Hail the minor powers! Their aces probably achieved less than von Richthoffen (or Ball, or Guynemer, or "Billy" Bishop) but their bravery should be remembered.
So why not remember a Belgian ace of the once-famous "Thistle squadron" - Andre de Meulemeester. Meet him and his live mascot called Stabilo. Gary C. Warne wrote in his Warnepieces blog (again, highly recommended):
Belgium’s King Albert (himself an aviator - see the photo below. L.K.), in presenting an award in July 1918 to Willy Coppens, Belgium’s highest scoring ace by the end of the war, remarked in his presentation speech, “Up there, in the sky, you have shown what Belgians are capable of doing.” But this comment equally applied to all of Belgium’s Great War aviators, including their second highest scoring ace Andre Emile Alfons de Meulemeester.
When Germany invaded Belgium in 1914, it was almost completely overrun, including Bruges, but Belgian troops, with help from the Allies, managed to hold onto a small portion of the northwest corner of the country. Belgians who had escaped the invasion immediately sought to fight for their country and in early 1915, Andre de Meulemeester volunteered for and joined the Aviation Militaire Belge. He began his flight training at the Belgian flying school at Etampes, and in April 1917, with the rank of Sergeant, he was officially posted to 1ère Escadrille de Chasse, one of Belgium’s top fighter units flying French-built Nieuport 17s, although he had been with the unit as early as October 1916. He was small in stature and his squadron mates dubbed him Sergeant Mystère (Sgt. Mystery), claiming he was “as tall as an apple and as fat like a finger.” They would later call him “The Eagle of Flanders.”
Andre and the Nieuport were an excellent combination as, by August 21, 1917, he was an ace with five confirmed (and a like number of unconfirmed) victories. But that fifth victory ended with him being severely wounded by the gunner of the Albatros C two-seater he had shot down.
He returned to the squadron at the end of September and was appointed a flight commander. One of his new wingmen would eventually become Belgium’s high scorer, Willy Coppens. Plus, new aircraft were being offered to the pilots, the French-built Hanriot HD.1. Andre initially rejected the new aircraft, finding he still favored the older Nieuport 17. But as Coppens and other pilots showed how much more maneuverable and responsive the Hanriot was, de Meulemeester reluctantly gave up his Nieuport and switched to the Hanriot. With a taste for the dramatic, he had portions of it daubed bright yellow, but to make sure he would not be confused with one of the colorfully painted German aircraft, he flew it around to the nearby British airfields to make sure they would recognize him in the air.
He brought down his sixth victory on November 4th, before he gave up the Nieuport. With the new Hanriot, he kept on scoring, although many of the victories would remain unconfirmed.
In the spring of 1918, he joined 9eme Escadrille at Moerers and for a while, the unconfirmed victory curse continued. But on May 3rd, he shot down another two-seater, bringing his score to nine. On July 11, 1918, he again sustained injuries when, due to engine trouble, he crash-landed behind Belgian lines and received numerous contusions and lost some teeth. He returned from the hospital in August and picked up where he left off. By the end of the war he was credited with eleven confirmed victories, the last one being one of the difficult to destroy balloons. He had also amassed at least seventeen unconfirmed victories.
Andre de Meulemeester was recognized as an extremely talented and aggressive pilot and was known to be an excellent piano player, a man obviously skilled with his hands. He won virtually every award his country could give him, along with the French Croix de Guerre with Palms, and the Italian Medaglio d’Argento (Silver Medal).
After the war, he resigned as Lieutenant de Reserve from the Aviation Service and returned to Bruges to run his family’s brewery business. He passed away on March 7, 1973 at the age of 78.
The Hanriot HD.1 is shown in the colors of Belgium’s 1ère Escadrille de Chasse. Copyright holder is www.military-aircraft.org.uk
Source: Warnepieces blog