Medical student turned flying ace

The incredible story of how one man-turned-flying-ace came to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross and a 60th birthday present from Kind George V… 

On 16 February 1915, the Royal Naval Air Service gained what was to be one of their most valued pilots of the Great War. Richard Bernard Munday had been born in Plymouth to Major General and Mrs R. C. Munday in 1896. Initially harbouring dreams of becoming a doctor, at the age of 19 Richard Munday became yet another enlistment within the Royal Navy Air Service. While much of Richard’s military service history was to go on to become unknown or classified, his main exploits and contributions to the war effort were recognised and highly commended.  

Richard trained to become a pilot in a Maurice Farman biplane: a Farman Mf11. In the very early stages of World War I, the MF.11 had been used as a reconnaissance and light bomber aircraft. The MF.11 served in both the British and French air services and flew the first bombing raid of the war when, on 21 December 1914, an MF.11 of the Royal Naval Air Service attacked German artillery positions around Ostend, Belgium. The biplane was lightweight, but slow, and could only carry one 7.62 mm machine gun along with 18 16 lb bombs. By the time Munday came to learn to fly, the aeroplane had switched roles and was now being used primarily as a training aircraft. 

Having completed his pilot’s training in Brooklands, 1915, Munday went on to begin serving as a pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service. In 1916, his role changed slightly when he became an instructor at Cranwell. The Royal Naval Air Service Training Establishment, Cranwell was officially born on 1st April 1916. Richard Munday was one of the first instructors to teach at what would become one of the countries most well known Royal Air Force colleges. During his time instructing at Cranwell, Munday was instructor to many incredible pilots, including flying ace Leonard “Tich” Rochford, who went on to score 29 aerial victories in the very same war.  

Clearly, Munday’s capability and therefore scope for success in his career was recognised from the get-go. Upon transferring back to active air duty from Cranwell, Richard was appointed an acting-flight commander on 3 December 1916. It was following this that Richard Munday would score his first aerial success on 18 August 1917, when he downed his first enemy aircraft. Between August 1917 and February 1918, Munday’s victories totalled nine. Most of these pertained to the downing of enemy balloons at night – which lead to yet another achievement. He became notable for scoring Britain's first ever night victory in his role of balloon buster, a title in which meant he would take on the rare feat of shooting down enemy observation balloons at night. The only thing more rare than to take on an enemy observation balloon was to succeed in doing so – and Richard Munday did it nine times. 

Due to his exceptional valour and unrelenting spirit, Richard was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in March, 1918. His award was noted in the London Gazette on 16 March with the following words: 

“For courage and initiative. Offensive patrol under his able and determined leadership have consistently engaged with enemy aircraft, and he had displayed the utmost courage in carrying out special missions along, both by day and by night. 

“On the 21st February, 1918, he attacked a new type enemy two-seater machine. The enemy machine dived steeply east, and Flt. Cdr. Munday followed and closed in, firing a long burst at close range, after which the enemy went down vertically out of control. 

“On other occasions he had brought down enemy machines completely out of control, and has set fire to and destroyed enemy kite balloons both by day and night. On one occasion, he attacked an enemy kite balloon at night, and destroyed both the balloon and its shed by fire.” 

In three years, Richard Bernard Monday had gone from medical student, to piloting student, to instructor, to flying ace. Having flown in aeroplanes such as the Sopwith Camel and Sopwith Triplane, he had a broad knowledge of flying that only few could match at the time. In recognition of this, on 3 June 1925, Munday was awarded the Air Force Cross as a 60th birthday honour from King George V.