Monday 22 April 2024

James Thomas Byford McCudden, VC, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar, MM (1895 - 1918) was a British flying ace of the First World War and among the most highly decorated airmen in British military history.

 With thanks to John Daniel for finding this information for us:

Born on 28th March 1895 in Chatham, Kent, UK, James Thomas Byford McCudden’s parenst were  William Henry McCudden, A Master Sergeant in the Royal Engineers Regiment, and his wife, Amelia Emma McCudden, nee Byford.  

The McCudden family went to live in Sheerness in 1909 and James transferred to the Garrison School. He learned to shoot at the rifle range, learnt to box and was a reasonably intelligent student.

James joined the Royal Engineers in 1910. Having an interest in mechanics he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in 1913, during which time he first came into regular contact with aircraft. At the outbreak of war in 1914 James flew as an observer before training as a fighter pilot in 1916.

James claimed his first victory in September 1916 flying the Airco DH.2. He claimed his fifth victory — making him an Ace — on 15th February 1917. For the next six months he served as an instructor and flew defensive patrols over London. He returned to the frontline in summer 1917 flying the S.E.5a. That same year he dispatched a further 31 enemy aircraft while claiming multiple victories in one day on 11 occasions. 

With his six British medals and one French, James McCudden received more awards for gallantry than any other airman of British nationality serving in the First World War. He was also one of the longest serving. By 1918, in part due to a campaign by the “Daily Mail” newspaper, James became one of the most famous airmen in the British Isles.

At the time of his death, James had achieved 57 aerial victories, placing him seventh on the list of the war's most successful aces. Just under two-thirds of his victims can be identified by name. The majority of his successes were achieved with 56 Squadron RFC and all but five were shot down while he was flying the S.E.5a. 

On 9th July 1918, James was killed in a flying accident when his aircraft crashed on takeoff due to engine failure. His rank at the time of his death was major, a significant achievement for a man who had begun his career in the RFC as an air mechanic. James Thomas Byford McCudden, VC, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar, MM was buried in the British War Cemetery at Beauvoir-Wavans, Pas de Calais, France. 


A flying ace, fighter ace or air ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The exact number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an ace is varied, but is usually considered to be five or more.

Sources:  Information supplied by John Daniel, Find my Past, FreeBMD