b. 31/07/1884 Caernarfon, Wales. d. 28/09/1955 Nassau, Bahamas.
Lionel Wilmot Brabazon Rees (1884-1955) was born in Plas Llanwnda, Castle Street, Caernarfon on 31st July 1884, the son of Colonel Charles H Rees and his wife Leonora Maria (nee Davids). Lionel was educated at Eastbourne College, before following in his father’s career and entering the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich as a Gentleman Cadet and was later gazetted with a junior commission into the Royal Garrison Artillery at the age of 19 on the day before Christmas Eve 1903. As a result of his background, he fitted in well to army life, and also distinguished himself as a marksman. He was able to shoot a target at 25m range with both hands, showing superb eyesight and above average physical co-ordination.
Immediately before embarking for West Africa, from which he was to return only at the outbreak of WWI, he had shown a growing interest in the new sport of flying and its potential application to the needs of the Army. Consequently, at his own expense and in his own time, he underwent a course of pilot training at the Bristol School, Larkhill and received his Certificate at the end of the first week on 7th January 1913. He was thus qualified as one of the few officers trained in aerial tactics and was transferred to the RFC on 10th August 1914, an Army corps which had been formed less than 18 months earlier. He was soon promoted to rank of Captain and ordered to the Central Flying School at Upavon as an instructor and, such was his new found ability at the controls of an aircraft and his patience in imparting knowledge that at the end of 1914 he went to Netheravon to command a Flight of No 7 Squadron.
At the beginning of 1915, No 11 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps was in the process of formation from a nucleus of No 7 Squadron, intended to be a unit focusing on a specific task, in this case air fighting. By 25th July, the Squadron was in France, and stationed at Vert Garland in the vicinity of Amiens with eight machines. Once in France, he wasted little time in flying in war operations, and on 28th July, tackled a German monoplane. On the last day of August, he fought for 45 minutes with a German LVG two seater, using up all his ammunition. After fresh ammunition, he returned to fray and shot down the plane. On 30th September, another victory came when they attacked an Albatross two seater over Gommecourt. Further combats throughout October added to his combat record, and on 29th October 1915, the London Gazette announced the award of the Military Cross to Rees and a DCM to his observer, Flight Sergeant Hargreaves. In November, he returned to England and was promoted to Major on 1st December.
After a spell of leave, he took up a new appointment as CO of a newly formed fighter unit, 32 Squadron. By May 1916, they had taken their new aircraft across the Channel to St Omer. On 4th June, the unit moved to Auchel, and on the 7th to Treizennes, Aire.
On 1st July 1916 at Double Crassieurs, France, Major Rees, whilst on flying duties, sighted what he thought was a bombing party of our machines returning home, but were in fact enemy aircraft. Major Rees was attacked by one of them, but after a short encounter it disappeared, damaged. The others then attacked him at long range, but he dispersed them, seriously damaging two of the machines. He chased two others but was wounded in the thigh, temporarily losing control of his aircraft. He righted it and closed with the enemy, using up all his ammunition, firing at very close range. He then returned home, landing his aircraft safely.
Medical examination showed that Rees had been fortunate in not having a leg artery severed, and he spent several weeks in hospital, and ended up with a slight but permanent limp. On 5th August 1916, came the news of his Victoria Cross award, which he received from King George V on 14th December 1916. When fit again for duty, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 1st May 1917 and travelled to the USA as part of Harold Balfour’s Mission entourage. On his return, he was given command of No 1 School of Aerial Fighting, Turnberry, Ayrshire. He remained at Turnberry for the rest of the war, and was awarded the Air Force Cross on 2nd November 1918, and decorated with an OBE.
In 1919, he was granted a permanent commission as a Wing Commander. On 15th January 1920 he was given the Freedom of Caernarfon, and presented with an ornate Sword of Honour. In 1923-1924, he became Assistant Commandant to the newly created RAF College, Cranwell; and in 1925 he commenced a two years’ stint in the Directorate of Training, at the Air Ministry, and appointed ADC to King George V. In April 1926, he was posted to the Middle East as Group Captain, in command. He later commanded the RAF Depot at Uxbridge.
In World War II, he was recalled briefly for RAF service, before retiring to the Bahamas. He died in Nassau, Bahamas on 28th September 1955, and was buried in Nassau War Cemetery. His medals are held by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Imperial War Museum. Rees was described by a fellow WWI airman as “a gentleman, a real gentleman, a rare species…the greatest, gifted individual national asset that ever donned the uniform of the Corps (RFC).
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: NASSAU WAR CEMETERY, NASSAU, BAHAMAS.
Lionel Rees' medals including his VC, OBE and MC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London
RA Chapel, Woolwich
D Gardner painting
St Clements Danes Church, Aldwych
War Illustrated, 20th November 1915
War Illustrated, 26th August 1916
Longhedge, Wiltshire (Steve Lee)