AIR COMMODORE FERDINAND MAURICE FELIX WEST VC CBE MC - A BIOGRAPHY
Ferdinand Maurice Felix West was born in London on 25 Feb 1896. His father, Francis Drake West (named after his famous great, great...... uncle Sir Francis Drake), was a profesional opera singer. His mother, Countess Clemence Alexandrinede de La Garde de Chambonasm, was the daughter of the French Marquis of Chambonas. He grew up and was educated in Italy, he
was tri-lingual, being fluent in both Italian and French as well as his native
English. When war broke out in 1914 he returned from Switzerland and enlisted in the
Royal Army Medical Corps as a private, before he was commissioned in the Royal Munster Fusiliers in 1915. After
he was taken for a flight in early 1917 he decided to transfer to the RFC.
West trained as an observer and flew more than 100 hours on operational
sorties with 3 Sqn before being posted back to England for pilot training.
He returned to France as a pilot in January 1918 and was posted to Major
Trafford Leigh Mallory's No 8 Squadron flying Armstrong Whitworth FK8s in
the army co-operation role. He frequently returned from his sorties
bearing the signs of enemy ground-fire. On one occasion, he and his
observer were attacked by four Pfalz scouts, who must have expected the
unwieldy FK8 to be an easy target. They were soon to be disabused
as West quickly turned and shot one Pfalz down and another fell victim to
his observer, Lt Sharman. West received the Military Cross in May
in recognition of his efforts. (The award of the MC was gazetted on
26 Jun 1918).
The award of the first Victoria Cross to be awarded after the formation
of the Royal Air Force to Captain West was cited in the London Gazette in
Citation for his Victoria Cross
CAPTAIN FMF WEST, VC, MC.
No 8 Squadron, Royal Air Force
"Captain West, while engaging hostile troops at low altitude far over the
enemy lines, was attacked by seven aircraft. Early in the engagement
one of his legs was partially severed by an explosive bullet and fell powerless
into the controls, rendering the machine for the time unmanageable. Lifting
his disabled leg, he regained control of the machine, and, although wounded
in the other leg, he, with surpassing bravery and devotion to duty, manoeuvred
his machine so skilfully that his observer was enabled to get several good bursts
into the enemy machines, which drove them away.
"Captain West then, with rare courage and determination, desperately wounded as
he was, brought his machine over our lines and landed safely. Exhausted
by his exertions, he fainted, but on regaining consciousness insisted on writing
Post World War I
Captain West's left leg was amputated, for which he received £250 compensation
from the Air Ministry. He had a special artificial leg made and then
attempted to resume his career in the post war RAF. Backed by Sir Hugh
Trenchard he was granted a commission in the RAF and soon resumed flying, at
first unofficially. He served on 17 Sqn, and at CFS, and then commanded 4
Sqn. Remarkable as this was, his most notable exploits in the latter stage
of his career were diplomatic rather than military. He served as air attache
to the Baltic States, and briefly as air attache in Rome. Once Italy joined
the Second World War he moved to Berne, Switzerland. He was to remain in
Switzerland for the rest of the war, and his achievements in conducting an
intelligence war against Germany from this neutral base in the middle of the
Nazi Empire were an important contribution to Allied victory.
At the end of WWII, Air Cdre West retired from the RAF and pursued a second
career in the film industry. He died in Hospital in Windsor in 1988.