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The Irish Air Aces – Mick Mannock, Jimmy McCudden & George ‘McIrish’ McElroy

Dogfight between British and German aircraft in World War One.

Fighter pilots in World War One were the football celebrities of their day, their actions eagerly followed by millions of people in their homelands. Precise figures for which pilots won more aerial victories in the sky are often a matter of considerable dispute but it is generally agreed that the top three World War One air aces from Britain and Ireland were Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock with at least 61 kills, James McCudden with 57 and George ‘McIrish’ McElroy with 47.

All three were destined to die in the war.

A rather lesser known fact is that all three had strong Irish connections.

Mannock was born in Ireland to a mother from Cork. McCudden’s father was born in County Carlow. McElroy, who was born and raised in Dublin, was the son of a Roscommon schoolteacher and his Westmeath-born wife.

 

*****

 

It was during the farewell dinner for Gwil ‘Noisy’ Lewis in July 1918 that Mick Mannock pulled McElroy aside and gave his protégé an earful. ‘Don’t throw yourself away,’ he barked. ‘I hear you’re going down to the deck. Don’t do that. You’ll get shot down from the ground.’ Within ten days of that dinner, both pilots were dead, killed in two separate incidents, victims of the very ground fire Mannock had spoken of.[1]

Precise figures for which pilots won more aerial victories in the sky are often a matter of considerable dispute, but it is generally agreed that the top three World War One air aces from Britain and Ireland were Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock with at least 61 kills, James McCudden with 57 and George ‘McIrish’ McElroy with 47. All three were destined to die in the war. A rather lesser known fact is that all three had strong Irish connections.

Mannock was born in Ireland to a mother from Cork. McCudden’s father was born in County Carlow. McElroy, who was born and raised in Dublin, was the son of a Roscommon man and his Westmeath-born wife.

 

*****

 

Mick Mannock, the eldest of the three, was born at Ballincollig Barracks in County Cork on 24 May 1887. His mother, Julia O’Sullivan, grew up in the nearby village. In the summer of 1881, Julia befriended Edward Mannock, the son of a Fleet Street editor, who was serving as a corporal in the Royal Scots Greys, then stationed at Ballincollig. The couple, both Catholics, married the following spring. Five years later, after postings in Glasgow and Aldershot, the Mannocks returned to Ballincollig with two small children, Patrick and Jessica. Edward (‘Mick’), their third and youngest child, was born soon afterwards.

Mick’s father then left the army but, having drank his way through his army gratuity, he re-enlisted in 1893, becoming a trooper in the 5th Dragoon Guards. His family, including young Mick, accompanied him to India when the regiment was posted to Meerut. During his six years in India, Mick was nearly blinded in his left eye by an amoebic infestation. His father had a violent temper and a drink problem that worsened after his service in the South African War. Shortly after his return from the war in 1901, Edward Mannock deserted his family and vanished.

While Julia moved to Canterbury, young Mick Mannock headed for the old Saxon town of Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, where he found work in a grocery and then in a post office. By 1911, he was a skilled telephone engineer. Always outspoken, he became a passionate socialist and was elected secretary of the Wellingborough branch of the Independent Labour Party. Proud of his Irish ancestry, he supported the ILP’s call for Home Rule for Ireland.

Born in County Cork in 1887, Major Edward Mick Mannock was the highest scoring Allied air ace of WWI. Captain WE Johns, author of the Biggles novels, recalled him thus: ‘Irish by birth, he displayed all the impetuosity of the Irish. He was, of course, a fearless fighter. He was also a brilliant leader and exponent of the air combat tactics of his time.’

When the war broke out, Mick Mannock was 1,500 miles from London, laying cables in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) for the National Telephone Company. Shortly after the Ottoman Empire formally joined the Central Powers of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he was arrested by the Turkish authorities. After several failed escape attempts, he was sent to a concentration camp at Stamboul in the heart of Constantinople. He remained there until April 1915, when he was repatriated in an exchange of prisoners.

