18 December 2017

Remembering Richard – the ‘Ace’ who fought in the greatest dogfight of the war

Tuesday 19 December marks 100 years since Captain Richard Aveline Maybery was killed in aerial combat during the First World War. Here is more about the man described as the “bravest and most dashing air fighter” by his commanding officer.

 

When Richard Maybery’s parents chose an inscription for their son’s headstone in CWGC Flesquieres Hill British Cemetery, they began with the words: “OF 56th SQUADRON, RFC”.   

 

It was a badge of pride, because 56 Squadron was the elite unit of the Royal Flying Corps, created to counter the new breed of German aces. Richard flew alongside some of the best British pilots of the war, men like James McCudden, later awarded the Victoria Cross, and Arthur Rhys-Davids – an Old Etonian who dived into battle shouting ancient Greek war cries.

 

On 23rd September 1917, the squadron was on patrol above Poelcappelle near Ypres when they spotted a Fokker Triplane, painted with a comic mustachioed face.  It was Werner Voss – seen by the British as a greater pilot than his aristocratic rival, the Red Baron, Manfred Von Richtofen.

 

It was seven against one, but Voss fearlessly turned to fight and for ten breathtaking minutes outflew and outfought the finest pilots of the Flying Corps. Richard had a narrow escape, when Voss peppered his SE5 aircraft with bullets, but there was no sense of triumph when the German was finally shot down by Rhys Davids, who exclaimed, "If I could only have brought him down alive..!" 

 

McCudden said of Voss, "His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent and in my opinion he is the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to fight”.

 

Yet of the seven who had fought Voss, four died before the war’s end.  Only weeks after “The Great Fight”, Rhys-Davids plummeted into the mud of Passchendaele.  The body lost, he is remembered on the Arras Flying Services Memorial. Captain Mayberry, who’d just been awarded a bar to his Military Cross, was only 22 when he too was shot down in the skies over Cambrai, one hundred years ago.

James McCudden, VC lies in the tiny CWGC cemetery of Wavans in France, victim of a faulty aircraft.  His moving epitaph stands for the tragedy of all those young airmen:

 

FLY ON, DEAR BOY FROM THIS DARK WORLD OF
STRIFE ON TO THE PROMISED LAND TO ETERNAL LIFE


Thumbnail credit: Voss image (The Last Battle) by Simon Smith

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