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Cecil Arthur Lewis (29 March 1898 – 27 January 1997) was a British fighter
ace An ace is a playing card, die or domino with a single pip. In the standard French deck, an ace has a single suit symbol (a heart, diamond, spade, or club) located in the middle of the card, sometimes large and decorated, especially in the c ...
who flew with
No. 56 Squadron RAF Number 56 Squadron, nicknamed ''the Firebirds'' for their ability to always reappear intact regardless of the odds, is one of the oldest and most successful Squadron (aviation), squadrons of the Royal Air Force, with battle honours from many of ...
in the
First World War World War I (28 July 1914 11 November 1918), often abbreviated as WWI, was one of the deadliest global conflicts in history. Belligerents included much of Europe, the Russian Empire, the United States, and the Ottoman Empire, with fightin ...
, and was credited with destroying eight enemy aircraft. He went on to be a founding executive of the
British Broadcasting Company The British Broadcasting Company Ltd. (BBC) was a short-lived British commercial broadcasting company formed on 18 October 1922 by British and American electrical companies doing business in the United Kingdom. Licensed by the British Genera ...
and to enjoy a long career as a writer, notably of the aviation classic ''Sagittarius Rising'', some scenes from which were represented in the film '' Aces High''.


Biography


Early life

Lewis was born on 29 March 1898 at 11, Radnor Place,
Birkenhead Birkenhead (; cy, Penbedw) is a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, Merseyside, England; historically, it was part of Cheshire until 1974. The town is on the Wirral Peninsula, along the south bank of the River Mersey, opposite Liver ...
, then in Cheshire, the only child of Edward Williams Lewis, a Congregational minister, by his marriage to Alice Rigby.James Owen, "Lewis, Cecil Arthur (1898–1997), airman and radio and television broadcaster", in ''
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography The ''Dictionary of National Biography'' (''DNB'') is a standard work of reference on notable figures from British history, published since 1885. The updated ''Oxford Dictionary of National Biography'' (''ODNB'') was published on 23 September ...
'' (2004)
His parents had been married at
Runcorn Runcorn is an industrial town and cargo port in the Borough of Halton in Cheshire, England. Its population in 2011 was 61,789. The town is in the southeast of the Liverpool City Region, with Liverpool to the northwest across the River Mersey. ...
in 1896. After a short time at
Dulwich College Dulwich College is a 2–19 Independent school (United Kingdom), independent, Day school, day and boarding school for Single-sex education, boys in Dulwich, London, England. As a Public school (United Kingdom), public school, it began as the Col ...
, the young Lewis was educated at
University College School ("Slowly but surely") , established = , closed = , type = Public schoolIndependent day school , religion = , president = , head_label = Headmaster , head = Mark Beard , r_head_label = , r_he ...
and
Oundle Oundle () is a market town on the left bank of the River Nene in North Northamptonshire, England, which had a population of 5,735 at the time of the 2011 census. It is north of London and south-west of Peterborough. The town is home to Ound ...
,"Lewis, Cecil Arthur", in '' Who Was Who 1996–2000'' (London: A. & C. Black, 2001, ), p. 347T. H. Bridgewater
Obituary: Cecil Lewis
in ''
The Independent ''The Independent'' is a British online newspaper. It was established in 1986 as a national morning printed paper. Nicknamed the ''Indy'', it began as a broadsheet and changed to tabloid format in 2003. The last printed edition was publish ...
'' dated 29 January 1997, accessed 6 March 2019
leaving school at the age of seventeen.


