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Naval aviator VC honoured with memorial in London
19 November 2015

Today’s fliers, sailors, dignitaries and family members gathered in one of London’s most desirable locations to honour Richard Bell Davies VC, as a memorial stone was unveiled in his name.

The naval aviator became the latest Great War hero to be honoured with a paving slab as part of centenary commemorations of WW1.

Lady Bell Davies and Cllr Robert Freeman, Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea, chat with naval reservists at the unveiling ceremony. Pictures: PO(Phot) Owen Cooban

IN THE driving rain of a drab November day in the nation’s capital, the heroism of one naval aviator shone through – 100 years to the day of his deeds.

Today’s fliers, sailors, dignitaries and family members gathered in one of London’s most desirable locations to honour Richard Bell Davies VC, as a memorial stone was unveiled in his name.

A century ago precisely, the then 29-year-old led an attack on enemy lines of communication at Ferrijik in Bulgaria – part of the campaign to knock the Ottoman Empire out of World War 1.

When Flight Sub Lt Gilbert Smylie’s biplane made an emergency landing behind enemy lines after taking fire, Bell Davies put his aircraft down, squeezed Smylie into his aircraft as Bulgarian soldiers closed in, and took off, safely returning to base.

His deeds earned him Britain’s highest decoration for “a feat of airmanship that can seldom have been equalled for skill and gallantry” – only the second awarded to a naval flier – adding to a DSO he received for a raid on Zeebrugge and to be joined by further decorations, including a Mention in Dispatches, the Air Force Cross and the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Richard Bell Davies' great granddaughter OC Miranda Bell Davies

As with all Great War VC recipients, Bell Davies – who rose to the rank of vice admiral, serving his nation into WW2 – was honoured with a memorial paving stone in his home town, in this case Chelsea.

Civic leaders chose the curtilage of the Royal Borough’s war memorial in Sloan Square as the fitting setting for the commemorative stone, unveiled in the presence of family members including Lady Bell Davies and Officer Cadet Miranda Bell Davies – serving with Oxford URNU.

The future admiral always played down his deeds in Bulgaria in November 1915.

“My great grandfather was typical of the pioneering spirit of the early naval aviators,” said Emma Wightman. “He was inventive and innovative, always experimenting, breaking new ground, a ‘bit whacky’, gentle, kind and genuinely modest.

“He flew his planes with all sorts of home-made improvisations, from using Sandow elastic to fix a wing, periscopes for navigation or a length of wool for checking wind direction.”  

Rear Admiral Graeme Mackay – a naval aviator who is in charge of the RN’s carrier strike programme – told those gathered in the rain that Richard Bell Davies “remains an inspiration to us all in the Fleet Air Arm – a guiding hand on the shoulder of naval aviators today, especially on a dark night landing on, and taking off, a pitching deck.”