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Aegean Air War: Brinsmead’s unfortunate distinction

Brinsmead’s unfortunate distinction

In the early hours of 9 January 1916, the last of the British forces at Gallipoli pushed off from the piers at Helles and abandoned the peninsula to the Turk. A few days later, a curious Ottoman commander, Hans Kannengiesser, made his way down Gully Ravine and across the southern corner of the peninsula to Sedd el Bahr. The abandoned British works were of great interest – and not just to him.

Everywhere heaps of booty, and everywhere masses of wandering, plundering Turks. In addition, plenty of shells from the English ships, so that finally Major Welsch, who was walking close to me, was wounded by a splinter from a bursting shell which exploded close behind us.1

A two-seater Farman biplane of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) was in the air, spotting for the navy’s guns. The Allied Powers had enjoyed air supremacy throughout the campaign but there arrived at this eleventh hour a deadly new foe, the Fokker Eindecker, flown by battle-hardened German airmen.

Over Cape Helles the Fokkers jumped the Farman.

In the air, a battle between ‘planes which ended in the destruction of the English. We saw the body of the aviator fall like a doll, with outstretched arms and legs, into the sea, the aeroplane fluttering behind. Torpedo-boats hastened up, sought vainly for the aviator and took the ‘plane in tow. That was my final war picture on Gallipoli.2

Cecil Horace Brinsmead was born in Sydney on 10 July 1893, the third of seven children to Horace George Brinsmead (1854-1908) and Alice Maud Mary née Lanham (1863-1950). His birth was registered at Waverley in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

Cecil’s father, a British middleweight boxing champion and energetic businessman, had come to the antipodes first as an apprentice on a merchant vessel – he jumped ship in Port Jackson – then as a representative for the family firm of piano makers at the world’s fair in Sydney (1879-1880) and Melbourne (1880-1881).

Horace’s entrepreneurial spirit took him north to Queensland where a town – now a suburb of Cairns – and a topographical feature bear the Brinsmead name. But his fortunes fluctuated and, in 1898, Horace and his young family returned to London.

In 1901 the census of England has them living at 32 Stanley (now Primrose) Gardens, Hampstead. They were still resident there when Cecil and three younger siblings were baptised in 1905 at St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill.3

Cecil Brinsmead’s certificate of competency as second mate for foreign-going steamships, gained on 24 April 1915.

Cecil attended Mr Cherrill’s School and University College School, then joined the merchant marine. He had an adventurous time as an apprentice at sea, twice narrowly escaping death. By 1915 he was second mate, responsible for navigating and watchkeeping, but – like many of his generation – Cecil Brinsmead wanted in with the war.

Anxious to serve his country with as little delay as possible he put in for both the Army and the Navy, hoping to secure a commission in one or the other service, and by a coincidence was gazetted simultaneously to a second lieutenancy and to a flight sub-lieutenancy. He chose the latter commission and speedily won distinction at Eastchurch and on Salisbury Plain as a skilful airman.4

Brinsmead’s appointment to a temporary second lieutenancy in the infantry appears in The London Gazette of 29 June 1915, its cancellation in the edition of 2 July. He entered the air service as a temporary Flight Sub-Lieutenant on 11 July.

Cecil Brinsmead, 1915, wearing an RNAS officer's service cap. (Royal Aero Club Aviators' Certificates, 1910-1950)

Brinsmead attended the naval gunnery school at Whale Island in Portsmouth Harbour, proceeding on 7 August to the Royal Naval Flying School at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, where, in a Maurice Farman biplane on 27 August, he gained his Royal Aero Club aviator’s certificate, number 1663. He then attended the Central Flying School at Upavon, Wiltshire, where he was passed as efficient on 30 October 1915.

Has flown Maurice Farman, Henry Farman, B.E.2a and B.E.2c. Very good. Is very good at cross country, and mechanical knowledge. Time in air 16 hours 16 minutes. Very keen, reliable and with plenty of initiative. He should do well in the RNAS.5

Confirmed in his rank, Flight Sub-Lieutenant Brinsmead embarked for the Aegean.