Inspired by the exploits of air ace Albert Ball, he joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in August 1916. Life expectancy for wartime pilots was never great. Of 14,000 airmen killed in the war, more than half died while training. Mannock swiftly mastered the rudiments of flying, but his convoluted background did not immediately win him friends amongst the public-school educated elite who dominated the RFC. Lionel Blaxland, one of his fellow pilots, recalled Mannock as ‘a boorish know-all and we all felt that the quicker he got amongst the Huns, the better that would show him how little he knew’.

In the spring of 1917, Mannock was assigned to the RFC’s No 40 (‘Forty’) Squadron and given a Nieuport 17, a nimble French biplane fighter. Considered superior to any British plane of the time, it was particularly well suited to bursting observation balloons and low-level, hedge-hopping attacks on enemy spotters.

It took him several weeks to adjust to his new life. April 1917 was the most devastating month in the RFC’s short history. Two hundred and eleven aircrew were dead or missing and a further 108 had been taken prisoner. Such statistics inevitably played on pilots’ nerves and when Mannock repeatedly held back in flight patrols, some began to question the courage of a man who, at 29, was much older than most men in the squadron.

He was, by his own admission, frightened. At length, he took hold of his fear. On 7 May he scored his first hit when he shot down a German balloon. He would go on to become one of the most deadly fighter pilots on the Western Front. There is still considerable debate about just how many enemy aircraft he shot down, but the figure was at least 61 and could have been as high as 75.

The War Office in London warmly welcomed him to the fray, bedecking him with not one but three Distinguished Service Orders as well as a Military Cross and, ultimately, a posthumous Victoria Cross.

 

*****

 

George McElroy was born and raised between Donnybrook and Roscommon before going on to become one of the leading air aces of the war. In ‘Wings over the Somme,’ Gwil ‘Noisy’ Lewis wrote: ‘McElroy also got a Hun — he gets Huns most days. He specialises in two-seaters, and sits up by himself and stalks them. He is a pupil of Mannock’s.’

Mannock’s tally soon earned him the absolute respect of ‘Forty’ Squadron and he excelled as a patrol leader. He was one of the finest mentors in the RFC, which was to be a major plus for a curly-headed young Dubliner called George McElroy who arrived at ‘Forty’ in August 1917.

The McElroys were Protestant farmers from Kiltycreighton, just outside Boyle, County Roscommon. George Edward Henry McElroy was born in a Protestant school at Beaver Row on the banks of the River Dodder in Donnybrook, south Dublin, on 14 May 1893; his parents Samuel and Ellen had established the school shortly before his birth.[2] George, the eldest of eight, grew up to be a particularly bright boy. From Beaver Row he went to the Educational Institute in Dundalk in 1906. Three years later he went to Mountjoy School, where he excelled at rugby and showed himself to be of a mathematical, mechanical mindset.

In 1912, he went to Rosse College, the Dublin business school on St Stephen’s Green, after which he went to work as a clerk in the civil service. Most of his summers were spent in Roscommon, where his uncle kept a large rowing boat for George and his siblings to indulge their passion for fly-fishing. Aged 21 when war broke out, he volunteered as a Despatch Rider on 13 September.[3] He almost certainly brought his own motorcycle to the service, for which the army would have paid him. Just over two weeks later, he was one of 34 Despatch Riders who landed in France with the British Expeditionary Force, serving in the latter days of the Great Retreat from Mons.

On 8 April 1915, he was sent to the Cadet School at Bailleul to train as an officer and, just over four weeks later, 2nd Lieutenant McElroy went to the front line to join the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR). During the ensuing battle of Ypres, he was nearly choked to death by one of the deadly clouds of mustard gas unleashed by the Germans.

McElroy was recuperating with his family in the Irish capital when the Easter Rising broke out. As a soldier, he was drafted in to put an end to the rebellion. Eight men from the Royal Irish Regiment were killed and 16 more were wounded, but McElroy apparently refused to fire on his fellow Irishmen. Fortunate to escape serious punishment, he was assigned to menial garrison duty for a short period.

