Monday, November 19

Saving Gilbert

Vice Admiral Davies
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1915, the first combat "search and rescue" mission using an aircraft was successfully carried out. It occurred during a misunderstanding that later came to be known as WWI. (For further research on that affair, just Google up "most pointless war ever.")

The story starts with a bombing mission by two British pilots that went south when "his machine was received by very heavy fire and brought down." Apparently that's how the Brits in charge of giving out medals back then described getting your freakin' plane blown out from underneath your ass by enemy fire.

The poor bloke, a certain "Flight Sub-Lieutenant Gilbert Formby Smylie, R.N." (the RN apparently means Royal Navy, not registered nurse) didn't even have time to drop his bombs before they riddled his plane with enough lead to force him to land. So he dumped all his bombs (except the one that wouldn't release -1915 technology ya know) and brought the crippled machine to earth behind enemy lines.

That's when his fellow pilot, a guy named Richard Bell Davies, a relative of the author of this piece, (okay, I made that up in an effort to connect myself to heroism) looped back to see what happened to his buddy Gilbert. What he saw was Gilbert on the ground below lighting fire to what remained of his plane so that it wouldn't fall into enemy hands.

Nieuport 10
So Davies did what any hero would do, he landed his Nieuport 10, and proceeded to rescue his wing man and take off again, all while under enemy fire. As if that wasn't hard enough, the plane in question was one that had been converted from a two seater to a single. The front seat had been roofed over and Smylie had to wiggle past the controls and get wedged into what remained of the front seat. It was the first airplane wedgie. (It took two hours to extricate him when they landed safely back in their own territory.)

Prior to all this, while Davies was coming down to get him, Smylie figured out that the bomb he was depending upon to blow up his plane after he set fire to it, was likely to go off just as Davies got there and blow him up, too. So he ran back to the burning wreckage and used his pistol to set off the explosion before that could happen.

It seems to me that these two guys had big enough stones to build a henge.

In the end, Davies got a well deserved "Victoria Cross" and Smylie got a "Distinguished Service Cross" and I got to write this swell account of their heroic feats.

Editors note... I actually am related to another heroic pilot named Davies. His name was Albert Davies. He was my uncle and he was a B-17 pilot who was shot down and killed while helping to defeat an ass-hat named Adolf about thirty years later. So next time you are making toasts to war heroes in your local pub, lift one to pilots named Davies. Somewhere, two unrelated guys will be tipping their glasses back at ya.


  1. Most pointless war ever, takes in a lot of ground.

    My favorite "What if" is the, What if the US had stayed home in WWI? A repeat of the 1877 Franco-Prussian result is where I start on that postulation.

  2. I have to agree on the "most pointless" issue since there were a huge number that were pointless. I considered writing it as "Most pointless gigantic war", but it didn't seem to flow.

    As to the "what if" question, we'll never know a lot of things that might have happened. But one thing we can be sure of, not a single American boy would have been killed. So I say, screw the Francos and the Prussians. We lost enough people in 1861-1865 to last us until WWII. Just my cheeky opinion.

    Thanks for reading.


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