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  • Christina Drummond

Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse VC, No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1915, Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse VC, No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, died in Merville, France, from wounds received the previous day on a flying mission over Kortrijk in Belgium.

Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse attended Harrow and Cambridge, as well as taking private flying lessons in order to gain his pilot’s licence in 1909. He designed aircraft and competed in aviation races – he was the first to cross the English Channel, from Douai in France to Ashford in Kent in a bi-plane and carrying two passengers. He had enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps at the outbreak of the Great War and was posted to Farnborough first, then to No. 2 Squadron at Merville in March of 1915.

The day before his death he had been ordered to attack the railway junction at Kortrijk. As he swept low to release the 100 lb bomb he was immediately attacked by rifle and machine gun fire from the belfry of the Kortrijk church. His plane was badly hit, the fuselage perforated and fragments from his bomb ripping through the wings and tailplane, and he was wounded by a bullet to the thigh. Yet he kept on, determined to return to Allied lines – he was wounded twice more as he again came under attack from heavy ground-fire. Successfully returning with his plane, a distance of over thirty-five miles, he insisted on making his report before being tended to at the Casualty Clearing Station – such were his wounds that he died the following day, after telling a friend, “It’s strange dying, Blake, old boy – unlike anything one has ever done before, like one’s first solo flight.” He became the first airman to be awarded the Victoria Cross, and is buried at his family home.

William, from Rokeby in North Yorkshire, was 27 years old and married – his son William Henry Rhodes-Moorhouse DFC, less than a year old at his father’s death, was a Royal Air Force fighter pilot and flying ace killed in action during the Battle of Britain in September of 1940.

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