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RAF Holders of the Victoria Cross and the RAF VC10s

During its service with 10 Squadron, and after 2005 with 101 Squadron, several VC10s have been named in honour of RAF and RFC Victoria Cross recipients. This is the story of this connection.

A Victoria Cross medal. These medals were originally made from Russian cannons captured at the siege of Sebastopol, although recent studies show that the medals were made using metal from Chinese cannons which were captured from the Russians in 1855.
Photo J. Hieminga

The back of each Victoria Cross is unique, having been engraved with the details of the recipient and the date of the act for which the decoration was awarded.
Photo J. Hieminga

Naming the VC10s

The decision to name the fourteen RAF VC10s started with the first CO of the VC10 era, Wg Cdr Mike Beavis. He proposed around 1967 that the aircraft, with its VC10 designation, would be most suited for commemorating Victoria Cross recipients. This idea was approved but it also created a bit of a headache as there were then 51 VCs which had been won by airmen, and only fourteen VC10s. To achieve a drastic reduction in this list the decision was made to restrict it to recipients from the UK who had lost their lives on flying operations during RAF or RFC service. This whittled the list down to 21 names, still too large for the number of VC10s which had been ordered.

There were seven recipients from WW I and fourteen from WW II. In this second group a large proportion (eight recipients) gained their awards in Bomber Command. To further reduce the list the decision was made to choose the first recipient from Bomber Command, Guy Gibson, and have this recipient represent Bomber Command on the fourteen aircraft. This step eliminated several worthy candidates from the list, including Plt Off C.J. Barton who won his award flying a Halifax on 578 Squadron, then part of 4 Group together with 10 Squadron. The problem is of course that a courageous act is connected to each VC that has ever been awarded and with only a limited number of VC10s, choices had to be made.

The end result was a list of fifteen VCs, two of which were combined, which were then distributed across the 10 Squadron fleet of VC10s.

Aircraft Serial Number Name of VC Holder
XR806 George Thompson VC
XR807 Donald Garland VC and Thomas Gray VC
XR808 Kenneth Campbell VC
XR809 Hugh Malcolm VC
XR810 David Lord VC
XV101 Lanoe Hawker VC
XV102 Guy Gibson VC
XV103 Edward Mannock VC
XV104 James McCudden VC
XV105 Albert Ball VC
XV106 Thomas Mottershead VC
XV107 James Nicolson VC
XV108 William Rhodes-Moorhouse VC
XV109 Arthur Scarf VC

The Naming Ceremony

At the naming ceremony the scroll on XR810 was unveiled in front of a large audience.
Photo Crown Copyright / 10 Squadron Association

On 11 November 1968 a ceremony was organised at RAF Brize Norton to name the VC10s. XR810 was the airframe chosen to attend the occasion and this VC10 was named by the brother of David Lord VC. Relatives of ten of the fifteen VC holders were present including the son of Thomas Mottershead. After this ceremony the scrolls were also applied to the other thirteen VC10s in the squadron. The fact that fifteen names were chosen to name fourteen VC10s can be explained by XR807's scroll with two names on it: Donald Garland VC and Thomas Gray VC. They were part of the same crew and received the VC for their courageous lead during an attack on a bridge over the Albert Canal from which they did not return.

Initially the scrolls were hand painted onto the airframes but in later years these were replaced with transfers. The original hand painted versions looked like they had been done by a sign-writer (see William Rhodes-Moorhouse VC for an example) but in later years, it looks like different masks were used over the years to create the lettering. You can discern two different styles on the first two photos of James McCudden VC's scroll. Once the VC10s were in the grey colourscheme, the scrolls were applied using vinyl transfers.

The extra scroll, and the extra named VC10

Although the original VC10s carried the names of fifteen VC recipients, there was one name which was added at a later stage: K4 ZD241 received a scroll for Leonard Cheshire VC. It is not known when this was done but this makes ex-G-ASGM the only non-10 Squadron VC10 to be named for a VC recipient.

On 10th July 1999 Lt Dougie Anderson, the last surviving WWI 101 Squadron member passed away, aged 99. On 29th September 1918 the Squadron carried out an attack on a railway junction and station at Busigny, France. When the bombs would not release, Lt Anderson crawled out onto the bottom wing and released the bombs by hand. For this courageous act of wing-walking, the GOC congratulated Lt Anderson. After his passing, K3 ZA149 was named in his honour, but it is not known how long this name stayed on the airframe.

