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RAF Lewis Gun Handbook | G. H. Bowman 56 Squadron RFC

WW1 Pilot's Lewis Gun Handbook | G. H. Bowman 56 Squadron RFC

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F. S. Publication 114

AIR MINISTRY, London, 1919

An extremely rare original RAF Lewis Machine Gun handbook, published in March 1919. The book originally belonged to a Royal Flying Corps fighter pilot, G. H. Bowman, one of the best known aces of 56 Squadron RFC, and is signed by him on the front cover. Ironically, Bowman himself was almost killed by his own Lewis gun in 1918. On 25 May, while Diving in pursuit of a German Rumpler, the drum magazine of his Lewis gun flew off and hit him on the head, knocking him unconscious. His S.E.5 fell 5000 feet out of control before Bowman regained consciousness and pulled out of the dive. Well known for his sense of humour and appreciation of a good joke, Bowman would undoubtedly have seen the funny side of this near-fatal escapade.

Geoffrey Hilton Bowman (1891-1970): Geoffrey Hilton "Beery" Bowman, DSO, MC & Bar, DFC was a British WW1 fighter ace credited with 32 victories. After attaining the rank of Major in the Royal Flying Corps, he later became a Group Captain in the Royal Air Force. Bowman was first commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 15 August 1914. After serving with his regiment in France, on 20 March 1916 Bowman was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps. He was awarded the Royal Aero Club's Aviator's Certificate No. 7977 on 27 June, and was appointed a flying officer in the RFC two days later.

Bowman joined No. 29 Squadron on 7 July 1916, based at Abeele, flying the Airco DH2. His first victory was against a Roland C.II two seater, with which he unintentionally collided head-on on 3 September. Bowman somehow managed to fly his crippled aircraft home. His second victory, on 27 September, was a run-away German observation balloon which he downed after finding it drifting over the lines; although he crashed while trying to land alongside the balloon wreckage on Mount Kemmel. On 1 January 1917 he was appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of Captain.

On 11 May 1917 he was posted to No. 56 Squadron as a flight commander, flying the S.E.5. He arrived just after the squadron’s most famous pilot, Albert Ball, had been shot down and killed on 7 May. By July Bowman had claimed another five victories, and on 23 September he was one of the eight British aces who fought and shot down German ace Werner Voss. Bowman was awarded the Military Cross on 14 September, and a bar on 26 October. H.N. Charles, who was 56 Squadron’s engineering officer in 1917, described Bowman as ‘A genius as a pilot and a wonderful personality. I never knew a finer personality than Beery Bowman in all my life’. During his ten months with 56, Bowman scored a remarkable 22 confirmed victories and flew alongside legendary aces including James McCudden (who was a close friend and had been Bowman’s flying instructor in 1916), and Cecil Lewis, author of the classic memoir of WW1 flying, Sagittarius Rising.

In February 1918 Bowman was posted to command of No. 41 Squadron. He had been very unwilling to leave 56 squadron. As he later told Alex Revell (author of the definitive history of 56 Squadron, High in the Empty Blue), ‘I was the one doing the blood and thunder stuff and I thought I ought to have the choice of where I did it. And that was with 56’. It took the personal intervention of General Higgins to finally persuade Bowman that he would have to take up his new command. Awarded the Distinguished Service Order in March 1918, Bowman's final tally at the end of the war was one aircraft shared captured, one balloon destroyed, 15 aircraft destroyed and 15 driven down 'out of control'. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 30 May 1919, and the Croix de Guerre in July 1919. In February 1919 Bowman completed the Naval Co-operation Course at RAF Calshot. On 7 June he was appointed as the commander of No. 3 Squadron, Slavo-British Aviation Corps, an Anglo-Russian unit based near Archangel, fighting with the White Russians during the Russian Civil War. Bowman went on to have a long and distinguished career in the RAF, before finally retiring in January 1937. As a fellow officer once put it: ‘One would go into the mess in some God-forsaken spot and there would be Beery, keeping everybody on their toes with tricks and jokes and generally being the life and soul of the party.'

Produced just after the end of the First World War, Handbook on the Lewis Gun is a practical guide to the handling and maintenance of the aircraft variants of the Lewis Gun as used by the R.F.C., R.N.A.S., and R.A.F. during WW1. Full of fascinating information and very well illustrated with photographic plates, this book will tell you all you need to know about the workings, mechanism, use and maintenance of the .303 Lewis Gun.


In very good condition. The cover has only minor signs of wear and use and two ring binder holes carefully punched near the spine. The binding is very good and secure. The text, plates and illustrations are in very good condition with a few marks. Signed in ink on the front cover by ‘G. H. Bowman’. (This book came to me with Bowman’s RAF Vickers Machine Gun Handbook - see photos of cover. The Vickers Handbook was sold several years ago, but I have included a photo of the signature on its cover for comparison purposes.)

Published: 1919
Pink card covers, with black titling
Fully illustrated with B/W photographic plates
Dimensions: 140mm x 215mm
Pages: 48