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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow Hero's

Captain Robert Maxwell Pike

1886 - 1945

Robert Maxwell Pike was born in Kilnock Tullow Co Carlow the second son of Robert Lecky Pike ( the then High Sheriff for Co. Carlow on the 30th August 1886.

He was educated at Harrow (shows on Harrow 1901 census), however he joined the Royal Navy on the 15th of August 1902 two weeks prior to his 16th birthday, was commissioned as Midshipman on 15th of June 1903. After serving on the Training Ship Britannia, he was sent to the Cruiser HMS Good Hope. For a young Midshipman the Good Hope would have been a great first posting, the ship itself was only two years old having been launched on the 21 February 1901.

Captain ROBERT MAXWELL PIKE Service Record


Robert’s Service records shows an entry by the then Captain of the HMS Good Hope which stated he found Pike with zealous, active and intelligent. His Conduct and abilities were always as Very good, later entries stated promising Officer. However this great start to a Naval career started to end on the 5th of July 1905 with the first reports of sickness.

From July of 1905 to February of 1907 Pike Naval career was spent in and out of Naval hospitals he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the knee, a rare form of the disease, this cause his knee joint to stiffen and producing a limp. He was given a Medical Discharge on 17th of February 1907. (Note some reports state his right knee cap was removed but this has not been confirmed)

As far as is known Robert Maxwell Pike returned to the family home in Carlow after his service in the Royal Navy, but no information of him shows up until 1914. His cousin John Rupert Lecky inherited Ballykealey House  (Carlow) in 1908. He was an avid follower of the huge developments in aviation and a great admirer of the achievements of the Wright Brothers this must have played into the next steps that young Robert Pike took.

Sometime in 1914 Robert had taken up flying training, with the result of him been award his “Royal Aero Club Certificate" (pilot’s licence) on 21st September 1914 at the Military School, Brooklands, Surrey, England., he acquired his licence in a Bristol Biplane. His early sickness must have improved or overlooked as he enlisted for service in the Army at the start of WWI. He joined the newly formed Royal Flying Corps, commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and was sent to Joyce Green on home defence duties. On the night of the 19th of January 1915 he got his first taste of action, intercepting a Zeppelin during a raid, the engine of his Vickers FB5 failed in midflight, forcing him to land in the dark, he hit a dyke and overturned, both Pike and his Gunner Shaw were unhurt.

April of 1915 he was sent to France and was attached to Nº 5 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, which was in an observation roll for the Royal Artillery, as spotter. He rose quickly to the rank of acting Captain, in fact he jumped from 2nd Lieutenant to Temporary Captain on the 4th of May 1915, and this promotion was published in the London Gazette on the 18th of May 1915. He was given command of B Flight, by his own CO reports Pike excelled in his new post.




Military Wing.

The undermentioned appointments are made: —

Flying Officers to be Flight Commanders

Second Lieutenant Robert M. Pike,
Special Reserve, and to be temporary Captain.
Dated 4th May, 1915.

The following piece appeared in Modelling Madness. com

In an action that demonstrates how litle real thought was being given to the air war, the sole prototype was sent to France a month later, on July 6, 1915, to be used by 5 Squadron, RFC, based at the time at St. Omer. By the middle of the month, the airplane had been lost when Captain Robert Maxwell-Pike, OC 5 Squadron, was on a mission in the vicinity of Ypres, Belgium. In a fight with an Albatros 2-searter, he took a mortal wound to the head, but was able to land just east of Ypres, though the airplane somersaulted in the rough . Fortunately, the Germans - though they repaired the airplane - made no attempt at a detailed examination and thereby left it to their flyers over the next year to discover for themselves what the D.H.2 was capable of.

From Commanding officers report:  “Pike did most excellent work and had a passion for bombing and photography, achieving excellent results by his pertinacity”.

With eyes from higher command watching, Pike was recalled to England in June of 1915, with new orders to carry out service evaluation of the DH2 Prototype, for which he made this report to Officer Commanding Nº 2 Wing Royal Flying Corps.

Sir, I have the honour to report that I received an order from the War Office to proceed to Hendon on June 21st and 22nd to inspect and if possible try out this machine. On 21st the machine was ready and had been flown a few minutes previously, but difficulty arose in the pressure feed system and the machine did not fly that day. On 22 June I again proceeded to Hendon and saw Mr (sic) de Havilland try the machine in bumpy weather. She seemed to behave well but was flying rather nose heavy. The tail plane was adjusted one notch and I took the machine up. I found that she climbed exceedingly well and is apparently capable of a climb to 3500 feet fully loaded in well under 5 minutes. The speed without streamlined wires is about 85 mile per hour. The machine was flying a little nose heavy and the tail fin had not been adjusted to counteract the torque, also there was a good deal of vibration which I believe to be due to engine and propeller being out of balance. There were a few main alterations to be made. I strongly advise wing skids and drift wires to the front of the nacelle which should prevent vibration of the instrument board. Also the fin required to be put well over and a slight alteration be made to the tail plane. Even without these alterations, which will make the machine more comfortable to fly, she will be of enormous value out here. With practice one should be able to use the gun effectively and the range of fire is very large, and the vision greater than any other machine I have flown. The alterations are to take about a fortnight and the machine will be ready to take to the Front, should approval be obtained. Streamlined wires have to be obtained and it is estimated that the speed will be increased by nearly 5 miles per hour in consequence. The seat was a little on the high side or appeared so after the Vickers. The gliding angle is surprisingly good and the machine can be landed slow enough for all ordinary purposes a little under 50 miles per hour. The day was not a good one on which to try a new machine but she seemed to go through the bumps without paying much attention to them. There is a suitable telescopic mounting for a Lewis gun fitted in the machine. I have not seen a German machine which can equal this Scout for speed and climbing power.

