Frederick Sowrey
Major Frederick Sowrey began his career as a World War I flying ace
Flying ace
A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an "ace" has varied, but is usually considered to be five or more...

 credited with thirteen aerial victories. He was most noted for his first victory, when he shot down Zeppelin L32 during its bombing raid on England. Having risen rapidly in rank during the war, he remained in service until 1940.

Early life and infantry service

Frederick Sowrey was one of three sons of John Sowrey, Deputy Chief Inspector of Inland Revenue. Young Frederick was home schooled until he was thirteen. He then won a scholarship to King's College School
King's College School
King's College School, commonly referred to as KCS, King's, or KCS Wimbledon, is an independent school for day pupils in Wimbledon in south-west London. The school was founded as the junior department of King's College London and occupied part of its premises in Strand, before relocating to...

, Wimbledon. He earned a BS degree there, and was completing his graduate study when World War I began. He immediately volunteered for military service; on 31 August 1914 he was appointed as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers. He went to France as an infantry officer, and was wounded at the Battle of Loos
Battle of Loos
The Battle of Loos was one of the major British offensives mounted on the Western Front in 1915 during World War I. It marked the first time the British used poison gas during the war, and is also famous for the fact that it witnessed the first large-scale use of 'new' or Kitchener's Army...

 in 1915. After three months in hospital, he was invalided out, turned around, and joined the Royal Flying Corps
Royal Flying Corps
The Royal Flying Corps was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of the First World War. During the early part of the war, the RFC's responsibilities were centred on support of the British Army, via artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance...

 in December 1915.

World War I aerial service

He was posted to 39 Squadron on 17 June 1916; he was duly appointed a Flying Officer
Flying Officer
Flying officer is a junior commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence...

. It was during this assignment that he scored his first and most notable victory. On the evening of 23 September 1916, Second Lieutenant Sowrey launched from Sutton Farm at 2330 hours in a Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2
Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2
The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 was a British single-engine two-seat biplane which was in service with the Royal Flying Corps from 1912 until the end of World War I. The "Bleriot" in its designation refers to the fact that, like the Bleriot types it was of tractor configuration, with the...

c to patrol toward Joyce Green. Flying at 13,000 feet, he spotted Zeppelin L32 at about 0110 hours and closed with it. He fired three drums of incendiary ammunition into the belly of the gasbag before it exploded into flame. There were no survivors from the aircrew; most of the bodies recovered were charred and burned. The burning wreckage at Billericay
Billericay is a town and civil parish in the Basildon borough of Essex, England. It lies within the London Basin, has a population of 40,000, and constitutes a commuter town east of central London. The town has three secondary schools and a variety of open spaces...

 drew enormous crowds. Sowrey received the Distinguished Service Order for his feat, which was gazetted on 4 October 1916. That same day, Temporary Second Lieutenant Sowrey was nominated for a regular commission in the Fusiliers. Shortly thereafter, on 1 December 1916, he was appointed a Flight Commander with the accompanying rank of Temporary Captain. Sometime in late 1916, he transferred to 37 Home Defence Squadron.

Sowrey went on liaison duty to France, and while there transferred to 19 Squadron on 14 June 1917 and resumed his success in combat. In the four months between 17 June and 15 October 1917, he scored a dozen times, both by himself and teamed with aces Alexander Pentland
Alexander Pentland
Alexander Augustus Norman Dudley Pentland MC, DFC, AFC , known as "Jerry" Pentland, was an Australian fighter ace in World War I. Born in Maitland, New South Wales, he commenced service as a Lighthorseman with the Australian Imperial Force in 1915, and saw action at Gallipoli...

, John Candy
John Candy (aviator)
Lieutenant John Geoffrey Sadler Candy was a World War I flying ace credited with six aerial victories. He served in the Royal Air Force through 1946.Candy was assigned to 19 Squadron to fly a SPAD...

, and Richard Alexander Hewat, as well as three other pilots. His final summary for the twelve victories other than the L32 tallied six enemy airplanes destroyed and six driven down out of control.

On 1 January 1918, Sowrey was promoted from Flight Commander to Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader
Squadron Leader is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence. It is also sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. In these...

; this meant that Second Lieutenant (Acting Captain) Frederick Sowrey was now a Temporary Major. On 4 April 1918, he was finally promoted from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant. He assumed command of 143 Squadron until war's end.

After World War I

Sowrey's postwar career saw him promoted from Squadron Leader to Wing Commander
Wing Commander (rank)
Wing commander is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries...

 on 1 July 1928. He eventually retired as a Group Captain
Group Captain
Group captain is a senior commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries. It ranks above wing commander and immediately below air commodore...

 on 26 May 1940.

Honors and awards

Awarded the Distinguished Service Order on 4 October 1916.

Awarded the Military Cross (MC) on 23 November 1917

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in shooting down in less than two months two Albatross scouts and a Rumpler two-seater and a Fokker scout, and in two engagements flying very low and engaging and scattering hostile infantry." (Citation text from Supplement to the London Gazette, 6 April 1918)

Awarded the Air Force Cross on 1 January 1919.


  • Above the Trenches: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915-1920. Christopher F. Shores, Norman L. R. Franks, Russell Guest. Grub Street, 1990. ISBN 0948817194, 9780948817199.
  • Heroic Airmen - And Their Exploits. E. W. Walters. READ BOOKS, 2009. ISBN 1444650718, 9781444650716.
  • Information Annual, Volume 2. R.R. Bowker Co., 1917. Original from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Digitized Nov 10, 2007.
  • London 1914-17: The Zeppelin Menace. Ian Castle, Christa Hook. Osprey Publishing, 2008. ISBN 1846032458, 9781846032455.
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