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Auction: 24001 - Orders, Decorations and Medals
Lot: 117

The outstanding C.B., 1915 D.S.C. group of nine awarded to Air Commodore G. B. Smylie, Royal Air Force, late Royal Naval Air Service

Smylie won his D.S.C. - having been recommended for the Victoria Cross - with Richard Bell-Davies V.C., for the daring Ferrijik Junction attack in November 1915, an act that was immortalised in Deeds That Thrill The Empire

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, C.B. (Military) Companion's neck Badge, silver-gilt and enamel; Distinguished Service Cross, G.V.R., hallmarks for 1915, the reverse engraved 'F/Lt. Sub.-Lieut. G. F. Smylie, R.N.A.S., 19 Nov. 1915'; 1914-15 Star (Flt. S. Lt. G.F. Smylie, D.S.C., R.N.A.S.); British War and Victory Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaves (Flt. Cr. G.F. Smylie, R.N.A.S.); 1939-45 Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45 with M.I.D. oak leaf, good very fine (9)

C.B. London Gazette 1 January 1946. The original recommendation states:

'This officer has been responsible for directing Technical Training throughout the Service and for advising and assisting Allied Air Forces on Technical Training matters. The many difficulties which have arisen in training, due to changes of equipment and file fluctuations in requirements, have been overcome to a large extent by the high standards of Air Commodore Smylie's work and his energy. His outstanding enthusiasm has been reflected constantly in the work of his Directorate.'

D.S.C. London Gazette 31 December 1915. In a joint Citation for the award of the V.C. to Bell Davies, with whom Smylie was also put forward for the V.C.:

'The King has been graciously pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to Squadron-Commander Richard Bell Davies, D.S.O., R.N., and of the Distinguished Service Cross to Flight Sub-Lieutenant Gilbert Formby Smylie, R.N., in recognition of their behaviour in the following circumstances: -

On the 19th November (1915) these two officers carried out an air attack on Ferrijik Junction.

Flight Sub-Lieutenant Smylie's machine was received by very heavy fire and brought down. The pilot planed down over the station, releasing all his bombs except one, which failed to drop, simultaneously at the station from a very low altitude. Thence he continued his descent into the marsh.

On alighting he saw the one unexploded bomb, and set fire to his machine, knowing that the bomb would ensure its destruction. He then proceeded towards Turkish territory. At this moment he perceived Squadron Commander Davies descending, and fearing that he would come down near the burning machine and thus risk destruction from the bomb, Flight Sub-Lieutenant Smylie ran back and from a short distance exploded the bomb by means of a pistol bullet. Squadron Commander Davies descended at a safe distance from the burning machine, took up Sub-Lieutenant Smylie, in spite of the near approach of a party of the enemy, and returned to the aerodrome, a feat of airmanship that can seldom have been equalled for skill and gallantry.'

M.I.D. London Gazette 14 March 1916 (Dardanelles), 1 January 1942 & 1 January 1945.

Gilbert Formby Smylie was born on 22 August 1895 at Formby, Lancashire, educated at King Williams College, Isle of Man and Downing College, Cambridge. Before the outbreak of the Great War he worked as an Engineer and enlisted as a Private in the Grenadier Guards in November 1914. It did not take long for him to be singled out and looking skyward. He took Royal Aero Club Aviators' Certificate No. 1,288 on 31 May 1915 and joined the Royal Naval Air Service. Made a Flight Sub-Lieutenant 7 April 1915 and as a Pilot, first served in the Dardanelles at Gallipoli 1915 with 3 Wing. It was whilst there that he earned his remarkable D.S.C., the action recalled by Richard Bell-Davies:

'I was deeply engaged with the operation of building winter quarters & was rather annoyed he (Sampson) had put me down to fly one of the Nieuports, carrying 20lb bombs to Ferijik Junction. I did not think those little bombs could do much harm, & I wanted to press on with supervising the building work.

