b. 04/09/1894 Mossel Bay, SA. d. 21/06/1921 Upavon, Wiltshire.
Andrew Frederick Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor (1894-1921) was born on 4th September 1894 at Mossel Bay, a minor port on the east coast of the Cape Province, the son of John James Proctor, a teacher and ex-Army officer. Educated at his father’s schools at George and, later, Mafeking, he became a boarding pupil in the old South African College in 1911. Matriculating in 1912, he commenced studies in 1913 for an engineering diploma, and in 1914 was granted a Second Year Pass. His studies were then interrupted by the Great War, and on 1st October 1914, he voluntarily enlisted in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles (“The Dukes”) as No 6348 Signaller Proctor for active service in the German South-West Africa campaign; despite being only 5ft 2in.
He played a full part in the campaign, and at its end transferred to the South African Field Telegraph and Postal Corps for a further three months’ service, before being demobbed in August 1915, and returning to his college to continue his engineering studies. A year later he passed his Third Year exams, but by then he was thinking again about the war, and the possibilities of joining his many friends who had signed up and left for England.
His opportunity came when Captain Allister Miller DSO was sent by the British Government to South Africa to recruit volunteers for pilot training and service with the RFC. On 12th March 1917, Arthur officially enlisted as an Air Mechanic, 3rd Class in the RFC, and sailed for England to train as a pilot. It was at this time, he adopted the name Beauchamp to his surname, and also dropped his German sounding Frederick.
Reporting to No 6 Officers’ Cadet Battalion at South Farnborough on 26th March 1917, Proctor was sent to the Oxford School of Military Aeronautics on 13th April for a month’s ground training, and in May commenced his flying instruction with 5 (Reserve) Squadron, Castle Bromwich. Further instruction with 24 (Reserve) Squadron at Netheravon, led to an advanced Service flying course at CFS, Upavon in July 1917; and on 29th July he was awarded his RFC “wings”, and posted to Beaulieu, Hampshire to join 84 Squadron.
The Squadron were equipped with SE5A Scouts and moved to the Western Front on 21st September 1917 and became based at Flez for the rest of the winter. After several weeks of routine patrols to accustom themselves, they then began offensive patrols seeking German aircraft. Beauchamp-Proctor soon showed his ability as a natural pilot, and on 22nd November, he destroyed a German observation kite balloon. His first destruction of an enemy aircraft came on 3rd January 1918 over St Quentin. By mid-February his ability in combat saw him leading fighting patrols despite being only a Second Lieutenant.
March 1918 saw Proctor claim eight victories, and on 1st April he was now part of the newly formed Royal Air Force, and he was promoted to Lieutenant. On the 8th he was further promoted to Captain and given command of C Flight, 84 Squadron – recognition of his abilities. On 12th April he claimed a pair of German single-seaters as out of control; and on the 20th drove down a two-seater behind German lines. His most successful month was May 1918 when he claimed 14 victories, and the month culminated with the award of the Military Cross (gazetted 22nd June). By the end of May, he was credited with 24 victories. In the first week of June, he had added another eight before leaving for a spell of leave. On the 3rd August he was awarded the newly instituted DFC.
On return from leave, he took over a new SE5A and showed his prowess. By the 11th August, he had claimed another six victories. By the 22nd August, his tally stood at 40, and he was recommended for a third gallantry award – a Bar to his MC, which was gazetted on 16th September 1918. He added another six victims before the end of the month. Throughout September, he concentrated on low level fighting and four destroyed kite balloons were his only success. By the 5th October a further six had been claimed before his final war sortie on 8th October.
Just before noon on the 8th, he sent a Rumpler two-seater down to crash near Maretz; but as he turned for home he was set upon by 8 German fighters. In the ensuing combat he was hit badly in the arm, and barely managed to escape death and eventually return to his own aerodrome. Receiving immediate medical attention, he was then invalided back to England, where he was sent to the Northumberland Hospital to recuperate. He was also in the recommendation for a DSO and this was officially rubber-stamped in November 1918. Added to this was a recommendation from his CO, Sholto Douglas that the South African pilot – in his own words “that little man who had the guts of a lion” – be awarded the VC.
Almost three weeks after the Armistice, the London Gazette of 30th November 1918 confirmed his VC, the citation crediting him with 54 victories, one-third of all 84 Squadron victories of the Great War. Discharged from hospital in March 1919, he joined a mission to the USA, where he toured various cities lecturing to help raise funds for the US “Liberty Loan”; and then on his return to England in July 1919, he was posted to Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire for a course in piloting seaplanes. He was then posted to Cranwell, where he granted a permanent commission, with Flight Lieutenant rank, in the RAF. On 27th November 1919 he was presented with his VC, DSO and DFC by King George V at Buckingham Palace.
Longing to see his family again, he persuaded the Air Ministry to grant him a year’s leave to South Africa, and he was given a hero’s welcome in Cape Town on his arrival. He returned to his old college, received a Webb scholarship and completed his studies for the degree of Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, University of Cape Town; and at Christmas 1920 he sailed back to England to return to the RAF. He was posted to 24 Squadron.
In June 1921 he was detached temporarily to RAF Upavon as one of a small number of selected pilots detailed to participate in the imminent RAF Pageant. On 21st June, flying Sopwith Snipe E8220, he was practicising his display, and began a loop. As the Snipe inverted at the top of its arc, it fell away viciously into an inverted spin and the spectators on the ground watched the Snipe spin into the earth, crashing near Enford. Proctor was killed instantly. He was originally buried in Upavon Cemetery, Wiltshire, but his body was exhumed and returned to South Africa, arriving on 8th August 1921. He was re-interred in Mafeking Cemetery. There is still a Commonwealth War Graves headstone for him in Upavon Cemetery. His medals including the VC, DSO, MC and Bar, DFC, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 were held privately until in October 2016, they were obtained by Michael Ashcroft to become the 200th VC group of his collection. They are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: MAFEKING CEMETERY, SOUTH AFRICA. EUROPEAN SECTION, GRAVE 1050-52
Picture - Derek Walker
Painting by Cowan Dobson, 1918 (IWM)
Upavon Cemetery, Wiltshire (Thomas Stewart)