Veteran Jack, who served in elite Army unit, dies aged 99

A SECOND World War veteran who served with an elite unit has died, five months short of his 100th birthday.

Frederick McKinnon, who was known as Jack or Mac to friends and family, was a driver with the Long Range Desert Group, an Army reconnaissance and raiding unit best known for its work transporting SAS soldiers behind enemy lines, which earned it the nickname the Desert Taxi Service.

Jack served with the unit in Egypt, Italy and Yugoslavia.

After the war he returned to Bristol and ran his own building business, became a “devoted” member of the Downend Lodge of Freemasons and lived in Fishponds until his death in April, aged 99, from a lung disease.

Jack was born in Staple Hill and grew up in a house on the High Street, along with a brother and two sisters.

He attended Speedwell School, but daughter-in-law Jenny McKinnon said he was eager to work from a young age, running errands for local businesses, and “didn’t get to school very often, as he was busy earning money”.

Jack worked for radio and TV business Rediffusion before volunteering in 1942, aged 18, joining the Royal Corps of Signals, and training as an expert driver. He volunteered for the LRDG and arrived in Egypt in 1943, towards the end of the North Africa campaign.

The group then operated in Italy, which took Jack to Naples and Rome, before pushing into Yugoslavia, often navigating in enemy territory, without maps. 

As the war ended in 1945, the LRDG was disbanded and Jack spent time in the Army Air Corps, before returning to the ‘Siggies’. He spent time guarding high-ranking Nazi prisoners in Germany and served in Palestine before he was demobilised in 1947.

He later told fellow Freemason Dick Smith: “I just consider myself lucky that I got through it all unscathed.”

The LRDG featured in the hit BBC drama SAS Rogue Heroes, about the early days of the SAS and its founder David Stirling.

Jenny said Jack knew Stirling and watched the series when it aired in 2022, adding: “He used to like watching it, so it can’t have been that bad!”

She said he was “very reserved” when it came to discussing his wartime service, including when BBC researchers came to interview him.

Jenny said: “He didn’t speak a lot about his Army days, he was secretive that way, but I know he was under fire a lot and did parachute in to various places.”

After the war Jack built a building firm, McKinnons of Bristol, from scratch before retiring aged 59 due to back problems.

He met wife Barbara at a dance in Pucklechurch and the couple had one son, Adrian, who died in 2002, three granddaughters and six great-grandchildren.

Jack joined the Freemasons in 1978 and was a member of the Downend Lodge, rarely missing a meeting. He also attended Downend’s Tyndall Lodge and visited others based in Stapleton and Avonmouth.

He was also a chairman of a ‘court’ of the Ancient Order of Foresters.

Barrie Burgess, from the Downend Lodge, said: “Jack was a very modest man, who made no great show of his achievements, always polite and always helpful.

“He had a mantra which was ‘I can, I must, I will’ and for as long as he could, he would and he did.”

The masons supported his granddaughter Aimee through university after her father’s death.

Jack and Barbara used to take the bus from Fishponds into Broadmead every day to visit the M&S cafe and he continued to visit after Barbara passed away in 2021.

Jenny said that when M&S closed in 2022 he “transferred his allegiance” to Morrisons’ cafe in Fishponds.

She said: “He would take his buggy down there every day for lunch – they were going to do a party for his hundredth birthday.”

Jack and Barbara lived in Mayfield Park North before moving to a house he had designed and built himself in Poplar Place, off Lodge Causeway, where he continued to live with support.

Jenny said: “He was a very determined, independent man and a very special person.”

Jack’s funeral is being held on June 3 at 12.30pm at Westerleigh Crematorium – anyone who knew him is invited to attend.