2nd Lt Stewart Gordon Ridley, "Riddles"|
The 1/4th Battalion Recruit who died a Hero Pilot in the Libyan Desert.
The photograph and information on this page has been contributed by Ray Wilkins of Middlesbrough, N Yorks.
He has also donated most of the headstone photos from East Cleveland cemeteries that are shown elsewhere in this website.
Family Headstone of the Ridley family in Redcar Cemetery, North Yorkshire.
Stewart Gordon Ridley was the son of Mr. T. W. Ridley, of Willimoteswick, Redcar. |
The unusual name of the house relates back to the Ridley family ancestry. Their forebears lived at Willimoteswick Castle in Northumbria.
One of their ancestors born at the castle was that Bishop Ridley, famous in History as one of the Protestant martyrs who were burnt at
the stake in Oxford during the persecutions of Mary I's terror.
Stewart Ridley was educated at Mr. J. Roscoe's school at Harrogate and at Oundle, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, where he was in the Officer
Training Corps for three years.
He left school shortly before the war, and was preparing for business, but when War broke out he enlisted in September 1914, with his
brother, as a private in the 4th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.
In February 1915, he received a commission in the 12th Yorkshire Battalion.
His brother, later Colonel T.K.G Ridley, was also
commissioned into the 12th Yorks Bn and went on to become Adjutant and won the Military Cross.
Stewart volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps, and went to France in August, 1915, as an Observer.
He was out there for four months, and returned to the UK in December, and subsequently took his pilot's certificate.
He was posted to Egypt where 17 Squadron RFC were engaged in reconnaissance and bombing missions against Senussi tribesmen in the
Second Lieut Stewart Gordon Ridley became known in the Royal Flying Corps as "Riddles".
On the 15th June 1916 he was sent out on a mission flying a BE2c.
The "Morning Post" describes how over the next three day he came to a tragic end:-
"Soon he was sent down to an oasis in the Libyan Desert. In the middle of the month he went out singly on a machine as escort to another
pilot. He had with him a mechanic, named Lt J. A. Garside.
The work they had to do was at a considerable distance and a camel patrol
had been sent out in advance to form a temporary landing place or station, from which they had to operate.
They left on Thursday afternoon, June 15th, and after flying an hour and a half - half longer than they should - they failed to find the
As it was getting dark, they came down and encamped for the night. The following morning the weather was not very suitable and Ridley having
the light machine suggested that he should try to find the proper track of the camel patrol. It was, however, found that his engine would
not work. It had been giving him trouble the previous afternoon.
The other pilot then decided that it was necessary that he should go back at once to the base [leaving water and provisions] and find
the exact position of the landing ground. He got back to the base and found that as the aviators had not turned up, the camel patrol had
returned to the base. The pilot and the captain of the Camel Corps returned to the landing ground and on the following morning [Saturday]
began a search for the other two.
After some time he reached the place where he had left them, but the mechanic and Ridley had gone.|
They left some odds and ends behind them but no note.
The pilot and his companion returned immediately to the base and when it was
ascertained that Ridley and Garside had not come back, search parties, consisting of camel patrols, motor cars and aeroplanes were at once
Nothing was discovered until the Sunday afternoon, when 25 miles away from the spot where the first night had been spent, a second place
2nd Lt Stewart Gordon Ridley.
Ridley's house, Redcar, N Yorks.
There the missing ones had landed, but they had again flown on after having patched up the machine. On the Tuesday afternoon the
machine and two dead bodies were found by a motor party.|
During the search the pilot came across the footprints of two men walking.
These were overtaken by a hostile camel patrol and for a time it was thought and hoped that Ridley and Garside had been captured.
It was,however, found that Stewart G Ridley shot himself at half past ten on the Sunday night.
The Captain of the Imperial Camel Corps said that from what he discovered he formed the opinion that Ridley had done this in the hope of
saving the mechanic and the Commanding Officer fo the RFC also states:-
There is no doubt in my mind that he did this act of self
sacrifice in the hope of saving the other man.
After Ridley died Garside had kept a rough diary of which the following is a copy:-
Friday. - Mr Gardiner left for Meheriq and said he would come and pick one of us up. After he went we tried to get the machine going and
succeeded in flying for about 25 minutes. Engine then gave out. We tinkered engine up again, succeeded in flying about 5 miles next day
[Saturday] but engine ran short of petrol.|
Sunday - After trying to get engine started, but could not manage it owing to weakness, water running short - only half a bottle - Mr
Ridley suggested walking up to the hills.
6pm Sunday - Found it was further than we thought. Got there eventually. Very done up. No luck. Walked back. hardly any water, about a
spoonful. Mr Ridley shot himself at 10.30 on Sunday whilst my back was turned. No water all day. Don't know how to go on. Got one very
light. Dozed all day, Feeling very weak. Wish someone would come. Cannot last much longer.
Monday. Thought of water in compass. Got half a bottle. Seems to be some kind of spirit. Can last another day. Fired Lewis gun - about
four rounds. Shall fire my Very light tonight. Last hope, with out machine comes. Could last days if I had water.
Cairo War Memorial Cemetery.
And above wooden cross with Mrs Ridley visiting.
A party with a chaplain went out on Sunday, June 25th and buried the two in the desert. They erected a cross with their names on it over
the heap of stones covering the bodies.|
That cross is now in St Peter's Church, Redcar, N Yorks.
The bodies were recovered and are now buried in Cairo War Memorial Cemetery.
Riddles became something of a folk hero in Australia, from where the Camel Corps originated, and was the subject of the following poem
by John Drinkwater.
He was a boy of April beauty; one
Who had not tried the world; who while the sun
Flamed yet upon the eastern sky was done.
Time would have brought him in her patient ways-
So his young beauty spoke-to prosperous days,
To fullness of authority and praise.
He would not wait so long. A boy he spent
His boy's dear life for England. Be content;
No honour age had been more excellent.