Retirement and moving the scrolls around

This overwing escape hatch from a VC10 carries the scrolls for Leonard Cheshire VC and David Lord VC.
Photo G. Bishop

When the first aircraft left squadron service, not much thought was given to the VC scroll. XR809 continued to fly with the scroll during its service for Rolls Royce and after it was retired the piece of fuselage with the scroll was removed, it is currently in storage with the RAF Museum. When the VC10s were removed from service in larger numbers a plan was constructed to move the scrolls from aircraft about to be retired and place them on active VC10s. Because of this the previously unnamed K3s and single K4 started carrying VC scrolls as well, culminating in a total of five scrolls on ZA147 just prior to the last flight.

During this move of the various scrolls, the scroll for XR809 was remembered and during its final year and a half of service sistership XR808 once again carried the scroll commemorating Hugh Malcom VC.

The plan called for the scrolls to be removed prior to the VC10 being retired and because of this no VC10 arrived at a museum or scrapyard with a VC scroll in place. Some of the preserved airframes have since had the scrolls applied again so that the VC10s once again commemorate the RAF Servicemen who displayed valour in the face of the enemy.

Two scrolls have also been applied to a VC10 over wing escape hatch which has been signed by the attendees at a commemorative dinner which was held on board XR808 to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the Royal Air Force. This escape hatch may be at Abbeywood but I have not been able to confirm this yet. Another memorial to the various VC recipients is VC10 K3 ZA148 at Newquay, since its retirement all the sixteen names that flew on VC10s have been applied to the lower fuselage area of this airframe, stretching along both sides of the nose. In 2020 the decision was taken to preserve the transfers and these were carefully removed from the fuselage sides. ZA148 will continue to wear the scrolls that flew on this airframe during the last months of its service.

The citations for the VC recipients are listed alphabetically below. The various tables show the airframes that carried the VC scrolls and the (approximate) dates when the scrolls were applied. Any corrections and additions are welcome.

Captain Albert Ball VC, DSO, MC, Royal Flying Corps

The Victoria Cross was awarded to Captain Ball for the most conspicuous and consistent bravery from 25 April-6 May 1917.  During this period he took part in 26 combats in the air and destroyed 11 hostile aircraft, drove down 2 out of control and forced several others to land.  On several occasions his own aircraft was badly damaged, once so seriously that but for the most delicate handling, the machine would have collapsed, as nearly all the control wires had been shot away.  On returning with a damaged aircraft, he had always to be restrained from immediately returning to battle in another.  Captain Ball destroyed a total of 43 German aircraft and one balloon and consistently displayed the most exceptional courage, skill and determination.

These artefacts, a mirror from Cpt. Ball's Nieuport and a pair of puttees said to have been worn by him, are on display with the Shuttleworth Collection on Old Warden airfield.
Photo J. Hieminga

There is also an information board about this aviator.
Photo J. Hieminga

The scroll for Albert Ball VC was flown on ZA147 during the last months of its service.
Photo J. Hieminga

This VC medal is held by the Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham.

Original named VC10 Transferred to
XV105, November 1968 ZA147, December 2011?

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Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell VC, Royal Air Force

Flying Officer Campbell was the Pilot of a Beaufort detailed to attack an enemy battle cruiser in Brest Harbour at first light on the morning of 6 April 1941.  The aircraft did not return but it is now known that during the mission Campbell carried out a torpedo attack with the utmost daring.  The battle cruiser was in a heavily defended harbour backed by high sloping ground so that even if the aircraft managed to penetrate the defences, it would be almost impossible, after delivering a low-level attack, to avoid crashing into the rising ground beyond.  In spite of the odds against success, Flying Officer Campbell went cheerfully and resolutely about his task, running the gauntlet of the defences. Approaching his target almost at sea level, he passed anti-aircraft ships below mast height and skimmed over the harbour mole to launch his torpedo at point blank range.  The battle cruiser was severely damaged below the water line and as a result, had to return to the dock which she had left only the previous day.

This VC medal is held by 22nd Squadron, Royal Air Force.

VC10 C1(K) XR808 is on display at the RAF Museum's Midlands site, but the scroll with the name has not been reapplied as far as I know.

