Manfred von Richthofen was credited with the most ‘victories’ of any Great War fighter ace, bringing down 80 allied aircraft between September 1916 and April 1918. Londoner Flight Sergeant S.H. Quicke faced him at least twice and perished in the Red Baron’s 29th victory.
Sidney Herbert Quicke was born in September 1889, the son of Devon-born stained-glass painter Alfred and Londoner Annie Quicke. In 1891, they were living, along with Sidney’s elder sister Alice and brother Alfred and their maternal grandmother Maria Edwards in Alma Street, St Pancras. In 1896, Alfred died at the age of 35 and Annie took in work at home to bring in more money, aided by her elder children once they were old enough to work (i.e. over 12 years old).
By 1911, Annie had remarried; three of her children (including Florence, born in the early ’90s) were each working, and they lived with Annie and with their step-father, Henry Rea at 36 Struan Villas, East Finchley. Sidney was a motor-car driver at a chemical works (Alfred junior was, intriguingly, a playing-card maker).
In 1913, Sidney joined the Royal Flying Corps, which had been formed the year before. He went to France almost as soon as the war started, arriving with No 4 Squadron on 12 August 1914.
By March 1916, he had qualified as an observer, but – clearly showing a great aptitude for his work – he soon became a pilot. He was awarded Royal Aero Club Certificate number 3890 in November 1916 and became an RFC sergeant pilot shortly afterwards.
Having joined 16 Squadron, Quicke was in the air on 6 March 1917 on an artillery observation mission near Vimy when he witnessed Richthofen’s 24th aerial victory, over another 16 Squadron aeroplane in which G.M. Gosset-Bibby and G.J.O. Brichta died.
Just as they saw their comrades’ aircraft spinning to the ground, Quicke and his observer (Captain L.E. Claremont) heard the guns of an enemy fighter. Soon two Halberstadts were upon them: one white and one red. The red one swept round behind them and fired, damaging struts and an aileron, before being driven off by 70 rounds fired by Claremont. They had survived a brush with the Red Baron.
Quicke’s luck did not last much longer though. Just over a fortnight later, he was again up in the air near Vimy with an officer as his observer, 2nd Lt W.J. Lidsey from Oxfordshire.
Richthofen’s combat report sums up the encounter from the German’s perspective:
Message came through that enemy planes had been seen at 1,000 metres altitude in spite of bad weather and strong east wind. I went up by myself intending to bring down an infantry or artillery flyer.
After one hour I spotted at 800 metres a large number of artillery flyers beyond the lines. They sometimes approached our front, but never passed it. After several vain attempts I managed, half hidden by clouds, to take one of these BEs by surprise and to attack him at 600 metres, one kilometre beyond our lines.
The adversary made the mistake of flying in a straight line when he tried to evade me, and thus he was just a wink too long in my fire (500 shots). Suddenly he made two uncontrolled curves and dashed, smoking, into the ground. The plane was completely ruined; it fell in section F.3
The aircraft crashed behind the British lines, but the crew could not be saved. The pilot, Sidney Herbert Quicke, was already dead (either from the combat or from the crash) when he was pulled from the wreckage; Lidsey was still alive but severely wounded and died the next day. Quicke was buried in Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension; Lidsey in Aubigny Communal Cemetery, presumably having been died at one of the nearby casualty clearing stations.
Note: the details of Quicke’s encounters with Richthofen (including the combat report) are taken from the book Under the guns of the Red Baron by Franks, Giblin and McCrery. It is an exhaustive resource about the men who were defeated in battle by the Red Baron, as well as about the two times that he was shot down.