Thomas Frederick Stephenson

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Thomas Frederick Stephenson
Born 1894
Eastfield, Peterborough, England
Died 20 November 1917 (aged 2223) 
Commemorated at Arras Flying Services Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1913–1917
Rank Sergeant
Unit No. 11 Squadron RFC
Battles/wars World War I
  Western Front
Awards Distinguished Conduct Medal

Sergeant Thomas Frederick Stephenson DCM (1894 – 20 November 1917) was a British World War I flying ace credited with five aerial victories. [1]

Distinguished Conduct Medal United Kingdom military decoration for bravery

The Distinguished Conduct Medal, post-nominal letters DCM, was established in 1854 by Queen Victoria as a decoration for gallantry in the field by other ranks of the British Army. It is the oldest British award for gallantry and was a second level military decoration, ranking below the Victoria Cross, until its discontinuation in 1993 when it was replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross. The medal was also awarded to non-commissioned military personnel of other Commonwealth Dominions and Colonies.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Flying ace distinction given to fighter pilots

A flying ace, fighter ace or air ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an ace has varied, but is usually considered to be five or more.


Military service

He was born in Eastfield, Peterborough, the son of George Frederick Stephenson and his wife Annie Georgina. He joined the Royal Flying Corps on 7 July 1913, and was sent to France on 12 August 1914. [2]

Eastfield, Peterborough residential area Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom

Eastfield is a residential area of the city of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, in the United Kingdom. For electoral purposes it comprises part of Peterborough East ward, together with Fengate and Parnwell. In 2001 it had a resident population of 8,424. Of a total 3,824 households, 52.88% are owner occupied, compared to 66.30% in the Peterborough unitary authority area.

Royal Flying Corps former air warfare service of the British Army

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was the air arm of the British Army before and during the First World War, until it merged with the Royal Naval Air Service on 1 April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force. During the early part of the war, the RFC supported the British Army by artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance. This work gradually led RFC pilots into aerial battles with German pilots and later in the war included the strafing of enemy infantry and emplacements, the bombing of German military airfields and later the strategic bombing of German industrial and transport facilities.

By 1917 Stephenson was a sergeant pilot in No. 11 Squadron RFC. He was teamed with Air Mechanic 1st Class Sydney Platel as his observer/gunner in a Bristol F.2 Fighter. The duo garnered five victories together between 23 September and 31 October 1917, all against Albatros D.Vs. After destroying two enemy aircraft on 31 October, they in turn fell under the guns of Oberleutnant Hans Bethge. They survived this, [3] though Platel lost a toe. [1]

Bristol F.2 Fighter fighter and reconnaissance aircraft

The Bristol F.2 Fighter was a British two-seat biplane fighter and reconnaissance aircraft of the First World War developed by Frank Barnwell at the Bristol Aeroplane Company. It is often simply called the Bristol Fighter, other popular names include the "Brisfit" or "Biff".

Albatros D.V fighter aircraft

The Albatros D.V was a fighter aircraft built by the Albatros Flugzeugwerke and used by the Luftstreitkräfte during World War I. The D.V was the final development of the Albatros D.I family and the last Albatros fighter to see operational service. Despite its well-known shortcomings and general obsolescence, approximately 900 D.V and 1,612 D.Va aircraft were built before production halted in early 1918. The D.Va continued in operational service until the end of the war.

Oberleutnant Hans Bethge HoH, IC was a German pilot who was one of the first World War I flying aces, as well as an aerial commander. He was credited with 20 aerial victories. He was also a squadron commander for the unusually long term of fourteen months.

On 20 November 1917, the first day of the Battle of Cambrai, Stephenson and his observer Lieutenant William Morse set off on a reconnaissance mission over the German lines, but their aircraft was shot down, [2] apparently a victim of ground fire. [3] Stephenson was listed as missing, presumed killed, [4] but Morse survived, although wounded, and was captured. [2]

Battle of Cambrai (1917) 1917 World War I battle

The Battle of Cambrai was a British attack followed by the biggest German counter-attack against the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) since 1914, in the First World War. The town of Cambrai, in the département of Nord, was an important supply point for the German Siegfriedstellung and capture of the town and the nearby Bourlon Ridge would threaten the rear of the German line to the north. Major General Henry Tudor, Commander, Royal Artillery (CRA) of the 9th (Scottish) Division, advocated the use of new artillery-infantry techniques on his sector of the front. During preparations, J. F. C. Fuller, a staff officer with the Tank Corps, looked for places to use tanks for raids. General Julian Byng, commander of the British Third Army, decided to combine both plans. The French and British armies had used tanks in mass earlier in 1917, although to considerably less effect.

On 4 March 1918 he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. His citation read:

769 Sjt. T. F. Stephenson, RFC.
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While flying over the enemy's lines he was attacked by twelve hostile scouts and engaged four of them, one of which he destroyed. He was then attacked by another of the enemy machines, and, though his observer had been wounded, he succeeded in destroying it. His machine was then rendered almost uncontrollable by a shell, the right wing being almost shot off, but he succeeded in landing it in our front-line wire. He has destroyed five hostile machines and shown splendid courage and determination." [5]

As an air casualty of the Western Front with no known grave, he is commemorated at the Arras Flying Services Memorial, [6] and also on the Peterborough War Memorial. [2]

The Arras Flying Services Memorial Commonwealth War Graves Commission war memorial in the Faubourg d'Amiens Cemetery, Arras, France. The memorial commemorates nearly 1,000 airmen from forces of the Commonwealth who were killed on the Western Front during World War I and who have no known grave. The memorial was designed by Edwin Lutyens, sculpted by William Reid Dick and unveiled by Hugh Trenchard, 1st Viscount Trenchard, Marshal of the Royal Air Force on 31 July 1932.

List of aerial victories

Combat record [1]
Serial No.
1 23 September 1917
@ 1625
Bristol Fighter
Albatros D.V Out of control Vitry
2 20 October 1917
@ 1640
Bristol Fighter Albatros D.V Out of control North-west of Cambrai
3 Albatros D.V Out of control
4 31 October 1917
@ 1530
Bristol Fighter
Albatros D.V Destroyed in flames Fresse
5 Albatros D.V Destroyed

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  1. 1 2 3 "Thomas Frederick Stephenson". The Aerodrome. 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Thomas Frederick Stephenson". Peterborough War Memorial. 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  3. 1 2 Shores, Franks & Guest (1990), p. 351.
  4. "The Roll of Honour: Previously Missing, now reported Missing, believed Killed". Flight . X (474): 93. 24 January 1918. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  5. "No. 30555". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 March 1918. p. 2749.
  6. "Casualty Details: Stephenson, Thomas Frederick". Commonwealth War Graves Commission . 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2016.