Rainsford, Frederick Fitzpatrick (‘Turkey’) (1909–99), RAF air commodore and diplomat, was born 12 December 1909 at Fisherhill, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, son of County Inspector Ross Carthy Rainsford of the RIC and Maud Elizabeth Rainsford (née Moore). His family were descended from Sir Mark Rainsford, brewer and lord mayor of Dublin in 1700–01. His early education took place at a school in Monkstown, Co. Dublin, where he acquired the nickname ‘Turkey’; in 1922 his family moved to Belfast and he later attended Campbell College. After an unsuccessful attempt to join the Royal Navy as an officer cadet, he went to Kenya in 1929 to train for the colonial farming service. The depression led to a collapse in African agriculture and he returned to Ireland, where he entered QUB to study agriculture. He joined the college's debating society, the ‘Literific’, was awarded a debating prize medal, and later served as the society's president. In 1933 he joined the RAF Special Reserve and graduated BA in 1935. He realised that war was approaching and applied for a permanent commission in the RAF, which was granted in March 1936.
The outbreak of war found him serving as a flight lieutenant with a bomber unit, 215 Squadron, based in Cambridgeshire. In 1940 he transferred to a training unit and, after promotion to the rank of squadron leader, he volunteered for service in the Middle East. He was sent to Egypt in 1941 with the temporary rank of wing commander and given command of 148 Squadron, which had its airfield beside the Suez Canal. During the course of the next months he led his squadron on a series of raids against Italian targets in North Africa. He led frequent attacks on Benghazi in an effort to destroy Italian shipping in the harbour, while also taking extreme care not to hit the massive twin domes of the local cathedral, which was nicknamed ‘Mae West’ by his aircrews. Following the invasion of Greece, he flew on a series of raids to targets on the Greek mainland and Crete and later led missions against the Vichy French in Lebanon and Syria. In August 1941 he flew on a dangerous low-level raid which dropped mines in the Corinth Canal. After a gruelling tour of operations he was sent on leave in the spring of 1942 and travelled home by troopship, refusing a seat on a Liberator bomber which later crashed into the Mourne mountains killing all on board.
A series of training postings followed and he then went on a staff course at RAF Bulstrode. In January 1943 he was appointed to the staff of No. 3 Bomber Group, based near Newmarket. This was an important posting for him as Bomber Command was undergoing a phase of massive expansion and he planned a series of raids against industrial targets in the Ruhr valley. In April 1943 he went on a conversion course and qualified to fly Lancaster bombers. He was given command of 115 Squadron and led the unit in a series of raids on targets such as Dortmund, Essen, Düsseldorf, Aachen, and Milan. In July 1943 he took part in Operation Gomorrah, the devastating series of fire raids on Hamburg. On the night of 17–18 August 1943 he took part in the raid on the V2 rocket development centre at Peenemünde. He inspired fierce loyalty in his aircrews. On one occasion, while on a raid to Krefeld, a bomb became ‘hung up’ in the bomb bay; he gave his crew the option of baling out over England but they refused, choosing instead to complete the landing with him. He was awarded the DFC in October 1943.
In 1944 he was promoted to acting group captain and held a series of training appointments before leaving the RAF in 1946. He briefly held an appointment with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and attended a conference in Montreal. In 1947 he was offered a permanent commission in the RAF and returned to service in May with the much reduced rank of squadron leader. He was soon upgraded to the rank of wing commander and appointed as deputy director of Air Support and Transport Operations, more commonly known as ASTO, and was responsible for organising the supply ‘mail run’ to Singapore. When the Soviet army blockaded Berlin in June 1948 he played a pivotal role in organising the British contribution to the Berlin airlift. As the director of ASTO, Air Commodore David Atcherley, was transferred to Fighter Command, Rainsford took on the full responsibility for organising the British lift. He applied himself to this massive logistical task, increasing the daily tonnage of supplies from 400 tons in July 1948 to 4,000 tons by May 1949. Every ninety seconds a plane left the British sector at Gatow, and he also sent Sunderland flying boats to land on Lake Havel. He realised that the RAF could not carry enough supplies and hired civilian aircraft, later being criticised by the Treasury for doing so. He was awarded a CBE in June 1949 for his role in the airlift.
Further training and staff appointments followed and in 1952 he was appointed to the RAF HQ staff in Singapore. In 1955 he was appointed to command an RAF national service training camp at Padgate before taking a conversion course on the Vampire jet fighter in 1957. He was promoted to air commodore in 1957 and appointed as air attaché in Athens. In 1960 he was appointed as one of the directing staff at the Naval War College in Greenwich, retiring from the RAF in 1961. He joined the Commonwealth Relations Staff and was appointed to the consulate staff in Madras in 1963. A posting in Korea followed, and in 1965 he transferred to the diplomatic service. In March 1969 he was appointed deputy consul general in New York, acting briefly as consul general following the retirement of Sir Anthony Rouse in 1971. During this time the British consular offices in America were occupied on several occasions by members of NORAID, and he later recalled how he sat up all night with a group of them discussing the poetry of W. B. Yeats (qv).
He retired from the service in 1972, and in 1986 published his autobiography, Memoirs of an accidental airman. He died on 13 February 1999 at Brockhampton, Gloucestershire. He married first (1939) Doreen Ralph; they had two daughters. This marriage was later dissolved. He married secondly (1949) Audrey Meyer, who survived him; they had one son and one daughter.