First World War

Lewis joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1915 after lying about his age, and learned to fly at
Brooklands Brooklands was a motor racing circuit and aerodrome built near Weybridge in Surrey, England, United Kingdom. It opened in 1907 and was the world's first purpose-built 'banked' motor racing circuit as well as one of Britain's first airfie ...
in Surrey. In 1916, he flew the Morane Parasol on operations with No. 3 Squadron and was awarded the
Military Cross The Military Cross (MC) is the third-level (second-level pre-1993) military decoration awarded to officers and (since 1993) other ranks of the British Armed Forces, and formerly awarded to officers of other Commonwealth countries. The MC ...
for his actions during the Battle of the Somme. Flying over the battlefield on the
First day on the Somme The first day on the Somme, 1 July 1916, was the beginning of the Battle of Albert the name given by the British to the first two weeks of the 141 days of the Battle of the Somme () in the First World War. Nine corps of the French Sixth Ar ...
(1 July 1916) to report on British troop movements, Lewis witnessed the blowing of the mines at La Boiselle. He later described the early morning scene in his book ''Sagittarius Rising''. It had been arranged that continuous overlapping patrols would fly throughout the day. Lewis's patrol was ordered "to keep clear of
La Boiselle Ovillers-la-Boisselle is a commune in the Somme department in Hauts-de-France in northern France. Geography The commune of Ovillers-la-Boisselle is situated northeast of Amiens and extends to the north and south of the D 929 Albert–Bapaume r ...
" because of the mines that were to be blown. As he watched from above the village of
Thiepval Thiepval (; pcd, Tièbvo) is a commune in the Somme department in Hauts-de-France in northern France. Thiepval is located north of Albert at the crossroads of the D73 and D151 and approximately northeast of Amiens. Population First Wo ...
, almost two miles from where the mines exploded, Lewis saw a remarkable sight, Lewis's aircraft was hit by lumps of mud thrown out by the explosion. During May and June 1917, when he was flying the S.E.5a with the elite 56 Squadron, Lewis was credited with eight victories. Back in England, Lewis served with 44 and 61 Squadrons on Home Defence before returning to France in late 1918 with 152 (Night-Fighter) Squadron, flying the
Sopwith Camel The Sopwith Camel is a British First World War single-seat biplane fighter aircraft that was introduced on the Western Front in 1917. It was developed by the Sopwith Aviation Company as a successor to the Sopwith Pup and became one of the ...
, as a flight commander with the rank of captain.
A forty-minute interview with Lewis, describing his experiences as a First World War pilot, was recorded by the BBC in 1963–64 and later made available online as part of the centenary commemorations of the war. In it, Lewis describes how on his first flight he had the most unusual experience of seeing 9-inch howitzer shells turning over in flight at 8,000 feet before descending to the target. He also described his most frightening experience of the war: a reconnaissance flight at 1,000 feet during the initial bombardment before the battle of the Somme. This entailed flying along the line of fire of shells. Close passing shells caused severe turbulence to his aircraft and a number of his friends were killed.


