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VC, DSO and Bar, MC and Bar, MM and Croix de Guerre (March 28 1895 - 9 July 1918)

James McCudden is perhaps the most decorated airman to be associated with Suttons Farm/RAF Hornchurch. McCudden was born in Gillingham in 1895 and joined the Royal Engineers in 1910. In 1913 McCudden transferred to the embryonic Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as a mechanic. On the outbreak of World War I in 1914 McCudden was posted to France where he became an Observer with No. 3 Squadron. In 1916 McCudden returned to England where he gained his wings as a pilot before returning to France in June 1916 to join 29 Squadron.

McCudden scored the first of his 57 aerial victories in September 1916 and in intensive air operations in late 1916 to early 1917 not only survived a close scrape with Manfred Von Richtofen “the Red Baron” but also increased his tally to five victories earning him the Military Medal and Military Cross.

In February 1917 McCudden was recalled to England to help defend against the new threat posed by German bombers. It was during this period that McCudden served with 66 Squadron based at Sutton’s Farm, flying a Sopwith Pup.

McCudden should be remembered not only for his commensurate skill but his thoughtful approach to aerial combat. His successes can be attributed to the care he took of his aircraft and its guns and his methodical approach to stalking and engaging enemy aircraft. Some of McCudden’s tactical acumen can be seen in his autobiography Flying Fury- Five Years in the RFC.;

McCudden was also an excellent leader in the air and displayed a very strong devotion to the less experienced flyers who served under him during the very trying period of late 1917 to early 1918, a period during which the RFC sought successfully to wrest control of the air from the generally more experienced and better equipped German air arm. McCudden’s exploits during this period in which he increased his aerial victories to 54 led to him being awarded the Victoria Cross in April 1918.

McCudden returned to England in the Spring of 1918 to serve as a flight instructor, and it was during this period that he briefly returned to Suttons Farm to demonstrate the acrobatic qualities of the new Sopwith Snipe. After this McCudden, now promoted to Major, was to have taken command of 60 Squadron but unfortunately he was killed in a tragic flying accident on July 9th 1918. He was 23.

James McCudden is buried at the Wavans War Cemetery in France.

Barker, R. 2002 The Royal Flying Corps in World War I
Cooksley, P. 1999. VC's of the First World War.
McCudden, J. 1918 Flying Fury: Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps

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