Events honour First World War air ace

Drawing of SE5a plane with pilot in background plus medals
Major James McCudden flew the SE5a which he modified himself for better performance

James McCudden was most decorated British pilot and commemoration is open to all

A special memorial event in northern France this weekend commemorates the most decorated British air ace of the First World War, James McCudden.

Credited with 57 ‘kills’ as a fighter pilot, Major McCudden was honoured with the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order and Bar, Military Cross and Bar plus the Military Medal.

He was the second most successful British pilot, behind his friend Edward Mannock who had 61 air victories, and the seventh on an all-combatants list led by Baron von Richthofen. The Red Baron had 80 kills – and at one point in 1916 was said to have shot down McCudden.

Black and white photo of pilot
James McCudden, the most decorated British First World War pilot

Major McCudden was also notable for having risen from the rank of air mechanic and was one of the first British air aces to be publicly honoured.

The weekend of events will mark McCudden’s final tragic flight on July 9, 1918, when his SE5a plane suffered engine failure taking off from Auxi-le-Chateau in Pas-de-Calais to fly to nearby Boffles aerodrome where he was to take command of 60 Squadron RFC.

He died at the age of 23 and is buried in the British war cemetery at Beauvoir-Wavans, near Auxi. Part of the commemoration is a memorial walk on Sunday round the communes of Auxi-le-Chateau, Beauvoir-Wavans and Boffles. It is open to all.

Members of his family are attending the weekend events which include a civic reception, commemoration McCudden Ball – called the Bal des As Volants and organised by Entente Cordiale Auxi – and the memorial walk.

The 6km walk, from 9.00 on Sunday morning, includes the grounds of the hospital where McCudden died, the train line which carried wounded soldiers from the front and, led by a piper, the British cemetery in Beauvoir-Wavan.

A special ceremony for Major McCudden will be held with the Last Post being played by the British Legion. A special stop will also be made at another tomb in the cemetery, that of Australian fighter ace Robert Little who had 47 kills. He was shot down a few weeks before McCudden.

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