Distinguished Service Medal (GVR) (2nd Gr., R.N.A.S. JAN-JUN 1917.), British War Medal, Victory Medal, ( MID emblem) (Lieut. R.A.F.); Defence Medal, War Medal (privately engraved: S/LDR. G.L. Wright. R.A.F.); Air Efficiency Award (GVIR) (Flt. Lt. R.A.F.V.R.)
DSM – London Gazette 1st October 1917; Air Mechanic 2nd Grade, R.N.A.S., O.N. F.9964 (For Service on
patrol duties and submarine searching in Home Waters)
MiD – London Gazette 1st January 1918; Lieut., D.S.M., R.A.F. (White Sea)
A hallmarked silver framed portrait photo of Wright in about 1919,
Framed MiD certificate,
Portrait photo of Wright during WW2,
Letter from the Admiralty to his parents dated 26th May 1917 reporting him missing.
Telegram from the Admiralty to his parents dated 30th May 1917 reporting that he has been rescued
Telegram from R.N.A.S. Felixstowe to his parents dated 30th May 1917 reporting that he is safe and well, letter from the Admiralty to his parents dated 31st May 1917 reporting that he is in the R.N. Sick Quarter at Felixstowe and that his condition is stated ‘to give rise to anxiety’
Newspaper cutting relating him being lost at sea for six days
Imperial War Museum illustration depicting him and his pilot being rescued after six days at sea,
R.N.A.S. Magazine ‘The Wing’ which includes an article about him being lost at sea for six days,
Illuminated scroll for crossing the Arctic Cirle in a U.S. B17 8 May 1945
George Leslie Wright was born at Leicester on 27th October 1898.
On the 24th May 1917, Air Mechanic 2nd Grade Wright was flying as Observer, with Sub Lt. H.M. Morris, in a seaplane over the North Sea on patrol duties and submarine searching, when their plane crashed into the water. For six days, with little to eat, they held on to one of the plane landing floats that fortunately survived the crash. Part of a newspaper article describes their ordeal:
“There was also the danger of going to sleep, and we could not do that. When we had been hanging on to the float about five or six hours I said to Wright, ‘I think I could do with a square meal.’ His teeth were chattering with the cold, and it took him quite a long time to say ‘Same here.’ Then he said, ‘I believe I’ve got something in my pocket.’ He brought out a waterproof envelope full of milk tablets. There were twelve altogether and we decided to have one a day each.”
“I think it was on the third night we heard a squadron of German airplanes returning from a raid. One of them circled round us and fired a Verey light and then flew on to join his companions. In any case we did not expect any help from them, for if they had landed in the dark, it is ten to one they would have hit one of the mines clustered about us.”
“But on the sixth day we were just about finished. Our tablets were finished and I was having a rotten time with swollen limbs, through swimming round the float for exercise. We were both at the last gasp and could hardly find the strength to cling to the ‘raft’. When the seaplane containing Flight Commander Lindsay Gordon and Flight Lieutenant G. Hodgson arrived on the morning of May 29 we could scarcely believe it. But when we were understood that it was a rescue, we both gave in and fainted.”
From ‘The Spider Web’ by Squadron Leader T.D. Hallam, (Flying-Boat Flight in the First World War’ and available as a reprint.)
“Everything seemed to be set fair for a fine day on the 24th of May when Flight Sub-Lieutenant Morris and his wireless observer (A.M. 2nd Grade Wright) went down to the slipway at Westgate, a seaplane station on the East Coast south of Felixstowe.
At the top of the slipway, on its wheeled beach trolley, stood their machine, a float-seaplane with a single engine. It had wings which folded back along the fuselage, when it was living on shore, in order to economise shed space. A party of men were swinging the wings into place and locking them in flying position. The two large flat-bottomed floats were made of brightly varnished wood. The bombs were slung on the fore-and-aft centre line beneath the fuselage, above and between the floats. There was a third small flat float under the tip of the tail, and behind this float was a water rudder, a rudder operated in conjunction with the air rudder, but which was used for steering the seaplane when it was down on the water. It looked very ship-shape; a small stock anchor, with line neatly coiled, which was shackled to one of the floats, giving the right sea-going touch.
