Thomas Brierley Dodwell was born in Warwickshire. The family moved to the Day House Farm, Cherrington in 1913.
TB was a Second Lieutenant, initially with the Army’s Royal Flying Corps. This merged with the Royal Naval Air Service on 01 04 18, and TB became part of the no. 211 Squadron (65 Wing), RAF. He was an observer (i.e. not a pilot) and flew mainly in De Havilland 9s.
He was based at Petit-Synthe aerodrome near Dunkirk and kept a logbook of his flying hours, as he was obliged to do.
On 13 August 1918 TB Dodwell performed an act of enormous bravery whilst on a reconnaissance mission. This is described in a letter from his pilot, Allan Bonnalie (an American), recommending TB for a Distinguished Service Cross – which he was subsequently awarded. I later commissioned a painting from the distinguished Shropshire artist John Alford depicting this act of heroism.
In August 1918 TB was shot down off the Dutch coast, in the course of which he lost an arm. He was brought ashore and subsequently interned. His log book notes that he returned to England on ‘an old tramp steamer’ on 17 October 1918.
TB received the DSO and the DSC (from the USA), which we believe is unique for a 2nd Lieutenant, and he was mentioned in dispatches.
In later years due to his and his wife’s ill health he gave up farming and eventually came to live at Middle House, Cruckmeole in 1953. With his one arm he was a familiar figure in Cruckmeole until he died in 1976.
From Squadron website:
Prisoners of War and Internees A partial roll, extracted from Sturtivant and Page’s DH4/DH9 File and partly reconciled with the Squadron Return of Casualties. More entries may follow in time.
|Name||Rank||Duty||Age||Date||Remarks & DH9 serial|
|TB Dodwell||2nd Lt||Observer||16 Aug 1918||Interned. C6348|
EA = Enemy Aircraft, Archie = anti-aircraft
June 22nd 1918
9:50 a m
Bombing raid on Bruges Docks. As wind was with us, and very strong, could not keep up keep up with formation coming home and flew to the coast. The wind carried us back towards Holland. We came out 5 miles the other side of Zeebrugge Mole and flew inside the clouds at 7000ft. The clouds completely covered the ground at 8000 ft so we flew along the coast coming out of the clouds sometimes to make sure we were going right. Archie good hit us several times. [? ?] as we looked like landing in Hunland. Just got back with 1/4 hours petrol to spare.
June 24th 1918
Nearly knocked C.O. off lookout post, just missing top of tin shed. Very bumpy. Object B raid on Bruges. Washed out owing to bad weather. Landing hit bank of a ditch and bounced about 50 ft. Came down all right. Bit of luck.
June 27th 1918
Same old spot [Bruges]. Good visibility. Terrific Archie. Shot up in several places. Capt ? hit badly in tail engine. Had to glide to Holland [which he reached safely]. Some new Archie batteries spotted on E side of docks. Exposed 18 plates. No EA. Went over the hottest places for Archie. Deuced unpleasant time
July 10th 1918
Bruges. Took up new pilot for first time. Engine choking over sea and nearly stopped 5 miles E of Ostend. Told him to turn for home. So fired green light and left formation. Engine picked up a bit. Dropped the pills on Ostend Docks and were shot up by Archie in 4 places. Went out to sea. Lost 10000 feet getting over the lines and had to land on the beach as the tide was nearly up. . . [???]…
Managed to get out. Thomas phoned up the drome and I got some French soldiers to haul the bus up the sands. Had some grub at a hospitable [?] establishment. And the men managed to get [?] going by five o’clock. We were quite lucky getting back as a strong wind was against us.
Second forced landing on the coast. Trouble was water in petrol tanks and feed tubes to the intake choked up.
Last Entry in Log Book:
‘Returned to England in an old tramp steamer on October 17th. Invested for DSO on December 17th 1918. Jock Sproule wounded and a prisoner in Germany.Invested American DSE Jan 28th 1919. Mentioned in Dispatches Feb 1919. Total flying hours 134.’
From Squadron 211 website:
Gallantry Awards The entries which follow arose from the Honours section of the 211 Squadron narrative, prepared in January 1919 under the signature of the CO, Major GRM Reid DSO MC (AIR 696/21/20/211). Citations are shown where possible. More may be added in time.
Distinguished Service Order 1st Lt AF Bonnalie (United States) AIR 696/21/20/211
2nd Lt TB Dodwell
London Gazette 2 November 1918
“On a recent occasion this officer, when acting as Observer, performed a very gallant and meritorious action. In diving to the assistance of another machine, his own machine commenced to fall out of control. Despite this, he continued to engage three enemy machines that were attacking him, and eventually drove them off, an operation that called for great coolness and skill as the shooting platform was most unsteady. Realising that the machine was out of control owing to the loss of lift in the tail plane, half of this being shot away, he left his cockpit, and, climbing along the wing, lay down along the cowling in front of the pilot, enabling the latter to obtain partial control of the machine and head for home. When nearing the ground he climbed back into his cockpit to allow the nose to rise, and the pilot succeeded in safely landing. The presence of mind and cool courage of this officer undoubtedly saved the machine, and deserves the highest praise.”
Bonnalie and Dodwell were both subsequently awarded the United States of America Distinguished Service Cross. Bonnalie’s long flying career is recorded in his biography, with W Lundberg, A Lifetime in Aviation.
Squadron history:World War I[
No. 11 (Naval) Squadron was formed in March 1917 as a squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service. It was primarily an operational training squadron, flying single-seat fighter aircraft, mainly Sopwith Pups and Triplanes, and a few Camels. It also flew standing patrols over the British naval ships stationed in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands. It was disbanded in August 1917.
On 10 March 1918 it was reformed as an RNAS bomber squadron at Petite-Synthe, Dunkirk, operating the DH.4 and DH.9 day bomber. Its operations were mainly directed against the ports of Bruges, Zeebrugge and Ostende, in an attempt to interdict the German U-boat campaign. On 1 April 1918, with the merging of the RNAS and the Army’s Royal Flying Corps, it was renamed No. 211 Squadron RAF. It later flew operations in support of the Belgian Army in Flanders. From October 1918 it operated as a photographic reconnaissance unit.
The squadron was disbanded at RAF Wyton on 24 June 1919. During its period of service it lost 22 aircrew killed in action, 10 taken prisoner and 15 interned in the Netherlands. A further 18 men were wounded, while two men died during the post-war flu pandemic. They had accounted for 35 enemy aircraft, dropped 150 tons of bombs, and flown 205 reconnaissance sorties.
Squadron members were awarded three Distinguished Service Orders and one Bar, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, one Distinguished Flying Medal, three mentions in despatches, two Silver Medals for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea, and two Distinguished Service Crosses from the United States.