The Balloon-Busting Flanker

Sous-lieutenant Maurice Boyau Escadrille SPA.77, French Air Service

By Gareth Morgan

This article first appeared in the Australian Society of WWI Aero Historians and is published with the kind permission of the author.


Sous Lieutenant Maurice BoyauMaurice Boyau’s name crops up in two of my areas of interest: rugby history and Great War aviation.


As this article is concerned with the life and times of Maurice Boyau some incidents and personnel in the history of Escadrilles N.77/SPA.77 are not included.


For a full history of Escadrille N.77/SPA.77 see Cross & Cockade Journal, Volume 17 No.1, Spring 1976: The Escadrille Called ‘Les Sportifs’ by Frank W. Bailey and Paul Joly.


Maurice Jean-Paul Boyau (left) was born to a well-off French family in Mustapha, Algeria, on 8 May 1888. (1)


After his birth, the family relocated to Bordeaux in mainland France. As he grew up, he showed great prowess in a number of sports, including athletics, boxing, cycling, long-jumping and Association football, where he captained Sport Athletic Bordeaux in 1907, at the young age of nineteen. However, southern France is an area where sports over autumn and winter are dominated by rugby, and Maurice soon found himself in the red and white jersey of Union Sportive Dacquoise, generally known as 'US Dax', where he played as a wing or centre-three-quarter.


Like all French youths at the time, Maurice had to serve in the Army for two years as his national service, (2) something that naturally restricted his rugby career. After discharge from the 144 Régiment d’Infanterie, he donned the black and yellow jersey of Stade Bordelais, (SBUC), and then the strongest club in France, where he moved from the backs into the forwards as a flanker or, sometimes, as a No.8 (using modern terminology for the positions).


He was 1.8 metres tall and weighed 75 kg. Unusually for a forward at the time, he was also a goal kicker. Maurice excelled in his new position. On 8 April 1911 SBUC won the French Championship by defeating Sporting Club Universitaire Français 14 - 0 in front of 12,000 spectators at Stade du Bouscat, Bordeaux. During the game, Maurice kicked a goal (two points) to convert one of SBUC’s two tries in the second half, to add to the two scored in the first half. (3)


Rugby Playing Sous Lieutenant Maurice BoyauMaurice Boyau (left) playing for Stade Bordelais in 1911.


The ambition of almost every first class rugby player is to represent his country. Maurice must have been pleased when the French national selectors showed that they had noticed the young flanker from SBUC. Maurice was selected to play for France against Ireland at Parc des Princes, in Paris, on 1 January 1912, the first match for France in the 1911 - 1912 Five Nations’ Championship. (4).


He was not the only French player in that team who would later take to the skies: the fly-half was Marcel Burgun, born to French parents in St Petersburg, Russia, an engineer who played for Racing Club de France, a Paris-based club. Burgun went on to become a Sous-lieutenant in Escadrille MF.50, where he, together with an unknown observer, was credited with a victory over a German Aviatik, which was forced to land on 5 August 1915. He later flew with Escadrille N.38. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre and had three citations for bravery before he was killed in action on 2 September 1916 when flying a Nieuport XVII South of Aubérive. He was attacking one German aircraft when shot down by another. Marcel Burgun is buried in the Cimitière de Mont Frenet, La Cheppe, Marne.


Unfortunately for Maurice, French Rugby in the early years of the twentieth century was nowhere near as strong as it later became, and the Irish won his first international match by 11 points (a goal and two tries) to the French 6 points (two tries).


The French National Rugby Team

The French national rugby team to play Ireland on 1 January 1912. 

Maurice Boyau is standing sixth from the right, at the back. Marcel Burgun is the third player from the right. Image source; Bibliotheque National de France.


Maurice remained in the team for France’s next international, the match with Scotland at Inverleith on 20 January. Scotland thrashed the French 31-3, with the Scots scoring five goals, a try and a penalty goal to a solitary try by Les Bleus in front of a crowd of 20000.


The match report in The Times described the French forwards as “. . . though big, strong and heavy, not at all clever”.


