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Allan Hepburn was born on the 11th of October in Melbourne, Australia. His early flying service included flying DH5 aircraft with 24 Squadron RFC before being slightly wounded. He continued ot fly with 24 Squadron until later in the year when he was posted to 40 Squadron RFC where he took over the flights previously led by Major Mick Mannock. Unfortunately Hepburn crashed his aircraft soon after and was sent to England to recuperate. In April of 1918 he joined 88 Squadron flying Bristol Fighters where he claimed with his observers 16 victories. 88 Squadron RAF later joined 80 Wing RAF where Allan hepburn flew side by side with the two Australian Flying Corps scout squadrons. After WWI he joined the Royal Australian Air Force.
Allan Hepburn features in two stories in Rothesy Stuart Wortley's book, "Letters of a Flying Officer". In Wortleys book he writes of his experiences through a fictional Lt Colonel Enderby. Wortley commanded 88 Squadron late in September of 1918, as Hepburn was a Flight Commander with 88 Squadron at that time, Wortley would have had innumerable dealings with Hepburn. The following is from Wortleys book;
Diary, 21 September;
... Ive had a long talk with Hepburn, one of the best patrol leaders in the Wing, about the wireless telephone.
His chief objection to it is that one cannot stunt a machine with 150 feet of aerial trailing underneath the fuselage; and that one might very well find oneself involved in a scrap before one has the time to wind it up, with a possible result that the wire might get entangled in the propeller and so wreck the machine in mid-air. I told him that GHQ had set their hearts on perfecting this device, and that the technical staff could not get on with the business without the practical experience of the pilot to help them, and that, therefore he must do his best ... to which he said nothing at all, but stared at me with a bright blue eye that bored like a gimlet into my brain, and an expression on his face as much to say ... 'You know that it's all rot, just the same as I do.'
I saw that it was useless to argue with this young gentlemen, so I tried another tack...
Hepburn had been out in France for fourteen months on end; and, by all the rules, was long overdue for a rest in England. I put it to him that he had done his fair share of the fighting, and that a tour of duty at home might be welcome to him. Upon this his eye grew brighter still....
'Very good , Sir,' he burst out, with a visible effort at self control, 'You can hot-air me back to England if you like. But if you do, I will be out again in another squadron within three days. I Swear I will!. They tried that trick on once before, when I'd only been out six months. Said it was my turn for Home Establishment. I was back in France within the week.' He paused, and then, his voice thick with emotion, 'What do you think I came all the way from down under for? To muck about poodle-faking in London, where I dont know a living soul? No, Sir!'
This was the right spirit anyway. By degrees, spasmodically, I got his story out of this lion-hearted, forthright youth. He had run away from his home in the Antipodes, from a father who was a conscientious objector and who had forbidden him to enlist on the outbreak of war. The boy had smuggled his way into a ship, and had come to Englan as a stow-away. Quickly he had learned to fly. Now he had been a flight commander for a year or more - and hadyet to lose a machine on a patrol! He wanted to fight Huns; and anything that he thought would hamper him in the object he rigidly discarded. He would not carry oxygen or electically heated clothes, designed by kind persons for his comfort at high altitudes. Those apparati all added to the burden put upon the engine, and so tended to deprive him of just that last ounce of power which makes all the differance when manoeuvring against the Hun.
I had to choose between the two ....
Was the squadron to have it's way? Was it to remain in the line and continue to destroy the German aircraft, or was it to be brought out of the order of battle and set to help perfect the new, coming, invention? Were we to look to the future.... or the present....?
Diary 23 September;
....I have made my report to the Brigade re wireless telephony. I side with Hepburn and his CO Wireless will come undoubtedly; in the near future one may see operations conducted both in the air and on the ground from the air. But the invention is not sifficiently advanced froma technical view point to sacrifice a very valuable fighting unit by placing it at the disposal of the experimentalists. Let them try it out at home...When they have contrived a rigid aerial, then lets have them here ....
Diary, 12 September;
...The Huns have taken to going about in droves of 20 to 60 strong ... They arent the men they used to be, by all accounts, although their Fokker biplane is as good as anything we've got. But they dont display the same stomach for the fray as they did in old days of dogfighting over the Ypres Salient when the circus was abroad ... Maybe they have lost their best fellows and that their new recruits are not wuite of the same calibre. After all its the same with us: our average age is nothing like it was two years ago.... I suppose England is down to the dregs; at any rate, there is no doubt about it that the majority of the best pilots in the Wing hail from Canada, Australia, South Africa and so forth ... In regard to the Englishmen, I think we are getting a selection of the gentry who joined the RAF with a view to avoiding the 'ditches' and who have taken as long as they possibly could to learn to fly....
...Twelve Bristol Fighters on an offensive patrol ran into a horde of Fokkers, some sixty strong, and shot down fifteen of them!
One of our machines was badly knocked about and had to make a forced landing just inside the outpost line of the 79th Division. The machine was written off, but both pilot and observer emerged with a few slight wounds...
I went over to see the squadron and to gather details from the pilots themselves. They were all delighted with the result of the fight. The only fellow to miss the fun, as luck would have it, was the senior Flight Commander and leader of the formation, the Hepburn already alluded to ... incidentally the best fighting pilot they have got. It was he who led them into the affray; but his gun jambed at the very outset; and he had to chuck it. His CO told me that he has never seen a man so livid with rage ... 'Missed the finest scrap of modern times!' he declared when he landed at the aerodrome to get another machine. Then, espying the armament officer sauntering slowly towards him, he turned and poured out the vials of his wrath upon the latter's devoted head. he accused the wretched man of every vice known to the denizens of darkness; cursed him and hi sancestry with all the virulance and fluency of an experienced bargee, and demanded to be told why he had just been sent into the air with a split cartridge case....
As every serviceable machine in the squadron was in the air at the time, Hepburn spent an hour of forced inactivity fuming up and down the tarmac like a lion with a sore head whilst the machanics laboured to get another ready.... his temper rising as the clouds closed in.... Before he could get off, the rest of the squadron landed and triumphantly announced the results of their efforts. Fifteen Fokkers! All seen to crash, and several more driven out of control ... It was more than Hepburn could bear. Fifteen Huns: and he'd missed the fun ... Silently he slipped away from the excited groups of Flying Officers. A few minutes later, the roar of a Rolls Royce engine made itself audible above the din of conversation in the Squadron office; and I put my head outside the door just in time to see a Bristol Fighter disappear into the gathering mist.... It was Hepburn, armed to the teeth, as his Flight-Sergeatn reported, with bombs, camera and machine gun, off to deliver himself of some of the pent-up fury within him....
It was only the limited capacity of his petrol tanks that brought him back at all. As it was, he landed with the last draing of fuel being sucked into the carburettor. For three hours he had been buzzing like a Hornet as about fifty feet over the towns of Tournai, Leuze adn Ath, and the roads which lay in the vicinity, attacking anythign which came into range of his vision. 'Some of them might have been Belgians,' he remarked laconically, but I hope to God they were Huns. I gave 'em hell anyway'.
*. Victory information taken from "Above The Trenches : A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915 - 1920", Christopher Shores, Norman Franks and Russell Guest, 1990. More detail of the RFC and RAF ace victories are contained in the volume.