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A Set of WWI Aviation Books With a Bittersweet Surprise

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I arrived home late yesterday evening from an EMS conference in Iowa and discovered waiting for me on the kitchen table a package, which my wife Jane informed me had arrived on Friday, (Armistice Day). I knew it was a set of books I had purchased and was anxious to open it, but I was so tired I decided I would wait until morning in order to fully enjoy the unwrapping and discovery. And oh what a discovery it was. First of all the books themselves turned out to be a nearly perfect set of the original printing of "New England Aviators: 1914-1918". There were only a thousand such sets made in 1919-1920 so they do not come along very often, and seldom in such beautiful condition, (and to find them at a price less than the modern reprints is unheard of). But that was far from the best part. No, that came when I opened Volume One to discover the signature of the original owner on the inside leaf: Lydia T. Baylies. Mrs. Baylies was the mother of WWI ace Frank Leaman Baylies who, at the time of his death on 17 June 1918, was the highest scoring American pilot. When all was said and done he was placed 17th of all American aces in the Great War with a final confirmed total of 12 victories. Lieutenant Baylies is mentioned often in the writings of other American flyers of the day and was a fearless fighter in the air, scoring all his victories over a mere 14-week period in the spring of 1918.


Here are the books I am now so fortunate to have in my library:






Here is the entry in Volume One for Frank:




Lafayette Flying Corps, "Stork" Escadrille

Second Lieutenant, A.S., U.S.A.

Killed in action, June 17, 1918


Son of Charles S. and Lydia Terry (Paige) Baylies; was born in New Bedford, Mass., Sept. 23, 1895. He was educated in the New Bedford Public Schools, and at the Moses Brown School, Providence, R.I. He was always interested in sports, and was an expert swimmer; he was also an expert automobile driver, one of his qualifications for the Ambulance Service.


He volunteered in the Automobile Sanitary Section, U.S.A., in May, 1916, and was on duty at the French front, on the Somme, at Verdun, and in the Argonne; then for three months in the Monastir sector, Serbia; where, in an order of March 25, 1917, he was cited for "perfect devotion and fearlessness" in evacuating wounded under bombardment, and was given the French Croix de Guerre, with palm. He served with the American Ambulance Corps from May, 1916, to May 11, 1917, when he enlisted in the French Aviation Corps, and was trained as a flyer at Avord, Pau, and Lake Cazaux. In Nov., 1917, he was sent to the front as a member of the "Stork" Pursuit Squadron, and he became one of the most famous aces of that famous Escadrille. He served first at Dunkirk, later at Verdun, then in the Champagne sector. After his sixth official victory he was cited by the French as a "chasing pilot of the highest class, who always seeks combat and leads marvellously the patrol of which he is chief. On April 12 he destroyed alone his fifth enemy aeroplane, and the following day he gained his sixth victory." He was then Sergeant of the Foreign Legion, pilot in Spad Squadron; and he refused a Captaincy in the American Aviation Service to, keep the lower rank in his Escadrille.


Following Feb., 1918, eleven German planes were officially credited to Lieut. Baylies, and he was in reality a victor more than twenty times.


On May 13, 1918, he was transferred to the U.S. Aviation Signal Service Reserve Corps, and commissioned 2d Lieut. in an order dated May. 20, 1918. On June 17, 1918, he fell in combat behind the German lines, near Montdidier, and was instantly killed. He was at first reported missing; a note, however, was thrown over the lines by a German aviator stating that Frank L. Baylies, an American aviator, fell at Rellet and was buried in a private tomb.


Besides the Croix de Guerre with palms, the Military Medal, and the ribbons of the French Legion and of the Lafayette Flying Corps, Lieut. Baylies was given a medal by the Aero Club of America, and the French Legion of Honor.


On May 30,1919, a handsome bronze tablet, given by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Fort Phenix Chapter, New Bedford, was placed in the Josiah Swift School which Lieut. Baylies had attended. The inscription is as follows: In Memory of Frank Leaman Baylies, American Ace, Member of the Lafayette Flying Corps, killed in action June 17, 1918. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."