On 1 June 1916, he gained entry as a Gentleman Cadet to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and relinquished his commission in the RIR. He graduated from Woolwich in February 1917 and joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as a 2nd Lieutenant. By this time he had developed an infatuation with flight and, the same month, he began training at the Central Flying School in Upavon on the River Avon in Wiltshire.[4]

In August 1917, just six weeks after he became a flying officer, McElroy joined the 10th Wing of ‘Forty’ Squadron at Bruay, west of Lens, where he was to be instructed by the now legendary Mick Mannock.[5]

 

*****

 

In two periods with No 40 Squadron, Capt George ‘McIrish’ McElroy, MC and two Bars, DFC and Bar (right) scored 31 of his 47 SE 5a victories. He is seen here with fellow No 40 Squadron ace Capt G H Lewis DFC, who claimed 12 victories – ten with SE 5as and two with DH 2s.

It is not known how Mannock reacted to the 1916 Rising. It seems likely he would have empathised with the rebels and that he would have been duly impressed by McElroy’s refusal to fire upon them. In any event, the two Irishmen became friends. Mannock already had one ‘Mac’ in his squadron — a Scot called George McLanachan — so to simplify things, he rechristened McLanachan “McScottish” and McElroy became “McIrish”.[6]

The rugby-loving, song-singing McElroy would go on to become the star of the mess, according to Gwil Lewis. However, his initial outings in the Nieuport biplane so beloved by Mannock did not suit. After wrecking two of these valuable fighters while landing, he was on the cusp of being sent home as a failure. Mannock intervened on his behalf and McElroy was given a single-seat SE5a fighter shortly before Christmas 1917. It was one of the quickest aircraft of the war; its top speed of 138 mph (222 km/h) was faster than any of its German rivals.[7] This was the plane in which McElroy came into his own and racked up all 47 of his aerial victories.

On 28 December 1917, McElroy claimed his first victory at Drocourt-Vitry, while two other pilots from ‘Forty’ also scored hits. That night, the men stayed up late, with McElroy singing Irish ballads, accompanied by Mannock on his violin, while everyone knocked back the squadron’s signature cocktail, the ‘Ladykiller’, a concoction of whiskey, brandy, port and grenadine.

By January 1918, McElroy was soaring through the skies like ‘a terrier let loose in a rat-infested barn’. He shot down two German planes and, the following month, knocked out three enemy observation balloons in a 72-hour period.

January was also the month in which Mick Mannock was given eight weeks’ leave. He went to find his family in England but, to his horror, his mother had become an alcoholic and his sister Jessie was working as a prostitute. Unable to handle this situation, he persuaded the RFC to take him back early. In February, he was appointed Flight Commander of the newly formed No 74 (Training) Squadron in London, which he then took to France.

Mannock still had his sense of humour. He once took his squadron on a mission to bomb the Mess of the RFC’s No 1 Squadron at the Clairmarais aerodrome near Ypres. The bombs comprised 200 oranges. The pilots of No 1 retaliated with a banana attack soon afterwards. The two squadrons then joined forces at the George Robey café in St Omer for ‘a memorable evening’.

However, Mannock also had a hard edge that sometimes stunned his men. In April 1918, Manfred von Richthofen — the notorious Red Baron — was shot down. When some English pilots raised their glasses to salute their deadliest foe, Mannock growled, ‘I hope the bastard burnt all the way down.’[8]

Air ace Captain James McCudden, VC, DSO, was one of Mick Mannock’s closest friends.

The following month, Mannock ruthlessly downed 20 German planes, sometimes zoning his guns on the stricken crew with a terrifying callousness. On a single day he claimed four kills, bursting into the mess afterwards with the words ‘Flamerinoes boys! Sizzle sizzle wonk.’ Thereafter, any German aircraft that went spiralling down in flames became known to the men of ‘Forty’ as a ‘flamerino’.

In fact, Mick Mannock’s greatest nightmare was to finish up as a ‘flamerino’. When he flew, he kept a revolver in the cockpit so that, as he told McScottish, he could ‘finish myself as soon as I see the first signs of flames.’[9] Behind his bravado, he was suffering intense trauma, tormented by the apparent cheapness of life and haunted by the memory of so many dead faces, friend and enemy alike. His diary hints at a fragile mind. ‘I felt exactly like a murderer,’ he wrote after seeing the body of a German airman he killed. On another occasion, he wrote: ‘Feeling nervy and ill during the last week. Afraid I’m breaking up.’

