World War I fighter ace from Bal­ti­more to be hon­ored

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Ian Dun­can Bal­ti­more Sun re­searcher Paul McCardell contributed to this ar­ti­cle. idun­can@balt­ twit­­can

A mil­i­tary history group plans to honor today an ace fighter pi­lot from Bal­ti­more who joined the Bri­tish armed forces in 1917 and be­came one of the great­est Amer­i­can aces of World War I.

Fran­cis War­ring­ton Gil­let joined the Royal Air Force’s Squadron No. 79, and within a few months was cred­ited with shoot­ing down some 20 Ger­man planes and bal­loons. That put him sec­ond among Amer­i­cans, be­hind Capt. Ed­die Rick­en­backer.

The Western Front As­so­ci­a­tion plans to un­veil a paint­ing of Gil­let at the War Me­mo­rial in Bal­ti­more tonight. Re­tired Col. Robert J. Da­lessan­dro, chair­man of the United States World War I Cen­ten­nial Com­mis­sion, is sched­uled to speak.

The paint­ing, “Mary­land Over Flan­ders” by Michael O’Neal, de­picts Gil­let’s Sop­with Dol­phin fighter plane on a mis­sion on Nov. 10, 1918, the day be­fore the ar­mistice that ended the war.

The Western Front As­so­ci­a­tion says the event will mark the beginning of Mary­land’s 100th an­niver­sary cer­e­monies mark­ing the Amer­i­can en­trance into the Great War.

Paul Cora, the chair­man of the as­so­ci­a­tion’s East Coast branch, said Gil­let’s role in the war has been largely for­got­ten.

Gil­let grew up in a well-to-do fam­ily in Bal­ti­more and stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia be­fore join­ing the Army Sig­nal Corps. Re­port­edly told that he was too young to re­ceive a com­mis­sion as an of­fi­cer, he headed for Canada, a part of the Bri­tish Em­pire.

The Bal­ti­more Sun re­ported in Septem­ber 1918 that Gil­let’s rel­a­tives back home had learned that he had earned the Fran­cis W. Gil­let des­ig­na­tion “ace,” mean­ing he was cred­ited with five or more vic­to­ries in the air.

“He has been abroad for the last six months only, his work show­ing un­usual skill in down­ing Hun planes for so short a pe­riod of train­ing,” The Sun re­ported.

Gil­let was awarded the Bri­tish Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross and the Bel­gian Croix de Guerre for his ser­vice.

Home on leave in 1918, Gil­let was re­luc­tant to talk about his ex­ploits, The Sun re­ported. He kept his medals hid­den be­neath an oil-stained coat.

Af­ter the war, Gil­let re­turned to Bal­ti­more and worked as a real es­tate de­vel­oper, banker and liquor im­porter. The War­ring­ton Apart­ments that his firm built still stand on Charles Street in North Bal­ti­more.

Gil­let died in 1969 at age 74.

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