James McCudden was an aircraft mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps when war was declared. One of three brothers to serve with the RFC, he saw combat in France as an observer and gunner before returning to England for flight training in 1916. His talents as a pilot were so extraordinary that he became an instructor within days of receiving his aviator's certificate. By April of 1918, James McCudden was the most decorated pilot in the Royal Air Force. He was killed three months later when his aircraft stalled after take off and crashed to the ground.
Victoria Cross (VC)
"For most conspicuous bravery, exceptional perseverance, and a very high devotion to duty. Captain McCudden has at the present time accounted for 54 enemy aeroplanes. Of these, 42 have been destroyed, 19 of them on our side of the lines. Only 12 out of the 54 have been driven down out of control. On two occasions, he had totally destroyed 4 two-seater enemy aeroplanes on the same day, and on the last occasion all 4 machines were destroyed in the space of one hour and thirty minutes. While in his present squadron, he has participated in 78 offensive patrols, and in nearly every case has been the leader. On at least 30 occasions, whilst with the same squadron, he has crossed the lines alone, either in pursuit or in quest of enemy aeroplanes.
The following incidents are examples of the work he has done recently: on December 23, 1917, when leading his patrol, 8 enemy aeroplanes were attacked between 14:30/15:50 and of these 2 were shot down by Captain McCudden in our lines; on the morning of the same day, he left the ground at 1050 and encountered 4 enemy aeroplanes and of these he shot 2 down; on January 30' 1918, he, single-handed, attacked 5 enemy scouts, as a result of which 2 were destroyed. On this occasion, he only returned home when the enemy scouts had been driven far east; his Lewis gun ammunition was all finished and the belt of his Vickers gun had broken. As a patrol leader he has at all times shown the utmost gallantry and skill, not only in the manner in which he has attacked and destroyed the enemy, but in the way he has, during several aerial fights, protected the newer members of his flight, thus keeping down their casualties to a minimum. This officer is considered, by the record he has made, by his fearlessness, and by the great service which he has rendered to his country, deserving of the very highest honor." VC citation, London Gazette, April 2, 1918