Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation
Commodore F M F West
b: 19 Jan 1896
r: 29 Mar 1946
d: 8 Jul 1988
VC - 8 Nov 1918, CBE - 1 Jan 1945, MC - 24 Jul 1918, MiD - 31 Mar 1920, Cwn C - 12 Jul 1920.
(Army):- 2 Lt (P): 13 May 1915, 2 Lt: 9 Dec 1915, Lt: 1 Aug 1917, Act Capt: xx xxx 1916 - 1917.
(RAF):- Lt: 1 Apr 1918, Act Capt: 19 Jun 1918, Fg Off: 1 Aug 1919 [1 Apr 1918], Flt Lt: 1 Nov 1919, Sqn Ldr: 8 Jan 1930, Act Wg Cdr (unpd): 5 Feb 1936, Wg Cdr: 1 Jul 1936, (T) Gp Capt: 1 Jan 1940, Act A/Cdre: xx Jan 1940, (T) A/Cdre: 1 Nov 1942, Gp Capt: 20 Nov 1942 [1 Apr 1942], A/Cdre: Retained.
xx xxx 1914: Private/NCO, Royal Army Medical Corps.
15 May 1915: Platoon Commander, 4th Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers.
xx xxx 1916: Company Commander, 4th Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers.
25 Mar 1917: Accepted as Observer on Probation, RFC.
1 Apr 1917: Transferred to RFC
12 Apr 1917: To Home Establishment.
4 May 1917: Re-embarked to France
25 May 1917: Attached, No 3 Sqn RFC
26 Jul 1917: Appointed Flying Officer (Observer), RFC
28 Sep 1917 To Home Establishment. (for pilot training)
xx Oct 1917: U/T Pilot, Grantham.
8 Dec 1917: Flying Officer RFC.
8 Dec 1917: Pilot, No 8 Sqn RFC/RAF.
19 Jun 1918: 'B' Flight Commander, No 8 Sqn.
Aug 1918: Recuperation.
RAF Liaison Officer, Foreign Office
1 Aug 1919: Awarded Permanent Commission as a Lieutenant
19 Aug 1920: Air Staff - Training Ground, HQ Inland Area.
xx xxx xxxx: Air Staff - Co-operation, HQ Inland Area.
1 May 1923: Attended RAF Staff College.
23 Apr 1924: Flight Commander, No 17 Sqn.
6 Sep 1926: Adjutant, RAF Upavon.
30 Mar 1928: Adjutant, RAF Base, Malta.
Staff, School of Army Co-operation
11 Sep 1933: Officer Commanding, No 4 Sqn.
10 Feb 1936: Air Attaché, Helsingfors.
15 Nov 1938: Officer Commanding, RAF Odiham/No 50 (Army Co-op) Wing.
xx Dec 1939: Hospitalised.
16 Feb 1940: Air Attaché, Rome.
16 Jun 1940: Air Attaché, Bearne.
xx xxx 1945: Director of Allied Air Co-operation and Foreign Liaison
When her husband was killed in the Boar War, his mother, a French Comtesse, decided to move to Italy where her sister lived. Growing up in Italy, he learnt to speak fluent French and Italian as well as his native English. He entered Genoa University in 1913 and during the 1914 vacation he acquired a post in a Swiss Bank. However, shortly after starting work in Switzerland, War broke out and he decided to join the British Army. However, this was not as easy as it seemed, he was arrested in France because the French Police could not believe that an Englishman could speak such fluent French and that he was trying to escape the Country.
Eventually arriving in Britain, he was sent to the RAMC at Aldershot on the grounds that he understood Latin. Despite protests he remained in the RAMC and was sent to Ireland. But fortunately he had been recommended for a commission and in May 1915 he joined the Royal Munster Fusiliers. He arrived in France in November 1915. Following pioneer duties behind the line his Battalion moved to the front in February 1916. A meeting with a RFC pilot and a ten minute flight in early 1917, led to him deciding to apply for the RFC. Training as a observer at Brooklands, he was back in France by late April 1917 posted to No 3 Squadron, becoming a fully qualified observer in July 1917. After six months as an observer, he was posted back to Britain to undergo pilot training at Grantham.
When he qualified as a pilot, he returned to France together with his squadron commander from Grantham, Major Trafford Leigh-Mallory, who was to remain his CO in No 8 Squadron. 8 Squadron specialised in co-operation with tanks, but on 21 April 1918, whilst investigating the possibility of recovering a downed aircraft with Lt Richard Grice, he witnessed the shooting down of Manfred von Richtofen.
On 12 August 1918, the British Army was intending to start a major offensive, but it needed information about the enemy positions. Setting off at dawn West and his observer, Haslam spotted an enemy concentration through a hole in the mist. Almost immediately they came under fire and he was hit in he leg and his radio transmitter was smashed. Continuing to identify his location he remained under attack and only when he was sure of the enemy’s position did he attempt to break off and head for his own lines. The German fighter followed them and continued attacking, unable to make his airfield he landed behind the Allied lines and insisted on reporting his findings to a squadron officer despite being in excruciating agony. His left leg was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated and shortly afterwards he was invalided back to Britain, where on 9 November 1918 he learnt that he had been awarded the VC.
