3rd Squadron Royal Flying Corps
1898 – 1997
Cecil Lewis was a remarkable man. He was a co-founder of both the BBC and ITV, a renowned broadcaster, writer, mystic and an ‘Oscar’ winner. He was still flying at aged 94. He once wrote ‘You should live gloriously, generously, dangerously. Safety last!’.
On the 1st July 1916, at the age of 18 and flying a Morane Parasol, he was detailed to observe the explosion of both the Lochnagar and nearby Y-Sap mines. He described it in his classic memoire ‘Sagittarius Rising’.
‘The whole earth heaved and flashed, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up into the sky. There was an ear-splitting roar, drowning all the guns, flinging the machine sideways in the repercussing air like a scrap of paper in a gale. The earth column rose higher and higher to almost 4,000 feet. There it hung, or seemed to hang, for a moment in the air, like the silhouette of some great cypress tree, then fell away in a widening cone of dust and debris. A moment later came the second mine. Then the dust cleared and we saw the two white eyes of the Craters.’
In the early 1990s, Cecil Lewis was on BBC’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and spoke very movingly of his memories of the Somme battlefield. Richard Dunning wrote to him afterwards at his home in Corfu, inviting him to the 80th anniversary Remembrance Ceremony at the Lochnagar Crater. He was very enthusiastic and arranged to come over but unfortunately was unable to attend.
However, he kindly recorded a special message about witnessing Lochnagar explode and his perilous experiences flying over the front, which was played during the Ceremony. He returned home to Corfu and sadly died the next year. A truly exceptional and unforgettable character.