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Dudley Granville Brown World War One fighter pilot

Dudley Granville Brown was a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot who died in December 1918 when his plane crashed. Unlike most casualties of war, he is honoured in the Ladywell section of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries with a grand civil memorial. 

Dudley Granville Brown World War One fighter pilot (photo courtesy of Findagrave)

Dudley Granville Brown was born on 2 July 1899 in Norwood, South East London, the only son of  Cecil Reyner William Brown (1874-1928) and his wide Emily (nee Dye 1874-1930). The couple also had three daughters Joyce (older than Dudley), Ilene and Cecily Millicent (younger sisters). Cecil was a clerk in the hydrographic department at the Admiralty, as was his father James Joseph Brown, before him. He married Emily in 1897 and he was also declared bankrupt the same year. Despite this, he continued to work at the Admiralty. 

In 1901, the family lived at 26 Clifton Road, Croydon. By 1903 the family had moved to 159 Wellmeadow Road, Catford where Cecily was born, and by 1914 the family were living in Granville House, 56 Lewisham Park, Lewisham.

After leaving school, Dudley became a bank clerk. He enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) on 8 August 1917 as an Air Mechanic D.G. Brown 3rd class. 

Initially the RFC only accepted men who were already qualified pilots as flying officers. This limited the intake to well-off individuals, often aristocrats. But this changed due to the increased demand for pilots as the air war developed and the pilot’s role changed from reconnaissance to an offensive one. As a result, army officers were sometimes trained for the role and air mechanics like D.G. Brown also had opportunities to become pilots. 

Air Mechanics usually maintained their aircraft, so men with technical skills were often recruited to this role. However, they were not only ground crew. Some of them volunteered to act as air crew which meant they flew in the planes, usually as a gunner. Part of the appeal of flying was that they would receive “Flying Pay” on the days they flew. (The pay for ranks was much lower than for officers). But doubtless the prestige and let it be said, the glamour, of being a pilot was also attractive to many.

He became a flying officer, 2nd Lieutenant, on 12 December 1917.  He flew a Sopwith Camel-a single seat biplane fighter aircraft- introduced on the Western Front in 1917. On 30th March 1918 he was wounded in combat (wrist injury) while flying in France. This incident is mentioned in passing by Guy Mainwaring Knocker in his diary, subsequently published as The Diaries and letters of a World War One fighter pilot in 2008 by his grandson Guy Burgess. Knocker flew with No 65(Fighter) Squadron, so it seems that D.G. Brown was also in 65 Squadron. 

Dudley Granville flew a Sopwith Camel-a single seat biplane

The squadron had been formed in June 1916 as a fighter squadron, and was sent to France in March 1917 where the pilots were involved in the Battles of Arras. By the time D.G. Brown was wounded, the squadron was involved in the Third Battle of Arras trying to hold back the German army’s first major offensive, Operation Michael, for two years. 

By December 1918, he was back in England at Feltwell Norfolk, which holds an R.A.F. base 10 miles west of Thetford. On 20 December, Dudley was killed in a mid-air collision with another machine during fighting practice near Hethwold. He lost control of the aircraft and it dived into the ground. He was just 19 years old. His instructor Captain Philip Everard Graham March M.C. was also killed. He was 23 years old. Air Mechanic 1st class Alfred Charles Sellwood was also killed with Captain Marsh. 

Dudley Granville Brown was buried in Ladywell cemetery and both his parents were later buried with him. 

A few months later, Captain Marsh’s daughter was born. 

{FoBLC thanks Julie Robinson for this article]