchased a Short Stirling bomber.


  • Lady McRobert lost 5 sons in the war as Spitfire pilots and she provided funds for five Spitfires that were named "McRoberts' Reply"

    Toronto Air Crew

Neither of these are accurate.

MacRobert's Reply

Rachel Workman was an American who married into the Scottish MacRobert family in 1911, and became Lady Rachel Workman MacRobert.

Lady MacRobert's three sons were RAF pilots. Sadly, one died in an accident and two were killed in action in 1941. Her response was a donation of £20,000 to the RAF to pay for a Short Stirling bomber.

"I have no more sons to wear the badge, or to carry it in the fight."

Short Stirling
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The Pathe news feature

Pathe news cover Macrobert's reply

To view the original Pathe news in full please see the Pathe site:

Parts of it are featured in the video below from 4:00 minutes onwards.

The fate of MacRobert's Reply

Sadly the Short Stirling was destroyed in 1942, but her gift lived on. The heritage and badge was passed to a second Short Stirling, and the "MacRobert's Reply" has become an RAF tradition.

The Modern day "MacRobert's Reply"

F for Freddie

In memory of her support, the RAF 15 Squadron still has a "McRobert's Reply" in service.The first MacRobert's Reply held the "F for Freddie" designation. Ever since, the aircraft holding that designation has been specially marked.

Over the years the designation has been held by a number of aircraft. Four are known, but some sources suggest there have been eight. Those most commonly listed are:

  • Short Stirling N6086 - damaged in a mid air collision
  • Short Stirling W7531 - shot down in 1942 with one survivor
  • a Blackburn Buccaneer
  • Panavia Tornado G1 XA559

Photos of a G1 Tornado "MacRobert's Reply" can be found here: photo


"The aircraft should also bear the MacRobert's coat of arms the family crest, a crossed fern leaf and an Indian rose. Let the bomber serve where there is the most need of her and may luck be with those who fly her."

Lady Rachel Workman MacRobert, 1941

MacRobert's Salute to Russia - Four Hawker Hurricanes

Once Russia entered the war, aware that they lacked air support, she purchased four Hawker Hurricane fighters with another £20,000. These were to be named after her three sons, Sir Alasdair, Roderic and Iain. The initial news story claims that the fourth was to be named after her, but at her request it was named "MacRobert's Salute to Russia".

HL735 - Sir Iain

HL844 - Sir Alasdair

HL851 - Sir Roderic

HL775 - MacRobert's salute to Russia

"Had I been a man, I too would have flown"

Lady Rachel Workman MacRobert, 1942, Time Magazine

More Resources about MacRobert's Reply

More about the story of MacRobert's reply, including many of the research links used to create this page.

  • GREAT BRITAIN: MacRobert's Reply - TIME

    Rachel Workman MacRobert was born Americanin Worcester, Mass.but marriage to a Scottish laird made her a loyal Briton by more than simple law. Her husband was Sir Alexander...

  • New York Times 1943

    Lady MacRobert buys an additional four hurricanes (Commercial link - payment needed for full article)

  • Foreign News: Regret, Reply, Salute - TIME 1942

    Three times in three years Lady MacRobert, Massachusetts-born widow of Sir Alexander MacRobert of Tarland, Aberdeenshire, was handed one of the tiny yellow envelopes. Inside each one was a...

  • Stock Footage 1941: Macroberts Reply Lady Macrobert Donates 25 000 Towards A Stirling Bomber After L

    Stock footage of macrobert's reply.m/s of stirling bomber. m/s of lady macrobert, widow of douneside, aberdeenshire, walking along. she donated £25,000 towards the bomber after losing her three sons who were all in the r.a.f. (royal air force). c/u o

  • MacRobert's Reply - A site

    Details about the MacRobert's Reply, run by a relative of the survivor of the second Short Stirling to bear the name.

After the War - The later years of Lady MacRobert

Lady MacRobert died in 1954, but her legacy endures.

She continued her support for the RAF after the war, providing a home for injured airmen which she donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund. The effects of her works have been far reaching:

  • The MacRobert Trust - a Charitiable Trust supporting various good causes
  • The MacRobert award - named in her honour, it awards innovative engineering.

Comments from the Old Guestbook

This article was originally on Squidoo

A lot of things have changed since I wrote this originally back in 2002, including MacRobert's Reply finally getting a wikipedia mention.

kateloving profile image

kateloving 5 years ago from Lancaster PA Level 1 Commenter

Ah we both became Giants at the same time!!

Love this lens!


zobimilky 2 years ago

@kateloving: Really great post nice work i love your work and its really helped me in my research.Thanks

ManipledMutineer profile image

ManipledMutineer 2 years ago

Fascinating piece of WW2 history I knew nothing about - thank you!

Updated: 01/27/2015, tirial
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