Original named VC10
XR808, November 1968

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Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire VC, OM, DSO and Two Bars, DFC, Royal Air Force

The citation for Wg Cdr Cheshire noted: "In four years of fighting against the bitterest opposition he maintained a standard of outstanding personal achievement, his successful operations being the result of careful planning, brilliant execution and supreme contempt for danger – for example, on one occasion he flew his P-51 Mustang in slow 'figures of eight' above a target obscured by low cloud, to act as a bomb-aiming mark for his squadron. Cheshire displayed the courage and determination of an exceptional leader."

To read the full citation as published in the London Gazette of 5th September 1944 click the link below:

London Gazette supplement, September 1944

Although it also carried two other scrolls during the last months of its service, in retirement ZD241 again carried the single scroll for Leonard Cheshire VC, which was only ever flown on this airframe.
Photo J. Hieminga

This pencil portrait of Leonard Cheshire is on display at the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington.
Photo J. Hieminga

Leonard Cheshire's medal group is on display at the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
Photo J. Hieminga

This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

Original named VC10 Transferred to
ZD241 Escape hatch, March/April 2013

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Flying Officer Donald Garland VC and Sergeant Thomas Gray VC, Royal Air Force

Flying Officer Garland was the Pilot and Sergeant Gray was the Observer of the leading aircraft of a formation of 5 aircraft that attacked a bridge over the Albert Canal which had not been destroyed and was allowing the enemy to advance into Belgium. All the aircrews of the Squadron concerned volunteered for the operation and, after 5 crews had been selected by drawing lots, the attack was delivered at low altitude against this vital target. Orders were issued that this bridge was to be destroyed at all costs. As had been expected, exceptionally intense machine gun and anti aircraft fire were encountered. Moreover, the bridge area was heavily protected by enemy fighters. In spite of this, the formation successfully delivered a dive bombing attack from the lowest practicable altitude. British fighters in the vicinity reported that the target was obscured by the bombs bursting on it and near it. Only one of the 5 aircraft returned from this mission. The pilot of this aircraft report that besides being subject to extremely heavy anti-aircraft fire, through which they dived to attack the objective, our aircraft were also attacked by a large number of enemy fighters after they had released their bombs on the target. Much of the success of this vital operation must be attributed to the Formation Leader, Flying Officer Garland, and to the coolness and resource of Sergeant Gray, who in the most difficult conditions, navigated Flying Officer Garland’s aircraft in such a manner that the whole formation was able successfully to attack the target in spite of subsequent heavy losses. Flying Officer Garland and Sergeant Gray, along with their gunner/radio operator LAC Reynolds, did not return.

Having carried the then Prince of Wales, the crew poses with him in front of XR807.The photo also shows the early scroll with the two names on it.
Photo via R. Clarke

Having been removed prior to its retirement to Dunsfold, ZA150 once again carries the scrolls from XR807 and XV101.
Photo J. Hieminga

Donald Garland's VC is on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon, in the Bomber Command hall.
Photo J. Hieminga

The VC medal that was awarded to Donald Garland is on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon. Gray's VC is not publicly held.

Original named VC10 Transferred to
XR807, November 1968 ZA150, April 2010

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Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, DSO, and Bar, Royal Air Force

Wing Commander Gibson is best remembered for the raid on the Moehne and Eder Dams.  He personally made the initial attack on the Moehne Dam, descending to within a few feet of the water and taking the full brunt of the anti-aircraft defences.  After he had completed his attack he then circled very low for 30 minutes, drawing the enemy fire on himself, so that the following aircraft would have an easier run into the Dam.  When the attack on the Moehne was complete and the dam was breached, Wing Commander Gibson then led the remaining aircraft to the Eder Dam where once again, with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeated his tactics and once more drew on himself the enemy fire so that the attack could be successfully completed.  Wing Commander Gibson was eventually killed on 19 September 1944 whilst flying a Mosquito on a raid against Rheydt. He crashed in Holland on the flight home.

This photo shows the placement of the 10 Sqn crest and scroll with Guy Gibson's name on the forward fuselage of XV102, this scroll has since been transferred to ZA148.
Photo T. Bracey

A mainwheel from Guy Gibson's Mosquito is preserved at the RNethAF Historical Flight at Gilze-Rijen Airbase. This association looks after his grave.
Photo J. Hieminga

The Moehne dam seen from above in August 2013.
Photo J. Hieminga

This pencil portrait of Guy Gibson is on display at the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington.
Photo J. Hieminga

Along with some other VCs, Guy Gibson's medal group was on display in the Bomber Command hall at the RAF Museum, Hendon, in 2016. The VC medal may be a replica with the original safely stored.
Photo J. Hieminga

Guy Gibson's VC medal is on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon.