(Signed) R. Maxwell Pike, Captain,
OC B Flight, Number 5 Squadron RFC
In the field 29.6.15

It would seem that Major A.G. Board, Pike's Commanding Officer, was more than somewhat instrumental in organising the evaluation of the DH2, for Pike reported his findings directly to him. Major Board acted very promptly in sending the following request to Lt Colonel Burke DSO, OC Second Wing RFC on 30 June: I attach herewith a report from Captain Maxwell Pike on the de Havilland Scout with a request that when her alterations are completed she may be attached to my squadron for trial. The following are my reasons for so doing.

1. Captain Pike has flown the machine himself.
2. I already have the type of engine with which this new machine is fitted and mechanics who understand its peculiarities.
3. Hostile aircraft are particularly active in this area so this would be a suitable district to give the new Machine a trial.

On the 26th July of 1915, the next step was active service evaluation of the DH2 Prototype it was given it number as DH2 Nº 4732, and promptly sent to France under the command of 5th Squadron, RFC, based at the time at St. Omer, France, which as observes Squadron, had no aerial combat experience. On the 9th of August Captain Robert Maxwell Pike took the prototype to the air and was on a mission in the vicinity of Ypres, Belgium. The mission took a turn for the worse when he entered a dog fight with an Albatross 2-searter, piloted by Abteilungsfürer Alfred Ritscher with is air gunner Lt Heinrich Maas of the German Navy. Pike took a mortal wound to the head, but was able to land just east of Ypres, though the airplane somersaulted in the rough. The loss of the prototype was a great loss to the British, and breaths were held for the consequences. Fortunately, the Germans though they repaired the airplane made no attempt at a full and detailed examination and thereby left it to their own flyers over the next year to discover for them what the D.H.2 was really capable of.

The German informed the British by Air drop piloted by Theo Osterkamp of Pike’s death.

The message stated

“The gallant Captain Pike was shot down in mortal combat and was buried in a churchyard behind our lines with full military honours”.

Captain Pike was buried with full military honours in a local churchyard, his grave has not been identified but his name is recorded on the Arras Flying Service Memorial. Pike’s Aircraft had only one bullet hole, Pike hard a shot to the head, showing the experience or luck of the German gunner.

Captain Pike’s plane been taken away by the German’s photo taken on 10th August 1915 (Photo: German War Museum)
Captain Pike’s Plane once restored by the German Navy (Photo: German War Museum).

For his war service Captain Pike was award the 1914-15 Star, The British War medal, and the Victory medal he was also Mention in despatches (Medal card below from National Archives Kew) showing his father as next of kin. (His medal would be been given to his father)

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Robert Maxwell Pike was not the only member of his family to have a connection with flying but unfortunately this connection proved fatal. His nephew David Ebenezer Lecky-Pike was 20 when he was killed in action in March 1945. Another cousin was Molly Lecky, born 1907, she shared her first cousin's passion for aircraft, and she was one of dozens of women RAF pilots who flew American-built planes to Britain during WWII. She was killed when a plane she was flying was lost on June 14th, 1942. The two great wars took their toll among the family.

NOTE FROM THE RESEARCHER For Genealogy researcher Captain Pike is a prime example of the information that to found about ones ancestors, Military records hold a whole host of information. True not all will find a Captain Pike or a Victoria Cross winner but it doesn’t mean you will not find an interesting story or two, or at the very least information to help knock down that stubborn genealogical brick-wall . If anyone of your ancestor served in the armed forces it a well worth area of search, you never know what you my fined. The records hold a wide range of information, birth dates, marriages and names of children, parents or next of Kin, plus the record would show health reports, Tattoos and distinguished marks, in some case colour of hair and eyes and type of complexion. From the World War Two era photos, other important pieces of information about Medal or honours awarded. Terence Curran

2nd Lt Robert Maxwell Pike Circa September 1914 in his new Royal Flying Corps uniform
Captain R. M. Pike
Flight Commander, Royal Flying Corps.  He was the second son of Mr. R. L. Pike, D.L., Kilnock, Co. Carlow.
(From the Harrow Memorial book honouring its fallen ex pupils)

In Memory of
Mentioned in Despatches
5th Sqdn. Royal Flying Corps
who died age 29 on
9 August 1915
Son of Robert Lecky Pike, D.L. and Mrs. Lecky Pike,
of Kilnock, Tullow, Co. Carlow.
Remembered with honour

Commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Captain ROBERT MAXWELL PIKE Service Record


Theo OSTERKAMP dropping a message is briefly told in his book 'Du oder Ich', Berlin 1938
Harrow WWI Memorial
Commonwealth War Graves
National Archives Kew UK
London Gazette
Royal Aero Club Certificate

Source:  Researched & transcribed by Terence Curran

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© 2001 County Carlow Genealogy IGP