Flight instructor, journalist, broadcaster

After the war, Lewis was hired by the
Vickers Vickers was a British engineering company that existed from 1828 until 1999. It was formed in Sheffield as a steel foundry by Edward Vickers and his father-in-law, and soon became famous for casting church bells. The company went public i ...
company to teach Chinese pilots to fly and to establish a Peking–Shanghai air service using Vickers Commercials, the civilian version of the
Vickers Vimy The Vickers Vimy was a British heavy bomber aircraft developed and manufactured by Vickers Limited. Developed during the latter stages of the First World War to equip the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), the Vimy was designed by Reginald Kirshaw "Rex" ...
bomber. In Peking in 1921 Lewis married Evdekia Dmitrievna Horvath, known as Doushka (1902–2005), the daughter of a Russian general. He returned to England when the air service project was abandoned by Vickers after a couple of years. With his first wife, he had one son and one daughter. Through a friend, the Russian singer
Vladimir Rosing Vladimir Sergeyevich Rosing (russian: Владимир Серге́евич Розинг) (November 24, 1963), also known as Val Rosing, was a Russian-born operatic tenor and stage director who spent most of his professional career in the United ...
, Lewis met the artist
Charles Ricketts Charles de Sousy Ricketts (2 October 1866 – 7 October 1931) was a British artist, illustrator, author and printer, known for his work as a book designer and typographer and for his costume and scenery designs for plays and operas. Ricketts ...
, who became his artistic mentor and sponsor. After Ricketts's death in 1931, Lewis edited his letters and journals for publication. Some of Ricketts' ashes were buried in the park of Lewis's villa at on
Lake Maggiore Lake Maggiore (, ; it, Lago Maggiore ; lmo, label=Western Lombard, Lagh Maggior; pms, Lagh Magior; literally 'Greater Lake') or Verbano (; la, Lacus Verbanus) is a large lake located on the south side of the Alps. It is the second largest l ...
, which Ricketts had given him £300 to buy. In 1922 Lewis was one of the five young founding executives of the British Broadcasting Company, precursor of the
British Broadcasting Corporation #REDIRECT BBC #REDIRECT BBC #REDIRECT BBC Here i going to introduce about the best teacher of my life b BALAJI sir. He is the precious gift that I got befor 2yrs . How has helped and thought all the concept and made my success in the 10th board ex ...
, where he was a writer, producer and director. The other four were John Reith, Arthur Burrows, Stanton Jefferies and Peter Eckersley. In 1927 he participated in the BBC's first sports broadcasts, assisting commentator
Teddy Wakelam Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam (8 May 1893 – 10 July 1963), known as Teddy Wakelam, was an English sports broadcaster and rugby union player who captained Harlequin F.C. Early life Wakelam was born in Hereford. During his ...
. In 1931, he co-wrote and directed a short film adaptation of the
George Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist. His influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from ...
play '' How He Lied to Her Husband''. In late 1936 – early 1937 he was a producer and presenter for the infant BBC Television Service at Alexandra Palace. At the 1938 Academy Awards ceremony, Lewis, Shaw,
Ian Dalrymple Ian Dalrymple (26 August 190328 March 1989) was a British screenwriter, film director, film editor and film producer. Biography Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, he was educated at Rugby School, Rugby and Trinity College, Cambridge. He worke ...
and
W. P. Lipscomb William Percy Lipscomb (born 1887 in Merton, Surrey, England, died 25 July 1958) was a British-born Hollywood playwright, screenwriter, producer and director. He died in London in 1958, aged 71. Career Lipscomb edited a brewery magazine and wrot ...
were awarded
Oscar Oscar, OSCAR, or The Oscar may refer to: People * Oscar (given name), an Irish- and English-language name also used in other languages; the article includes the names Oskar, Oskari, Oszkár, Óscar, and other forms. * Oscar (Irish mythology) ...
s for their screen adaptation of ''
Pygmalion Pygmalion or Pigmalion may refer to: Mythology * Pygmalion (mythology), a sculptor who fell in love with his statue Stage * ''Pigmalion'' (opera), a 1745 opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau * ''Pygmalion'' (Rousseau), a 1762 melodrama by Jean-Jacques ...
''.


Second World War

Lewis joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in early 1939 as a pilot officer and served in the Mediterranean and Middle East theatre of World War II, rising to the rank of
squadron leader Squadron leader (Sqn Ldr in the RAF ; SQNLDR in the RAAF and RNZAF; formerly sometimes S/L in all services) is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is als ...
.
Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist. His influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from ...
wrote of Lewis: "This prince of pilots has had a charmed life in every sense of the word. He is a thinker, a master of words and a bit of a poet.".


Later life

During the late 1940s Lewis became enamoured with the teachings of the Greek-Armenian mystic
Gurdjieff George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (; rus, Гео́ргий Ива́нович Гурджи́ев, r=Geórgy Ivánovich Gurdzhíev, p=ɡʲɪˈorɡʲɪj ɪˈvanəvʲɪd͡ʑ ɡʊrd͡ʐˈʐɨ(j)ɪf; hy, Գեորգի Իվանովիչ Գյուրջիև; c. 1 ...
. In 1947 he flew a Miles Gemini to South Africa, where he spent the next three years on a farm he established, but the farm was not a success, and in 1950 he returned to England. He joined the '' Daily Mail'' in 1956 as a journalist, formally retiring in 1966. After his last job, Lewis moved to Corfu, where he spent the rest of his life, continuing to write until well into his nineties. He became the last surviving British
flying ace A flying ace, fighter ace or air ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The exact number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an ace is varied, but is usually co ...
of the Great War.


