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Heroes of the Air: Sergt. Thomas Mottershead

Link - Posted by David on November 13, 2023 @ 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.

Russian born Serge Drigin became a successful illustrator in the UK in the 1920s with his work regularly appearing in such British magazines as 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.

From the 2 July 1938 issue of Flying:


SERGEANT THOMAS MOTTERSHEAD had the distinction of being the only noncommissioned officer in the Royal Air Force to win the Victoria Cross. On January 7, 1917, he was on patrol with Lieutenant W.E. Gower, his observer, when they were engaged by several enemy scouts. Mottershead, flying an F.E.2D, at once manoeuvred his machine so as to enable Lieutenant Gower to use his gun to the best advantage. After a short but courageous fight an incendiary bullet penetrated their petrol tank, which burst into flames. Although almost overcome by the heat Sergeant Mottershead brought his machine slowly to earth, and choosing an open space where he would not injure anyone on the ground, managed to make a successful landing. Unhappily Sergeant Mottershead succumbed to his injuries the following day. Notification of the award was made in the London Gazette of February 12, 1917, with the following words: “For conspicuous bravery, endurance and skill. . . . Though suffering extreme torture from burns, Sergeant Mottershead showed the most conspicuous presence of mind in the selection of a landing place, and his wonderful endurance and fortitude undoubtedly saved the life of his observer.”