By the time Mannock went on leave to London in June 1918, some of his closest friends feared that he was indeed breaking up. There was some respite in London when he became close friends with Jimmy McCudden, the most decorated British airman of the war, who was also on leave.[10] The two men had much in common. Unlike most pilots, neither had been to public school. They were also both sons of military men of Irish stock; McCudden’s father was born in County Carlow.[11] A good deal of their time in London centred around a West End dancer called Teddie O’Neill whom McCudden, a Victoria Cross winner, took out for a joy ride. Mannock’s new-found friendship ended on 9 July when Jimmy McCudden’s plane stalled after take-off and crash-landed near a small RAF airfield at Auxi-le-Château. Mannock was greatly upset when he heard the news.

Meanwhile, George McElroy, his old protégé, was fast becoming the leading light of the RFC. In March and April, the pipe-smoking Dubliner spent eight weeks as Flight Commander of No 24 Squadron at Matigny on the Somme. One of his pupils was the future American air ace Bill Lambert who later recalled:

‘George McElroy, without a doubt, was one of the most fearless men I have ever met. He was also most considerate of the pilots under him and at all times tried to keep his pilots out of trouble. He would not allow me to go out until he felt I was ready and I think I owe my survival to his teaching.’ [12]

During his time with No 24 Squadron, McElroy claimed 16 of his 46 victories and was awarded the Military Cross.[13] By now a highly skilled dogfighter, he established himself as a master of the SE5a’s dual gun system. The biplane was equipped with a Vickers machine-gun up front, synchronised to fire through the propellers, while he also had a Lewis machine-gun pitched up on the top wing. The Lewis was set upon a sliding rail, so that he could yank its breech back down to the cockpit and load fresh ammunition, or clear stoppages, while he was flying. Between the two guns, he could either fire both guns forward, or use one to attack an enemy aircraft from behind and below. At all times, he made sure his guns were meticulously oiled and clean.

Must come down … George ‘McIrish’ McElroy excelled at destroying German observation balloons like this.

What goes up …

As one colleague observed, an analysis of his flights ‘reveals the hallmark of the high-class fighter, low expenditure of ammunition… he would only fire a few short bursts and the trick was done. Unlike most great fighters, however, he used frequently to open fire at comparatively long range, and being a wonderful shot, the fight was sometimes over before the victim had time to realise it had begun.’

McElroy prowled the skies with terrifying belligerence, repeatedly risking his life and barging into scenes where the odds were stacked against him. The only thing he could not handle was the cold, particularly when he had to fly high. Much to the amusement of his fellow pilots, he endeavoured to counter this problem by purchasing a ‘pocket warmer’, a small cylindrical tin containing a chunk of smouldering charcoal. He stuffed this into his trouser pocket, so that he could keep at least one part of himself warm during such flights. Unfortunately, it overheated while he was flying and, unable to access the pesky thing through his heavy, fur-lined coat, he fetched up with a burn the size of a chicken egg.

George McElroy promotion, 12 February 1917.

On 1 April, the day the Royal Flying Corps was reborn as the Royal Air Force, McElroy was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross for showing ‘skill and determination… most praiseworthy’.[14] One week later, he claimed three victories on a single patrol but, as he came into land, his plane clipped a treetop and he spent the next two months recovering on the sidelines.[15]

When his convalescence was complete in June, McElroy rejoined his old pals at ‘Forty’ Squadron in Bryas, shortly after the squadron leader, Australian air ace Stan Dallas, was shot down. In his first eight days back with ‘Forty’, he took out eight planes, as well as bombing several key German strong points along the front. By the end of June, McElroy had taken his tally to 30. In July, he went ballistic and, during the first three weeks, there was hardly a day in which he did not return to base having shot or destroyed some form of enemy aircraft. His score of 17 new victims in that time was one of the most remarkable in the history of fighter aviation and put him on a par with the Red Baron.