His destination was No. 3 Wing of the Royal Naval Air Service whose aerodrome on the island of Imbros (Gökçeada) sat atop Kephalo Point with sweeping views of the Gallipoli peninsula. Cape Helles is 18 km distant, Anzac 25 km. The unit, 100 men strong, was commanded by the redoubtable Charles Rumney Samson. As ‘Samson’s Aeroplane Party,’ No. 3 Wing had won renown in France and Flanders in 1914, pioneering the use of armoured cars and bombing the Zeppelin sheds at Düsseldorf and Cologne. But, if they did good work in France, writes Samson, they did better at the Dardanelles.

When it is seen that we flew for 2,600 hours from March 28th until December 29th with a maximum of eleven pilots and an average of seven, sometimes with only four aeroplanes in action, I think it will be agreed that they one and all quitted themselves like men.6

The hard-worked aviators and crew, battling the elements and their machines as much as the enemy, had been reinforced by No. 2 Wing RNAS in August, but now – with the campaign reaching its denouement – were just about spent. Of the original pilots, only Samson, Bell Davies and Thomson7 remained. The replacements were short of flying hours and experience.

On December 4th the last batch of new pilots arrived, Black, Brinsmead, and Wakeley.8

Men of No. 3 Wing RNAS in front of the officers’ mess, Kephalo Point, Imbros. Brinsmead may be part of the group as the photo, part of observer Noel Boles’ effects, was taken in late 1915.

Brinsmead wrote home from Imbros on 19 November.

— I have been appointed to a squadron, for which I am very pleased, as it is the wing that does all the work, which consists of spotting and reconnaissance and bomb dropping on the Peninsula (Gallipoli) and in Bulgaria.9

The Gallipoli campaign had long reached stalemate and there was talk of a withdrawal before winter. When these rumours were confirmed, No. 3 Wing were tasked with maintaining air supremacy over the northern beachheads. Continuous patrols from dawn to dusk were ordered. All other pilots and machines were to be held in readiness to act with the least possible delay.

We now had our work cut out to patrol the Suvla and Anzac zones in order to prevent hostile aeroplanes flying over and detecting any signs of approaching evacuation […] I can safely say that we kept up a continuous patrol during daylight, and no enemy ever came close.10

It is likely, given the paucity of pilots available to Samson, that Brinsmead would have done his bit in the operations of 19 and 20 December.

Samson, Thomson and Bell Davies were now ordered home and No. 2 Wing – who had responsibility for Helles – absorbed the men and materiel of No. 3 Wing.

It was at this moment that the balance of air power tipped in favour of the defender. A breakthrough in the Balkans had afforded Istanbul a direct rail link to Berlin. The Ottoman air service, desperately short of aircraft, looked to Germany for reinforcement. As well as armed reconnaissance machines, spares and machine tools, Major Erich Serno requested a Fokker E.II fighter Staffel of three aircraft with crews.11 These arrived at the Dardanelles on 3 January 1916, and the Ottoman’s first fighter unit – 6nci Harp Bölügü (6th War Company) – became operational on 5 January 1916.12

Left: Contemporary postcard of Hans-Joachim Buddecke. He wears an officer's woollen kalpak with Ottoman flying badge, and (from top) the Pour le Mérite, Ottoman Golden Liakat medal (Liyakat Madalyasi), Iron Cross First Class and Ottoman pilot's badge. Right: Buddecke in tropical pith helmet with Fokker E.III 96/15 (Ottoman serial F4).

Commanding the Staffel was an early fighter ace on the Western Front, Hauptmann13 Hans-Joachim Buddecke. His pilots were Hauptmann Hans Schüz of Feldflieger-Abteilung 3414 and Leutnant Theodor Croneiss15. They flew, in E.II and E.III variants16, the single-seat Fokker monoplane that had been the scourge of the Royal Flying Corps in France and Flanders.