Equipped with an artificial leg, he considered his flying career over, when he met a Swiss, Mr. Desoutter, who had also lost a leg but had designed and built himself a vastly superior limb. West, having had one built for him, then approached the Air Ministry with a request to remain in the RAF as a pilot. Having been interviewed by Trenchard and been offered a post in the Foreign Office he was very pleasantly surprised to find his name amongst those listed in the London Gazette in August 1919 as one of those awarded permanent commissions in the RAF. Posted to Uxbridge, he was not allowed to pilot aircraft but often flew as a passenger and gradually talked his fellow staff officer into letting him take control eventually going solo and being returned to flying duties.
Following attendance at the RAF Staff College, he returned to operational flying with 17 Squadron at Hawkinge flying Woodcocks and then Grebes. A couple of adjutant posts then followed firstly at the CFS and then at Kalafrana in Malta, where he had the engineering officer modify the ruder controls to enable him to fly seaplanes in rough weather. Returning to England he was given command of No 4 Squadron after a period as an instructor at the School of Army Co-operation. In 1936 he was informed of what would be his first post as an Air Attaché when he was appointed the first British Air Attaché to Finland, Latvia and Estonia. Here he worked hard to interest the Finns in purchasing British aircraft and equipment in preference to German, but was successful when the Finnish Government placed an order for Bristol Blenheims.
Returning to the UK he took command of RAF Odiham which later became No 50 Wing as part of the Air Component of the BEF. His return to operations came to an end at Christmas 1939 when feeling unwell he returned to Britain and was admitted to Aldershot Military Hospital being diagnosed as suffering from a burst ulcer. To aid his recovery he was posted to Italy as Air Attaché to Rome, but within six months Italy had declared war and he was moved across the border into Switzerland. He remained in this post throughout WWII and was responsible for assisting many escaped RAF aircrew return to Britain having made their way to Switzerland. He was also in a good position to collect intelligence about the enemy and was even targeted by the German Intelligence services resulting in him having to ‘hire’ himself a bodyguard. In 1944 he was offered a post in the Far East by ACM Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, but turned it down, fortunately for him as Leigh-Mallory’s aircraft crashed into the Alps killing all aboard. With the end of the war in Europe, his term of office in Switzerland came to an end and he returned to Britain, retiring from the RAF and joining J Arthur Rank Overseas Film Distributors in January 1946. He was appointed Managing Director in 1947 remaining until 1958 retiring as Chairman. Subsequent directorships held included Hurst Park Syndicate, Continental Shipyard Agencies, Technical Equipment Supplies Ltd, Tokalon Ltd and Terravia Trading Services.
Citation for the award of the Military Cross
"Lt. Ferdinand Maurice Felix West, R. Muns. Fus., Spec. Res., and R.A.F.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While on patrol he, with another officer, observed fifteen enemy motor lorries. As these could not be engaged by our artillery by zone call, they flew 8,000 yards over the enemy lines at a height of 3,800 ft. in the face of strong opposition from the ground, and dropped four bombs, obtaining direct hits on the lorries and doing considerable damage to their personnel. They then proceeded to attack them with machine-gun fire as they sought cover. A fortnight later they carried out, at a height of 150 feet, a reconnaissance of their corps front, on which an- attack was expected. Despite the fact that the clouds were at 200 feet, and there .was a thick .mist, they obtained most valuable information. During this flight they directed and located the fire of our artillery on a. concentration of enemy infantry. Throughout the operations their work in co-operation with our artillery was always of the greatest value, and their enterprise in attacking enemy troops and transport with bombs and machine-gun fire was splendid."
(London Gazette - 26 July 1918)
Citation for the award of the Victoria Cross
"Air Ministry, 8th November, 1918.
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to Lieut, (actg. Capt.) Ferdinand Maurice Felix West, M.C., - Royal Air Force (formerly of the Special Reserve, Royal Munster Fusiliers), in recognition of his outstanding bravery in aerial combat.
Captain West, while engaging hostile troops at a low altitude far over the enemy lines, was attacked by seven aircraft. Early in the engagement one of his legs was partially severed by an explosive bullet, and fell powerless into the controls, rendering the machine for the time unmanageable. Lifting his disabled leg, he regained control of the machine, and, although wounded in the other leg, he, with surpassing bravery and devotion to duty, manoeuvred his machine so skilfully that his observer was enabled to get several good bursts into the enemy machines, which drove them away. Captain West then, with rare courage, and determination, desperately wounded as he was, brought his machine over our lines and landed safely. Exhausted by his exertions, he fainted, but on regaining consciousness insisted on writing his report.
(The award of the Military Cross was gazetted on 26th July, 1918)"
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