Arthur Bigsworth

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Arthur Wellesley Bigsworth
Born (1885-03-27)27 March 1885
Anerley, Kent
Died 24 February 1961(1961-02-24) (aged 75)
Great Dunmow,[1] Essex
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy (1909–18)
 Royal Air Force (1918–35)
Years of service 1913–1935
Rank Air Commodore
Commands held No. 42 (Maintenance) Group (1939)
RAF Leuchars (1925–28)
No. 10 Group (1918–19; 1929–31)
Battles/wars First World War
Awards Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Air Force Cross
Mentioned in Despatches
Other work British Directorate of Aeronautical Production

Air Commodore Arthur Wellesley Bigsworth CMG, DSO & Bar, AFC (27 March 1885 – 24 February 1961) was a pioneer aviator who had a distinguished military career in the service of the British armed forces.

Early life[edit]

Arthur Wellesley Bigsworth was born on 27 March 1885, the son of Arthur Wellesley Bigsworth Sr and Kate Box.


Bigsworth received training as a Mercantile Marine officer, later joining the Royal Naval Reserve as a sub-lieutenant, being promoted to lieutenant on 19 January 1913. He attended the first course at the Central Flying School, gaining his Aviator's Certificate no. 396 on 21 January 1913. He transferred to the Royal Navy at this rank with effect from 1 April 1913, achieving the rank of wing commander in the Royal Naval Air Service on 31 December 1916. On 1 April 1918 he was appointed Officer Commanding No. 10 Group RAF; a year later he was awarded a permanent commission as a lieutenant colonel and was appointed Staff Officer First Class (Air) in Headquarters, Mediterranean District. At this point Bigsworth was awarded a Permanent Commission with the RAF and was removed from the Navy Lists while remaining in his post with HQ Mediterranean District, later HQ Mediterranean Group in 1920. After almost three years as Officer Commanding, Armament and Gunnery School at Eastchurch, he returned to the Mediterranean as Air Officer Commanding (AOC), HQ RAF Mediterranean, in which capacity he was appointed as a member of the Nominated Council of Malta. In 1925 he returned to the UK, first to RAF Leuchars (1925), then as Senior Air Staff Office (SASO), HQ Coastal Area (1928), AOC No. 10 Group and finally, until his retirement in September 1935, as Director of Equipment at the Air Ministry.

Immediately following his retirement from active service, Bigsworth was appointed to the Directorate of Aeronautical Production and in 1939 was for a short time AOC No 42 (Maintenance) Group.[2]

Arthur Wellesley Bigsworth died on 24 February 1961.

It has been claimed that W. E. Johns based some aspects of his fictional hero Biggles (surname Bigglesworth) on the real-life Bigsworth, with whom he had worked at the Air Ministry.[3]

Medals and Honours[edit]

Bigsworth had already experimented with night flying, using two 4V lamps attached to his aircraft[2] and no doubt called on this experience on 17 May 1915, when he managed to climb his Avro 504 above Zeppelin LZ39 over Ostend and drop four 20 lb bombs on its envelope, causing considerable damage. LZ39 managed to return to its base, despite damage to five of its gasbags[4] For this feat Bigsworth was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). This was the first night-time attack on a Zeppelin.[5]

On 26 August 1915, Bigsworth was reconnoitering the sea off Ostend in his Farman F.27 when he spotted German submarine, U-14, on the surface and sank it. The citation for the Bar to his DSO stated: "Squadron-Commander Bigsworth was under heavy fire from the shore batteries and from the submarine whilst manoeuvring for position. Nevertheless, displaying great coolness, he descended to 500 feet, and after several attempts was able to get a good line for dropping the bombs with full effect."[6] This was the first ever confirmed airborne 'kill' on a submarine.[7]

Major Bigsworth was further "Mentioned in Despatches and Reports for Distinguished Services" on 3 June 1918.[8]

Lieutenant Colonel (Acting Colonel) Bigsworth was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George,[9] followed on 5 June 1919 by the award of the Air Force Cross.[10]