The Staffel’s first patrol, on 6 January, brought down a French aeroplane17 near Galata. Their second patrol, later that same day, accounted for a British two-seater bomber.18 Then, on 8 January, a Voisin over Cape Helles was forced down with its engine shot up.

Rain brought respite but only briefly.

Tuesday 11 January dawned bright over the Dardanelles. Perfect weather for flying. In the early afternoon, Cecil Brinsmead suited up and clambered aboard a Henry Farman. His observer was Lieutenant Noel Henry Boles of the Dorsetshire Regiment, another relative newcomer to this theatre of war. Boles had reached Imbros only a month before Brinsmead. He had impressed Samson.

At the end of October I got two new observers, Lieutenants Boles and Annesley […] They were all real good boys, keen as mustard, and soon picked up the routine.19

Noel Henry Boles at Poona, India.

The 23 year old Englishman had been serving in India with the 2nd Dorsets when war was declared.

Just before his regiment received orders to proceed to the Persian Gulf to take a hand in things, Lt Boles was put out of action by a severe attack of illness and, to his intense disappointment, he was invalided home by the regiment doctor. To hang around at home in care was little to his taste and as soon as he had ‘turned the corner’ on the road to sound convalescence, and long before he had regained his normal strength he was on his way to the Near East again in the track of the Dorsets.20

The RNAS were desperately short of trained observers, and Boles’ application must have been well received. In July 1915 he attended the RNAS station at Shoreham for instruction as an observer, with further training, probably in wireless, at Brooklands.21 On 23 September he embarked for the Aegean.

Cape Helles seen from a French aeroplane earlier in the campaign. V Beach is immediately to the left of the wing. (Archives Departementales de la Loire, album de photographies d'Ennemonde Diard concernant le sous-lieutenant Marcel Saint-André, pilote d'avion.)

Now, on that fateful afternoon in January, Brinsmead and Boles met Buddecke and Schüz in the cold, clear air over Cape Helles. This was Kannengiesser’s ‘last war picture on Gallipoli.’

The Fokkers appear to have taken the British airmen by surprise.

Wing Commander Eugene Gerrard, in a letter to Boles’ father, says the pair were attacked from behind simultaneously by two hostile aeroplanes.

A destroyer officer who witnessed it says that the machine was shot down before it had any time to reply.22

Midshipman Erskine St Aubyn, attached to the RNAS as an observer and a friend of Boles, thought they may have been duped by a decoy.

[T]he Germans sometimes set up a seaplane to engage the attention of the patrol while the fast Fokkers crept up and attacked.23

But Buddecke, recalling the incident in his memoir, suggests they came across the pair by chance.

When, a few days later, the sun came out, it shone on the abandoned British trenches where Ottoman soldiers plundered the immense stores left behind. Again two Fokkers hung over the yellow countryside. Schüz was a hundred metres behind me.

Suddenly below I saw the colourful markings of my adversary. Immediately I was on his neck. Three spirals well aimed… he is turning… falling… his wings are folding upwards… he is falling into the sea. British torpedo boats came and fished him out.24

Buddecke was probably flying Fokker E.III 96/15 – “my yellow bird with the black menacing eyes.”25

For the time of day, we can look to the log book of HMS Ribble.

2.47pm: Allied aeroplane brought down by 2 hostile machines, closed at full speed. HMS Laforey picked up two bodies and proceeded to K.26

The bodies of Brinsmead and Boles, recovered from the Aegean, were taken aboard HMS Hibernia27, anchored in Kephalo Bay.

Our medical officer went aboard and interviewed the PMO [Principal Medical Officer] of the ship who had made the examination. I learned from him that the only wounds sustained by Noel were a bullet through the left wrist – it passed through his wrist-watch – and some scratches. The pilot had only scratches. It seems as though some part of the control was carried away. Death was caused in both cases by fracture of the skull and must have been instantaneous. He particularly told me that.28

The cortège on Imbros. Men of the RNAS prepare to lay Brinsmead and Boles to rest.

