HISTORIC HAWKE’S BAY
Airman lived to tell Red Baron tale
Royal Flying Corps Flight Lieutenant, Michael Scott Campbell Gordon was born in 1898 at Taurapa Station, Ocean Beach, Hawke’s Bay.
In early childhood, Michael was educated at Huntly School in Marton. He then went on to Wanganui Collegiate for secondary schooling.
On leaving school, he went to Wigram, Canterbury, to train as a pilot. He was given a permit to leave New Zealand on November 13, 1916, on the SS Remuera for Britain.
On arriving as a cadet pilot in Britain on June 23, 1917, training under Captain Blackwood began with various instructions on air duelling and landings.
Other instructions were delivered by Lieutenants Coulter and McKenzie, from No 10 training squadron, the Royal Flying Corps.
“It started to get too hot, for I had some six Spandau guns cracking at me from above….came home at 120mph, stunting like a madman and hopping trees.”
Michael Gordon, WWI pilot
After training was completed, Michael was posted to No 70 squadron in Ypres, flying Sopwith Camels, Vickers Scouts and others.
What with flying in combat, bombing enemy trenches, photographing bombings from enemy attack, not to mention a lot of dogfights, Michael was lucky to come out alive.
His near-miss was a shot from behind that hit the plane’s windscreen. This, he believed, was from the Red Baron himself.
An extract from Michael’s operational diary on October 25 states: “The Huns very active tonight, expect they will be over again soon.
There is to be another push tomorrow, I suspect that there will be a few missing in the squadron as we are on a job early tomorrow; I hope we all get back all right. The guns are fairly active tonight, but not as active as I expected. Our one aim is the ridge, we are fighting both the Hun and the weather now.”
On Tuesday, January 29, in a fierce air battle, three enemy planes were shot down, and all Allied aircraft came home. For Michael’s bravery, he was mentioned in dispatches in the London Gazette. An extract from his operational diary describes the battle:
“Three of us went out to escort RE8s which were on photography…
“I noticed the last one was lagging a little. I turned round and saw a Hun diving on the rear RE. The three of us fairly whizzed round, expecting to see a few more; I stalled and saw five more F.E.A. above. My leader in L took the first and started off, another dived on him. This one I attacked, but not before he had shot L up pretty badly.
“He was a good shot for L had (one) through the main tank, the bullet finishing in the pilot’s flying coat. By this time we were all out to kill… I was going to win my scrap at any price… We went on from 8000 feet down to 500 feet, by which time I was 10 miles over the lines. All of a sudden my left gun stopped – no ammunition left, 300 rounds having been fired.
“The right one suddenly went too… It started to get too hot, for I had some six Spandau guns cracking at me from above. I stunted down to 20 feet and came home at 120mph, stunting like a madman and hopping trees… and every few seconds looked round to see an old Alberli coming at me. Off I would slip and put his aim out.”
After returning from the war, Michael joined the Waimarama Home Guard and he was appointed the commanding officer of No 11 Squadron, which was the Hastings Air Training Corps, during World War II.
Michael continued to reside on Taurapa Station’s homestead until he passed away in 1964.
Memorabilia, including the bullet-damaged windscreen, can be viewed at the Havelock North Public Library until the end of August.
Information supplied by Michael Gordon (son).
As this year marks 100 years since the beginning of WWI, we would like to give our readers the opportunity to share stories of their local relatives’ experiences during that war. If you would like to share a story of no more than 600 words, please email it to bonnie.mcleod[@]hbtoday.co.nz with a photograph relating to your story.
Photo caption – FEET ON GROUND; Flight Lieutenant Michael Scott Campbell Gordon, for once not airborne. He is pictured probably while stationed in Ypres.