John Will (Cambridge University) scored one of the Scottish tries. He too would become a pilot in the Great War: John Will was making his international debut on the wing. He would go on to play in another six internationals where he scored five tries.


When war was declared he joined the Leinster Regiment, where he was commissioned, and also wounded, before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps. By March 1917, he was flying with No.29 Squadron RFC, based at Le Hameau aerodrome.


At 0825 hrs on 25 March 1917, Lt Will took off in Nieuport XVII No. A6751 on an escort mission in company with another aircraft from his squadron. The other pilot had to return to the aerodrome due to revolution counter problems; he then changed aircraft and returned to the front, but failed to find Will, who did not return. There were no German claims over his aeroplane, so it seems likely that he died as the result of an engine or structural failure.


In December 1917, John Will’s grave lay in front of a newly-advanced British Artillery battery.


Second Lt Huntley Gordon found a cross made from a broken propeller in front of his gun position, and wrote:

“Round the propeller hub is painted ‘2nd Lt J.G. Will RFC’. He was the wing-three-quarter known before the war as ‘the Flying Scot’ . . . The grave must have been made by Boche airmen – a curiously chivalrous act, for they can hardly have thought it likely that we would advance far enough to see it.”


The next international for France was against Wales at Rodney Parade, Newport, on 25 March.


This was in front of a small crowd of 10,000, when the visitors again lost, but by a much narrower margin that against Scotland. Indeed, The Times’ rugby correspondent assessed it as the best ever performance by a French team. In the last international match to be played in Newport, Wales won 14 - 8, by scoring a goal and three tries to France’s goal and try. One French try was converted by Maurice, who was mentioned in The Times as among “the best of a very fine pack, who showed more skill and stamina than any French pack has done hitherto”.


France’s last international match in the season was a home game against England at Parc des Princes on 8 April 1912.


On a day described as ‘dull’ 16,000 spectators, including a regiment of soldiers, saw England win 18 - 8. England were leading 14 - 0 at halftime, with a goal and three tries, but the French played better in the second half and scored a goal and a try while restricting the visitors to a dropped goal kicked early in the half. However, the French tries were scored late in the match, when England were down to thirteen players, as two had to leave the field with injuries (5). Maurice kicked the goal that converted one of the French tries. The English dropped goal was scored by Harry Coverdale (Blackheath) later one of the absent injured players, who was to be the Armament Officer for No.74 Squadron RAF on the Western Front in 1918.


Boyau was not selected for Frances’s next three international matches; the reason is unknown - perhaps an injury made him unavailable. Hence, he wasn’t part of the team when Scotland won 21 - 3 at Parc des Princes on 1 January 1913. This match is primarily remembered (at least by those who are interested in these things) due to a post-match riot by French spectators, who believed that les Bleus had been unfairly treated by Mr J.


Baxter, the English referee. (6). The Scottish Rugby Union was so disturbed by the incident that fixtures with France were discontinued, and the two countries didn’t meet again until after the War. Maurice was probably fortunate also to miss the next French international, ten days later when the home team was thrashed 5 - 35 by the touring South African Springboks, (7) and the following game when England won 20 - 0.


Another player who would become a pilot in the coming War made his international debut against the Springboks: the remarkable Georges André (Racing Club de France).


His nickname was Le Bison. He played on the wing and scored his team’s only try. André had competed in the 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games as an athlete, and would do the same in 1920 and 1924.(8)


An electrical engineer, the outbreak of War in August 1914 saw him as a sergent in the 103e Régiment d’Infanterie. He was wounded and captured, only to successfully escape in his sixth attempt. In November 1917, he transferred to the Service Aéronautique and trained as a pilot. Judged too old to fly in the Second World War, he served in the infantry and was killed in action in Tunisia in May 1943.


Maurice returned to the blue jersey of France for the match against Wales at Parc des Princes on 27 February 1913.