Landed for burial, the bodies, in coffins draped with the Union Jack, were borne by men of 2 Wing to the small cemetery in the lee of K Beach.

Photos courtesy the Boles family of Devon.

The Brinsmead name was remembered in Australia where newspapers carried a few lines on Cecil’s death.

The Brisbane Courier, 15 January 1916.

Commander Samson wrote to Noel Boles’ father.

I was dreadfully sorry to see in the papers of your son’s death. I am sorry that I cannot give you any details as I left Imbros on Dec. 30th, 1915. I formed a very high opinion indeed of your son, and we all thought very highly of him. He did excellent work and is a great loss.29

The graves of Brinsmead (left) and Boles (right) at K Beach Cemetery.

Today the small, sheltered valley on Imbros is home only to sheep and goats. After the Armistice, the men buried on the island were reinterred on the Gallipoli peninsula at Lancashire Landing Cemetery. Brinsmead and Boles lie together at Helles near where they fell.




Brinsmead's grave marker at Lancashire Landing Cemetery. Photo: Phil Wood.

Hans-Joachim Buddecke scored six victories31 over the Dardanelles and Smyrna (İzmir) where he was given the honorific El Shahin – the falcon. In April 1916 he became the third German pilot to receive the coveted Pour le Mérite.

Buddecke was killed over Lens, France, on 10 March 1918, a victim to Sopwith Camels of No. 203 Squadron RAF. This was none other than Samson’s ‘aeroplane party,’ designated 3 Wing at Imbros, and renumbered upon formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918.

Hauptmann Schüz in 1918 with an Albatros D.III in Turkish markings. (Photo: August Quoos, Cross & Cockade USA, Volume 11 Number 4)

Hans Schüz fought in Ottoman service for the duration of the war and was its top scoring ace with 10 confirmed victories.32 Popular with German and Turk alike, Schüz was appointed Kofl (Kommandeur der Flieger) of the Turkish Sixth Army (Mesopotamia). His talent for organisation and personal bravery was praised by Serno. In 1934 he joined the Luftwaffe where he held a variety of administrative commands. In 1941 Schüz was promoted Generalmajor with responsibility for airfield operations in Africa. In August of that year, on a flight from Derna, Libya, to his headquarters in Rome, Schüz’s Heinkel He 111 was lost over the Mediterranean.33

The Graphic, 29 January 1916

Hugh Dolan in Gallipoli Air War describes Brinsmead as ‘the last man to die on the Gallipoli Peninsula’34 but this is not correct. As Bryn Dolan notes in The Gallipolian35, many died in the days, months and years following the campaign through the effects of wounds or illness but the last of the Allies to die at Gallipoli was Flight Sub-Lieutenant James Sydney Bolas of No. 2 Wing RNAS. Bolas’ two-seater Maurice Farman was shot down by Buddecke or Schüz on 12 January 1916. The observer Midshipman Douglas Montagu Branson was wounded and taken prisoner.

It is a point of some interest that the last days of the campaign should be reserved for the only flying losses which the enemy air service inflicted, and that coincidence should give ominous distinction to the second letter of the alphabet.36

The other airmen killed in action in the final days of the Gallipoli campaign were Flight Commander Hans Acworth Busk on 6 January and Brinsmead and Boles on 11 January.

Flight Sub-Lieutenant F Donald H Bremner and Midshipman Hugh Edwin Burnaby had better luck. On 8 January they were surprised by Theo Croneiss who shot up their engine but did not pursue the attack. Bremner effected an emergency landing on the aerodrome at Helles and with Burnaby took one of the last boats off the peninsula.

Consideration must also be given to the defender who came under fire after the evacuation. In January the Royal Navy torpedoed its breakwater vessels and shelled concentrations of men and materiel on the peninsula. Among the last of the Ottoman army to die in the Gallipoli campaign were three soldiers manning an anti-aircraft gun south of where the Helles memorial now stands.