Private life

In Peking in 1921 Lewis married Evdekia Dmitrievna Horvath, known as Doushka (1902–2005), the shy eighteen-year-old daughter of Dmitri Horvath, an Imperial Russian general, and brought her home to England the next year. On arrival in London, Doushka spoke little English, and the couple began by speaking to each other in French. They had a son, Ivor, in 1923, and a daughter, Celia, in 1924, and settled in Chelsea while Lewis was working for the BBC. Through Shaw, who became Lewis's mentor, the Lewises met
T. E. Lawrence Thomas Edward Lawrence (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935) was a British archaeologist, army officer, diplomat, and writer who became renowned for his role in the Arab Revolt (1916–1918) and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915–1918 ...
, Noël Coward,
Paul Robeson Paul Leroy Robeson ( ; April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an American bass-baritone concert artist, stage and film actor, professional American football, football player, and activist who became famous both for his cultural accomplish ...
, Sybil Thorndike, and
H. G. Wells Herbert George Wells"Wells, H. G."
Revised 18 May 2015. ''
After Hollywood, Lewis went to Tahiti to find a simpler life, which he recorded in ''The Trumpet is Mine'' (1938), then to Italy to write ''Challenge of the Night'' (1938). In 1939 he came back to England to join the RAF as a flying instructor. Doushka stayed in Peking for almost three years. Lewis met her on her return to England but there was no reconciliation, which Doushka later regretted, blaming her pride. They were divorced in 1940. Doushka married Cedric Williams and they had a daughter but later divorced. In 1942, at
Holborn Holborn ( or ) is a district in central London, which covers the south-eastern part of the London Borough of Camden and a part ( St Andrew Holborn Below the Bars) of the Ward of Farringdon Without in the City of London. The area has its root ...
, London, Lewis married Olga H. Burnett but they had no children and were divorced in 1950.Marriages Dec 1942: "Burnett, Olga H and Lewis, Cecil A" in ''Register of Marriages for Holburn Registration District'', vol 1b (1942), p. 790 In 1960, he married Frances Lowe, known as Fanny. In 1970, they bought a 26-foot boat and together sailed it to Corfu, a story told in ''Turn Right for Corfu'' (1972). The couple settled there and lived happily until Lewis's death in 1997. In 1996, when Lewis and Doushka were in their nineties, he published his last book, ''So Long Ago, So Far Away'', an unreserved apology to her.


Bibliography


Works by Lewis

*''Broadcasting From Within'' (1924) *''The Unknown Warrior'' (1928) (a translation of French playwright
Paul Raynal Paul Raynal (25 July 1885 in Narbonne, Aude, France; † 18 August 1971 in Paris, France) was a French playwright, actor and director who had considerable success in the 1920s and 1930s. Life Raynal was born in Narbonne, the son of a wine merch ...
's 1924 play ''Le tombeau sous l'arc de Triomphe'') *''Sagittarius Rising'' (1936) *''The Trumpet Is Mine'' (1938) *''Challenge to the Night'' (1939) *''Pathfinders'' (1944) *''Yesterday's Evening'' (1946) *''Farewell to Wings'' (1964) *''Turn Right For Corfu'' (1972) *''Never Look Back; an Attempt at Autobiography'' (1974) *''Gemini to Joburg'' (1984) *''Five Conversations about Gurdjieff'' (1984) *''Sagittarius Surviving'' (1991) *''All My Yesterdays'' (1993) *''A Wish to Be: A Voyage of Self-Discovery'' (1994) *''So Long Ago, So Far Away: Memory of Old Peking'' (1996)


Notes


External links


1964 BBC Interview with Cecil Lewis
* * * * {{DEFAULTSORT:Lewis, Cecil Arthur 1898 births 1997 deaths Military personnel from Birkenhead People from Birkenhead People educated at Oundle School English aviators Royal Flying Corps officers Royal Air Force personnel of World War I Recipients of the Military Cross British World War I flying aces Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve personnel of World War II Lewis, Cecil A. Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award winners BBC people Royal Air Force squadron leaders 20th-century screenwriters