Gerald Birks

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Gerald Alfred Birks
Born(1894-10-30)30 October 1894
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died26 May 1991(1991-05-26) (aged 96)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
United Kingdom[fn 1]
Service/branchCanadian Expeditionary Force
British Army
Royal Air Force
Years of service1915–1919
Unit73rd Battalion, CEF
No. 66 Squadron RFC/RAF
Battles/warsWorld War I
 • Battle of the Somme
 • Italian Front
AwardsMilitary Cross & Bar

Lieutenant Gerald Alfred Birks MC & Bar (30 October 1894 – 26 May 1991) was a Canadian First World War fighter ace credited with twelve aerial victories while serving in the British Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force.[2]

Family background and education[edit]

He was one of seven children (four sons and three daughters) born to William Massey Birks and Miriam (née Gifford). His father was a partner in the jewelers Henry Birks & Sons with his father and brothers. The Birks were descended from a farming family from Darfield, Yorkshire, who emigrated to Canada in 1832.[3][4]

Birks was educated at Montreal High School and Lower Canada College, and was studying architecture at McGill University when the war broke out.[5][6]

World War I[edit]

Birks enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 31 August 1915, serving as a lieutenant in the 73rd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada),[6][7] and was wounded in November 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.[5]

Birks joined RFC Canada on 8 March 1917, and trained as a pilot at Deseronto and Camp Borden.[8] He flew solo after only 2​12 hours of flight training,[2] and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the RFC on 13 August 1917,[9] but did not travel out to England until November.[8] He was posted to No. 54 Training Squadron in December,[10] was appointed a flying officer on 15 January 1918,[8] and posted to the No. 2 School of Aerial Gunnery in February.[10]

This extended training period meant that he had accumulated 138 flying hours in his pilot's logbook before he finally joined No. 66 Squadron RFC in Italy[2] on 10 March 1918.[10] He was assigned to "C" Flight, flying a Sopwith Camel single seat fighter, and became the preferred wingman of fellow Canadian ace Billy Barker.[2] Birks' first aerial victory came on 18 March, when he destroyed a Rumpler reconnaissance aircraft over Pravisdomini, killing an Austro-Hungarian pilot named Shneeberger. Six days later, he set another reconnaissance aircraft on fire, killing the crew of Poelzi and Suski.[11] His third victory would not come until 2 May, when he wounded Leutnant K. Kosiuski and drove him into a crash landing that destroyed his Albatros D.V. Two days later, Birks shot down and killed ace Oberleutnant Karl Patzelt, as well as F. Frisch. In addition to killing both Austro-Hungarian pilots, he destroyed both their Albatros D.Vs; they were credited as "captured" because they fell within Italian lines.[11] The new ace shot down another D.V in flames a week later, on 11 May. He destroyed two Berg fighters in five minutes on a morning patrol on 19 May. The following day, he destroyed another. On 24 May, while flying with Barker, Birks was credited with shooting down Hungarian ace József Kiss of Flik 55J; Birks thus became a double ace.[11] On 9 June Birks set another Albatros D.V on fire in mid-air. On the 21st, he capped his list of triumphs by destroying another D.V over Motta. Most unusually for a British pilot, he had no "soft" victories, such as "driven down out of control".[11]

Birks left No. 66 Squadron on 1 July 1918, returning to the Home Establishment to serve as an instructor at the School of Aerial Fighting and Gunnery from September.[10] He was awarded the Military Cross and a bar in lieu of a second award; both were gazetted on 16 September 1918.[2] His citations read:

Military Cross
Lieutenant Gerald Alfred Burks, RAF.
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in destroying six enemy aeroplanes, two of which fell on our side of the lines."[12]
Bar to Military Cross
Lieutenant Gerald Alfred Birks, MC, RAF.
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in destroying four enemy aeroplanes, two of which were destroyed in one fight."[13]

Birks was transferred to the RAF's unemployed list on 13 March 1919.[14]

List of aerial victories[edit]

Combat record[2][11]
No. Date/Time Aircraft/
Serial No.
Opponent Result Location Notes
1 18 March 1918
@ 0825
Sopwith Camel
Rumpler C Destroyed Pravisdomini Pilot: Shneeberger (KIA)
2 24 March 1918
@ 1145
Sopwith Camel
C Destroyed in flames South-east of Conegliano Crew: Poelzi (KIA) and Suski (KIA)
3 2 May 1918
@ 1145
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Destroyed Levico Pilot: Leutnant K. Kosiuski (WIA)
4 4 May 1918
@ 0945–0950
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Captured Vidor Pilot: F. Frisch (KIA)
5 Albatros D.V Captured Pilot: Oberleutnant Karl Patzelt (KIA)
6 11 May 1918
@ 1645
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Destroyed in flames Torre di Mosto
7 19 May 1918
@ 0735–0740
Sopwith Camel
Berg D Destroyed Borgo
8 Berg D Destroyed
9 20 May 1918
@ 1200
Sopwith Camel
Berg D Destroyed Valdobbiadene
10 24 May 1918
@ 1045
Sopwith Camel
Berg D Destroyed Lamon Pilot: József Kiss (KIA)
11 9 June 1918
@ 1020
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Destroyed in flames Levico
12 21 June 1918
@ 0910
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Destroyed Motta

Postwar career[edit]

After the war, Birks rejoined the family jewelry business, and on 21 August 1924, he married Margaret Ryrie of Toronto.[5] Birks became a patron of the arts, and was an active painter until his death[2] in Toronto on 26 May 1991.[5]


  1. ^ Canadian airmen were required to complete an Attestation Paper in which they declared an oath of allegiance to King George V and agreed to serve in any arm of the service for the duration of the war between Great Britain and Germany.[1]


  1. ^ "Attestation". The Aerodrome. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Gerald Birks". The Aerodrome. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  3. ^ Villeneuve, René (2005). "Birks, Henry". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. 15. University of Toronto/Université Laval.
  4. ^ Bélanger, Claude (2004). "William Massey Birks". L'Encyclopédie de l'histoire du Québec/The Quebec History Encyclopedia. Marianopolis College. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Goldsborough, Gordon (1 December 2013). "Memorable Manitobans: Gerald Alfred Birks (1894-1991)". Manitoba Historical Society. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  6. ^ a b "Gerald Alfred Birks attestation". The Aerodrome. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  7. ^ Leroux, Marc (16 July 2010). "Nominal Roll: 73rd Canadian Infantry Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, C.E.F." Canadian Great War Project. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Halliday, H. A. (1997). "First World War Honours and Awards to Canadians in British Flying Services". Royal Canadian Air Force Association. Archived from the original on 5 May 2016. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  9. ^ "No. 30357". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 October 1917. p. 11130.
  10. ^ a b c d Grech, John (2006). "Birks, Gerald Alfred,". 66 Squadron, RFC & RAF, 1916 to 1919. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  11. ^ a b c d e Shores, Franks & Guest (1990), p. 76.
  12. ^ "No. 30901". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 September 1918. p. 10922.
  13. ^ "No. 30901". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 September 1918. p. 10881.
  14. ^ "No. 31857". The London Gazette. 9 April 1920. p. 4239.
  • Shores, Christopher F.; Franks, Norman & Guest, Russell F. (1990). Above the Trenches: a Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915–1920. London, UK: Grub Street. ISBN 978-0-948817-19-9.