Published: 06:00, 17 March 2014
| Updated: 16:25, 17 March 2014
Not many survived a duel with the Red Baron during the First World War – but one was Gillingham’s own flying ace James ‘Mac’ McCudden.
The amazing wartime exploits and aerial combats of McCudden, and his brothers, are some of the many being recalled in the centenary year of the start of the 'Great War'.
The story of ‘Mac’ McCudden is told in a special First World War supplement inside Friday’s Medway Messenger.
He encountered legendary German ace pilot, Manfred von Richthofen and, during a prolonged dogfight, on December 27, 1916, more than 300 bullets were fired by the Baron – none of which hit McCudden’s de Havilland DH2 aircraft.
The German plane suffered damage but the pilot and his aircraft also survived.
‘Mac’, James Thomas Byford McCudden, joined the Royal Engineers in 1910.
A flight with his brother across Salisbury Plain so impressed young James that he requested a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps in 1913.
One year later he went to France with the British Expeditionary Force as a mechanic where he was occasionally allowed to fly as an observer. Returning to England in 1916 he learnt to fly and returned to France, eventually becoming a major.
He shot down 57 enemy aircraft, making him the seventh highest scoring ace of the Great War.
McCudden, 22, was awarded the Victoria Cross and in 1917 he was given command of No 60 Squadron.
After collecting a new SE5a aircraft from the Sopwith factory, he flew to Kent and spent the night in Gillingham with his family. However, crossing to France the next day, his engine failed and he plunged to the ground, and died in hospital.
He was buried in Wavans War Cemetery in the Pas-de-Calais, with full military honours – on the same week von Richthofen died. James was one of three heroic brothers, sons of Royal Engineer sergeant-major William McCudden.
James’ younger brother, Lt John McCudden, was another fighter ace, who won the Military Cross.
McCudden’s older brother, Bill, was a flight sergeant who had died in a training accident in 1915 and is buried at Chatham.
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