World War I flying ace, John Gilmour was born on 28th June 1896 at High Mayfield, 23 East Montrose Street, Helensburgh, the son of tobacco merchant John James Gilmour and his wife, Isabella Inglis.
John spent his formative years at Loretto School in Musselburgh, Edinburgh. Set in 85 acres of leafy campus just outside Edinburgh, Loretto is a distinguished British boarding school, with boarding and day pupils, set in the heart of Scotland. John entered the school from August 1910 aged 14 years.
At school, John displayed a keen athleticism and he represented the school in both the Rugby XV and Fives. He also enrolled in the OTC (Officer Training Corps) reaching the rank of Sergeant. It is also recorded that by the time he entered the forces he was fluent in French.
At the age of 18, in December 1914, John left the school to join the Princess Louise’s – Argyll & Sutherland Regiment – where he held the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. On the 21st December 1915, John transferred to the 27th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps.
He was originally assigned to 27 Squadron of the RFC, the sole squadron equipped with the Martinsyde G.100 or ‘elephant’ as it was commonly called due to its size and ungainly nature.
Nevertheless, before the Elephants were withdrawn from service, Gilmour scored three further victories including the piloting of one, though his primary role was as a bomber. On 15 September 1916, he destroyed an Albatros D.I. On the 24th of September, he destroyed a Fokker Eindekker; and on the 26th, he drove another Fokker out of control. On the 10th October 1916, Gilmour was admitted to hospital for the first time.
Lieutenant John Gilmour was formally recognised for his skills as a bombing formation leader when he was awarded the Military Cross on 26 May 1917.
On the 1st April 1917, Gilmour was appointed temporary Captain. Late in 1917, Gilmour was assigned to 65 Squadron RAF as a flight commander. No 65 Squadron was formed on the 1st of August 1916 at Wyton and was disbanded on the 25th of October 1919. On the 16th of December he was appointed Captain and he followed this appointment two days later, by adding to his victory list with two ‘kills’, on 18 December 1917 in his Sopwith Camel number 8118. His two triumphs that day officially made him an ace. On the 4 January 1918, Gilmour managed to claim a triple kill, and then followed it up with another one on the 9th January.
He then began to run up his score by single and double victories—two in February, one in March, seven in April, eight in May, four in June. By 29th June, his total was 31.
On 1 July 1918, Gilmour capped his career with a performance that earned him a Distinguished Service Order. On that evening, in a 45 minute span, he destroyed two Fokker D.VIIs and knocked another down out of control, set an Albatross D.V afire, and drove a Pfalz D.III out of the air. The times on his combat reports make it clear these were five separate engagements; many times, aces reporting multiple victories scored in a single engagement.
Gilmour destroyed a Pfalz the next day, and two the day after, for his final successes. In the end, his victory record showed that he had 1 balloon destroyed, 1 enemy aircraft captured, 24 aircraft destroyed (and sharing 3 destroyed) and 10 claimed ‘out of control’. Eight of the destroyed craft, and the balloon, had gone down in flames.
He was promoted to Major and transferred to Italy to command 28 Squadron. However, he did not add further victories to his record.
On 3 August 1918, Gilmour was awarded the DSO; on 16 September, he was gazetted for his second bar to his MC. On the 29th August 1918, Major Gilmore was transferred to 3 Flight School, and this effectively signalled the end of his active fighting service. Between the 29th October of this year and 27th February 1919, Major Gilmour was a regular patient in Hospital.
It is noted that Major Gilmour was mentioned in dispatches by none other than Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Home Forces, on the 8th November 1918.
He was eventually discharged to RAF HQ France on 24th April 1919.
On the 30th July 1919, Major Gilmour had a brief tenure as an air attaché in Rome, but once again he spelt a period in hospital during this time. Finally, his service record states that his last formal posting was to the Middle East to join a former Royal Naval Air Service unit, No. 216 Squadron RAF.
It is thought that following his distinguished military career, Major Gilmour spent time in London and whilst his whereabouts and subsequent career cannot be confirmed, he certainly died tragically whilst staying there.
Major John Gilmour died on 24 February 1928, aged 31, having committed suicide by cyanide poisoning in 26 St James Street London. His death certificate describes him as of being of independent means but unsound mind.
A remarkable man and an incredible pilot, flying ace Major John Gilmour’s citations read:
Military Cross – 26th May 1917
2nd Lt John Gilmour, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and R.F.C. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in carrying out long-distance bomb raids. On one occasion, although his engine began to fail, he continued to lead his formation, and succeeded in bringing back most valuable information.
Military Cross – 1st Bar
2nd Lt John Gilmour, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and RAF. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when engaging hostile aircraft. Within a week he crashed to the ground four enemy machines, and at all times, when on patrol, he never hesitated to attack any enemy in sight. His consistent dash and great fearlessness have been worthy of the highest praise. In all he has ten hostile machines to his credit.
Distinguished Service Order – 3rd August 1918
Lt John Gilmour M.C., formerly Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He is a most inspiriting patrol leader who has destroyed twenty-three enemy aircraft, and shot down eight others out of control. While leading an offensive patrol he shot down one enemy biplane in flames and drove down a second. A short time afterwards he, with four others, attacked about forty enemy scouts. He himself destroyed one in the air, drove another out of control and a third in flames, successfully accounting for five enemy machines in one day.
Military Cross – 2nd Bar
Lt John Gilmour, D.S.O., M.C., Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and R.A.F. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in his leadership of offensive patrols