3 incredible life stories from the Royal Flying Corps

  Lieutenant-Colonel W A 'Billy' Bishop VC, of No 60 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, one of the leading fighter aces of the First World War. Image © IWM (CO 1751).


Lieutenant-Colonel W A ‘Billy’ Bishop VC, of No 60 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, one of the leading fighter aces of the First World War. Image © IWM (CO 1751).

The First World War marked the dawn of air combat, and aviation was one of the most romanticised elements of the conflict. We take a look at the incredible life stories of three men who served Britain and the Commonwealth in the air.

Aircraft technology was still in its relative infancy at the start of the First World War, and pilots took incredible risks in taking to the skies in service of their country. This only fuelled the public interest in their endeavours, with a number of ‘air aces’ achieving celebrity status both during and after the war.

Below we take a closer look at just three of the incredible life stories of Royal Flying Corps pilots you can remember on Lives of the First World War, but there are many more you can search and remember, and we need your help to preserve their stories for future generations.

Lieutenant Louis Arbon Strange

Louis Arbon StrangeFollowing the outbreak of the First World War, Louis initially served with the Dorsetshire Regiment, and arrived on the Western Front on 16 August 1914. From early 1915, Louis was attached to No 12 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps.

On 6 September 1915, 12 Squadron arrived at St Omer to become Headquarters squadron for long-range reconnaissance. It flew its first operation, a photographic reconnaissance mission of the Hanbourdin- Seclin-Lille-Roubaix area, on 9 September. Three days later, the squadron scored its first ‘kill’ when, flying an 80 HP Gnome-engined Bristol Scout, Louis drove down a German aircraft over Comines.

Louis was decorated for his actions, receiving the Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Service Order and was Mentioned in Despatches. He also went on to become Squadron Commander and Commandant of the School of Air Gunnery.

Louis was also appointed as an RAF Commander in the Second World War. He continued to fly regularly until his death in 1966.

Captain Selden Herbert Long

Selden Herbert LongFrom the records found on Lives of the First World War we can see that Selden was born on 6 October 1896 in Aldershot, Hampshire. His father was Major General Sidney Selden Long.

Selden joined the Army and was commissioned into the Durham Light Infantry before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps.

During the First World War Selden served as a fighter pilot with No 24 Squadron on the Western Front, shooting down nine German aircraft between 1915 and March 1917. Selden was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry in September 1915, and the Distinguished Service Order in 1917. He also went on to become Acting Major on 15 September 1918.

After the First World War, he published a memoir, Into the Blue (1920) and a study, Navigational Wireless (1927). Selden died in South Africa on 12 December 1952.

William ‘Billy’ Bishop

William Avery BishopWillam ‘Billy’ Bishop enlisted in London, Ontario on 30 March 1915. Still in his youth, aged 20 years old, he served initially with Canadian cavalry regiments. He travelled to England with the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles on board the CALEDONIA in June 1915.

After a month in the trenches on the Western Front, Billy transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer. He was accepted for pilot training the following year and in March 1917 joined No 60 Squadron RFC on the Western Front, where his success in shooting down enemy aircraft soon gained recognition.

On 2 June 1917, whilst serving with No 60 Squadron RFC, Billy flew a solo mission behind enemy lines to attack a German-held aerodrome, where he shot down three aircraft that were taking off to attack him and destroyed several more on the ground. For this action, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

After earning the VC (the only one to be awarded without independent verification from witnesses) Billy served in various capacities, culminating in the command of No 85 Squadron from April 1918. By the end of the war, Billy claimed 72 kills.

During the Second World War, Billy, by now an Honorary Air Marshal, was in charge of recruitment and training for the Royal Canadian Air Force. He died on 11 September 1956 in Florida, USA.

Did your ancestor serve in the RAF or the RFC during the First World War? Help us to remember their life and preserve their story for future generations.

 

 

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