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Louis Strange (E, 1905-1907): An

amazing escape over the Menin Road


Chris Nathan

(G, 1954-1957), School Archivist

Louis Strange was, with

Noel Hudson


1903-1912), the most decorated service

man in the Great War from the School.

He was one amongst the first thirty-seven

British pilots in the Royal Flying Corps to

fly across the Channel to commence the

aerial war with Germany in 1914. He later

became one of the foremost experts on

early bombing techniques as well as one of

the foremost pilots who fought throughout

the war. His younger brother Gilbert (also

an OSE), also a pilot, was shot down and

killed in 1918.

By the end of the war Louis Strange

was a Wing Commander and was awarded

the DSO, DFC, MC and was Mentioned

in Dispatches. In 1915 Strange had an

extraordinary escape over the Western

Front at Menin when he was in an

engagement with a German Aviatik aircraft

whose pilot was taking pot shots at him with

a pistol. To his horror Strange realized that

his ammunition drum on his own machine

gun had jammed. He therefore wedged his

control stick between his knees and stood

up in the aircraft to replace the faulty drum.

In so doing he inadvertently relaxed his

knees and his aircraft (a Martinsyde Biplane)

went into a downward spin, turned over and

emptied Strange from the cockpit. He now

found himself hanging in the air, clinging with

both hands to the still wedged drum in his

machine gun. Only seconds earlier he had

been cursing the gun for becoming jammed –

now it was his life saver. With no parachutes

available at this time, his only option was to

save himself which he somehow managed

to do, by taking one hand off the drum and

making a grab with the other ‘in the general

direction of the central control section strut’.

Still upside down he found the vital strut

transferred his other hand onto it and after

several attempts swung his legs back into

the cockpit, managing once again to jam

the control stick between his knees. In his

own words: “I do not know what exactly

happened then, but the trick was done. The

machine came over right way up, and I fell

off the top plane into my seat with a bump!”

By now the plane was no longer spinning but

diving however he throttled back, bracing

himself against the fuselage and managed to

lift the plane’s nose, just clearing the

trees on the Menin Road.

His comment the next day was “But Lord,

how stiff I was next day!”

Amazing though this whole instance

was, it was not that uncommon and there

were other similar stories to be told in the

aerial Great War. Nevertheless Strange’s

story appeared in the national press of

the day and a generation later appeared

as a cartoon strip in the then popular

magazine ‘Top Spot’ (Amalgamated Press

Ltd). One of the cartoon pictures (there

were nine) appears here, together with a

portrait of Louis Strange a year earlier. In

the Second World War, although over fifty

years of age, Louis Strange again served

with the Royal Air Force where he founded

a parachute school as well as serving as

in Northern France as an Aerodrome

Control Officer. For his service in the

conflict he was awarded the American

Bronze Star, the OBE and Bar to his DFC.

He died in 1966.

From the cartoon series in 'Top Spot'

Louis Strange