Cecil Arthur Lewis

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Cecil Arthur Lewis
Cecil Lewis.jpg
Born 29 March 1898
Birkenhead, England, UK
Died 27 January 1997 (aged 98)
London, England, UK
Allegiance Royal Flying Corps
Years of service 1915-1918
Unit 3 Squadron, 9 Squadron, 23 Squadron, 44 Squadron, 56 Squadron, 61 Squadron, 152 Squadron
Battles/wars First World War, Second World War
Awards Military Cross

Cecil Arthur Lewis MC (29 March 1898 – 27 January 1997) was a British fighter pilot who flew in World War I. He went on to co-found the British Broadcasting Company[1] and enjoy a long career as a writer, notably of the aviation classic Sagittarius Rising (inspiration for the film Aces High).

Educated at Oundle School, Lewis joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1915 after lying about his age[2] and learned to fly at Brooklands. In 1916, he flew the Morane Parasol in combat with Number 3 Squadron and was awarded the Military Cross[3] for his actions during the Battle of the Somme. Flying the S.E.5a with 56 Squadron, he was credited with eight victories during May and June 1917.[4] Back in England, Lewis served with 44 and 61 Squadrons on Home Defence before returning to France in late 1918 with 152 night-fighter Squadron, flying the Sopwith Camel.

After the war, Lewis was hired by the Vickers company to teach the Chinese how to fly and to establish a Peking-Shanghai air service using Vickers Commercials, the civilian version of the Vickers Vimy bomber. It was in Peking that Lewis married Doushka Horvath (1902–2005), the daughter of a Russian general.[5] Lewis returned to England when the air service project was abandoned by Vickers after a couple of years.

Through his friend, the Russian singer Vladimir Rosing, Lewis met the artist Charles Ricketts, who became his artistic mentor and sponsor. After Ricketts' death, Lewis edited his letters and journals for publication.

Lewis was one of the five young men who, in 1922, founded the British Broadcasting Company (precursor of the British Broadcasting Corporation) where he was a writer, producer, and director.[6] (The other founders were John Reith, Arthur Burrows, Stanton Jefferies and Peter Eckersley.) In 1931, he co-wrote and directed a short film adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play How He Lied to Her Husband. In late 1936 - early 1937 he was a producer and presenter for the infant BBC Television Service at Alexandra Palace.[7] At the 1939 Academy Awards ceremony, Lewis, Shaw, Ian Dalrymple and W. P. Lipscomb were awarded Oscars for their screen adaptation of Pygmalion.[8] He served with the Royal Air Force during World War II, in Sicily, Greece, Egypt, and Italy.

During the late 1940s Lewis became enamored with the teachings of the Greek-Armenian mystic Gurdjieff. In 1947 he flew a Miles Gemini to South Africa, where he spent the next three years on a farm he established, but the farm was not a success, and in 1950 he returned to England. He joined the Daily Mail in 1956 as a reporter. After his retirement he moved to Corfu where he spent the rest of his life, continuing to write until well into his nineties.

George Bernard Shaw wrote of Lewis; "This prince of pilots has had a charmed life in every sense of the word. He is a thinker, a master of words and a bit of a poet."[9]

He was the last surviving British ace of World War I.


  1. ^ BRITISH BROADCASTING COMPANY LTD FORMED Wednesday 18 October 1922 - BBC Timeline
  2. ^ page 10 of Sagittarius Rising: " ... ' ... How old are you?' 'Almost eighteen, sir.' (Liar! You were seventeen last month.) ..."
  3. ^ London Gazette Issue 29824 published on the 14 November 1916. Page 20; "2nd Lt. Cecil Arthur Lewis, R.F.C., Spec. Res. For conspicuous skill and gallantry. He has done fine work in photography, with artillery and on contact patrols. On one occasion he came down very low and attacked a column of horsed limbers, causing casualties and scattering the limbers."
  4. ^ Above the Trenches: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915–1920. Ace listed alphabetically by last name in text.
  5. ^ Doushka Williams Obituary, The Independent, 4 August 2005
  6. ^ BRITISH BROADCASTING COMPANY LTD FORMED Wednesday 18 October 1922 - BBC Timeline
  7. ^ BBC Genome Project database
  8. ^ http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/11th-winners.html
  9. ^ New Statesman and Nation; the Week-end Review. -- Vol. 12, no. 284 (Aug. 1, 1936)


Works by Lewis[edit]

  • Sagittarius Rising (1936) ISBN 1-85367-143-6
  • The Trumpet Is Mine (1938)
  • Challenge to the Night (1939)
  • Pathfinders (1944)
  • Yesterday's Evening (1946)
  • Farewell to Wings (1964)
  • Turn Right For Corfu (1972)
  • Never Look Back; an Attempt at Autobiography (1974)
  • Gemini to Joburg (1984)
  • Five Conversations about Gurdjieff (1984)
  • Sagittarius Surviving (1991)
  • All My Yesterdays (1993)
  • A Wish to Be: A Voyage of Self-Discovery (1994)
  • So Long Ago, So Far Away (1996)

External links[edit]