Original named VC10 Transferred to
XV102, November 1968 ZA148, December 2011?

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Major Lanoe Hawker VC, DSO, Royal Engineers and Royal Flying Corps

The award of the Victoria Cross was made to Major Lanoe Hawker for most conspicuous bravery and very great ability on 25 July 1915.  When flying alone he attacked 3 German aeroplanes in succession.  The first managed eventually to escape, the second was driven to the ground damaged, and the third, which he attacked at a height of about 10,000 feet, was driven to earth in British lines, the pilot and observer being killed.  The personal bravery shown by this officer was of the very highest order, as the enemy’s aircraft were armed with machine guns, and all carried a passenger as well as the pilot.

The original hand-painted scroll on XV106.
Photo collection J. Hieminga

The scroll for Lanoe Hawker VC is visible on XV101 during a 'Stork Special' flight from Akrotiri in August 1974.
Photo Crown Copyright / MOD photo

Having been removed prior to its retirement to Dunsfold, ZA150 once again carries the scrolls from XR807 and XV101.
Photo J. Hieminga

This VC is in the collection of the RAF Museum, Hendon, but I did not see it on my last visit in March 2016. If anyone has a photo I would appreciate a copy.

Original named VC10 Transferred to
XV101, November 1968 ZA150, December 2011?

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Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony Lord VC, DFC, Royal Air Force

Flight Lieutenant Lord was Pilot and Captain of a Dakota aircraft detailed to drop supplies to Arnhem on the afternoon of 19 September 1944. Our airborne troops had been surrounded and were being pressed into a small area defended by a large number of anti-aircraft guns. Aircrews were warned that intense opposition would be met over the dropping zone. To ensure accuracy they were ordered to fly at 900 feet when dropping their containers. While flying at 1,500 feet near Arnhem the starboard wing of Flight Lieutenant Lord’s aircraft was twice hit by anti-aircraft fire. The starboard engine was set on fire. He would have been justified in leaving the mainstream of supply aircraft and continuing at the same height or even abandoning his aircraft. On learning that his crew were uninjured and that the dropping zone would be reached in 3 minutes he said he would complete his mission, as the troops were in dire need of supplies. By now the starboard engine was burning furiously. Flight Lieutenant Lord came down to 900 feet, where he was singled out for the concentrated fire of all the anti-aircraft guns. On reaching the dropping zone he kept the aircraft on a straight and level course while supplies were dropped. He then rejoined the stream of aircraft and made a second run to drop the remaining supplies. These manoeuvres took 8 minutes in all, the aircraft being continually under heavy anti-aircraft fire. His task completed, Flight Lieutenant Lord ordered his crew to abandon the Dakota, making no attempt himself to leave the aircraft which was down to 500 feet. A few seconds later, the starboard wing collapsed and the aircraft fell in flames. There was only one survivor, who was flung out while assisting other members of the crew to put on their parachutes. By continuing his mission in a damaged and burning aircraft, descending to drop the supplies accurately, returning to the dropping zone a second time and finally remaining at the controls to give his crew a change of escape, Flight Lieutenant Lord displayed supreme valour and self sacrifice.

XR810 at the naming ceremony with the scroll revealed.
Photo Crown Copyright via G.R. Fraser

David Lord's VC is on display at the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
Photo J. Hieminga

David Lord's VC scroll as carried on XR810.
Photo via M. Little AutoAvia Photographic

David Lord's VC scroll seen on XR810 at RIAT 2005.
Photo copyright P.F. Thompson

There is a memorial for David Lord VC just outside Wolfheze, The Netherlands.
Photo J. Hieminga

The memorial commemorates the actions of David Lord on 19 September 1944.
Photo J. Hieminga

The stone memorial overlooks the dropping zone where Dakota KG374 dropped its supplies and where it fell.
Photo J. Hieminga

This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about David Lord VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

On 19th September 2019, the 75th anniversary of David Lord's heroic action, a memorial was unveiled near the village of Wolfheze.

