BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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Arthur Lionel Gordon-Kidd, DSO, Royal Flying Corps, Ballymena's Nearly VC.

Captain A. L. Gordon-Kidd, DSO, Royal Flying Corps & 4th Dragoon Guards, who was to die from wounds, was a son of the late Captain James Gordon-Kidd of Ballymena, a soldier who served for many years in the Indian Army. He was also a cousin of the Rev. T. J. Fosythe, Randalstown and of Mr. F.C. Mills, Cliftonville, Belfast.

When the war began Arthur Lionel Gordon-Kidd was in England undergoing training to qualify for the Indian police, but with the outbreak of war he joined the army instead. He experienced war as a soldier, initially serving, and being once wounded, with an Indian Regiment in France. Thereafter, he trained as a pilot and transferred to the Royal Flying Corps.

This was possible as the War Office had changed its official thinking in 1911 and opted to have heavier-than-air craft, an Air Battalion. Qualifications for pilots in the new unit were the possession of an Aviator’s Certificate, demonstration good map-reading and sketching skills, being a good sailor and having an aptitude for mechanics. The War Office even agreed after 1911 to repay for successful candidates the £75 it cost to be trained. Thereafter, a range of private schools grew up, e.g. Grahame-White Civilian School, the Grahame-White School (RNAS), the Beatty School, the London and Provincial Aviation Co., etc. Gordon-Kidd trained with the Maurice Farman Biplane, Military School, Birmingham and secured his Aviator's Certificate on the 30th December, 1915.

He had attained the rank of Flight Commander during 1916 and was soon awarded a DSO for his gallantry 'for daring work in the air'.

DSO Award for A L Gordon-Kidd

However, it was almost a VC. The Victoria Cross (August 1916) awarded to Captain Lionel Wilmot Brabazon Rees (No.32 Squadron) and it had begun as a recommended DSO. Public Record Office AIR 1/1479/204/34 has recommendation for a DSO submitted 2 July 1916 by Brigadier General D. de G. Pitcher, Commanding 1st Brigade, Royal Flying Corps.  

It says, "On 1st July at 6.15 a.m. Major Rees while flying a de Havilland in the vicinity of the Double Crassiers sighted what he thought to be a bombing party of our own machines returning home. He went to escort them. As he got nearer, about Annequin, he discovered that they were a party of enemy machines, numbering eight to ten. He was immediately attacked by one of the escort; this machine he fought and after a short encounter it was observed to turn and wobble down behind the enemy line. Five more enemy machines then attacked the de Havilland at long range but Major Rees closed with them, dispersing them in all directions. Major Rees seeing the leader and two others making off west gave chase and overhauled them rapidly, but just as he was coming to close quarters he was severely wounded in the thigh. The shock caused him to lose temporary control of his rudder but as soon as the numbness passed off he regained control of the machine and immediately closed again with the enemy, firing at a range of about ten yards. After using up all his ammunition he tried his pistol but unfortunately dropped it. He then returned home, landing the machine safely on his aerodrome and was then taken to hospital.' 

Also submitted was the following statement

"The Officer Commanding No.22 AA Battery who witnessed the fight states that the net result of this fine performance was that a single de Havilland Scout appeared to have completely broken up a raid of 8-10 hostile aircraft, of these two were seen to retire damaged, one of which so seriously that he was observed to dive over his own lines with every indication of being no longer under control."

On this basis, as per memo AIR 1/993/205/5 dated 6 July 1916, Major-General Hugh Trenchard told the Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief, "I am of the opinion that Major Rees' action is well worthy of a higher reward and he should be granted a VC." 

However, Trenchard was pushing for two VC awards - one to Rees and the other for A.L. Gordon-Kidd. The GOC, Haig, apparently approved of the proposal and a letter was sent on 7 July 1916 from the Military Secretary to the Headquarters of the Royal Flying Corps. 

It said, "With reference to your remarks concerning the acts of gallantry performed by Captain (Temporary Major) L.W.B. Rees, Royal Garrison Artillery and No.32 Squadron, RFC, and 2nd Lieutenant A.L.G. Kidd, General List and RFC, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief has decided to recommend these officers for the honour of the Victoria Cross. It added, "Will you therefore forward corroborative evidence of the acts of gallantry in support of the recommendation." 

We must assume that "corroborative evidence" was supplied for Rees, at the very least, a statement from the AA battery commander, but not for Gordon-Kidd. He was awarded a DSO instead. 

Gordon-Kidd also won a Silver Medal for Bravery, as the London Gazette confirms.

Gordon-Kidd was killed in an action involving the German ace Werner Voss. He was his 38th 'kill'. This happened on the 23rd August, 1917.  Gordon-Kidd was flying a Spad VII, Squadron Number B3528, of 19 Squadron when he was shot down by the Albatros D.III of Voss.  He managed to land his plane at 23 Squadron's airfield south west of Diksmuide, Belgium, but died there from his wounds.

Voss was a top German ace.  The Red Baron, von Richthofen,  eventually got Voss transferred to his Flying Circus. Eventually he become commander of Jasta 10 and was to score 14 more victories before he fell to B flight of No. 56 Squadron'.

Voss on that fateful occasion stalked alone a flight of unsuspecting British fighters supporting a reconnaissance mission. Two  became separated and Voss pounced. Both were forced to the ground. Instantly, however, the predator became prey as seven SE5a's dropped down upon the unsuspecting ace. 

As British ace McCudden put it: "We were just on the point of engaging six Albatros Scouts away to our right, when we saw ahead of us, just above Poelcapelle, an S.E. half spinning down closely pursued by a silvery blue triplane at very closed range. The S.E. certainly looked very unhappy, so we changed our minds about attacking the six V-strutters, and went to the rescue of the unfortunate S.E".

Voss's only choices were to turn and run or fight to the bitter end. Voss fought. Seven to one was not good odds at any time but this was even worse than he may have realised. This was B Flight of 56 Squadron and all seven pilots were aces. 

Voss fought them on his own for ten minutes and allegedly managed to pepper every plane with bullets. However, something went wrong for Voss - there is some suggestion he had been hit by a bullet - and inexplicably Voss's aeroplane went into a shallow dive, it's propeller no longer turning. No one knows what transpired. 

In any event, Voss made the fatal error of crossing the path of Arthur Rhys-Davids. "Eventually I got east and slightly above the triplane (Voss) and made for it, getting in a whole Lewis drum (M G magazine of bullets) and a corresponding number of Vickers (belt fed MG) into him. He made no attempt to turn, until I was so close to him I was certain we would collide. He passed my right-hand wing by inches and went down." 

Flight Leader James McCudden saw it and said: "I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single handed, fought seven of us for ten minutes . . . I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder."

(Arthur Rhys-Davids, having secured 25 'kills',  was killed in action on the 27th October, 1917. James McCrudden, having won 57 victories, was killed in a flying accident on the 9th July, 1918.)


Ballymena Observer

London Gazette: 18th August, 1916, 29713, p. 8225; 16th October, 1916, 9934; 24th February, 1917, p. 1963; 9th March 1917, p. 2449.