Irish Air Aces

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2 (Summer 2002), Letters, Letters, Volume 10

Sir,—In his article, ‘Major Robert Gregory and the Irish Air Aces of 1917-18’ (HI 9.4, Winter 2001), Adrian Smith asserts that John McCudden, brother of James McCudden, was ‘posthumously awarded the family’s second Victoria Cross’.
The sole Victoria Cross awarded to the McCudden family was that awarded to James and announced in the London Gazette some three months before his death on 9 July 1918. McCudden’s Cross was a rare award in that it was a ‘periodic’ VC, given for outstanding courage and service over a sustained period—in this case from August 1917 to March 1918. He shares that distinction with Mannock, whose VC was also a ‘periodic’ award. Incidentally the citation for Mannock’s VC states that he had been accredited with seventy-three combat victories with no less than twenty-four of them in May 1918 alone. This would make Mannock, and not McElroy, the leading Irish ‘ace’ of the war, although McElroy was born in Ireland.
James McCudden and Mannock also shared the distinctions of holding Bars to both the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross, while McCudden had won the Military Medal before he was commissioned. Irrespective of these facts, however, John McCudden was never awarded the Victoria Cross.

—Yours etc.,

Sir,—Readers of Adrian Smith’s article ‘Major Robert Gregory and the Irish Air Aces 1917-18’ might like to know that documents in the Public Record Office, Kew, support the view that Robert Gregory died as a result of crashing into a hill obscured by low cloud during a test flight: see AIR 1/1567/204/80/54 and AIR 1/1575/204/80/76, and my A Muse of Fire: literature, art and war (London 1998), p.77. Robert Gregory’s personnel file, containing O.H. Edwards’ letter to the War Office of 7 December 1934, is at WO 339/42377.
There is another Irish fighter ace of the period who deserves a mention because he was the only First World War aviator actually to be ennobled for his gallantry in air combat: Linienschiffsleutnant Godfrey Banfield of the Austro-Hungarian navy, son of an Irish-born engineer, who was made a baron for his exloits piloting single-seat flying boats in the Adriatic: he died in 1986.

—Yours etc.,


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