On 20 July, McElroy again crash-landed his plane, but despite being left shaken and bruised, he made it to Gwil Lewis’s farewell dinner that same evening. This was the occasion that Mannock accosted him for flying too low. The two men had known each other less than a year and strong words between them were by no means unknown. ‘Each was convinced that the other was rash, and took risks,’ recalled fellow squadron member F. T. Gilbert.

‘Each reproved the other and issued solemn warnings. To hear them on this was amazing. But McElroy was less berserk than Mannock and … his nerves showed little sign of being on edge, except in a new petulance when he could not get combats.’

Mannock, now commanding 85 Squadron, was still in deep depression after Jimmy McCudden’s death. Those who knew him said the 31-year-old should never have been allowed to fly. His nerves were shot, his wit and sparkle depleted and, as Gwil Lewis remarked, he had been ‘kept out on the battlefront too long and he’d suffered in losing his judgment’. When Mannock shot down yet another German aircraft two days after Gwil’s farewell, a fellow pilot said: ‘They’ll have the red carpet out for you after the war, Mick’. Mannock grimly replied, ‘There won’t be any “after the war” for me.’[16]

He was correct. On 26 July, Mick Mannock set off alongside a young New Zealand pilot, Donald Inglis, crossing the German front line. Ignoring his own wise words, he flew too close to the ground, apparently to view the wreckage of an enemy two-seater they had shot down near Robecq. A German machine-gun opened up and, in moments, his plane was engulfed in a bluish white flame. He never used his revolver but instead jumped from the blazing plane. His body was found 250 yards from the wreck but, bizarrely, it was never formally recovered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission so the precise whereabouts of his remains are unknown.

After intensive lobbying by friends, Mannock was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross in July 1919. It was presented to his father, Edward, at Buckingham Palace. Contrary to the explicit terms of Mick’s will, his father also secured his other medals. He sold the whole lot for £5 soon afterwards. They have since been recovered and, having been on display at the RAF Museum in Hendon, they are now displayed on rotation in the ‘Extraordinary Heroes’ exhibition at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery in the Imperial War Museum, London.

On the day Mannock died, McElroy received the second Bar to his Military Cross for his ‘most enterprising work in attacking enemy troops and transport’.[17] It was his greatest ambition to be awarded the DSO, which would put him on a par with Mannock. After Mannock’s death, the DSO became a fixation for him, more powerful even than his competitive urge to beat Mannock’s victory tally.

Early on the morning of 31 July, McElroy set off in a new SE5, a plane so crisp that it had only logged 11 hours’ flying time. When he didn’t return, the squadron feared the worst. At length, the Germans dropped a note to say that the 25-year-old Dubliner had been killed and buried. Precise details as to how he died remain a mystery but it is thought he was shot down over Laventie by anti-aircraft guns shortly after he had taken out a German two-seater.[18]

‘We took [the news of his death] very quietly’, recalled F. T. Gilbert. ‘There did not seem much to say. And somehow, he doesn’t seem dead even now for we all drew something from him, to become a part of us. We worshipped him for his prowess, and loved him for himself. 40 Squadron thought there was no one like him, and we shall never forget him.’[19]

On 3 August, McElroy received the posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for ‘his dashing and skilful leadership’.[20] A Bar followed six weeks later.[21] He never received the DSO he had so desperately sought.

George McElroy was buried in the Royal Irish Rifles cemetery at Laventie, 12 miles west of Lille, alongside my father’s great-uncle Alan Drew. Whilst it is unlikely to ever be proven, there is an extraordinary possibility that the nearby grave of an ‘Unknown British Aviator’ is that of Mick Mannock.

 

*****

 

‘A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds…
The years to come seemed waste of breath
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.’
WB Yeats, ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’

 

*****

 

Other Irish Air Aces

 

The Red Baron Richtofen and the Flying Squadron which he commanded during World War I.

