Up to this point in the war, unlike the German and French governments, the War Office has been reluctant to identify individual soldiers and aces for propaganda and public consumption. The only real exception to this was Albert Ball.
However, in December 1917 Viscount Northcliffe, the proprietor of the Daily Mail newspaper was appointed to the Ministry of Information. Northcliffe had a solid background in aviation. He campaigned for “air mindedness” as it was known at the time, when aircraft began to make technological headway. He was also increasingly concerned about aerial bombardment of Britain now that German airships and bombers had shown the possibilities. Northcliffe supported the creation of the Air League and the Aerial League of the British Empire, a pressure group set up to Force the government to take this threat seriously.
His brother Lord Rothermere had just been appointed as Air Minister and the same day, Northcliffe ran a campaign in his publications to name outstanding individual combatants, running a story in the Daily Mail under the headline “Our Unknown Air Heroes”, which focused primarily on James McCudden:
“What I want to know is why an Englishman whose hobby is bringing down sky Huns in braces and trios between luncheon and tea, who can already claim a bag of 30 enemy aircraft, should have to wait and be killed before a grateful nation waiting to acclaim him could even learn his name?
I wonder if people in England realize that the German Air Service is the most popular and feted branch of the Kaiser’s war machine because German authorities have imagination enough to exploit its personal side? How many people in these islands can name as many British airmen there are fingers on one hand?”
The campaign was an instant success. Other newspapers joined in and today the Daily Mail ran the story “Our Wonderful Airmen—Their names at Last”. The article was accompanied by a large photograph of McCudden and Captain Philip Fletcher Fullard.
“Captain Philip Fletcher Fullard, D.S.O., M.C., aged 20, one of the British air ‘ stars ‘ went fresh from school into an officers’ training corps. He has flown in France for about six months, and during that time has brought down 42 enemy machines and three balloons.
In a single day he brought down four German aeroplanes —his record day’s ‘ bag.’ On another occasion he and another airman brought down seven enemy machines before breakfast, Fullard accounting for three of them. Up to the middle of October the squadron to which he belongs had brought down 200 enemy machines, and their number now stands at about 250.
The outstanding feature of Captain Fullard’s record is the few casualties his ‘ flight ‘ has suffered. For three months he worked with the same flight of six pilots without a casualty among them, and in that time they brought down more enemy machines than any other flight in France.
He had a narrow escape when fighting a German twoseater, his goggles being shot away from his eyes. The Verey lights in his machine caught fire and set the woodwork of the aeroplane alight, but he managed to get his burning machine back to the British lines. Captain Fullard respects the fighting capacity of the Boche airmen, and considers they are good in a tight corner. After emerging scatheless from many a tight corner in air fights he broke his leg six weeks ago while playing football at an aerodrome.
Captain Fullard is the son of the late Mr. Thomas Fletcher Fullard, of Hatfield, and Mrs. Fullard, who now lives at Rugby. He was educated at Norwich Grammar School, and in 1905 joined the Inns of Court Officers’ Training Corps. Passing high in his examination, he was offered a commission in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, but was selected as suitable for flying work, and joined the R.F.C. He went to Upavon, and was given a post as instructor there. In April, 1917, he was sent to the front. He has gained the D.S.O. and the Military Cross, with a bar.
Captain James Thomas Byford McCudden, M.C., has brought down 37 machines, and is still flying in France, being the leader of the squadron that the Mail’s correspondent, Mr. Harold Ashton, spoke of on New Year’s Day as having accounted for 99 Huns. Captain McCudden went out as an air-mechanic with the original British Expeditionary Force. In the stress of the German rush through Belgium, Air-Mechanic McCudden, having had some experience in the air, was pressed into service at Mons as an observer, and he was a member of a small reconnaissance party that gave information of the Hun effort which led to the historic fighting retreat.
McCudden went all through that stage of the war. Promoted officially to be an observer, he won renown for his handling of the guns in several stiff fights, and in the first year of the war as a non-commissioned officer he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Military Medal. His pilot— a major, since killed—said on more than one occasion: ‘But for McCudden we should never have got our machine back safely. He fought with real genius.’
Since he became a pilot in charge of a single-seater scout, in which he controls the gun as well as the aeroplane, McCudden has had well over 100 fights and some wonderful escapes without sustaining a scratch. He had three duels with Immelmann, the crack German airman, and on each occasion the fight was broken off before either could claim a decisive advantage. He has paid some generous tributes to Immelmann.
Captain McCudden’s father, Mr. W. H. McCudden, long a warrant officer in the Royal Engineers, was born at Carlow, Ireland—a typical Irishman, whose father and grandfather had been soldiers before him. The young airman’s mother, whose maiden name of Byford he bears, comes of Scottish fighting stock. Both her father and grandfather were in the Royal Marines.
McCudden of the Air Service will be 23 next March. He was born in barracks at Chatham, educated at the garrison school there, and has lived most of his life in barracks. Like his father and mother he is not tall-—his height is 5 ft. 7 ins.— but his slim figure is athletic and his boyishly pinky-white complexion gives a touch of delicacy to a countenance that is full of character. His elder brother, Flight-Sergeant W. T. J. McCudden, was killed while flying at Gosport in May, 1915. He has two other brothers, one of whom, 2nd Lieutenant J. Anthony McCudden, R.F.C., has already brought down several German machines in France. The youngest member of the family, Maurice Vincent McCudden, aged 16, is already in the R.F.C., and pining to be a pilot.
His father is now chief clerk in a detachment of the A.S.C., and his mother lives at Kingston-on-Thames. ‘He tells us hardly anything in his letters about what he has done,’ said his mother to a Daily Mail representative on Saturday. ‘Sometimes he just puts in a line, “Brought down two more Huns to-day, mum,” but nothing more. A few weeks ago he wrote, “Hear I’ve been recommended for the D.S.O., but even then he did not tell us what it was for.”
After this, the exploits of British airmen were routinely published. McCudden himself loathed the attention. In a letter to his father the following day he believed such “bosh” and hero worship would make him an unpopular figure in the RFC and with his comrades.