Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1916, Lieutenant Stewart Gordon Ridley, 17 Squadron the Royal Flying Corps, took his own life in a desperate situation in the hope that his colleague would survive.
He was educated at Oundle School in Northamptonshire, and left shortly before the outbreak of the Great War. He at first enlisted in the 4th Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, and in February of 1915 was commissioned. Lieutenant Ridley then volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps and served in France as an observer before training as a pilot, after which he was posted to Egypt.
Lieutenant Ridley’s squadron was engaged in reconnaissance and bombing missions against Senussi tribesmen. On the 15th of June in 1916 he and his mechanic, Lieutenant John Garside, were sent to an oasis in the Libyan desert as an escort to another pilot. A camel patrol had been sent to prepare a landing place, which Lieutenant Ridley was not able to locate – it was getting dark so they landed where they could, intending to try again the following morning. The next day his plane would not start, so the other pilot returned to base to find that the camel patrol had also returned, due to the planes not arriving. Search parties were then sent out.
In the meantime, Lieutenant Ridley and Lieutenant Garside had been able to take off, and traces of their second landing were found twenty-five miles away by the search parties, but they had already taken off again. They were finally found by a motor party, both deceased. Lieutenant Garside had left a makeshift diary which explained that they were getting low on water and petrol, and that when his back was turned Lieutenant Ridley shot himself. The commanding officer of the Royal Flying Corps agreed with the captain of the Imperial Camel Corps, that Lieutenant Ridley had hoped to save his mechanic’s life: “There is no doubt in my mind that he did this act of self sacrifice in the hope of saving the other man”. It appeared from his diary that Lieutenant Garside lived for at least another day.
Both men lie buried in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery. Lieutenant Garside was 27 years old and from Lowestoft. Lieutenant Ridley was 20 years old and from Guisborough in Yorkshire.