When the machine was ready AM2Gr Wright, the wireless operator, stepped up on the port float, climbed up a little wire ladder, and settled himself into his cockpit, where he had his wireless apparatus, bomb-sight, and machine-gun on a ring. By standing up he could fire forward over the top plane. Morris climbed up after him into the control cockpit. He was in front of AM2Gr George Wright, for the crew of two in a float-seaplane sit tandem.
Morris, looking over the side, saw that everybody was clear. He switched on the magnetos and opened a cock in an air-bottle. A stream of compressed air hissed into the cylinders of the engine and turned it over, the pistons sucked in the petrol mixture, a spark fired it, and high-speed engine began to run smoothly. He warmed up the oil, tested the engine full out, and then gave the signal for the chocks to be knocked away. The working party ran the seaplane down into the water. It floated clear of the trolley.
When the engine was opened out the tail of the seaplane came up to the horizontal. It leaped forward, planning along the top of the water of the two floats. As the pilot pulled back the controls it skipped along with only the rear edges of the floats touching, taking little jumps off the surface as it encountered the tiny waves. And then it was in the air.
After spending some hours over the North Sea, Morris started for home. He was feeling very hungry, and began thinking about his dinner with pleasure. In half an hour he would have his legs tucked under the table in the mess. Suddenly he heard the noise of his engine and knew that something was wrong, for a pilot is not conscious of the roar of his engine when it is running properly. It began to miss. The revolutions dropped. And within a minute it stopped and the machine had been landed on the water.
They were down thirty miles out to sea in one of our deep mine-fields. It was a very big minefield. It started from an east and west line a short distance south of the North Hinder and continued to a line running east just above the North Foreland. Of course there were no ships in sight and no chance of any appearing.
The sun was shining, and little waves playfully slapped the huge hollow floats. But what wind there was, was off the shore, and blew the seaplane farther into the mine-field. The two men examined the engine and found it was impossible to make a repair.
As the day wore on the wind increased, as the wind increased so did the size of the waves. The seaplane lay head to wind, its long tail acting as a vane. All through the afternoon it went squatting backwards farther and farther from shore.
When the waves grew big Morris dropped the bombs safe and opened a cock in the tanks, which allowed the petrol to run into the sea. This lightened the labouring seaplane. But about four o’clock in the afternoon the sea was running so high and the wind was so strong that the machine was overbalanced backwards and the waves reached up and began to pound the tail-float. The necessity for a tail-float is the weak spot in the design of a float-seaplane, and the sea was attacking the flaw in the design.
Morris climbed out on the nose of one float and AM2Gr George Wright, the wireless observer, climbed out on the other, in the hope that their weight would balance the machine and keep the tail clear of the water. But the waves increasing in length and height, an hour later the tail-float was crashed and wrenched away, the long tail sank down into the water, and the machine gradually turned over backwards.
The sea having succeeded by attacking the weak spot, and whipped on by the wind, now leaped on the helpless machine and tore it to pieces. The pilot found himself clinging to an undamaged float, and climbing across it saw AM2Gr George Wright in the sea behind him. Seizing an outflung arm, after a long struggle he pulled his companion across the float.
The float was a long narrow wooden box. It was very strongly made of three-ply wood. It was smooth on three sides, but on the fourth side, which was the top, were two indentations to take the fittings by which the struts that fastened the float to the machine were held. These indentations, with the remnants of the fittings still attached, gave the two men a handhold.
The float fortunately was quite water-tight, not having been damaged in the wreck. But it was very unstable on the water and rolled about a great deal, threatening to turn over and throw the two men back into the sea. For this reason they could not climb up on top of it, but lay across, half in and half out of the water.
Owing to the great buoyancy of the float it rode high, like a cork, and so passed over the tops of the waves. But every few minutes a wave steeper that the rest, or which broke at the wrong moment, would drive over the two men and smother them under a weight of white water.
All through the night they clung to the float, defeating the efforts of the hungry seas, which came up and up in an interminable succession and tried to sweep them from their place of refuge. Just before daybreak a dark shape passed them, which they thought was a trawler, but the wind carried away their voices and the ship passed on and vanished.
With the break of day the force of the wind abated and sea went down. Wright, feeling in his pockets, found a small glass bottle containing a few milk tablets. This was the only food they possessed, and with great prudence he at once decided to dole out the precious tablets in order to make them last as long as possible.