Original named VC10 Transferred to Transferred to
XR810, November 1968 ZD241, 2010? Escape hatch, March/April 2013

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Wing Commander Hugh Malcolm VC, Royal Air Force

This officer commanded a squadron of light bombers in North Africa. Throughout his service in that theatre his leadership, skill and daring were of the highest order. On 17 November 1942, he was detailed to carry out a low-level formation attack on Bizerta airfield, taking advantage of cloud cover. Twenty miles from the target the sky became clear, but Wing Commander Malcolm carried on, knowing well the danger of proceeding without a fighter escort. Despite fierce opposition all bombs were dropped within the airfield perimeter. A Junkers 52 and a Messerschmidt 109 were shot down; many dispersed enemy aircraft were raked by machine-gun fire. Weather conditions became extremely unfavourable and as a result, 2 of his aircraft were lost by collision; another was forced down by enemy fighters. It was due to this officer's skilful and resolute leadership that the remaining aircraft returned safely to base. On 28 November 1942, he again led his squadron against Bizerta airfield which was bombed from a low altitude. The airfield on this occasion was heavily defended and intense and accurate anti aircraft fire was met. Nevertheless, after his squadron had released their bombs, Wing Commander Malcolm led them back again and again to attack the airfield with machine-gun fire. These were typical of every sortie undertaken by this gallant officer; each attack was pressed to an effective conclusion however difficult the task and however formidable the opposition. Finally, on 4 December 1942, Wing Commander Malcolm, having been detailed to give close support to the First Army received an urgent request to attack an enemy fighter airfield, near Clanigin. Wing Commander Malcolm knew that to attack such an objective without a fighter escort - which could not be arranged in the time available - would be to court almost certain disaster; but believing the attack to be necessary for the success of the Army's operations, his duty was clear. He decided to attack. He took off with his squadron and reached the target unmolested, but when he had successfully attacked it, his squadron was intercepted by an overwhelming force of enemy fighters. Wing Commander Malcolm fought back, controlling his hard-pressed squadron and attempting to maintain formation. One by one his aircraft were shot down until only his own aircraft remained. In the end he, too, was shot down in flames. Wing Commander Malcolm's last exploit was the finest example of the valour and unswerving devotion which he constantly displayed.

Personal Note: Hugh Malcolm was born at Dundee and in 1936 he became a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell. At the time of the gallant action which cost him his life, he was 25 years old and a Wing Commander in command of a bomber squadron. His was the first Air Force Victoria Cross to be won in North Africa and the famous Malcolm Clubs opened at many RAF stations are named after him.

The IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery pays tribute to Hugh Malcolm by displaying his medal group.
Photo J. Hieminga

This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about Hugh Malcolm VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

The fuselage panel carrying the scroll 'Hugh Malcolm VC' and the squadron crest was removed from the airframe and is in the RAF Museum's collection, but not on public display unfortunately.

Original named VC10 Transferred to
XR809, November 1968 XR808, December 2011?

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Major Edward 'Mick' Mannock VC, DSO and 2 Bars, MC and Bar, Royal Flying Corps

The award of the Victoria Cross was made in recognition of bravery of the first order in aerial combat.  On 17 June 1918, he attacked an Halberstadt machine near Armentieres and destroyed it from a height of 8,000 feet.  On 7 July 1918, near Doulieu, he attacked and destroyed one Fokker (red-bodied) machine, which went vertically into the ground from a height of 1,500 feet.  Shortly afterwards he descended to 1,000 feet and attacked another Fokker biplane, firing 60 rounds into it, which produced an immediate spin, resulting, it is believed, in a crash. On 14 July 1918, near Merville, he attacked and crashed a Fokker from 7,000 feet and brought an enemy 2-seater down damaged. On 19 July 1918, near Merville, he fired 80 rounds into an Albatross 2-seater, which went to the ground in flames.  On 20 July 1918, east of La Bassee, he attacked and crashed an enemy 2-seater from a height of 10,000 feet. About an hour afterwards he attacked at 8,000 feet a Fokker biplane near Steenwercke and drove it down out of control, emitting smoke.  On 22 July 1918, near Armentieres, he destroyed an enemy triplane from a height of 10,000 feet. This highly distinguished officer, during the whole of his career in the Royal Flying Corps was an outstanding example of fearless courage, remarkable skill, devotion to duty and self sacrifice, which has never been surpassed. The total number of machines definitely accounted for by Major Mannock up to the date of his death in France (26 July 1918) is 50.