Brinsmead’s ‘unfortunate distinction’, writes Mark Lax37, is being the last Australian to be killed in action during the Gallipoli campaign.

Then and now

2016 composites by Bernard de Broglio and Cheryl Ward. 1916 images used with kind permission of the Boles family of Devon.

With photographs of the burial of Brinsmead and Boles I went to Imbros in 2016. I knew the cemetery had been near K Beach, so I began there, climbing the headland that housed the signal station.

There has been little development in the area. A string of empty, unfinished holiday houses and a few wary sheep were my only companions. The view of Kephalo Bay from the summit was magnificent.

The harrying wind, remarked upon both by Homer and Commander Samson, had the clouds scudding along, bringing a few drops of rain. I dropped down to the other side of the headland for some shelter and made my way as warily as the sheep. The island has a modern military function and I wasn’t sure how my camera and GPS would be regarded.

As I came into this valley the wind dropped, the sun came out and two kites took to the air in alarm. Immediately the horizon was familiar. Looking back towards the sea, the rocky backdrop to their graves was clearly distinguished.

The only physical evidence I saw of the cemetery were the piles of stones that suggested the boundary wall, but the photographs brought its history alive.

I placed a few stones on top of each other, and left a print of the photographs under the the bleached white carapace of a long-dead tortoise. The kites wheeling above were perhaps a better tribute.

An AFC connection

Of interest to Australian aero historians is that Cecil’s cousin Horace Clowes Brinsmead (1883-1934) was on the administrative staff at Australian Flying Corps (AFC) headquarters, London. From April 1917 until early 1919 he was a senior staff officer in the AFC training wing.

Horace Clowes Brinsmead had arrived aged 20 in Australia, settling first with Cecil and the Brinsmead family in North Queensland. In 1914 he joined the Australian Imperial Force and served with distinction at Gallipoli and Pozières where he was badly wounded. Unfit for active service, he attended an officers course and then transferred to the AFC.

After the war, the air-minded Horace Clowes Brinsmead was appointed the first Controller of Civil Aviation in Australia.

Over the next eleven years he directed the growth of civil aviation in Australia, earning a reputation as an efficient administrator with a diplomatic gift for cutting red tape. He framed the air navigation regulations, flew thousands of miles investigating new aerial mail and passenger routes and reporting on landing grounds and general facilities, and was a constant advocate of the local manufacture of aircraft parts.38

In 1951 Qantas named a Lockheed Constellation after him. It was used to fly the Queen to Australia in 1954.

1 Hans Kannengiesser, The campaign in Gallipoli, Hutchinson, London, 1927, p. 259.

2 ibid.

3 London Metropolitan Archives, Primrose Hill, Register of Baptism, p81/mrv, Item 002.

4 ‘FALLEN OFFICERS.’, The Times (London), 14 January 1916, p. 4, viewed 27 February 2016,

5 National Archives (UK), ADM/273/6/230.

6 Charles Rumney Samson, Fights and flights, Ernest Benn, London, 1930, p. 286.

7 Squadron Commander Lieutenant Richard Bell Davies (awarded the Victoria Cross in this campaign) and Flight-Lieutenant Gordon Lindsay Thomson (Olympic rower, awarded the DSC for his photographic work at low altitudes over enemy lines at Gallipoli).

8 Samson, Fights and flights, p. 284.

9 ‘AVIATION OFFICER KILLED’,Belfast News-Letter, 14 January 1916.

10 Samson, Fights and flights, p. 285.

11 Dr. Brian P. Flanagan, ‘The Ottoman air force in the Great War: The reports of Maj. Erich Serno’, Cross & Cockade (USA), Vol. 11, No. 2, 1970, p. 114.

