John Doyle (RAF officer)
|John Edgcumbe Doyle|
Doyle with an Avro mono
Distinguished Flying Cross
18 April 1893|
Wynberg, Cape Colony, South Africa
|Died||24 November 1974
|Allegiance|| United Kingdom
|Service/branch||Royal Flying Corps (1916-1918)
Royal Air Force (1918-1919)
South African Air Force (1923-1951
|Years of service||1914-1917|
|Unit||No. 56 Squadron (1916-1918)
No. 60 Squadron
First World War
|Awards||Distinguished Flying Cross|
John Edgcumbe Doyle DFC (18 April 1895 – 24 November 1974) was a British World War I pilot credited with 9 confirmed victories. He was shot down on 6 September 1918 and taken prisoner and his right leg was amputated. He was repatriated on 20 December 1918 and invalided out of the RAF.
John Doyle was born in South Africa where his father was the chaplain to the Governor of Cape Province. He was employed at the Bank of South Africa for 2 years but left in mid-1914 because he saw a recruiting advertisement for the Royal Naval Air Service. He was not taken due to a lack of trigonometry and then, since the war had started on 4 August, he applied to the Royal Flying Corps where he was told the war would be over by Christmas and anyway they had plenty of applicants. He then joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps as a cavalry officer candidate. He was commissioned in May 1915 and joined the Royal Army Service Corps.
First World War
Once in France in Summer 1915, Doyle applied frequently to join the RFC was always told by his CO that he was essential to the RASC until 1916 when the RFC was very short of candidates and COs were no longer allowed to stop transfer and he joined the RFC in England.
Training was haphazard at RAF Doncaster and he flew the Maurice Farman Shorthorn, Avro 504, B.E.2c, B.E.12 and Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8. The “Wings” test had 4 components; a climb to 10,000 feet then engine out descent to landing, a cross-country with landings at 2 other airfields, 2 airborne photos of navigational landmarks and 2 night landings. Having passed he was asked to fetch a new type of aeroplane from the Daimler Works at Coventry, an R.E.8 He crashed on takeoff, as all previous 12 planes had done, since there was not enough yaw control to counter the P-factor and keep the plane with its powerful V-12 engine straight. He was badly concussed and the plane withdrawn for redesign of the vertical stabilizer and rudder. After recovery and convalescence at Osborne he was sent to 40 Sqdn at Port Meadow, Oxford to fly Nieuports but was soon sent to a medical board that classified him as “Light Duty - No Flying”.
After hanging around back at Oxford with several other LD officers they were all sent to Hounslow where you “booked in” by writing your classification in a book on arrival. He found that his medical records had not preceded him and booked in as General Service and so could fly. After 11 hours a new medical board again classified him as LD but he was soon transferred to Harling Road where he again signed in as GS and was made an instructor, eventually being certified by Gosport. He was called before another medical board and was asked what he was complaining of, he said “nothing” and was at last classed GS.
He finally reached a fighter squadron in March 1918, 18 months after joining the RFC and Major Balcomb-Brown noticing his very unusual many hours of flying picked him for 56 Squadron where he joined B flight commanded by Captain Cyril Crowe. He had no confirmed victories while with 56 but must have done well since after two weeks he was leading patrols and before long was promoted to Captain.
After Major McCudden CO of 60 Squadron was killed Crowe became CO of the squadron on 9 July and asked Doyle to join him as A Flight commander. On 30 July Crowe was in a car crash that killed Captain Owen Scholte the senior flight commander of 60 and so Doyle became acting in command of the squadron. After a few weeks Major Clarke, from Harling Road, arrived as CO although he had never been seen to fly there nor at the squadron, he was however an Old Etonian.
In the few weeks he was in combat in 60 (he was not allowed to cross the lines while CO) he had 9 confirmed victories and 2 balloons that are not recorded for some reason. He was shot down on 5 September after getting 2 Albatros D.VIIs himself. He was taken prisoner and his right leg, which had become gangrenous from a bullet wound in his ankle, was amputated at the upper thigh. He was repatriated on 20 December 1918 to the Prince of Wales Hospital for Officers, Marylebone and then invalided out of the RAF. He received his DFC from King George V in 1919. His last flight was just before he was to go on home leave by the end of which the War would be over.
After the War
As a one-legged ex-pilot with minimal formal education the post-war years were extremely difficult and he had many different low-paying jobs including driving a tour bus from Exeter where he met his wife, Grace Burd, daughter of an Okehampton doctor. In the mid-1930s he wrote flying adventure stories and technical articles for such magazines as Air Stories, Popular Flying, The Scout and Mine. Never having lost his love of planes and flying he regained his pilot’s licence, #3236, in 1930 able to fly “all types of landplanes”.
In 1940 he was hired as a civilian Link Trainer instructor and wrote most of the instructor’s manual for the device. He rejoined the RAF in 1941; his first CO remarked that he must be the only Acting Pilot Officer on Probation with a DFC in the RAF. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and served as Chief Ground Instructor at bomber stations throughout the UK. He wrote later that “on becoming a Link instructor my financial state ceased to be a source of constant worry ... and I was never again financially embarrassed to any serious extent”.
He was invalided out at the end of 1943 and kept two pubs in England before retiring to Kyrenia, Cyprus in 1953. There he took up painting and had a well-received one man show in 1959. The Greek-Turkish warfare intensified and he and his wife returned to England finally living in the home of her mother-in-law in Devon with one of their daughters painting and writing his autobiography until he died in 1974 three weeks after his wife’s death.
- London Gazette supplement, 9 June 1915
- London Gazette Issue 31378 published on 30 May 1919. Page 7
- London Gazette Issue 35451 published on 10 February 1942. Page 11
- "Sixty Squadron R.A.F. 1916-1919' '. A.J.L. Scott. Presidio Press, 1990. ISBN 1-85367-050-2.
- "British Single-Seater Fighter Squadrons on the Western Front in World War 1' '. Alex Revell. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2006. ISBN 0-7643-2420-9.
- "High In the Empty Blue The History of 56 Squadron RFC RAF 1916-1919' '. Alex Revell. Flying Machines Press, 1995. ISBN 0-9637110-3-2.