During the attack, the Henry Farman that Smylie was flying was hit in the engine & forced down into the marshes on the far side of the Maritza River in Bulgarian territory. These marshes were very wide cut up in winter & spring by a large number of water courses. In November, after a long dry summer most of the water courses were dry, the beds being baked mud & gravel. In one of these Smylie had safely landed & I decided to go down to pick him up. It never occurred to me that we were likely to be interfered with by enemy troops. The marshes were wide & rough with tall banks of reeds & scrub. What did worry me was the possibility of finding two men to rescue, for I knew that some of our military observers had been detailed to take part in the operation as bomb aimers. An experienced gunner officer was much more valuable than a newly trained Sub R.N.A.S. I could only carry one passenger; but I could not imagine Edwards, Jopp, Walser or Knatchbull-Huggessen agreeing to come away & leave the pilot.

As I circled down I could see the Farman burning. I flew low round it looking for Smylie & received an almighty shock when the plane suddenly blew up. I had no idea there was still a bomb on board and in case there were anymore, I hastily climbed away. Then I saw Smylie emerge from a little hollow in which he had been lying & wave. I learned later that Smylie had seen a party of Bulgarian troops approaching. He had therefore fired the plane & set off to cross into Turkish territory, preferring to be taken prisoner by Turks rather than Bulgars. On seeing me come down to rescue him, he has realised the danger if the bomb exploded after I had landed, so he took cover in the hollow, fired at the bomb with his pistol & succeeded in exploding it with his third shot.
To my great relief I found that Smylie was alone. (on landing, Smylie turned her round by holding the wing tip & we taxied back so as to get the full take off run) All the same it was no easy matter to accommodate him in my plane as there was no passenger seat, a cowl now covering the space where one had originally been. He had to climb over me, slide under the cowl & crouch on all fours between the rudder bar & the engine bearers with his head bumping on the oil tank. He managed somehow to stow himself away looking most uncomfortable.

By this time the enemy troops were coming close so I lost no time in taking off. There was length in the dry watercourse for a good run & we had no difficulty in getting airborne. The flight back to base took three-quarters of an hour & I felt sorry for poor Smylie, but all went well & we arrived safely.'

The Nieuport 12 that Bell Davies was flying that day was a two-seater converted to a single seater with the front cockpit permanently faired over. Smylie was a 6 footer so the challenge of getting the 6-foot Smylie into the cockpit would appear insurmountable. Bell Davies stood up and Smylie dived through the controls to the front cockpit. On their safe arrival, it took 2 hours to get Smylie out.

The act was outstanding on so many levels but was the first combat search and rescue by an aircraft in history. The two were both put forward for the Victoria Cross by Vice-Admiral J.M. de Robeck. In the end the D.S.C., together with a 'mention', came the way for Smylie. He was duly promoted Flight Lieutenant in January 1916 and Flight Commander by 31 December 1917. After the end of the Great War, he continued to serve in the Royal Air Force, steadily being advanced Flying Officer, 16 July 1921, Flight Lieutenant, 1 January 1923, Squadron Leader, 7 January 1931 & Wing Commander, 1 January 1937.

With the outbreak of the Second World War he was once again called upon, initially in England at H.Q. Balloon Command on the Engineer Staff from 5 January 1939. Advanced Group Captain in March 1940 and Temporary Air Commodore in November 1942, he served in Egypt as A.O.C. No. 206 Maintenance Group, Heliopolis 12 July 1942 and then in Italy, as A.O.C. 214 Group (Mediterranean Allied Air Force) at Tripoli. Adding several further 'mentions' and the C.B. to his laurels, Smylie was also put forward by the Americans for a Legion of Merit. Although the award was not promulgated, the citation survives:

'This officer is Director of Technical Training and has rendered excellent service to the American Forces in technical training, and in arranging special technical courses and facilities in preparation for operations.'

He was Director of Technical Training at the Air Ministry 1945-47, being confirmed Air Commodore on 1 July 1947. Retired on 1 July 1949, the Air Commodore died on 5 July 1965 at Hampstead, London; sold together with a file of research.

The Victoria Cross of Bell Davies is held by the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, who also hold a striking painting of the action by Kenneth A. McDonough.

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