Lionel Rees VC memorial, Caernarfon

Lionel Rees VC memorial, Caernarfon

On the wall of the medieval tower at Porth yr Aur is a plaque honouring Lionel Wilmot Brabazon Rees, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his exploits as a fighter pilot in 1916. He was a member of the Royal Welsh Yacht Club, which is based in the tower. His portrait is shown here courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

He was born in Caernarfon and grew up at 5 Castle Street. His father, Colonel Charles Rees, was a solicitor. After his education in Worcestershire and Sussex, Lionel attended the Royal Military Academy. In 1903 he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery and served for six years in West Africa.

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© IWM (Art.IWM ART 1468)

Lionel took flying lessons and got his pilot’s licence in January 1913. At the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered for the newly formed Royal Flying Corps. He went to the Western Front in 1915. Lionel received the Military Cross for his courage and tenacity in several encounters with enemy aircraft that summer.

On 1 July 1916, thousands of British soldiers died as the Battle of the Somme commenced. British and German planes clashed in the skies above. In the late afternoon, Lionel sighted what he thought were British bombers but were German. Instead of retreating, he advanced in his biplane. His gunner downed one aircraft and damaged another. Although heavily outnumbered, they continued to engage the enemy until out of ammunition, when Lionel started firing his revolver.

German machine-gun bullets damaged his plane and hit his left thigh, but he successfully landed and was confined to hospital for six months. For his actions that day he received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest gallantry award. Caernarfon made him a Freeman in 1919.

In 1917 he was sent to America to advise the US Army on the establishment of an air corps, following the USA’s recent entry into the war. After the war he held various positions in the Royal Air Force, retiring in 1931 only to be recalled in the Second World War.

Lionel’s passion was for sailing. In July 1933, he left Caernarfon on his twin-mast yacht May for a solo voyage to the Bahamas, arriving in October that year. He continued to Florida and then New York. For this achievement he was awarded the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America.

Back in the Bahamas, Lionel married Sylvia Williams in August 1947 and the couple had two sons and a daughter. However, their time together was short, for Group Captain Rees died of leukaemia in 1955 aged 71. He is buried at Nassau, Bahamas.

With thanks to Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front Museum, Llandudno

Postcode: LL55 1SN    View Location Map

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