Edward Mannock VC's scroll on XV103, seen here in June 1991.
Photo collection J. Hieminga via C. Knott

Edward Mannock VC was one of the five scrolls to fly on ZA147.
Photo J. Hieminga

Edward Mannock's VC is on display with his other medals at the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
Photo J. Hieminga

This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about Edward Mannock VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

There is a 2008 book about Edward Mannock's life, written by Norman Franks and Andy Saunders: Mannock: The Life and Death of Major Edward Mannock VC, DSO, MC, RAF.

Original named VC10 Transferred to Transferred to
XV103, November 1968 ZA149 ZA147, March 2013

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Major James McCudden VC, DSO, MC, MM, Royal Flying Corps

The award of the Victoria Cross to Major McCudden was for the most conspicuous bravery, exceptional perseverance, keenness and a very high devotion to duty.  At the time of the award Major McCudden had accounted for the destruction of 54 enemy aeroplanes.  Of this total, 42 had been definitely destroyed, 19 of them on the British side of the lines.  Only 12 of the 54 were driven down out of control.  The following examples are typical of Major McCudden’s efforts.  While leading a patrol on 23 December 1917 he attacked 8 enemy aircraft, personally shooting down 2 of them.  Earlier that day and while flying on his own, he had attacked 4 enemy aircraft, shooting down 2 of them and driving the others back across the enemy lines.  On 30 January 1918, and once again single handed he attacked 5 enemy aircraft, destroying 2 of them.  The final paragraph of the citation in the London Gazette stated:

  “This officer is considered, by the record which he has made by his fearlessness, and by the great service which he has rendered to his country, deserving the very highest award.”

Compare the scroll on this photo from 1984 to the next one, you can see that the style of the scrolls varied over the years.
Photo copyright P.F. Thompson

A moment of relaxation in Palermo in June 1988, and a great view of an early scroll on XV104.
Photo Bob Gould

This photo shows the original placement of the later type scroll on XV104.
Photo Crown Copyright

The Shuttleworth collection has this board about James McCudden, showing images of his aircraft and the presentation of his medals.
Photo J. Hieminga

A silk scarf worn by James McCudden VC is on display at the Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre.
Photo J. Hieminga

The scroll for James McCudden VC was carried by ZA147 for just six months.
Photo J. Hieminga

James McCudden's VC medal is held by the Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham.

Original named VC10 Transferred to Transferred to
XV104, November 1968 ZD241, July 2012 ZA147, March 2013

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Sergeant Thomas Mottershead VC, Royal Flying Corps

Sergeant Mottershead was awarded the Victoria Cross for the most conspicuous bravery, endurance and skill.  When attacked at an altitude of 9,000 feet, the petrol tank in his aircraft was pierced and the machine caught fire.  Enveloped in flames, which his observer was unable to control, Sergeant Mottershead succeeded in bringing his aeroplane back to British lines. Although he made a successful landing, the machine collapsed on touching the ground, pinning him beneath the wreckage from which he was subsequently rescued.  Although suffering the most extreme pain from his burns, Sergeant Mottershead showed exceptional presence of mind in the careful selection of a landing place and his endurance and fortitude undoubtedly saved the life of his observer.  Sergeant Mottershead eventually died as a result of his injuries.

An early scroll on XV106.
Photo collection J. Hieminga via C. Knott

The later scroll seen on XV106 at RAF Fairford in 2003.
Photo copyright P.F. Thompson

This photo of XR808, taken at the Waddington airshow 2013, shows that the scrolls from XR809 and XV106 have been added.
Photo T. Bracey

Thomas Mottershead in his RFC uniform, only a few weeks before his final flight.
Photo via C. Williams

Thomas Mottershead's medal group on display at the Imperial War Museum.
Photo J. Hieminga

This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about Thomas Mottershead VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

The Thomas Mottershead Statue Appeal Fund has put a lot of work into having this airman honoured by a statue in his home town, Widnes. Their website includes more information about Thomas Mottershead and the two observers who flew with him on the actions for which he was awarded a Victoria Cross and a Distinguished Conduct Medal: the SGT Thomas Mottershead VC DCM Statue Appeal.

The statue was unveiled on 1st April 2018, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Royal Air Force, click here for the news item.

Original named VC10 Transferred to
XV106, November 1968 XR808, November 2012

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Flight Lieutenant James Nicolson VC, Royal Air Force

Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was Fighter Command’s only VC in the Second World War.  His decoration was awarded after an engagement with the enemy near Southampton on 16 August 1940, when his aircraft was hit by 4 cannon shells, 2 of which wounded him while another set fire to the gravity tank.  When about to abandon his aircraft because of the flames in the cockpit, he sighted an enemy fighter.  This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying with his aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face and legs.

