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Arthur Corrie Lewin - the Irishman who went missing while flying over Africa

His story is told in this extract from the book The Glorious Madness, written by historian Turtle Bunbury.

ON THE 100-YEAR anniversary of World War 1, historian Turtle Bunbury has compiled the extraordinary stories of the men and women who were connected to the battlefields in some way. From future rebel leaders to Home Rule politicians, he tells their story in great detail. In this extract from the book, The Glorious Madness: Tales of the Irish and the Great War, he brings us the story of Arthur Corrie Lewin, who went missing with his wife while flying over north-east Africa.

In October 1937, there was a collective gulp throughout the world of aviation when it was reported that Brigadier General Arthur Corrie Lewin, DSO, and his wife had gone missing in north-east Africa.

The couple were last seen flying down the valley of the White Nile in their Miles Whitney two-seater. Less than four weeks earlier, the 63-year-old Irish aviator had astonished his contemporaries when, on his debut attempt, he came second in the prestigious King’s Cup Air Race.

Born in 1874, Arthur Lewin grew up at Castlegrove, one of the west of Ireland’s finest mansions, which stood near Tuam on the Galway-Mayo border. Educated at CHeltenham and Cambridge, he won a DSO while serving with the Mounted Infantry during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902).

In 1913 he was given command of the 3rd Battalion of the Connaught Rangers. One of his officers was his younger brother Fred, who was to die tragically in November 1915 when a bomb unexpectedly exploded during trench practice at the Preghane rifle range in Kinsale, County Cork.

Arthur Lewin was dispatched to Gallipoli during the Dardanelles campaign and, in September 1915, he assumed command of the 5th (Service) Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment, which had been practically annihilated in the battle for Chunuk Bair. The following month he was promoted to Brigadier General and given the 40th Infantry Brigade. The dismal campaign was largely over by then, but with dysentery and jaundice spreading rapidly amongst his men, General Lewin played a key role in the successful evacuation of Gallipoli, keeping a close eye on operations in both Cape Helles and Suvla Bay.

He spent the rest of the war in Mesopotamia and Persia (present-day Iraq and Iran), taking part in the relief of Kut in 1916 and the advance on Baghdad in March 1917. During August 1918, he commanded all British troops in north-west Persia on behalf of General Marshall. Two months later, he witnessed the final overthrow of the Ottoman forces on the Tigris at the battle of Sharqat.

After the war, the General returned to Ireland and, along with his wife Norah and their two sons, he settled at Cloghans Castle, which one of his ancestors had purchased in 1663, and which had remained a Lewin stronghold ever since. The castle was close to his childhood home of Castlegrove, where his older brother now lived.

Shortly after his move to Cloghans Castle, the political temperature in Ireland became unbearable, not least when anti-Treaty forces looted and burned Castlegrove to the ground on 25 July 1922. Lewin relocated to the British colony of Kenya, where he took up farming. Nonetheless, he maintained his connections to Ireland, attending the annual Connaught Rangers dinner in Restaurant Jammet in Dublin’s Nassau Street in 1929 and 1931.

General Lewin was 57 years old when he discovered his true passion in life. “Flying is full of surprises,” he remarked. “It keeps you young. It is the finest game in the world.” He was astonishingly good at it. At the end of 1931, the same year that he learned how to fly, he covered the 6,300-mile journey from England to Kenya in a solo run that took over 50 hours. He was to repeat the journey many times.

It was thus no surprise when newspapers around the world began to panic when the Lewins and their monoplane disappeared over the Nile on their return from the 1937 King’s Cup. But fortune smiled on the couple when a flying boat pilot on the London to Cape Town route spotted them waving frantically from a Sudanese swamp.

The General and his wife had been compelled to force-land and were subsequently marooned. The flying boat dropped food supplies and led an RAF convoy out to find them. Ten days after their plane went down, the Lewins were rescued, scathed, bruised and hungry but very much alive.

Fifteen years later, the irrepressible Galway man cemented his reputation as an icon of aviation when he piloted a Tiger Moth to victory in the East African Aerial Derby in March 1953. He died of heart failure six months later at the age of 78.

The Glorious Madness is published by Gill Books and out now, priced at €29.99.

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Turtle Bunbury

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