Who's Who - William Rhodes-Moorhouse

William Rhodes-Moorhouse William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse (1887-1915) was the first airman to be awarded a Victoria Cross, posthumously awarded in May 1915.

Moorhouse was born in London to an English father and Maori mother, one of four children.  Educated at Harrow and Cambridge University Moorhouse regarded his university education as a waste of time.  Instead his real interest lay in engine design - initially in fast cars and then in the budding field of aviation.  In 1906 Moorhouse knocked down and killed a child on Brighton beach during a motorcycle race; initial charges of manslaughter were however subsequently withdrawn.

Leaving university in 1909 Moorhouse learned how to fly - gaining his pilot's certificate in 1911 - and then set to designing monoplanes.  He competed in aviation competitions and was the first to cross the English Channel from Douai to Ashood with two passengers in a biplane (one of whom was his wife).

With the onset of war in Europe in 1914 William - by now having legally changed his last name to Rhodes-Moorhouse as a means of inheriting his grandfather's estate - enlisted with the Royal Flying Corps for training.

Rhodes-Moorhouse was attached to No. 2 Squadron in March 1915, then based at Merville in France.  Within a short period Rhodes-Moorhouse won the V.C. for which he is renowned.

On 26 April 1915 he was instructed to attack the German-held rail junction at Courtrai.  He successfully released his load of bombs but was strafed by combined machine gun and rifle fire while flying low.  Although his aircraft was damaged - and his thigh torn open - he elected to try and regain the Allied lines rather than crash-landing behind German lines.

Caught again by German fire while returning home he received hits to his abdomen and hand.  He nevertheless finally managed to land successfully behind Allied lines, making his report before being taken to a military hospital for treatment.  Critically ill he died on the following day.  He was subsequently awarded the V.C. on 22 May 1915, the first airman to receive the award.  He was aged 27.

'Bantam' was a term to describe members of battalions between 5ft 1in and 5ft 4in.

- Did you know?

Who's Who