By 1943 he was flying again, converting 27 Squadron from the Beaufighter to the Mosquito FB.VI. Sadly, he was later killed when he flew as observer in a 27 Squadron aircraft while he was on a 'desk job'. The aircraft crashed into the Bay of Bengal on 2 May 1945.

Flt Lt. James Nicolson's medals are in the Battle of Britain hall at the RAF Museum, Hendon.
Photo J. Hieminga

His helmet, flight jacket and some other items of equipment are also on display.
Photo J. Hieminga

An early scroll on XV107 when it visited Christchurch on 13 January 1974.
Photo collection J. Hieminga via C. Knott

The scroll commemorating James Nicolson VC is seen here on XV107 during a visit to Finland.
Photo D. Sharp

A close up of the Nicolson scroll, as seen during a base visit in 2007.
Photo M. Taylor

The Nicolson trophy, commemorating J.B. Nicolson, was awarded to the team with the highest overall assessment on the FWI course at the No.228 (Phantom) OCU. It is now at the RAF Bentley Priory museum.
Photo J. Hieminga

If you visit the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon you can have a look at several items of equipment that Flt. Lt. James Nicolson used, as well as his medals. Apart from the Victoria Cross he was also awarded the DFC, 1939-1945 Star (with Battle of Britain clasp), Air Crew Europe Star, Burma Star, Defence Medal and 1939-1945 War Medal.

Original named VC10 Transferred to Transferred to
XV107, November 1968 ZA149, December 2011? ZA147, March 2013

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Second Lieutenant William Rhodes-Moorhouse VC, Royal Flying Corps

Second Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse was awarded the Victoria Cross for the most conspicuous bravery on 26 April 1915, while flying to Courtrai and dropping bombs on the railway line near the station. At the start of his return journey he was seriously wounded, but succeeded in flying 35 miles to his destination, at a very low altitude, and reporting the successful completion of his mission. Second Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse later died of his wounds.

William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse was one of four siblings from the marriage of Edward Moorhouse and Mary-Ann Rhodes, who became the richest woman in New Zealand when her father, a prominent Wellington settler, businessman and politician, passed away. The family moved to England and Rhodes-Moorhouse went to Harrow school before starting on private flying lessons which gained him a pilot's certificate in 1909. He was the first to cross the English Channel, from Douai to Ashford, Kent, with two passengers, his wife Linda Beatrice Morrit (who was also a flying enthusiast) and a London Evening News journalist. At the outbreak of war, Rhodes-Moorhouse enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps, and was posted to Farnborough as a second lieutenant. Wanting to fly operationally, he obtained a posting to No.2 Squadron on 20 March 1915, at Merville, flying the B.E.2. The flight that would cost him his life was just over a month later. His son, who was also named William (Willie) was less than a year old at the time of his father's passing. He went on to join No.601 Squadron RAF and was shot down and killed over Kent during the Battle of Britain in 1940, shortly after being awarded the DFC. His ashes were buried next to his father at the family home, Parnham House, Beaminster, Dorset.

There is an anecdote linked to William's son, Willie Rhodes-Moorhouse, that deserves retelling. No.601 County of London squadron, reputedly comprised almost entirely of millionaires, was facing a significant problem when petrol rationing was about to take effect in a few days. This was during the 'phoney war' in 1939 and most of its officers were using motorcycles to get around. A meeting was called and Willie Rhodes-Moorhouse was appointed 'petrol officer', relieved of all other duties, and sent out to stockpile petrol. The next morning he was back at the aerodrome.

'Well,' said Thynne. 'How much have you got?'

'Almost enough to last the war.'

'What you done?'

'I've bought a garage.'

The owner of the filling station had been glad to sell. The road it was in, which ran through the camp, had been closed a few days before, and Rhodes-Moorhouse had drawn a cheque on the spot. But the tanks were only half full and his estimate sounded a little optimistic, so another meeting was convened to discuss this problem. A light dawned slowly in Loel Guiness's eye.

'I'm not sure,' he said hesitantly, 'but I think I'm a director of Shell.'

'What do you mean, you think you are?' snapped Thynne. 'Telephone your secretary and find out!'

