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  • Christina Drummond

Flight Sergeant Thomas Mottershead VC, DCM, No. 20 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1917, Flight Sergeant Thomas Mottershead VC, DCM, of No. 20 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, died in Bailleul in France.

After leaving school he studied engineering, apprenticed as a fitter, and was working as a garage mechanic when the Great War began. He enlisted in the RFC immediately, obtained his Flying Certificate in June, 1916, was posted to No.25 Squadron and saw action on the Somme. One of his first operations was a low-level bombing raid on a German anti-aircraft battery which he successfully destroyed, he also bombed the railway station at Samain, destroying one ammunition train and strafing another – this engagement earned him the DCM and promotion to Flight Sergeant. An undocumented account relates how he raided a German airfield, successfully shooting up the hangars.

Five days before his death he was near Ploegsteert Wood in Belgium when he was engaged in combat by two Albatros D.IIIs. He put one out of action, but the second was flown by the German ace Leutnant Walter Göttsch, who had 20 victories - the Victoria Cross Citation takes up the story: “For most conspicuous bravery, endurance and skill, when attacked at an altitude of 9,000 feet; the petrol tank was pierced and the machine set on fire. Enveloped in flames, which his Observer, Lt. Gower, was unable to subdue, this very gallant soldier succeeded in bringing his aeroplane back to our lines, and though he made a successful landing, the machine collapsed on touching the ground, pinning him beneath wreckage from which he was subsequently rescued. Though suffering extreme torture from burns, Sgt. Mottershead showed the most conspicuous presence of mind in the careful selection of a landing place, and his wonderful endurance and fortitude undoubtedly saved the life of his Observer. He has since succumbed to his injuries.”

He received the only V.C. ever awarded to a non-commissioned RFC officer during the Great War. Thomas, from Widnes in Lancashire, was 24 years old and married with a two-year-old son.

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