HE was every schoolboy’s hero whose fearless actions of derring-do made him a comic book legend who, in reality, was based on a real-life courageous First World War pilot from Hampshire.

Together with his chums “Algy” and loyal mechanic, Flight Sergeant Smyth and teenager, Ginger Hebblethwaite, Biggles was a fictional flying ace who soared and fought his way through a thousand adventures, all avidly read by youngsters who eagerly awaited the next instalment of his barnstorming life.

Almost 100 books, written by Captain William Earl Johns, chronicled Biggles’ First World War exploits while, between the two world conflicts, Biggles found himself in all sort of scrapes and international plots, before taking to the skies once more, this time in a Spitfire to lock horns with the Luftwaffe.

It is said that the author of these books based his main character, James Bigglesworth, on the highly decorated Air Commodore Arthur Wellesley Bigsworth who lived at the now disappeared Firgrove House in Moorhill Road, West End.

According to research by enthusiastic members of the West End Historical Society, the Bigsworth family lived locally for many years and Arthur was listed as living at the house when he was 16 years old.

Arthur was born in London on March 27, 1885, and was educated by a private tutor before training as a merchantile marine officer and entering the Royal Naval Reserve as a midshipman in 1903, promoted to acting sub-lieutenant six years later and acting lieutenant in 1911.

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He learned to fly on a Bristol biplane on Salisbury Plain and attended the Central Flying School in 1912, graduating from the first course a year later.

Arthur was appointed flight commander of No 1 Squadron at Calshot Naval Air Station overlooking Southampton Water. It was here that he was to carry out some early night flying experiments in a Sopwith Bat Boat using two lamps he designed himself as a crude night sight attached to the aircraft.

In the spring of 1915, Arthur, undertaking an action that Biggles himself would no doubt be proud of, became the first officer to succeed in dropping bombs on a German Zeppelin airship at night. Zeppelin airship LZ39 had been raiding England’s east coast and, on her return journe, was intercepted at 10,000 feet over Ostend, Belgium, by eight British naval aircraft from Dunkirk.

Flight Commander Bigsworth, who was piloting an Avro aircraft, rose 200 feet above the airship and dropped four 20-pound bombs, one of which penetrated the Zeppelin, exploding five hydrogen gas bags, severely damaging the German craft and for his “skilfull and daring” action Arthur was promoted to squadron commander.

In another remarkable engagement on August 26, 1915, he was patrolling off Ostend when he saw a German submarine, the U14, and at once decided to attack it.

An edition of the West End Local History magazine, Westend, takes up the story: “Swooping down to 500 feet, he checked the speed of his aircraft and then manoeuvred in circles over the submarine and, despite heavy anti-aircraft fire both from shore batteries and the submarine, he dropped his bombs with a most destructive accuracy.

“The first bomb burst a hole in the submarine’s decks, and being unable to dive, she was compelled to travel on the surface. Before she could reach Ostend, she filled with water and sank like a stone.”

For his “conspicuous gallantry and skill” Squadron Commander Bigsworth was award the distinguished service order medal for the first airborne “kill” by a pilot, single-handedly, of a German submarine.

While Captain Jones was working at the Air Ministry he met up with Arthur, whose service was recognised by the award of the Air Force Cross in 1919. The next year Bigsworth married and was still living in West End.

Later the author was inspired by Bigsworth to write his first Biggles’ story called, The White Fokker, which was published in the first issue of Popular Flying magazine in 1932.

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The first collection of Biggles stories, The Camels are Coming, was published that same year. The series was continued until the author’s death, at age 75 in 1968, eventually spanning nearly a 100 volumes including novels and short story collections.

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Arthur Wellesley Bigsworth died on February 24, 1961.

His name and wartime details appear on the West End Roll of Honour at West End Parish Centre.