RAF Sergeant Alexander Stewart Allan, 406711, Medaille Militaire, died of wounds on 27 August 1918. Alexander was the son of Andrew Allan and Jemima Stewart, 1, South Muirton Cottages, Perth.
Alexander was born on 27 March 1894 at 6 Mill Close, Perth (Mill Close was at 281 High Street). The Census of 1911 shows the family (9 children) living in Tibbermore with Alexander recorded at 17 years old as an Apprentice Clerk.
On 14 December 1917, Alexander was serving in France with the Royal Flying Corps, 55 Squadron. On 13 January 1918 he qualified as an Aerial Gunner and was promoted on 7 February 1918 to Sergeant. On 1 April 1918, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed with the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and Alexander transferred over as a Sergeant Mechanic.
Gazzetted on 16 July 1918, RAF Sergeant Alexander Stewart Allan was awarded the French Medaille Militaire. The Médaille Militaire is a military decoration of the French Republic for other ranks for meritorious service and acts of bravery in action against an enemy force. It is the third highest award of the French Republic. It is possible that this medal was awarded for his action during a raid on Mannheim, 24 March 1918. Sergeant Allan and his pilot, 2nd Lieutenant William Legge, were credited with an Albatros Scout Aircraft out of control.
On 24 August 1918, Sergeant Alexander Allan was the Observer in Airco DH.4 (The Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited), B3967 flying from Azelot in France when he was wounded by machine gun fire on a bombing raid over Luxembourg. The name of the pilot is unknown or whether it was from an enemy aircraft or ground fire. The original target for the raid was Köln, but over Trèves (Trier) strong winds meant they would not reach their allotted targets and the flight leader decided to bomb Luxembourg instead.
Sergeant Alexander Stewart Allan, age 24 years, succumbed to his wounds and passed away 3 days later, 27 August 1918 and is laid to rest in Charmes Military Cemetery, Essegney, Vosges, France (44 km south of Nancy.)
The Airco DH.4 was nicknamed ‘The Flaming Coffin’ due to aircraft’s propensity to catch fire. The main fuel tank was situated between the pilot and the observer. Despite this, the DH.4 was highly advanced for its time.
William Earl Johns (who wrote as Captain WE Johns) was a DH.4 pilot with RAF 55 Squadron in 1918. Johns created a fictional character named Biggles. His stories were in the 1950s and 60s very popular. Surprisingly, the very first Biggles stories were not intended for children, but for an adult readership.
Second Lieutenant W. E. Johns was shot down on the 16th May but survived. A pre-war Territorial in the Norfolk Yeomanry, William Johns was, in 1915, posted to Gallipoli, and sailed on HMT Olympic (a sister ship to the Titanic). The regiment landed at ANZAC cove on 10 October 1915. After contracting malaria, Johns applied to join the Royal Flying Corps and was accepted, gaining a temporary commission in September 1917.
Johns gave his opinion of the Airco DH.4:
“At the time of its introduction, no faster machine flew in France, and it was not until 1918 that the enemy produced fighters which surpassed it in speed and climb… It was one of the few [bombers] that dared operate on long distance shows without an escort, and its manoeuvrability was on a par with many single seat fighters of the period.” – ‘The Day’s Work’, Wings: A Book of Flying Adventures, 1931 (By Jove, Biggles, page 53)
Johns described his first reaction to aerial warfare:
“The first dog fight I was ever in…we were sailing along all merry and bright, and the next minute the air was full of machines, darting all over the place…I looked around nervously at my gunner but he was an old hand and merely gave me a pitying glance…Then he sent a stream of tracers in the direction of the rapidly approaching scouts to let them know he was ready for them… I didn’t see where they came from or where they went. I didn’t see where my formation went either. By the time I had grasped the fact that the fight had started and was looking to see who the dickens was perforating my plane, the show was all over. Two machines lay smoking on the ground and everybody else had disappeared. Whilst I was considering what the dickens I should do I suddenly discovered that I was flying back in formation again! The fellows had come back to me pick me up and formed up around me…The leader gave the signal for the bombs to be dropped, and we turned for home. I knew I should get it in the neck when we got back for behaving so foolishly – and I did.” – Passage combined from pieces in The Modern Boy, 5 December 1931 and ‘Adventures in the Air’ The Modern Boy’s Annual 1934 (By Jove, Biggles, page 55)
The three RAF Squadrons at Azelot, France, 55, 99 and 104, were part of Major General Hugh Trenchard’s Independent Force. The Independent Force of the RAF was an early attempt at a strategic bombing campaign. The force was made up of both day and night bombing squadrons and was based in the Metz-Nancy region, well to the south of the British sector of the Western Front. Its main targets were strategically important railway and industrial centres on the Rhine between Strasbourg in the south and Koblenz in the north. Attacks were made on the German cities of Frankfurt, Mannheim, Cologne, Coblenz, Duren and Mainz. These bombing raids were highly dangerous and subject to constant attack by the German air force.
Blacklunans, Blairgowrie born 2nd Lieutenant Alexander McKenzie was also an observer in RAF 55 Squadron. McKenzie also flew and was killed alongside Lieutenant William Legge. –
Second Lieutenant Alexander McKenzie – Made in Perth ~ Official Website ~ SC044155
Perth born Group Captain Robert Halley DFC & 2 Bars, AFC was a member of Royal Naval Service 16 Squadron which operated out of Autreville, 35 km to the west of Azelot, during that summer of 1918. Flying Handley Page 0/100 and 0/400 aircraft, they carried about five times the bomb load of the Airco DH.4, although at a slower speed and lower altitude. – http://madeinperth.org/flyers-from-perthshire-in-the-second-world-war-group-captain-robert-halley-dfc-2-bars-afc/