|Sqn. Ldr. A. Rowe Spurling, DFC.|
| A. Rowe Spurling of Pembroke left Bermuda in May, 1915, in the ranks of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps’ detached First Contingent, which had been raised the previous winter as a draft for the Western Front. The Contingent joined the 1 Battalion, the
Lincolnshire Regiment in France in June. Although a shipboard accident saw him incapacitated for six weeks after arriving in Portsmouth, he soon re-joined the rest of the Company and fought as a Bomber, for eleven months in the trenches of the Western Front, being thrice wounded.
The First Contingent of the BVRC was originally composed of one officer, Captain (later Colonel) R. J. Tucker, and 89 other ranks. It had been intended that it should join the 2 Lincolns which had been on Garrison in Bermuda at the onset of the war in August, 1914 -and whose Commanding Officer, HE Lieut.-Col. Geo. B. McAndrew was acting Governor at the time in the absence of the Governor, HE Lt. Gen. Sir Geo. Bullock (Bullock, in fact, due to a shortage of officers, had served as Adjutant to the First Contingent while they trained in Bermuda). In fact, the 2 Lincolns had already been sent to the Front when the Contingent arrived at the Regimental Depot in
Grimsby, in June. The Regimental HQ at first desired to break the Contingent up, rebadge its men as Lincolns and post them as replacements throughout the Regiment. Captain Tucker, however, was in possession of a War Office letter instructing that the unit
should remain intact and maintain their BVRC badging and identity. Consequently, they were posted to the ORBAT of 1 Lincolns as an extra rifle company. In the course of the ensuing year in the trenches, the Contingent suffered heavily in casualties. The Contingent ceased to be viable as a rifle company, after the Battle of Morval, 25th-28th September, 1916, where it lost 50% of its strength. Subsequently, it was amalgamated with a Second Contingent of one officer and 35 men, trained and equipped as (Vickers heavy) machine gunners, which had fortuitously arrived. Still badged as BVRC, the lot were re-trained as Lewis (light machine) gunners, and provided 12 gun teams to 1 Lincolns HQ.
Many of the BVRCenlisted men were by then starting to transfer to other units. This most commonly occurred when individuals were offered commissions. On accepting a commission, new officers had the opportunity to choose their Regiment or Corps. As
there was simply no need for further officers within the small (and diminishing* ), body of the BVRC Contingents, those who accepted commissions men were obliged to select another Regiment. Some, like A. L. Cooper and R. C. Earl, chose to remain within the Lincolnshire Regiment; others transferred to new Regiments. Ultimately, 16 men would be commissioned from the ranks of the two Contingents. Among the various units that benefitted was the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), which received three officers and a
sergeant from the BVRC Contingents (2 Lieutenants A. Rowe Spurling, Stanley Stone and H. Joe Watlington, and Sergeant C. H. Young). At least one other member of the BVRC found his way into the RFC, Major C. Montgomery-Moore, DFC, who took leave while serving in the BVRC in Bermuda and made his way to Canada where he took a commission into the RFC.
Altogether, at least 20 Bermudians served in the RFC, it’s naval equivalent, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), or the independent air service, the Royal Air Force (RAF), that was formed by amalgamating those military and naval air arms in 1918.
In April, 1917, Rowe Spurling returned to Bermuda on a monthe’s Home Leave**, which he spent with his mother and sisters in Pembroke. On his return to England he began training as a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps, into which he was commissioned as a 2
Lieutenant. He was promoted to 1 Lieutenant the following April, and was posted back to the Front, joining a combat squadron on the 20th July, 1918. He soon found himself in action. The book “Above the Trenches”*** records Spurling on the strength of 49 Squadron, a bomber unit which was formed at Dover, Kent, on 15th April 1916, and had deployed to France in November, 1917. It also indicates he was a “bomber/corps pilot”, which latter distinction may account for his flying fighter aeroplanes (‘scouts’ in the British parlance of the day), as he certainly could not have been flying one of the DH4 light bombers with which 49 Squadron was equipped on the occasion, which could not have been long after his arrival at the Front, upon which he launched himself into a single-handed attack upon 30 German fighter aeroplanes. He gained the five victories needed to make himself an ‘ace’, sending three of the German fighters down in flames, and to others crashing to earth. For this feat, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
This award was indicative of the monumental change in British martial aviation that had just overtaken the RFC. Due to the competetive relationship which had evolved between the Army’s RFC and the Navy’s RNAS, together with organisational and material problems resulting from duplication of efforts, the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, commissioned an independent review which resulted in the rcommendation that the two air arms be amalgamated into a single air service, independent of both the naval and the military services. By act of Parliament, the Royal Air Force was thus created , tended by its own ministry, on the 1st April, 1918.
The RAF maintained the Squadron structure and squadron numbering it had inheritted from the RFC, and the RAF ranks would remain the same as the military for some time thereafter -hence, Spurling was still a Second Lieutenant: After the War, the RAF would
remodel its Commissioned ranks on the naval system, with bars on the cuffs indicating Pilot Officers, Group Captains, Wing Commanders, and Air Commodores (the enlisted ranks still follow the military model, with Corporals and Sergeants). A more immediate change, however, was the RAF awarding its own medal, the DFC, in place of the Army’s Military Cross (MC) and the Royal Navy’s Distinguished Service Cross.
The War would last another six months, with the Amistice of 11th November, 1918 bringing the fighting to a halt for twenty-one years. By the War’s end, Spurling had achieved six aerial victories, though whether the sixth ‘kill’ had been made before, or after the action which had earned him the DFC is not clear (to this writer).
The War would not end Spurlings RAF career as he would eventually reach the rank of Squadron Leader (equivalent to an Army Major or a Naval Commander), but whether this was a rank reached after unbroken service, or after returning to the RAF during the
Second World War is similarly a mystery to this scribe.
Certainly, many islanders who fought in or over the trenches of the Great War were quite youthful at the time, and many continued to serve in local territorial units up to, and even through the Second World War.****