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Heroes of the Air: Richard Bell Davies by S. Drigin

Link - Posted by David on September 12, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

WHEN Flying, the new weekly paper of all things aviation, started up in England in 1938, amongst the articles and stories and photo features was an illustrative feature called “Heroes of the Air.” It was a full page illustration by S. Drigin of the events surrounding how the pictured Ace got their Victoria Cross along with a brief explanatory note.

Serge Drigin (or Sergie, Sergey or Serge R. Drigin) was born in Russia on 8 October 1894.
Without any formal training, Drigin managed to become a successful illustrator in the UK in the 1920s. He did illustrate at least one book in his native Russia in 1919—E. Venskii’s Skazka o rybakie I rybkie—before becoming big illustrating British magazines like The Detective Magazine, Modern Boy and Chums. He is probably best known for his startling covers for Scoops, Air Stories, War Stories, Fantasy and others in the 30s.

For a few years in the mid 30s he tried his hand at comics, drawing varioius episodes for Film Picture Stories and the serial “The Flying Fish” in Sparkler. By the early 40s he was working for War Artists & Illustrators who supplied material to War Illustrated, Sphere and other such magazines.

After the war, when paper shortages made it hard for illustrators to find work, Drigin turned to comic strips producing many one off strips from 1947 to 48 for the likes of Scion, Ltd, before hooking up with J.B. Allen in 48 and producing a number of series for his Comet, Sun and Merry-Go-Round comics until 49 and moving into contributing features and artwork to various annuals including Swift and Eagle.

Drigin was naturalized in 1932, married three times and died in 1977.

From the 2 April 1938 issue of Flying:


TWO officers were concerned in this gallant action, Commander Bell Davies and Flight Sub-Lieutenant G. F. Smylie, and the incident occurred during a raid on the borders of Bulgaria. Both officers were flying Nieuport Scouts. Near the objective Smylie’s machine was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and although he was compelled to come down, he first flew over his target and dropped nearly all his bombs. Having done this he landed in a marsh and at once took steps to destroy his machine to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. Looking up, he saw to his dismay that Commander Bell Davies was preparing to land with the obvious intention of picking him up. Commander Bell Davies was, of course, landing as close as possible to the now burning machine, unconscious of the fact that an unexploded bomb was still in it. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Smylie thereupon acted with great courage and presence of mind. Running up close to the bomb he fired at it with his revolver until he caused it to explode. By this time enemy troops were rushing forward to make the airmen prisoners, firing as they ran. Nevertheless, Commander Bell Davies landed near his companion on the ground, and under the very rifles of the enemy picked him up in his machine and carried him home to safety. The award of the V.C. appeared in the London Gazette on January 1st, 1916, and concluded with these words: “This was a feat of airmanship that can seldom have been equalled for skill and gallantry.”