Remembering local hero Richard Bell Davies

Richard Bell Davies

Richard Bell Davies
Copyright: Imperial War Museums

Recently I attended a local act of remembrance where a memorial paving stone was laid at the Sloane Square war memorial in memory of the late Richard Bell Davies.

Richard was awarded a Victoria Cross for what was the world’s first ever combat search and rescue by aircraft.

“Lest we forget” is the famous Kipling refrain, and in that spirit I thought I would use this week’s column to recount a little of Richard’s life.

Born in Topstone Road (now Nevern Place), Kensington, on 19 May 1886, Richard was one of the first naval aviators, and he distinguished himself in both the First and Second World Wars before retiring with the rank of Vice Admiral.

He enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1901 and in 1910 took private flying lessons. During the course of 1913 he was accepted into the Royal Naval Air Service.

In the early days of the First World War Richard carried out a number of raids on German submarine bases and received the Distinguished Service Order for services rendered in an aerial attack on Dunkirk, 23 January 1915.

On 19 November 1915, he was flying a Nieuport Type 10 Scout during an attack on Ferrijik, in Bulgaria, when his colleague, Flight Sub Lieutenant Gilbert Smylie, flying a Henry Farman, was shot down behind enemy lines.

With bombs exploding around him and Ottoman troops closing in, Richard put his aircraft down and managed to squeeze Smylie into his tiny single-seat aeroplane before returning safely to their own lines.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross – only the second ever awarded to a naval airman – by His Majesty King George V.

His citation reads: “Squadron-Commander Davies descended at a safe distance from the burning machine, took up Sub-Lieutenant Smylie, in spite of the near approach of a party of the enemy, and returned to the aerodrome, a feat of airmanship that can seldom have been equalled for skill and gallantry.”

Richard’s ceremony is part of a nationwide campaign to honour Victoria Cross recipients from the First World War by laying commemorative paving stones in their birthplace on the centenary of their awards.

A total of 628 Victoria Crosses were awarded during the First World War; 482 to UK- and Ireland-born recipients; 145 to servicemen who fought for Britain but were born overseas; Captain Noel Chavasse won two VCs in the First World War, and of the 85 London-born recipients, eight were born in Kensington and Chelsea. And, with the passing of Thursday’s ceremony, we will have honoured two of those local heroes: George Dorrell and Richard Bell Davies.

Over the next few years we will do the same for every one of the others.

Please do join us in remembering each of them in turn: Humphrey Firman, Frank Wearne, Julian Gribble, Victor Crutchley, Roland Bourke and George Cartwright.