The French scored a goal and try (one try by Georges André) but lost 8 - 11 to the visitors, who scored a goal and two tries. Much to the disappointment of the French, the final Welsh try was scored late in the second half, when it had seemed the match was likely to end in an 8 - 8 draw. 

Fearful of a repeat of the unfortunate incidents after the Scotland match, the French authorities stationed a large number of policemen at the ground. Late in the match a mounted squadron of the Garde Républicaine trotted onto the field and positioned themselves behind the Welsh goal line. They did not appreciate that the in-goal area is a vital part of a rugby pitch. The referee, Mr A.O. Jones of England, (9), was having none of it, stopped the match and ordered the horsemen to move away, much to the delight of the crowd. This was probably the only occasion when an international rugby referee has had to deal with cavalry on the field of play.


The next match for France was against Ireland, in Cork, on the morning of 25 March (10).


Maurice achieved the ultimate honour for a rugby player: he was named as Captain of his national team. Sadly, the appointment was not crowned with success, as the Irish outclassed their opponents in every aspect of the game and emerged as winners by 24 - 0 (three goals and three tries). Two of the Irish tries were scored by flanker William Tyrrell (Queen’s University, Belfast), later a senior RAF medical officer, who was awarded a DSO and Bar, plus an MC, while serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps during the War. Boyau did not appear in a French national team again.


At the commencement of hostilities in August 1914, Maurice was back in uniform.


He was assigned to the 18eme Escadron du Train des Equipages (the French Army’s equivalent of the Army Service Corps) as a motor driver. As he was now stationed far from his native Bordeaux, he joined a closer Rugby club, Racing Club de France in Paris. When his military duties permitted it - played in their light blue and white hooped jersey in the Coupe de l’Espérance, a wartime competition - played mainly by young men awaiting their call-up and servicemen on leave - that replaced the national championship. (11). The French Government encouraged the resumption of sporting activity, as this was thought to be an ideal way to prepare men for military service.


Maurice was determined to take a more active part in the War, preferably in the air, and frequently applied for pilot training; after repeated requests, and some wire-pulling, he was transferred to the Service Aéronautique at the end of 1915.


After a very short period of training, Boyau received his pilot’s brevet on 28 November 1915.


To his great disappointment, the ability demonstrated during his training resulted in his being selected to remain at the training facility at Buc as an instructor. After many requests to be allowed a role in combat, he was eventually transferred to Escadrille N.77 (so designated due to the unit’s original equipment of Nieuport XII two-seaters and XVII single-seaters) as a Caporal when the unit was formed at Lyon-Bron on 19 September 1916.


The first commanding officer was Lieutenant Joseph de l’Hermite, and the inevitable association of his name with the mediæval priest Peter the Hermit (12) resulted in the eventual adoption of a yellow Cross of Jerusalem on a medium-blue triangular pennant as the escadrille’s fuselage insignia. The unit motto was Plus l’honneur que d’honneurs (More honour than honours).


On 4 October 1916 N.77 was deployed to Toul-Manoncourt to support the VIIIe Armee on the Lorraine front. The escadrille acquired the nickname Les Sportifs (The Sportsmen) due to the number of well-known sporting identities in its ranks. 

As well as Boyau, at least two other pilots were prominent rugby players: Lieutenant Henri Felloneau (13) (Racing Club de France) and Adjutant- Chef Emile Strohl (14) (from Maurice’s Stade Bordelais). Lieutenant Henri Decoin was an Olympic swimmer and editor of a sports paper (15). While Sergent André Boillot was a racing car driver, who would become famous after the War. (16)


N.77 commenced operations in late October


It was soon engaged in combat with its German counterparts, fighting with enemy aircraft and attacking various ground targets, including an aerodrome. The unit’s first aerial victory was achieved by Sergent Gilbert Sardier(17), and his observer Sous Lieutenant Georgeot, who was credited with an enemy aeroplane, shot down over Vielle-en Haye on 4 March 1917.


