25 Apr 17

AC West’s Biography


Ferdinand Maurice Felix West was born in London on 25 Feb 1896. His father, Francis Drake West (named after his famous great, great…… uncle Sir Francis Drake), was a profesional opera singer. His mother, Countess Clemence Alexandrinede de La Garde de Chambonasm, was the daughter of the French Marquis of Chambonas.  He grew up and was educated in Italy, he was tri-lingual, being fluent in both Italian and French as well as his native English.  When war broke out in 1914 he returned from Switzerland and enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private, before he was commissioned in the Royal Munster Fusiliers in 1915.  After he was taken for a flight in early 1917 he decided to transfer to the RFC.

West trained as an observer and flew more than 100 hours on operational sorties with 3 Sqn before being posted back to England for pilot training.  He returned to France as a pilot in January 1918 and was posted to Major Trafford Leigh Mallory’s No 8 Squadron flying Armstrong Whitworth FK8s in the army co-operation role.  He frequently returned from his sorties bearing the signs of enemy ground-fire.  On one occasion, he and his observer were attacked by four Pfalz scouts, who must have expected the unwieldy FK8 to be an easy target.  They were soon to be disabused as West quickly turned and shot one Pfalz down and another fell victim to his observer, Lt Sharman.  West received the Military Cross in May in recognition of his efforts.  (The award of the MC was gazetted on 26 Jun 1918).

The award of the first Victoria Cross to be awarded after the formation of the Royal Air Force to Captain West was cited in the London Gazette in November 1918.

Citation for his Victoria Cross

No 8 Squadron, Royal Air Force

“Captain West, while engaging hostile troops at low altitude far over the enemy lines, was attacked by seven aircraft.  Early in the engagement one of his legs was partially severed by an explosive bullet and fell powerless into the controls, rendering the machine for the time unmanageable.  Lifting his disabled leg, he regained control of the machine, and, although wounded in the other leg, he, with surpassing bravery and devotion to duty, manoeuvred his machine so skilfully that his observer was enabled to get several good bursts into the enemy machines, which drove them away.

“Captain West then, with rare courage and determination, desperately wounded as he was, brought his machine over our lines and landed safely.  Exhausted by his exertions, he fainted, but on regaining consciousness insisted on writing his report.”

Post World War I

Captain West’s left leg was amputated, for which he received �250 compensation from the Air Ministry.  He had a special artificial leg made and then attempted to resume his career in the post war RAF.  Backed by Sir Hugh Trenchard he was granted a commission in the RAF and soon resumed flying, at first unofficially.  He served on 17 Sqn, and at CFS, and then commanded 4 Sqn.  Remarkable as this was, his most notable exploits in the latter stage of his career were diplomatic rather than military.  He served as air attache to the Baltic States, and briefly as air attache in Rome.  Once Italy joined the Second World War he moved to Berne, Switzerland.  He was to remain in Switzerland for the rest of the war, and his achievements in conducting an intelligence war against Germany from this neutral base in the middle of the Nazi Empire were an important contribution to Allied victory.

At the end of WWII, Air Cdre West retired from the RAF and pursued a second career in the film industry.  He died in Hospital in Windsor in 1988.