The First Air VC by Fred Howell
The story of William Rhodes Moorhouse and his family is as intriguing as it is fascinating. Among the first English-men to settle in New Zealand was William Barnard Rhodes, who first arrived in this unbroken country in 1836.
He returned to England and three years later reappeared in NZ to take up permanent residence. Later William was joined by his three brothers, and the four brothers became known as the "Shepherd Kings" after they had acquired vast areas of land in both the North and South Island. William, the eldest brother was twice married but his only family was a daughter Mary Ann (reputedly a Maori princess). During Rhodes first marriage she had been presented to him by her father as a mark of respect and honour. Mary Ann, a full blooded Maori was petite and very beautiful. William and his second wife, Sarah Moorhouse, adopted Mary Ann as their daughter-in-marriage. She grew up and was educated in Wellington. On the death of her father, Mary Ann contested his Will and became sole heiress to upwards of three-quarters of a million pounds. Eventually she married Edward Moorhouse, brother of her step-mother! The wedding ceremony was a lavish affair, held in Wellington Cathedral. Edward and Mary Ann left NZ shortly after their marriage and moved to England, where they settled and raised 4 children. Will Moorhouse, the second child was born in London in 1887. He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge University but always regarded his years at Cambridge as wasted. His passion was for speed and the internal combustion engine. He left Cambridge in 1909- learned to fly, and designed monoplanes in the days of early aviation.
In 1914, in order to inherit his grandfather's estate, Moorhouse legally adopted the additional surname of “Rhodes”. With the outbreak of war in 1914, William Rhodes Moorhouse joined the Royal Flying Corps. In March 1915, he was posted to No.2 Squadron R.F.C. based at Merville, France. On 26 April he was ordered to attack the rail junction at Courtrai. Flying low over the target he released his bombs, but was met with machine gun and rifle fife from German troops in the tower of the nearby church. A burst of fife badly damage the fuselage of his aircraft and tore open Moorhouses's thigh. Shocked and in great pain he tried to regain the Allied lines. Again he ran a gauntlet of ground-fire. One bullet slashed open his abdomen, and another hit him in the hand He somehow managed to keep the aircraft flying for some 35 minutes before making a shaky landing at his airfield. He was lifted gently from his shattered cockpit, and in spite of his wounds insisted on making his report. He was taken to a nearby military hospital, but on 27 April his life ebbed away. In accordance with his last wish his body was taken to England and buried in the grounds of his country home at Parnham county of Dorset. On 22 May 1915, came notification of the award of a posthumous Victoria Cross – the first ever award of Britain's highest honour to an airman.
A sad note to the Rhodes Moorhouse story came during the Second World War. His son "Willie" had joined 601 County of London Squadron Auxiliary Air Force, in 1937. During the fighting in France in early 1940 Flying Officer Willie Rhodes Moorhouse saw action as a fighter pilot. By a quirk of fate his squadron was based at Merville - the airfield where his father's heroic action and death took place in 191 5. Within a week Willie had shot down three enemy aircraft. He went on to fight in the Baffle of Britain and claimed a further nine victories and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. On 6 September 1940, his Hurricane aircraft engaged in a dog-fight and was shot down and plunged into the earth near Tonbridge, Kent His recovered body was cremated and the ashes were buried alongside his father's grave at Parnham. It would be interesting to know if Lieutenant Rhodes Moorhouse appears on any cigarette card other than the Murray's issue.