William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse VC

b. 26/09/1887 London. d. 27/04/1915 Merville, France.

William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse (1887-1915) was the second child of four children born to Edward and Mary Anne Moorhouse in London on 26th September 1887. He had Maori blood in his veins, since his grandmother had been a princess of that race, and was known to his family and friends as Will. He had been tutored at Harrow, after initial education in Hertfordshire, and later went to Trinity College, Cambridge, from which he had come down in 1909. He came from a wealthy background so he could devote himself to motorcycles and racing cars, interests which fascinated him.

William B Rhodes-Moorhouse VC

He was the owner of several racing cars and attended motor rallies, trials and races, including events at Brooklands, where he drove a 58hp Fiat named after his then fiancée, Linda B. Morritt, a friend of Anne, his elder sister. However, he didn’t prove to be especially outstanding in the sport, and he decided to turn to the pursuit of flying, just seven years after the Wright brothers had achieved the first mechanical flight. He paid for his own flying lessons, and in 1911 he gained his aviator’s certificate No 147 on 17th October over Huntingdon in a Bleriot monoplane similar to the plane that had crossed the Channel two years previously.

1911 was a momentous year for William. He had, with his friend James Radley, designed a special version of the Bleriot with a new Anzani motor – the Radley-Moorhouse monoplane. He also travelled to the USA where he took part in a number of meetings and air races. He was added to the American Hall of Fame by winning the coveted Harbor Prize, worth around £1,000 towards the end of a triumphant tour. He sold his plane and returned to England to prepare for his forthcoming marriage.

His marriage was marked in its own unique way by making the first aerial crossing of the English Channel with a pair of passengers – these consisting of his new bride and the journalist J. H. Lebedoer. Despite poor weather, the aircraft made the crossing landing at Bethersden, near Ashford, Kent after a journey of 130 miles from Douai. Linda was concerned about the dangers of aviation and begged William to give up flying for the foreseeable future. He reluctantly agreed, but the Great War would intervene just over two years later.

In 1913, he was extremely fortunate to survive a car crash which left him with serious head injuries as a passenger. He recovered to find he was about to inherit a considerable fortune bequeathed by his maternal grandfather. To do this it became legally necessary to take on the additional name of Rhodes, so that his first and only child, born at this time, was christened William Henry Rhodes-Moorhouse. The momentous year was capped off when his mother, purchased Parnham House in Dorset, a fine sixteenth century manor near Beauminster.

The outbreak of World War One changed William’s life dramatically, as on 24th August 1914, he left his wife and infant son to join the Royal Flying Corps as a Second Lieutenant. He soon made his first flight in over two years since his promise to Linda. This flight was made on 6th November over Brooklands, before being stationed at South Farnborough, where he was to command the Aircraft Park. This choice of role for an accomplished pilot such as William was due to the fact he was deemed unfit for flying, since he had a complete set of dentures resulting from his car accident the year before. He had to be content with testing engines for BE aircraft, a mundane task. After a number of months of frequent appeals to higher authority, coupled with a crippling shortage of experienced pilots on the Western Front, brought him a posting to Major T. I. Webb-Bowen’s No 2 Squadron at Merville with effect from 20th March 1915.

After a spell familiarising himself with the area and in testing aircraft, he found himself with the rest of his unit involved in the struggle for Ypres. On 26th April 1915 at Kortrijk, Belgium, Rhodes-Moorhouse swept low over the railway junction that he had been ordered to attack. He released his 100 lb (45 kg) bomb and was immediately plunged into a heavy barrage of small arms fire from rifles and a machine-gun in the belfry of Kortrijk Church; he was severely wounded by a bullet in his thigh, and his plane was badly hit. Returning to the Allied lines, he again ran into heavy fire from the ground and was wounded twice more. He managed to get his aircraft back, and insisted on making his report before being taken to the Casualty Clearing Station.

His wounds were so severe that tragically he could not be saved, and he died the following day. Unusually for the time, his body was brought home under the orders of Hugh Trenchard, Commander of the RFC and Sir John French. He was also posthumously promoted to First Lieutenant backdated to 24th April. He was given a full military funeral in the grounds of Parnham House. On 22nd  May the London Gazette announced the posthumous award of the VC, the first to be awarded to an airman. William’s son, grew up to be an Olympic skier and joined the RAF and served in No 601 Squadron in the Second World War. Tragically, he was shot down and killed on 6th September 1940 in combat near Tunbridge Wells, Kent whilst flying a Hawker Hurricane. His ashes were later interred in a corner of his father’s last resting place at Parnham House. His father’s medals are now part of the Ashcroft Collection at the Imperial War Museum.





Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Images of the VC Stones at St Andrews, Spratton, and in Beauminster, Dorset, and the road sign in Longhedge, Wiltshire.

Terry Hissey – Images of the VC Stone at the MOD Building, London, and Rhodes-Moorhouse VC name on the Harrow School Chapel Memorial.