A HELENSBURGH man was a World War One flying ace and won two medals for gallantry . . . at the age of only 20. But Captain George Edwin Thomson lost his life in a flying accident in England just a few weeks later.

He was born in Rangoon, Burma, on September 19 1897, the only son of James Thomson and his wife Ellen, of Glenfuccan, Helensburgh, when they were in Burma where Mr Thomson worked.

George was educated at Helensburgh's Hermitage School, then at Allan Glen's School in Glasgow and Glenalmond in Perthshire.

After leaving school he studied at Glasgow University with a view to a career in the Civil Service.

When World War One broke out in 1914 he obtained a commission in the King's Own Scottish Borderers, and in September 1916 he became attached to the Royal Flying Corps, which two years later was to become the Royal Air Force.

During flying training he was badly injured in a crash and it left him with a permanently scarred face.

In August 1917 he joined 46 Squadron in France, flying Sopwith Pups and then Sopwith Camels, and in November he was promoted to Flight Commander in recognition of his services.

During his service in France he brought down 21 German machines.

In the spring of 1918, as a Temporary Captain, he gained his first bravery award, the Military Cross, for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.

The citation, published in the London Gazette on April 22 1918, stated: "On one occasion, when testing his machine, he observed a hostile two-seater machine between himself and the lines.

"He dived on it and fired sixty rounds at a close range, rendering the observer insensible.

"He then pulled up under the tail of the enemy machine, fired another thirty rounds, and observed it going down in a slow spin. He has accounted for six enemy machines, and has rendered continuous gallant and valuable service." Two months later he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, again for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.

The citation stated: "On one occasion, encountering a number of enemy two-seater planes, he dived on one of these and sent it down in flames.

"On returning to our lines, he dived on to another enemy machine, the observer of which was seen to collapse in his cockpit, the hostile machine going down completely out of control.

"On the following day, observing a hostile two-seater machine, he dived on it, engaging it at 100 yards range.

"On the hostile plane going down in a slow spin, he followed it to within 2,500 feet, but was compelled to withdraw owing to heavy machine-gun fire from the ground.

"He has, in all, accounted for 21 enemy machines, and has at all times during recent operations displayed the most marked skill and gallantry." That April he came home on leave, and the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times reported: "A vast amount of satisfaction has arisen in the town, especially amongst those who took a leading part in the welfare of the Helensburgh Swimming Club, that one of their number, now Captain George Thomson, KOSB RAF, has the proud distinction of wearing the ribbon of the DSO, also the ribbon of the Military Cross.

"Captain Thomson, who is at present staying for a few days of his well-earned furlough with Mr and Mrs Joseph Buchanan, Windsor Terrace, has only been some nine months in France, and in the course of his sojourn has had many thrilling adventures.

"On three occasions his own machine has come to grief, but he safely returned and landed in his own lines.

"He has not yet attained his 21st birthday. As a swimmer he was in the front rank of the many young men who were members of the club the year the war broke out, and many exciting races were seen at the pier.

"With the progress he was making there is no saying what honours he might have achieved in this branch of healthy sport.

"We understand Captain Thomson is to be retained in London as a lecturer on aviation in warfare.

"His many friends in town have congratulated him on winning such high military honours, and wish him good luck." Sadly he had very bad luck. On the evening of Thursday May 23 1918 he was on his way to a camp in the Midlands and landed at Port Meadow, near Oxford, to take on petrol.

Shortly after he took off his plane was seen to crash to the ground and burst into flames, and he was killed instantly. He was buried at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford.

Reporting his death, the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times stated: "Captain Thomson was an excellent swimmer, and a prominent and successful competitor at galas of the local Swimming Club. He was also a fine rugby player.

"Only last month Captain Thomson paid a visit to Helensburgh. He resided with Mr and Mrs Joseph Buchanan, and they, as well as his other friends in town, deeply regret the loss of a young life full of rich promise." Posthumously, on February 21 1919, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross from an earlier action when he was a Lieutenant in the King's Own Scottish Borderers.

This time the London Gazette citation stated: "On 6th November the machine in which this officer was flying was hit by a shell and the left aileron control shot away. At once it began to fall completely out of control.

"At a height of 500 feet 2nd Lieutenant Thomson, with fine presence of mind and contempt of danger, climbed on to the right-band lower plane, thus enabling the pilot to bring the machine on an even keel and to land safely in our lines." email: milligeye@btinternet.com