Bio / Text:
Before joining the Royal Air Force in 1935, Finlay had a successful career as athlete, competing in the 110 metre hurdles in 1932 Summer Olympics. Already in the service, he joined the British team for the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, winning a silver medal.
During World War II he was posted to fly Spitfires as commanding officer of his old 54 Squadron, then based at Hornchurch, on 26 August 1940, during the Battle of Britain. He was shot down over Ramsgate in Spitfire X4053 two days later and was wounded. After recovering he was posted to command No. 41 Squadron in September. He claimed his first victory, a Messerschmitt Bf 109, over the Channel on 23 September, and by the end of October 1940 he was credited with a 'share' in a second Bf 109 and a Dornier Do 17 bomber, and had also damaged a further three Bf 109s. His aircraft was damaged in combat with Oblt. Hans-Ekkehard Bob of JG 54 on 9 October 1940. He added to his tally on 23 November, shooting down the Bf 109E-1 (Werk No.3868 "Black 3") of Obgfr. Günther Loppach of 11./JG 51, who was taken prisoner, and another Bf 109 on 27 November 1940. He was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander in August 1941, becoming the Engineering Officer of No. 11 Group . He received the DFC in June 1942. His victory tally, counting two enemy aircraft at the time of the photo, later increased to 4 and 2 shared destroyed, 3 and 1 shared damaged, all on Spitfires.
Transferred to the Middle East in 1944, he commanded No. 608 Squadron, flying Lockheed Hudsons. In 1945 he commanded No. 906 Wing in Burma, being awarded an AFC. Finlay survived the war and once again ran for Great Britain in the 1948 Olympics in London.
He became a Group captain in 1950 and was posted to No. 1 School of Technical Training, RAF Halton, as senior technical training officer. He regularly took part in the station sports meeting and even at the age of 43 won every event he entered: 100-yard hurdles, 100 yard sprint, 220 yard sprint, high jump and the long jump. He entered the veterans' (over 40) handicap. He took the offered three yard start in full running kit, unlike all the other entrants who were in shirts and rolled-up trousers. From the start he raced to the tape, to show that he could've won if he wanted to. He then stopped, turned round and started to run back down the track. (An accusation of unsporting behaviour at this event seems to be very much out of character.)
He was stationed for much of his time at RAF Acklington, whose chapel contains a recently dedicated stained glass window to honour him.
He retired from the RAF in February 1959. He was severely injured and paralysed in a motor vehicle accident in 1966, which led to his death on 19 April 1970, aged sixty.
He is buried St Michael's Churchyard Halton.
In 2012 No 41(R) Squadron based at RAF Coningsby unveiled a Panavia Tornado GR4 ZA614 "EB-Z" with special tail markings celebrating Don Finlay's command of the squadron and his achievements in the 1932 and 1936 Games.
Back row: Fg Off H C Baker, Fg Off D A Adams, P/O M F Briggs, Sgt. E V Darling, Fg Of JN McKenzie, Fg Off A D J Lovell (in cockpit)
Front row: Plt Off DE Mileham, Flt Lt. EN Ryder, Sgt. RA Angus, Sqn Ldr. DO Finlay, Sgt. T W R Healy,
Sgt. J S Gilders, Plt Off EP Wells, Sgt. RC Ford