The first day dragged slowly to its close. On the second day, the 26th, the wind died away and a thick North Sea fog shut down, cold, clammy, depressing. Its clinging folds wrapped them about, both body and mind, for it destroyed their chances of being seen and rescued should any ships pass. They had no idea where they were. The fog lightened to a light mist on the 27th, the sun shone through, and they began to suffer from thirst.
They were now able to lie on top of the float owing to the calm sea. To ease their thirst they took off their boots and went for a swim. Getting back on the float, they found that their feet were so swollen they could not put on their boots again.
Each minute seemed an hour, each hour a day, and the daylight seemed worse that the dark.
On the afternoon of the 28th the mist lifted and the sun licked up the moisture in their bodies, increasing their thirst to torment. Their swollen feet were painful. In the wreck they had sustained abrasions and lacerations on their wrists and hands. The salt water had bitten into these wounds and they were inflamed.
Hope suddenly shot through the heart of AM2Gr George Wright.
Low down on the horizon he saw a flight of float seaplanes approaching.
They grew rapidly larger and larger, and near and nearer, until they were right overhead. He pointed them out with great excitement to his companion, but the latter could not see them. They were a phantom flight. The observer told the pilot how the machines were circling around, the pilots waving their hands and promising to send help. Then they would fly away, but kept on returning at intervals throughout the day. But no help came. It was heartbreaking. And then the night set in.
Early on the morning of the 29th – that is, after the castaways had spent five nights on the float – the sun burst through the mist, which rolled away, letting them see a clear horizon all around them for the first time. But there were no ships in sight. Also the heat added to their raging thirst. They were very weak. At noon the fog began to settle down again, destroying their last chance of being seen.
The two unfortunates began to take sips of sea water. This was the beginning of the end.
Felixstowe was shrouded in mist on this day until eleven o’clock, when it began to lift. It did not look very promising, but I ordered two flying-boats to be run out and the pilots were warned off to have an early luncheon.
Leslie Gordon and George Hodgson, the Heavenly Twins, both from Montreal, Canada, were told off for one of the boats. They had been boys together, had come to England together, had learned to fly together, had been on the Nore Flight together, and when they came over to the War Flight they asked to be allowed to fly in the same boat. Either was willing to be second pilot to the other.
They flew together for some time, but owing to the scarcity of good boat pilots – and both men were extremely fine fliers of the first rank – they were made to separate. At first they resented any attempt to give them each a boat, but finally saw the necessity, although they had their names bracketed as Duty Pilots and for leave, and usually managed to fly their boats in company. Hodgson had been a champion swimmer. He was a stout fellow, in more ways than one, and built for big boat work. Gordon was a long faced, serious lad, not over strong physically, but with tremendous determination and force, and was a careful flying-boat husband. Both men were great grumblers, but also great workers.
The boats were put into the water at seventeen minutes after twelve o’clock and went off to do the Spider Web. As they shoved out into the North Sea the fog shut down, and one boat, when forty miles from land, turned back. On receipt of the wireless signal announcing this, Gordon and Hodgson held a consultation. At first they were going to turn back too, and swept around in a large circle, but finally decided to push on.
When twenty-three miles past the North Hinder the fog became so thick that they could not see the water and they decided to return, climbing to a height of twelve hundred feet, where they were above the fog. After making the North Hinder again they started in for Felixstowe, and were twelve miles on the homeward stretch when they sighted, through a break in the fog, something on the water.
Spiralling down to six hundred feet they saw two men on an upturned float.
Winding in the aerial they came down to fifty feet and flew directly over the wreckage, and observed, from their attitudes, that the two men on in were in urgent need of assistance. They also observed that a strong wind had begun to blow and a heavy sea was running. Climbing to a thousand feet they let out the aerial and sent in a signal to the station giving their position, in case anything should happen to them. Then, in spite of the heavy sea, Gordon landed close beside the float.
With the waves bursting in spray over the bows of the boat she was taxied up to the wreckage, but the first attempt to take the two men off was a failure, as the engines being shut off at the very last moment, the strong wind blew the boat away from the float rapidly. The engines were started and a second attempt made.
