Beauchamp-Proctor was born on the 4th of September 1984, in Mossel Bay, Cape Province, the second son of a school teacher. He attended the oldest school in the country, South African College Schools in CapeTown, where he was a resident of the oldest residence in the country, College House Residence, where his father was warden. He was studying engineering at the University of CapeTown when the European war broke out. He took leave from his studies to join the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles. He served as a signalman in the German South-West Africa Campaign. In August 1915 he was demobilised with an honourable discharge. He promptly went to work with the South African Field Telegraph and re-enrolled in University. He managed to complete his third year at University before re-enlisting, this time with the Royal Flying Corps ( RFC ) in March 1917.
He was accepted as an Air Mechanic, Third Class, from there he passed on to pilot training at the School of Military Aeronautics at Oxford in England, where he was also commissioned. He managed to learn to fly despite his wiry stature and height of only 5ft 2ins. His aircraft had to be altered to accommodate him, his seat was raised so that he could have a better view from the cockpit and so that he could reach the controls. Blocks were fastened to the rudder bar so that he could reach it. On June the 10th, he soloed after just five hours’ flying time. He crashed upon landing, wiping out the landing gear. Nevertheless, he continued to fly solo. He was passed on to a Bomber Squadron, No.84, with a little under ten hours flying experience. When he joined 84 Squadron in July 1917, it was re-forming as a Fighter Squadron.
On the 23rd of September 1917, the unit went to France flying S.E.5’s. Under the command of Major William Sholto Douglas, the unit became one of the most effective scout squadrons in the RFC / RAF in 1918. the squadron would be credited with a victory total of 323, and would produce 25 aces. However Beauchamp-Proctor would be pre-eminent, with almost triple the number of successes than to the second leading ace. He was not particularly rated as a pilot, but he was a deadly shot. Beauchamp-Proctor’s piloting skills can be judged by the fact that he had three landing accidents before he ever shot down an enemy plane. He continued to fly the S.E.5 with the earlier mentioned alterations to the aicraft’s seat and controls, something his Philadelphia born, American squadron mate, Joseph ‘Child Yank’ Boudwin, who stood only two inches taller and who would himself eventually be posted to the USAAS’s S.E.5a equipped 25th Aero Squadron just days before the Armistice, also had to use. The alterations to relatively primitive controls could hav e helped contribute to Beauchamp-Proctor’s poor airmanship.
His first conformed victory didn’t come until the turn of the year. on the 3rd of January 1918, he sent a German Two-seater ‘down out of control’. He then claimed four more victories in February, becoming an ace on the final day of the month. Only one of his five victories resulted in the destruction of the enemy, the other four were sent down, ‘out of control’. March bought four more victories; three of them scored within the space of five minutes on the 17th of March. He tallied one victory in April. Among his 11 victories for the month of May were five on the 19th of May. On that morning, he knocked an enemy observation plane out of the battle, fifteen minutes later he destroyed an Albatros D.V Scout. That evening, at about 6:35 p.m., He downed three more Albatros D.V’s. By the 31st of May, his victory tally had climbed to 21 victims. 16 fighters and 5 observation aircraft, by this point he had destroyed six enemy planes single handed, and shared in the destruction of 2 others, he drove 10 down ‘out of control’ and shared in another ‘out of control’ victory. Two of his victims were captured. Certainly a creditable record, and like may other aces, no conquests over balloons.
The next day marked a change of focus for him; he shot down an observation balloon. Balloons guarded by anti – aircraft artillery and patrolling fighter aircraft, were very dangerous targets. Commonly they were hunted by co – ordinated packs of fighters. For the remainder of his career, he would choose to blind the enemy by concentrating on shooting down kite balloons and observation aircraft. Also noticeable is the drop in ‘out of control’ victories; from here on out, the record shows destruction after destruction of the enemy. His June string would only run to the 13th of June, but in that time, he would destroy four balloons, an observation two-seater and a fighter. Only the fighter went down ‘out of control.’ On the 22nd of June, he was awarded the Military Cross. July would pass without incident, then on the 3rd of August he was awarded one of the first ever Distinguished Flying Crosses.
The break in his victory string lasted almost a month, as he went on home leave and and helped a recruitment drive for the RAF. On the 8th of August, he returned and resumed with tall number 29, another balloon. On the 9th of August Beauchamp-Proctor was leading No.84 Squadron on a patrol over their base at Bertangles, with Boudwin and six foot four tall fellow South African as wingmen. The threesome got involved in a heated engagement at 2:00p.m. that involved them in combat against Fokker D.VII’s of JG1, led that day by the future Nazi Reichsmarschall Herman Goering. Unsuccessful at increasing his total that day, Beauchamp-Proctor would claim an additional 14 aircraft and end the month with his claims list extended to 43. One memorable day was the 22nd of August, He attacked a line of six enemy balloons over the British 3rd Corps front. He set the first one afire with his machine guns and forced the other five to the ground, their observers taking to their parachutes. His 15 victories for August would include six balloons, all destroyed and two more two- seaters, he was now up to 43 victories. His September claim would be all balloons, four of them. In the first few days of October, he would destroy three more balloons and three Fokker D.VII fighters, one of which burned, and another spun out of control. On the 8th of October he was hit by ground fire and wounded in the arm, putting an end to his front line service. Beauchamp-Proctor’s victory total was 54; two and one shared captured enemy aircraft, 13 and 3 shared observation balloons destroyed, 15 and 1 shared aircraft destroyed and 15 and 1 shared aircraft out of control. His 16 balloons downed made him the British Empire’s leading balloon buster. On the 2nd of November 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, followed by the Victoria Cross on the 30th of November. All of his victories were scored flying the S.E.5 becoming the most successful pilot on this type.
(C) Damian Grange 2021