To become an air ‘ace’, one has to have destroyed at least five enemy aircraft. No less than 38 of the Royal Flying Corps’ top fighter aces were Irish, including:

  • Tom Falcon Hazell of Roundstone, County Galway scored 43 victories between 1917 and 1918, making him the third most successful Irish-born pilot after Mannock and McElroy.
  • Standish Conn O’Grady of Donnybrook, Dublin, a son of WB Yeats’ friend Standish O’Grady
  • Paddy Langan-Byrne of Clogherhead, County Louth
  • Joe Cruess Callaghan of Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin
  • Oscar Heron of Banbridge, County Armagh
  • Ronald St Clair McClintock of Rathvinden, County Carlow
  • Eddy Hartigan of Ardagh, County Limerick
  • Squadron Leader David Mary Tidmarsh MC (1892–1944), credited with seven aerial victories.

 

Amongst other notable Irish pilots who didn’t quite make it to ‘ace’ were Neville Usborne of Cobh, County Cork, who was killed in a test flight in 1916, Robert Gregory of Coole, County Galway, a son of WB Yeats’s friend Lady Gregory, and James Fitzmaurice, the Dubliner who later completed the first successful transatlantic aircraft flight from East to West in 1928.

 

*****

 

Close up of dog-fight by Derry Dillon, from the ‘Past Tracks’ panel in Boyle, County Roscommon.

End-Notes

 

George ‘McIrish’ McElroy’s Intermediate Education certificate from 1910.

[1] The calm and quiet Flight Commander Captain Gwil Lewis, DFC, nicknamed ‘Noisy’ by ‘Mick’ Mannock, downed 12 planes during his tour of duty. He returned to England, where he lived until his death in 1996. He was the next to last surviving British ace from the war.

[2] George’s father Samuel McElroy, BA, was the son of farmer George McElroy (1828-1909) and his wife Kittie (Katherine) (1836–1905) of Kiltycreighton, just outside Boyle, County Roscommon. At least three of Samuel’s siblings emigrated to the USA, and some of the McElroys ended up in Montana. Samuel’s Westmeath-born wife Ellen Synnott, described in 1901 as a ‘work mistress’ was the daughter of farmer Edward Synnott of 38 Glengariffe Parade. They were wed in St George on 18 July 1892. The McElroy family headstone is in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

[3] Mountjoy School, a boarding school on Mountjoy Square, Dublin, was located in the same building as the Incorporated Society for Promoting Protestant Schools.

According to Scott Addington in For Conspicuous Gallantry: Winners of the Military Cross and Bar During the Great War, McElroy initially joined the Royal Engineers as a Corporal with the regimental number 28292.

[4] Initial training was completed at Reading and basic flying training at Nos 14, 6 and 54 Training Squadrons.

[5] McElroy would go on to become the highest scoring ace of the unit

[6] “On my return from leave, the gap in the flight caused by Kennedy’s death had been filled by a sturdy, curly-headed young Irishman, McElroy. To differentiate between the two “Macs” in his flight, Mick (Mannock) called McElroy “McIrish” and me “McScottish”, names which stuck to us until I left the squadron. Unlike the majority of new pilots we had had, McElroy immediately fitted into the working of the flight. A new pilot was nearly always a danger to himself and to the others; if he was too cautious he was liable to be left behind to be sniped off by an astute enemy when the flight attacked; or, if he were courageous, he was just as liable to be “downed” in his first scrap because of his ignorance of what was going on around him. In either case, his misdemeanours were likely to incur special dangers for the rest of the flight. McElroy never caused us any anxiety. His attitude towards the war was that of a terrier let loose in a rat-infested barn. Both in the mess and the rugger field, his sturdy scrappy was a source of great pleasure to the flight.” Quoted in George McLanachan, Fighter Pilot.

Details on the SE5A from the Imperial War Museum, London.

[7] Designed and built at the RAF Factory in Farnborough, the SE5a was, along with the Sopwith Camel, pivotal in ensuring that the Allies regained control of the west-European skies after the horrors of ‘Bloody April’ 1917.

[8] The greatest air ace of World War One was Manfred von Richtofen, with 80 victories.

[9] ‘The other fellows all laugh at me for carrying a revolver. They think I’m going to shoot down a machine with it, but they’re wrong. The reason I bought it was to finish myself as soon as I see the first signs of flames.’ — Quoted in George McLanachan, Fighter Pilot.

He was greatly disturbed when Henry Dolan was shot down in flames by Raven Freiherr von Barnekow on 12 May. Dolan had been amongst Mannock’s best pupils and had shot down seven enemy airplanes by the time of his death.

