Out of the ordinary

Major Leonard Learmount DSO, MC, RFC, Squadron Commander of No 22 Squadron January 1917-March 1918, and one of his mounts, a FE2b “Fee”

This man did not die for his country. He just came within a whisker of doing so countless times between June 1915 and March 1918 when he was flying over the hellish battle lines of the Western Front in the Great War.

Leonard Learmount is not listed as an ace, but he was an RFC pilot and squadron commander. When I, as his grandson, began researching his military life, I discovered a man who had been a businessman in the Far East before the war, and returned to the same business after it in 1919. He kept no records of his military flying and never talked of it, but clearly retained a love of flying, because he founded flying clubs that still exist in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

As this entry in the RAF Museum’s blog points out, his dogged persistence as a multi-role aviator for nearly three years over the front line, facing high risk every mission and being wounded in action twice, is as much a representation of the spirit of the RFC and RAF as the stories of the aces.

His story, and that of his squadron – No 22 – are told in more detail in the Summer 2020 edition of Cross & Cockade International, the quarterly journal of the First World War Aviation Historical Society. For anyone interested in the history of aviation – indeed the origins of aviation – and history of the Great War, I cannot recommend the Society highly enough. Membership doesn’t break the bank.

Having researched the detail of a specific low-altitude photo-reconnaissance sortie Learmount flew over the Hindenburg Line on 10 May 1917, I commissioned aviation artist Tim O’Brien to paint the scene of the preparation for departure. The return from the mission was more messy, because the aeroplane had been shot-up and Learmount wounded. To get clear photographs of the enemy lines the pilot had to fly the aircraft so low it was within easy range of small-arms fire, let alone “archie” – anti-aircraft fire. And the flying had to be steady, making the aeroplane a sitting duck. But they got the photos back to base, and their quality was high, rendering vital information about enemy readiness states.


3 thoughts on “Out of the ordinary

  1. Dear David,
    My great uncle Geoffrey Ward Robarts was a pilot in C flight 22 squadron in France during WW1. I have recently published a book of his personal diaries from this time. I have been trying to find relatives of some of the pilots, observers etc who flew with him ( Summers, Williams, Mackay, Duffus and many others). My great uncle was eventually promoted to wing commander after the war. I see in your article your grandfather also flew the FE 2b. Please contact me if you can help me trace certain individuals from the original 22 squadron in France, or if you would like some details of his accounts from the Western front and Flanders. Peter.


  2. Dear Peter Robarts

    I’d love to obtain a copy of your great uncle’s diaries, and to help you in any way I can. My grandfather was the commanding officer of No 22 Sqn from January 1917 to March 2018 when he got a blighty in air combat flying a Bristol Fighter, recovered to base and was sent back home for treatment. He was on No 7 and No 15 Squadrons before that, first action out of St Omer in June 1915.


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