12 Ole Nikolajsen, Ottoman Aviation 1909-1919,, 2012, p. 70.

13 For German airmen, their Ottoman rank is given here. German officers advanced one rank when entering Ottoman service.

14 Lexikon der Wehrmacht, Schüz, Hans, viewed 26 February 2017, Buddecke’s memoir, quoted later, suggests Schüz had one victory on the Western Front.

15 Croneiss’ flying career prior to Ottoman service is not known to this author.

16 The types and serial numbers are difficult to ascertain with certainty, but are likely to be Fokker E.III 108/15 w.n. 361 (Ottoman serial F2), Fokker E.III 96/15. w.n. 349 (Ottoman serial F3) and Fokker E.II 93/15 w.n. 346 (Ottoman serial F4).

17 Maurice Farman MF.11 number 942 of Escadrille MF 98 T piloted by Ltt Jules Charles Lecompte.

18 Flight Commander Hans Acworth Busk, No. 2 Wing RNAS.

19 Samson, Fights and flights, p 271.

20 Taunton Courier, 26 January 1916. Quoted in Richard Powell, Suffering for Righteousness, Exeter, 2015.

21 British Royal Air Force, Officers’ Service Records 1912-1920.

22 Letter from Erskine St Aubyn to Reverend Boles dated 14 February 1916. Quoted in Powell, Suffering for Righteousness.

23 Letter to Reverend Boles written from HMS Emperor of India dated 16 March 1916. Quoted in Powell, Suffering for Righteousness.

24 Hans Joachim Buddecke, El Schahin (der Jagdfalke): aus meinem Fliegerleben, Berlin, 1918, p. 84. Translated with the help of Kurt Wolf and Reinhard Filla.

25 Buddecke, El Schahin (der Jagdfalke), p. 89.

26 Royal Navy Log Book, HMS RIBBLE – December 1913 to February 1919, edited by Janet Lomas, Lancashire, UK, viewed 28 February 2017,

27 This was the ship from which Samson in 1912 made the world’s first aeroplane ascent from a vessel underway.

28 Letter from Erskine St Aubyn to Reverend Boles dated 14 February 1916. Quoted in Powell, Suffering for Righteousness.

29 Jean Wilkins, Fallen Heroes from the Village : Noel Henry Boles (1893-1916), Newton St Cyres, viewed 28 February 2017,

30 Commonweath War Graves Commission, Casualty Details. “Grave Reference: K. 67. Son of Alice Brinsmead, of 16, Norton Rd., Wembley, Middx., and the late Horace G. Brinsmead.”

31 Norman L R Franks, Frank W Bailey & Russell Guest, Above the lines : the aces and fighter units of the German Air Service, Naval Air Service and Flanders Marine Corps 1914-1918, Grub Street, London, 1993, p. 88.

32 Franks, Bailey & Guest, Above the lines, pp. 207-208.

33 Lexikon der Wehrmacht, Schüz, Hans, op. cit.

34 Hugh Dolan, Gallipoli air war : the unknown story of the fight for the skies over Gallipoli, Sydney, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2013, pp. 366-368.

35 Bryn Dolan,‘The last allied officers to die at Gallipoli’, The Gallipolian, no. 142, 2016, pp. 57-58.

36 H A Jones, The war in the air : being the story of the part played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force, Oxford Clarendon Press, vol. 2, 1922, p. 75.

37 Mark Lax, ‘The Air War’, Navy News, Centenary of Anzac liftout, vol. 58, no. 7, 2015.

38 Darryl McIntyre,‘Brinsmead, Horace Clowes (1883 – 1934)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, 1979,, accessed online 5 March 2017.

This article first published in the journal of the Australian Society of WW1 Aero Historians.

My thanks to Richard Powell, whose book about Noel Boles, available from, adds greatly to our knowledge of Cecil Brinsmead. The Boles family of Devon kindly shared the photographs of the airmen’s burial on Imbros. The family history website edited by Andy Sims was helpful, as was Hugh Dolan’s book Gallipoli Air War, which suggested new avenues of research and prompted this article.