bell-davies_largeFlight Lieutenant Richard Bell-Davies was a pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service. He was flying an early single seat biplane during a bombing raid on a Bulgarian railway station in 1915 when fellow pilot Flight Sub-Lieutenant G.F. Smylie was shot down. With Bulgarian troops moving in to capture Smylie, Bell-Davies landed and picked the beleaguered pilot up. Smylie squeezed into the fuselage between the engine and the cockpit and the heavily laden aircraft took off again just as the Bulgarians opened fire in what was the first rescue of a downed pilot behind enemy lines. For this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Earlier in the same year Richard Bell-Davies had been awarded the DSO for’ heroism after making repeated strikes against submarines in Zeebrugge. Mentioned in Dispatches after the Gallipoli Campaign and awarded the AFC and the Croix de Guerre with Palm, his WW1 service embodied the courage, commitment and determination of the Royal Naval Air Service, blended with selfless loyalty for his fellow naval aviators. From 1917 Bell-Davies was involved in the development of aircraft carriers and in 1918 he carried out the first true aircraft carrier landing.

Known for his pioneering spirit, Bell-Davies was innovative and always experimenting, flying his planes with various home-made improvisations, from using Sandow elastic to fix a wing, periscopes for navigation or a length of wool for checking wind direction.

Bell Davies went on to become a Vice Admiral and in the interwar years continued to guide the development of naval flying. During World War II he was Captain of the escort carrier HMS Dasher and the trials carrier HMS Pretoria Castle.