Heroes come in a variety of forms. People may be recognised and honoured as heroic in one aspect of their lives but condemned by contemporaries for their actions in others. One such man was an RFC officer, C.R.L. Falcy, who was cashiered in 1916 but bounced back to become a decorated war hero.
Cecil Roy Leonard Falcy (known as Roy) was born in Thanet, Kent, in 1893; he the eldest son of naturalised Swiss-born auditor Gustave Leon Falcy and his English wife Elizabeth. By 1911, he was working as a banker’s clerk in London, living in a large boarding house at 34-38 Cartwright Gardens near Euston.
Falcy had volunteered for the Territorial Force before the war, gaining a commission in a Territorial battalion of the Berkshire Regiment. In 1915, Gustave died, but his eldest son married (to Eleanor Ryan in Epping) and advanced in his army career. His medal entitlement shows that he served in France in 1915, but later in the year he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. Falcy qualified as a pilot in October, and was posted to No 5 Reserve Aero Squadron.
In the new year, 1916, though, Falcy’s promising army career collapsed when he faced a court martial, accused of committing ‘gross indecency’ with other men in London in December 1915. Interestingly, he was then cashiered for the lesser offence of ‘indecency’, presumably because the court lacked confidence in the allegations but felt that there must have been some ‘wrongdoing’.
The allegations, which included reference to locations in the Edgware Road, Marylebone and Oxford Street areas of London, seem to have come after Falcy reported a young Russian to the police for attempted blackmail. The Russian was Maurice Rothfarb, also known as J.M. Rothwell. On January 3rd, a notice appeared in the Times that:
Morris Rothfarb, aged 16, a waiter of Russian nationality, was remanded at Marlborough-street Police Court on Saturday on a charge of demanding money with menaces of Lieutenant C.R.L. Falcy, Royal Flying Corps.
Precisely what happened is not clear, but perhaps Rothfarb knew that Falcy was an officer and threatened him with an accusation that would cause his dismissal as a British Army Officer. With male homosexuality illegal in the UK until the 1960s (and in the armed forces until 2000), blackmail accusing men of homosexuality was a particular avenue used by extortionists. According to Angus McLaren, in Sexual Blackmail: a Modern History (Harvard University Press 2002), most blackmail victims simply paid up in this situation. Homosexual blackmailers frequently operated in gangs, which made it difficult and risky to challenge their accusations. However, it seems that Falcy did exactly that by reporting Rothfarb immediately to the police. While the London police tended to give credence to men who challenged blackmailers and claimed innocence, almost 90% of courts martial during the Great War returned guilty verdicts (Gordon Corrigan, Mud, Blood & Poppycock, 2002, page 225). We cannot now know the details of what occurred in London that December, but the result was that Falcy was cashiered and stripped of his officer status on 14 March.
This is far from being the end of Roy Falcy’s story, though. After his conviction and ejection from the officer corps, he was able to rejoin the RFC in the ranks in January 1917. He became 54267 Serjeant C.R.L. Falcy.
In his new ‘other ranks’ guise, Falcy became a fully-fledged war hero. After training as a military pilot early in 1917, he joined 22 Squadron. He arrived with the Squadron in France on 10 May and served at the front until September as a reconnaissance pilot, primarily flying an FE2b with the serial number A848. One aspect of these missions that Falcy’s log books do not record is the frequent presence of Jimmie, a devoted mongrel puppy that he often smuggled on board inside his flying jacket.
One particular mission stands out in this period. Following a preliminary photographic mission on 12 June 1917, Falcy and his observer Roy Oswald Campbell, set out on 16 June in FE2b number A848 on what his log-book refers to as a ‘special mission’. The exact purpose of it is not clear, but it was a photographic mission aimed at countering German Kite Balloons. These were gas-filled balloons used to direct artillery fire, a vital and deadly role in the war on the Western Front where vantage points over enemy positions on the ground were few and hotly contested. They were extremely dangerous to attack, being heavily defended by aircraft and anti-aircraft guns.
Falcy’s log-book records the results succinctly: “Shot down: controls cut. Campbell climbed out on plane. Both got DCM.”
The full citation for his award (dated 16 August 1917) gives more details:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Whilst acting as pilot to another N.C.O. he and his comrade performed a most daring a successful photographic reconnaissance in order to confirm information previously gained as to the working of hostile kite balloons. During operations they were heavily fired upon, and their machine completely out of control, but thanks to their great coolness and presence of mind and to a feat of great daring performed by his comrade in order to right the machine Sjt. Falcy regained control and brought the machine back in safety to our lines.
Campbell’s citation (same date as Falcy’s) gives an added hair-raising detail about his part in their ‘cool’ response to so nearly being shot down out of control: “…with wonderful coolness and presence of mind they righted the machine, Serjt. Campbell climbing on to the extreme tip of the wing in order to do so.”
In 1918, Falcy served in No 38 Squadron, still flying the rather out-dated FE2b bombers, this time on night raids from their base in Dunkirk. He served with the squadron throughout its active service from May 1918 to the end of the war. Falcy’s log-book shows 24 successful missions and two unsuccessful between June and October. On the last date in that log-book he wrote “Hit in head on first show”, but still managed to fly in a second mission that night! He was mentioned in despatches for his good work on 1 January 1919 and in October that year was awarded the French Medaille Militaire. By the end of 1919, Falcy was a twice-decorated hero of the Royal Air Force, quite a turn-around after his disgrace four years earlier.
Campbell also went on to be honoured by a foreign power. As a 27-year-old ‘machinist and traveller’ with previous military experience, he had enlisted in September 1914 in his native Canada. After serving in the artillery, he joined the RFC. In 1917 he was also awarded the Belgian Ordre de la Couronne and in early 1918 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the RFC. On 27 September 1918, though, he was killed in action – after four years and two days of military service and less than two months before the Armistice. He was posthumously awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre and lies buried in the Harlebeke New British Cemetery in Flanders.
Falcy’s brother Humphrey Ned Falcy, an officer in the Tyneside Scottish (the 23rd Northumberland Fusiliers) was also honoured for his bravery during the war, earning a Military Cross that was gazetted in December 1916. His citation describes him leading a raid on the enemy “with great courage and skill” and then carrying a wounded man across no-man’s land when the raiding party withdrew. A month before his citation was published, H.N. Falcy was killed in action in France.
In the post-war years, Roy Falcy went on to obtain honours degrees in Law and English Literature at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he was elected president of the college athletics club and won the prestigious Chancellor’s Gold Medal for English Verse for his poem ‘Death of Napoleon’ in 1921.
After the death of his first wife, he married again and he and his wife spent much of their lives overseas. In World War II he served in the Royal Indian Navy Volunteer Reserve, thus becoming one of the few people to have served in all three branches of the armed forces, He died in 1958 at the age of 65, and his surviving children remember him as an inspirational and loving father.
Note: This post was edited and re-posted on 24 September 2013 to include additional details and more information about Falcy’s life and his extraordinary flying career. I am grateful to those who supplied this information.