[10] Traditionally, the British preferred to praise the team rather than the individual and, in contrast to the way the German media had elevated the Red Baron to superhero, Britain’s air aces were rarely acknowledged unless they died. However, Lord Northcliffe, the Dublin-born newspaper tycoon, changed all that in January 1918 by splashing an illustrated feature on McCudden across the pages the Daily Mail.

[11] Sergeant-Major William H McCudden was born in Carlow. See www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlcar2/McCuddens.htm

[12] Quoted in In Clouds of Glory: American Airmen who Flew with the British During the Great War by James J Hudson (University of Arkansas Press, 1990), p. 78.

[13] On 26 March 1918, McElroy was awarded the Military Cross, for showing ‘a splendid offensive spirit in dealing with enemy aircraft’ and for destroying ‘at least two enemy machines, and has always set a magnificent example of courage and initiative.’ By 26 March 1918, when he was awarded the Military Cross, he had upped his scalp collection to 18 “kills”. His tally would ultimately include four enemy planes sent down in flames, with a further 23 planes and three balloons destroyed. Nicknamed ‘Deadeye’ by some of his colleagues, he also sent at least 16 enemy craft spinning ‘out of control’ and thereby out of the fight.

[14] The Bar to his Military Cross was given on 22 April 1918 with the following citation: ‘When on an offensive patrol, observing a hostile scout diving on one of our aeroplanes, he opened fire, and sent down the enemy machine in an irregular spin out of control, when it finally crashed completely. Later in the same day, he sent down another enemy machine in flames. On another occasion, when on offensive patrol, he singled one out of four enemy machines, and sent it down crashing to earth. On the same day he attacked another enemy machine, and, after firing 200 rounds, it burst into flames. On a later occasion, he opened fire on an enemy scout at 400 yards range, and finally sent it down in a slow spin out of control. In addition, this officer has brought down two other enemy machines completely out of control, his skill and determination being most praiseworthy.’

[15] This was at Conteville, the aerodrome to which ‘Forty’ squadron were obliged to retreat on account of German advances on the ground.

[16] An Incomplete History of World War I by Edwin Kiester (Barnes & Noble, 2007), p. 117.

[17] McElroy’s citation of 26 July read: ‘While flying at a height of 2,000 feet, he observed a patrol of five enemy aircraft patrolling behind the lines. After climbing into the clouds, he dived to the attack, shot down and crashed one of them. Later, observing a two-seater, he engaged and shot it down out of control. On another occasion he shot down an enemy scout which was attacking our positions with machine-gun fire. He has carried out most enterprising work in attacking enemy troops and transport and in the course of a month has shot down six enemy aircraft, which were seen to crash, and five others out of control.’

[18] The two-seater, a Hannover CL, would be chalked up on some accounts as his 47th and certainly final victory. There is a theory that he was shot down by a novice, Unteroffizier Gullmann of Jasta 56, who claimed to have shot down a SE5 south-west of Armentieres at 10.15. No other SE5 was shot down that day. See ‘Who Downed the Aces in WW1?’ by Norman Franks (Barnes & Noble, 1998).

[19] ‘McElroy of “Forty”’ by FT Gilbert, with a foreword by John Simon. From private manuscript courtesy of Rob McElroy.

[20] His posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross citation on 3 August read: ‘A brilliant fighting pilot who has destroyed thirty-five machines and three kite balloons to date. He has led many offensive patrols with marked success, never hesitating to engage the enemy regardless of their being, on many occasions, in superior numbers. Under his dashing and skilful leadership his flight has largely contributed to the excellent record obtained by the squadron.’

[21] The citation for his Bar arrived on 21 September and read: ‘In the recent battles on various army fronts this officer has carried out numerous patrols, and flying at low altitudes, has inflicted heavy casualties on massed enemy troops, transport, artillery teams, etc., both with machine-gun fire and bombs. He has destroyed three enemy kite balloons and forty-three machines, accounting for eight of the latter in eight consecutive days. His brilliant achievements, keenness and dash have at all times set a fine example and inspired all who came in contact with him.’