James McCudden

Born on 28 March 1895 in Gillingham to an Irish family with a strong tradition of military service. Like his father, James joined the Royal Engineers as a boy bugler at just 15 years old in 1910.

He served in Gibraltar and with the No. 6 Field Company, RE at Weymouth. In 1913 he followed his older brother William McCudden and transferred into the newly-formed Royal Flying Corps as an Air Mechanic.

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In early 1915, No 3 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps had been partially re-equipped with two-seater monoplane Morane Parasols. The aircraft were fitted with wireless sets to allow them to perform their new function of correcting the fall of shot of the artillery. They also had a machine gun to deal with any German aircraft they encountered. Although Corporal James McCudden was a mechanic, he often volunteered to fly.

"One morning I went out with Mr Conran, as gunner, to look for Germans. We left the aerodrome about 10am and got our height over Bethune. The warping-wing Morane had a very fine climb for those days, and I remember we got to 6,000ft in 12 minutes! We crossed the lines just south of the La Bassée Canal and then turned north-east. I saw three little yellow specks over La Bassée, and my pilot said they were Germans. They were well above us. Going north at 8,000ft over Violanes I heard a c-r-r-r-mp, then another, and looking above me saw several balls of white smoke floating away.

The pilot turned to mislead ‘Archie’ [anti-aircraft fire] of whom I was having my first bad experience. However, I can honestly say that I did not feel any more than a certain curiosity as to where the next one was going to burst. The shrapnel bullets left a thin line of smoke, so that as each shell burst the shrapnel came from each burst in the shape of a fan."

McCudden and the pilot escaped unscathed. The RFC nickname for anti-aircraft fire, ‘Archibald’ or ‘Archie’, derived from a wonderful monologue performed by the music hall artiste George Robey concerning a nagging wife: “Archibald, certainly not! / Get back to work at once, sir, like a shot. / When single you could waste time spooning / But lose work now for honeymooning! / Archibald, certainly not!”

The first pilot reputed to have used the term was the 18-year-old Amyas Borton, while he was serving with 5 Squadron, RFC. Borton was renowned for shouting out “Archibald, certainly not!” whenever a shell burst near his aircraft. An innocuous nickname, but many young pilots were killed by ‘Archie’.

 

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In early 1915, No 3 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps had been partially re-equipped with two-seater monoplane Morane Parasols. The aircraft were fitted with wireless sets to allow them to perform their new function of correcting the fall of shot of the artillery. They also had a machine gun to deal with any German aircraft they encountered. Although Corporal James McCudden was a mechanic, he often volunteered to fly.

"One morning I went out with Mr Conran, as gunner, to look for Germans. We left the aerodrome about 10am and got our height over Bethune. The warping-wing Morane had a very fine climb for those days, and I remember we got to 6,000ft in 12 minutes! We crossed the lines just south of the La Bassée Canal and then turned north-east. I saw three little yellow specks over La Bassée, and my pilot said they were Germans. They were well above us. Going north at 8,000ft over Violanes I heard a c-r-r-r-mp, then another, and looking above me saw several balls of white smoke floating away.

The pilot turned to mislead ‘Archie’ [anti-aircraft fire] of whom I was having my first bad experience. However, I can honestly say that I did not feel any more than a certain curiosity as to where the next one was going to burst. The shrapnel bullets left a thin line of smoke, so that as each shell burst the shrapnel came from each burst in the shape of a fan."

McCudden and the pilot escaped unscathed. The RFC nickname for anti-aircraft fire, ‘Archibald’ or ‘Archie’, derived from a wonderful monologue performed by the music hall artiste George Robey concerning a nagging wife: “Archibald, certainly not! / Get back to work at once, sir, like a shot. / When single you could waste time spooning / But lose work now for honeymooning! / Archibald, certainly not!”

The first pilot reputed to have used the term was the 18-year-old Amyas Borton, while he was serving with 5 Squadron, RFC. Borton was renowned for shouting out “Archibald, certainly not!” whenever a shell burst near his aircraft. An innocuous nickname, but many young pilots were killed by ‘Archie’.

 

 

November 1914

The weather in November was hardly conducive to the maintenance of flimsy aircraft. By this time McCudden had been promoted to corporal with No 3 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. He found it tough going.

 

"About the middle of November we had a heavy fall of snow, accompanied by severe cold. It was no fun, I can assure you, changing the engine of a Bleriot in the open air – an all-day job which necessitated undoing a lot of little nuts and various other impedimenta connected with aeroplanes and their motive power. The weather was now intensely cold, but a few of us still remained under our machines at night.

About the end of November, No 3 Squadron moved to an aerodrome at Gonnehem, near Chocques. We arrived here and found the proposed aerodrome was a beet field. Some Indian cavalry had a roller and were attempting to level the uneven ground, while every available man in the squadron turned out to be marched up and down the field to harden the ground and to press down the beet roots.

We spent a whole afternoon doing this and, although the ground was very soft, it was good enough to land upon when we had finished.

The weather at this time was very wet indeed, and practically as soon as we had erected all our hangars a gale would arrive and blow every one of them down. I cannot attempt to describe the state of things under these circumstances: rain pouring in torrents, wind howling like mad, and all the hangars level with the ground flapping about the machines.

To make things more cheerful, there were deep ditches around the hangars to catch the water. Every minute or so one heard a loud splash, to the accompaniment of curses and oaths, as some unfortunate mechanic fell into one of these drainage pools."

 

 

August 1914

 

James McCudden was born in 1895, and joined the Royal Flying Corps as an air mechanic in 1913. August 1914 saw him performing ground-crew duties with No 3 Squadron during the early phases of the war.

As part of the BEF preparations, the fledgling Royal Flying Corps was gathered at Netheravon in Wiltshire ready to fly to France. This brought an exciting new dimension to warfare at the cutting edge of modern technology.

On 12 August, James had just swung the propeller and was watching the take-off of the Blériot aircraft piloted by Lieutenant Robert Skene, accompanied by his observer, Air Mechanic Keith Barlow. Unfortunately, in 1914, aircraft were by no means reliable. On this occasion, tragedy struck with little warning.

 

"We then heard the engine stop and following that the awful crash, which once heard is never forgotten. I ran for half a mile, and found the machine in a small copse of firs, so I got over the fence and pulled the wreckage away from the occupants, and found them both dead. I shall never forget that morning kneeling by poor Keith Barlow and looking at the rising sun and then again at Barlow – who had no superficial injury and was killed by concussion – and wondering if war was going to be like this always." 

 

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