This time Gordon taxied right up on top of the float. Two of the crew stood on the fins, one on each side of the bow, the waves washing up to their waists. But Morris and his wireless observer were seized, pulled up on the drift wires which ran from the nose of the boat back to the wings, and were drawn on board through the front cockpit in an utterly exhausted condition.
Gordon then attempted to take off. His 700-horse power thrust the boat across the waves, hammering and pounding, but with the extra weight on board the boat was too heavy. He tried again. This time the waves smashed the tail-plane and tore off the wing-tip float on the starboard side. Also, owing to the pounding, the hull of the boat was leaking badly. The idea of flying back was abandoned.
The wind was blowing from England. The shore was forty miles away. The fog was thick. Two things could be done. Turn down-wind and run for Holland, making sure of a comparatively easy passage, or fighting home against the sea and wind to England – a hard and difficult task.
Gordon shoved the nose of the boat into the sea and wind and began to taxi in on the water. The seas swept over the bow. The water seeped in through the leaks. The bilge pump, kept going constantly, one man’s job, could not keep the rising water under. As the wind-driven petrol pumps would only work when the machine was in the air, one man had to keep the petrol hand-pump going to feed the engines.
Seas bursting over the lower planes were whirled up into the propellers and thrown back over the engines. They were white with the salt; but they kept running.
The tail was nearly full of water from a big leak, but a bulkhead held it out of the main body of the boat, although she was getting heavier and heavier, and was crashing through the seas instead of riding over the top of them. The sledge-hammer blows shook the whole structure.
Without its float the starboard wing-tip buried itself deep in the water each time the boat rolled, pulling itself out again with a shuddering wrench, which each time threatened to pull off the wing.
The two rescued men lay on the slatted deck of the boat and were given sips of brandy from time to time, and finally a little cocoa from the thermos flask.
So, gamely, the boat won on towards England.
Four hours after landing outside Gordon passed out of the fog belt and saw the Shipwash light-vessel, rolling and pitching, three miles north of him. It was a welcome sight. He was only a mile off his course. He had travelled on the surface a distance of twenty-two sea miles – a not inconsiderable feat of seamanship and navigation in a fog, with the wind that was blowing, the sea that was running, and the condition of the boat.
Here they were in the shipping channel. They saw vessels. Very’s lights were fixed as distress signals, and a cargo-boat, the Orient of Leith, bound for Yarmouth, saw them, came alongside, passed a line and took them in tow. Half an hour later they were under the shelter of the land and two armed drifters came alongside. The tow was transferred to H.M.S. Maratina, and Morris and AM2GR George Wright were taken on board H.M.S. White Lilac, in order to get them ashore quickly for medical attention.
Gordon stood by his boat, which was now standing up on her tail, and she was brought safely into harbour, was repaired, and carried out many more patrols, being used, after she had done thirty-nine patrols in all, for school work.
Within two months Morris and Wright, unbroken by their experiences, were again flying.”
The Admiralty wrote telegrams to Wright’s parents, dated 26th May saying that he was missing and again on 30th May saying he was rescued and was in R.N. Sick quarters, Felixstowe. His condition is stated to give rise to anxiety.
Air Mechanic 2nd Grade Wright was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in the London Gazette dated 1st October 1917. Whilst.not specific the award was most likely for his actions while adrift in the North Sea.
He was appointed Probationary Observer Officer (permanent) on H.M.S. Daedalus, the RNAS seaplane training school on Lee-on-Solent on 10th November 1917. He moved to H.M.A.S. Eastchurch as Observer Sub Lt. on 22nd March 1918. When the R.N.A.S. and R.F.C. amalgamated to form the R.A.F. on 1st April 1918 he was appointed Lieutenant. He also served on H.M.S. Argus, the first ever Aircraft Carrier, towards the end of the war (see postcard photo dated 24th November 1918).
Lieutenant Wright was also Mentioned in Dispatches for distinguished service in war areas in the London Gazette, 1st January 1919.
He relinquished his R.A.F. commission on 1st September 1921.
Wright was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 4th July 1939 in the R.A.F.V.R. There is no detail of his WW2 service although he was in Iceland for at least 3 months, and was ultimately promoted to Acting Squadron Leader.
He died at Thanet, Kent, in March 1981, aged 82.
Lovely DSM group for flying operations