|Lionel Wilmot Brabazon Rees|
|Born||31 July 1884
|Died||28 September 1955 (aged 71)
|Buried at||Nassau War Cemetery, Bahamas|
|Service/branch|| British Army
Royal Air Force
|Years of service||1903 - 1931; ca 1939 - 1942|
|Unit||Royal Garrison Artillery
Royal Flying Corps
Royal Air Force
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
Order of the British Empire
Air Force Cross
Group Captain Lionel Wilmot Brabazon Rees VC OBE MC AFC RAF (31 July 1884 – 28 September 1955) was a Welsh recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was credited with eight confirmed aerial victories, comprising 1 enemy aircraft captured, 1 destroyed, 1 'forced to land' and 5 'driven down'. Rees and his gunner, Flight Sergeant James McKinley Hargreaves, were the only two airmen to become aces flying the earliest purpose-built British fighter airplane, the Vickers Gunbus.
Rees also had a keen interest in archaeology. While flying from Cairo to Baghdad in the 1920s, he took some of the earliest archaeological aerial photographs of sites in eastern Transjordan (now Jordan), and published several articles in Antiquity and the journal of the Palestine Exploration Fund. He is considered a father of the archaeological studies of this remote area, and a pioneer of aerial archaeology. He was also an accomplished sailor.
The son of an army officer, Rees was born in Plas Llanwnda, Castle Street, Caernarfon in 1884. Rees attended Eastbourne College before entering the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He was commissioned in 1903 with the Royal Garrison Artillery. In 1912 he learned to fly at his own expense, receiving his Aviator's Certificate (no. 392) in January 1913. By 1913-14 Rees was attached to the West African Frontier Force when he was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in August 1914, initially as an instructor at Upavon. He first saw action flying the Vickers Gunbus with No. 11 Squadron RFC in the summer of 1915, earning a reputation as an aggressive pilot and an above average marksman.
Rees was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in 1915, gazetted as follows.
- For conspicuous gallantry and skill on several occasions, notably the following: — On 21st September, 1915, when flying a machine with one machine gun, accompanied by Flight-Serjeant Hargreaves, he sighted a large German biplane with two machine guns 2,000 feet below him. He spiralled down and dived at the enemy, who, having the faster machine, manoeuvred to get him broadside on and then opened heavy fire. Despite this, Captain Rees pressed his attack and apparently succeeded in hitting the enemy's engine, for the machine made a quick turn, glided some distance and finally fell just inside the German lines near Herbecourt.
On 28 July he attacked and drove down a hostile monoplane despite the main spar of his machine having been shot through and the rear spar shattered. On 31 August, accompanied by Flight-Sergeant Hargreaves, he fought a German machine more powerful than his own for three-quarters of an hour, then returned for more ammunition and went out to the attack again, finally bringing the enemy's machine down apparently wrecked. By this time he had claimed 1 aircraft captured, 1 destroyed, 1 'forced to land' and 5 'driven down'.
Rees was 31 years old and a Temporary Major in No. 32 Squadron RFC, when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.
In the first hours of the Somme Offensive, Rees was on patrol, taking off in Airco DH.2 No. 6015 at 0555 hours. His attempt to join a formation of "British" machines brought an attack from one of the Germans. He shot up the attacker, hitting its fuselage between the two aircrew. As it dove away, Rees attacked a Roland. Long range fire from three other Germans did not discourage Rees from closing on it; it emitted a hazy cloud of smoke from its engine from the 30 rounds Rees pumped into it, and it fled. Rees then singlehandedly went after five more Germans. A bullet in the thigh paralyzed his leg, forcing him to temporarily break off his assault. As the shock of the wound wore off, he was able to pursue the German formation leader, which was leaving after dropping its bomb. He fired his Lewis machine gun empty. In frustration, he drew his pistol but dropped it into his DH.2's nacelle. Meanwhile, the German two-seater pulled away above him. The German formation was shattered and scattered.
Rees gave up the futile chase, and returned to base. Once landed, he calmly asked for steps so he could deplane. Once seated on the aerodrome grass, he had a tender fetched to take him to hospital. The valor of his actions earned him the Victoria Cross. Its citation reads:
- On 1 July 1916 at Double Crassieurs, France, Major Rees, whilst on flying duties, sighted what he thought was a bombing party of our machines returning home, but were in fact enemy aircraft. Major Rees was attacked by one of them, but after a short encounter it disappeared, damaged. The others then attacked him at long range, but he dispersed them, seriously damaging two of the machines. He chased two others but was wounded in the thigh, temporarily losing control of his aircraft. He righted it and closed with the enemy, using up all his ammunition, firing at very close range. He then returned home, landing his aircraft safely.
Post World War I career
In 1919 Rees was honoured with the O.B.E. and in 1920 his home town of Caernarfon made him a Freeman of the Borough.
In the 1920s Rees was based in the Middle East with the RAF. He had a keen interest in archaeology, and while flying on the Cairo to Baghdad route during this period, he took some of the earliest archaeological aerial photographs of sites in eastern Transjordan (now Jordan), and published several articles in Antiquity and the journal of the Palestine Exploration Fund. He is considered a father of the archaeological studies of this remote area, and a pioneer of aerial archaeology.
Rees retired from the RAF in 1931 with the rank of Group Captain. In 1933 he sailed single-handedly across the Atlantic from Wales to Nassau in the Bahamas in a ketch. For this achievement he was awarded the prestigious Blue Water Medal by the Cruising Club of America in 1934.
When World War II broke out, Rees returned to the UK from the Bahamas and once again joined the RAF as a Wing Commander and was posted to command an aerodrome in the Middle East.
In December 1942 Rees was invalided out of the RAF and returned to the Bahamas. In 1947 aged 62, he met and married a young local woman and they had three children, the oldest of whom is Allen Rees. Rees died in Nassau on 28 September 1955 from leukaemia.
Selected publications by Rees
Rees wrote under the name 'L. W. B. Rees'.
- 1916 Fighting in the Air
- 1927 'Ancient Reservoirs near Kasr Azrak' Antiquity vol 1, pages 89–92
- 1929 'The Transjordan Desert' Antiquity vol 3, no 12, December 1929, pages 389-407
- 1930 'Transjordan: an ancient and a modern raid' The Royal Air Force Quarterly, January 1930, vol. 1, no 1, pages 138–159
- 1948 'The Route of the Exodus: The First Stage, Ramies to Etham' Palestine Exploration Quarterly January - April 1948, pages 48–58
- 'Above the Trenches'; Shores, Franks & Guest, (grub street 1990) Page 316
- Pusher Aces of World War 1'. p. 91.
- 'Aerial Archaeology in Jordan' David Kennedy and Robert Bewley Antiquity 83, no 319, pages 69-81
- http://www.theaerodrome.com/aces/wales/rees.php Retrieved on 20 May 2010.
- Pusher Aces of World War 1'. p. 19.
- 'Above the Trenches'; Shores, Franks and Guest, page 316
- Pusher Aces of World War 1'. pp. 34–35.
- Pusher Aces of World War 1'. pp. 35–36.
- Pusher Aces of World War 1'. p. 36.
- P G Cooksley, 1999, VCs of the First World War - Air VCs
- Jon Guttman and Harry Dempsey, 2009, Pusher Aces of World War 1 Osprey Publishin Company ISBN 1-84603-417-5, ISBN 978-1-84603-417-6
- David Harvey, 1999, Monuments To Courage
- This England, 1997, The Register of the Victoria Cross
- W. Alister Williams Against the Odds - the life of Group Captain Lionel Rees, VC