A letter to Lieut. Baylies' mother from Major Gros, commanding officer, A.S. Signal Reserve Corps, said in part: "Your son met a glorious death. He was one of the shining lights of our Aviation. He was a soldier without fear and without reproach. You must apply to him the eloquent words spoken in the British Parliament with respect to aviators; you must not turn your mind on your sorrow, you must turn it towards all the glory which your son has won and the name which he will leave behind him when the story of this great war is written. He has taken his_place by the side of all those heroes who gladly gave up that which is most precious of all, their lives, for the greatest ideal, the happiness of the human race."


In a dispatch to the Chicago Daily News dated July 8,1918, Paul Ayres Rockwell paid tribute to the recently fallen Ace, as follows: "One of the finest and highest-spirited figures that was ever revealed has disappeared from among us. To know Baylies was to like and admire him. His outstanding qualities were those which real heroes possess. Quiet, modest, and reticent on the ground, dashing, fearless, and indomitable in the air, Baylies goes down into history as one of the exceptional characters in war aviation."


Baylies' record after reaching the front as a chasing pilot was unique. No other flyer in any army gained at the beginning of his career so many official successes over opposing pilots in so short a space of time. Baylies destroyed his first German airplane Feb. 19, 1918. On March 7 and 16 he gained his second and third victories; and on April 11 and 12 he had two more official triumphs. May was a wonderful month for the superb air fighter, confirmed victories being won May 2, 9,10, 28, 29, and 31, making eleven enemy airplanes officially destroyed.


Mention after mention was awarded to Baylies in the Army orders, and many palms were added to his war-cross, ribbon, and military medal. Lately he was proposed for the Cross of the Legion of Honor, and also for the rank of Under-Lieutenant.





Order 57, March 27,1917: "Frank Baylies, an American volunteer in the Automobile Sanitary Section No. 3, twice volunteered duty at the front and then for the Army of the Orient. He placed at the service of wounded men perfect devotion and fearlessness, being daily tested under bombardment. From Dec. 19, 1916, to March 27, 1917, during the evacuation of wounded from the Monastir sector, he exhibited contempt for the bombardment of cities, roads, and cantonments."


From an order dated March 9, 1918: "Frank Baylies, an American citizen, enlisted in the French Army before the United States declared war. He passed at his own request into chasing aviation, in which he displayed the very finest enthusiasm. On Feb. 18 he shot down single-handed an enemy aeroplane which crashed within our lines."


Order dated May 6, 1918: "An excellent chasing pilot; refused to enter American Aviation as an officer, not wishing to leave his French squadron; delivers daily combats; has destroyed alone his second enemy aeroplane."


Order dated May 29, 1918: "Frank Baylies is a brilliant, high-class chasing pilot. On May 9 and 10 he destroyed his seventh and eighth German aeroplanes."


Lieut. Baylies won four additional citations equally remarkable.



And here is a short film clip of Frank, (he looks like someone you would have liked to call a friend, I think):


Frank Leaman Baylies



In the title of this topic I said that these books contained a bittersweet surprise, and IMHO that's exactly what it was. It is wondeful that I should have a set with such provenance in my possession, but very sad to think that they ever left the Baylies family. However, I'll do my best to care for them.



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Lou, that is almost a bit heartbreaking, to think of a mother who lost her beloved son in a far away foreign country,

and who goes in her pain to buy these books, as if she could at least, by reading about his deeds, take a little bit -

in such a hearttearingly distant way - part in his last month of youthful fighting life; as if to be there with him at least

in memoriam, in written lines, when he died. And she writes her name and the date neatly into the book, as if to

claim her son, or at least all the collected memories about him, for her home, for her heart.

I'm not ashamed to say: this drove tears in my eyes, Sir.

Nevertheless - I know you will be reading them with all the possible respect and honouring.

They couldn't possibly have come to better hands.

Edited by Olham

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You have a knack for finding these extremely rare books. :drinks:


(By the way, I managed to find a relatively cheap copy of that Morrow's book I was looking for. It's in excellent condition, has a very good dustjacket and doesn't seem to have been read much. Thanks for your help!)

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Yes Duke, an instant treasure indeed.


Hasse Wind, very glad to learn you were able to claim a copy of Morrow's work. My pleasure to have helped in what little way I did.


Olham, sometimes I think we must be twin brothers of different mothers. I had the precise same feelings when I first saw Lydia's signature, and I too got a bit weepy as I considered it all.



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Twins by the web, I suppose? - I take that for a fine compliment, Sir!

Edited by Olham

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