Guiness's secretary confirmed that he was on the board of a Shell subsidiary, and within days the tanks of the garage were brim-full, a matter of hours before the enforcement of rationing.

From an extract of 'The Flying Sword', by Tom Moulson, in 'The War in the Air', selected and edited by Gavin Lyall.

The original hand-painted scroll on XV108, seen here at Abingdon in 1971.
Photo collection J. Hieminga

In retirement the front fuselage of XV108 once again commemorates William Rhodes-Moorhouse VC..
Photo J. Hieminga

Rhodes-Moorhouse's VC and other medals are shown in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
Photo J. Hieminga

This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about William Rhodes-Moorhouse VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

Original named VC10 Transferred to
XV108, November 1968 ZA148, November 2012

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Squadron Leader Arthur Scarf VC, Royal Air Force

On 9 December 1941 all the available aircraft at RAF Butterworth were ordered to make a daylight raid on the Japanese airfield at Signora in Thailand.  The aircraft were on the point of taking off when the enemy attacked the airfield and with the exception of Squadron Leader Scarf’s aircraft, which had already taken off, all the aircraft were either badly damaged or destroyed while still on the ground.  Squadron Leader Scarf witnessed the destruction below and decided that he would continue the attack on his own. This he successfully did but the opposition over the target was severe and he was attacked by a considerable number of enemy fighters.  Even though seriously wounded, he continued to engage the enemy in a running fight back to the Malaysian border in an  attempt to return to Butterworth.  However, because of the seriousness of his wounds he was unable to reach his destination and had to force-land at Alor Star on the way. Squadron Leader Scarf completed his forced-landing without causing any injury to his crew, but although he himself was admitted to hospital, Squadron Leader Scarf eventually died of his wounds.

The medals of Sqn Ldr Arthur Scarf.
Photo J. Hieminga

An early scroll on XV109.
Photo Crown Copyright / collection J. Hieminga

The later scroll seen on XV109 at RIAT 2004.
Photo copyright P.F. Thompson

This VC used to be on display at the RAF Museum Hendon in the Bomber Command hall, on loan from the family of Arthur Scarf. In 2022 the family decided to put the medal up for auction, and it was sold for over £600,000 to an overseas buyer. If the RAF Museum can match this bid, based on a fundraiser, a heritage grant and some of their own funds, by the end of April 2023, the medal will stay in the UK.

Update: On May 1st 2023 the RAF Museum announced that the fundraising had been successful, the medal has been acquired by the museum and will stay in the UK.

Original named VC10 Transferred to
XV109, November 1968 ZA147, April 2010

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Flight Sergeant George Thompson VC, Royal Air Force

Flight Sergeant Thompson was the wireless operator of a Lancaster which attacked the Dortmund-Ems Canal on 1 January 1945. The aircraft had twice been hit by anti-aircraft shells; the first hit the mid-upper turret and set the aircraft on fire, filling it with dense smoke; the second shell struck the nose of the aircraft which caused an inrush of air, clearing away the smoke but revealing a scene of utter devastation Flight Sergeant Thompson immediately saw that the mid-upper gunner was trapped. Without a moment's hesitation he entered the blazing turret and pulled the unconscious gunner free. He carried him to safety and then with his bare hands extinguished the gunner's blazing clothing, sustaining serious burns in the process. Flight Sergeant Thompson then noticed that the rear gun turret was also on fire, and despite his injuries, made his way to the rear of the aircraft; once again ignoring his own safety, he entered the burning turret to rescue the unconscious rear gunner, and with his already badly burnt hands, extinguished the gunner's blazing clothing. Even though he was now almost completely exhausted, he made his way forward to the captain to report on the fate of the crew. So pitiful was his appearance that his captain failed to recognise him. Even so, Thompson's only concern was for his 2 comrades left in the rear of the aircraft. The aircraft eventually crash-landed near Heesch, The Netherlands. Flight Sergeant Thompson was admitted to hospital, where 3 weeks later, he died of his wounds.

Flight Sergeant Thompson's medals, accompanied by a silver model of the Lancaster that was presented to his family by Avro, are on display in Edinburgh Castle.
Photo J. Hieminga

The original scrolls were handpainted on the VC10s. An early version is seen here on XR806 while on a visit to Belize.
Photo R. King

This pencil portrait of George Thompson is on display at the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington.
Photo J. Hieminga

Original named VC10 Transferred to
XR806, November 1968 ZA148

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