On 16 March, Maurice was one of four N.77 pilots escorting a two-seater on a photographic mission over Metz when they spotted, and then attacked, an enemy described as an ‘Aviatik’ which he brought down. It is most likely that his victory was over Unteroffizier Karl Kolrop and Leutnant Feodor Kellner, of FlAbt 279(A) who were killed in action over Remenauville. The victory was not confirmed until 3 March 1918, so it can be described as either his first victory, in chronological order, or his thirteenth, in order of confirmation. Sadly, N.77 lost a pilot during this mission as Lieutenant Havet, flying Nieuport XVII No. 2277, failed to return (18).


Twenty days after his first/thirteenth victory, on 23 March, Sergent Boyau and Sergent Marcel Hugues (19) carried out a bombing attack on the German aerodrome at Marimbois, near Thiaucourt. Flying at about 200 metres, the Frenchmen dropped some bombs and successfully hit some hangars, causing them to burn. Both airmen were given the equivalent of a Mention in Despatches for their bravery.


The citation:

BOYAU, Maurice, Sergent of the Escadron du Train des Equipages, pilot of Escadrille 77: March 16 downed a German aircraft in the enemy lines. The March 23 descended to less than 250 metres and bombed enemy aeroplane hangars with complete success.


In April, the escadrille began to re- equip with the SPAD VII, so that it then operated a mix of Nieuport XVIIs and XXIIIs, plus SPADs.


Maurice’s Nieuport XVII was distinguished by a large fire-breathing green snake painted along the fuselage.


Maurice Boyaus distinctive Nieuport XVIIMaurice Boyau’s distinctive Nieuport XVII Scout (left), with the green fire-breathing dragon.

Note the French preference for the single Vickers machine gun, rather than the overwing Lewis gun in RFC use.


On 23 May, Maurice first attempted the deed by which he would be renowned: he attacked a German observation balloon, a challenging target that many pilots preferred to avoid.

During the Great War, observation balloons, positioned a few kilometres behind the front lines, allowed trained observers to watch activity on the enemy side of the lines, and direct artillery fire on targets.


Although stationary, and filled with highly flammable hydrogen, balloons of the German Ballonzugen (Bz – Balloon units) were ringed with anti-aircraft guns.


Many balloons were attached to high-speed winches that could pull them to earth very quickly when under attack. Pilots attacking balloons were authorised to use incendiary ammunition – a weapon not usually permitted. Unlike pilots, balloon observers were equipped with parachutes and were encouraged to jump to safety when under attack, as a trained observer was a valuable person. Although Maurice failed to ignite the balloon during his attack, he did force the Germans to pull down the balloon, and the observer to take to his parachute, thereby depriving the enemy of a valuable asset, even if only temporarily. The observer must have retained a very strong memory of the event, as the slipstream from Maurice’s Nieuport caused the German’s parachute to deform momentarily partly as he descended.


Maurice was more successful on 3 June, when, in company with Gilbert Sardier, he attacked and flamed a balloon near Geline.


Two days later, he downed another balloon on his own. However, just after this, his third victory, his engine failed – a desperate situation as he was then well behind the German lines.


Having no choice but to land, and then become a prisoner of war, he sought a suitable landing place. Having selected a relatively flat field, he approached to land, only for his engine to re-start just as his wheels touched the ground.


The trip back to the French-held territory was made at only 200 metres while the aeroplane was the target of rifle and machine gun fire from overflown German troops.


A German BallonzugA German Ballonzug (left), with their AE Balloon close to the ground.


Maurice was cited again in June and awarded the Croix de Guerre.


On 24 June, in company with Sous-lieutenant Charles d’Hautefeuille (20) and Sergent Boillot, he shot down another balloon between Nancy and Goin, his fifth victory. Three days later he was awarded the Médaille Militaire.


The Citation (which seems to have been written with a little imagination):

BOYAU, Jean-Paul Maurice, No 1544, Sergent (reserve), a pilot of Escadrille N.77, 8th Squadron of the 18eme Escadron du Train des Equipages: Pursuit pilot of audacious bravery. Three times cited in orders and has to his credit an aircraft and a balloon. On the 5 June, he destroyed another balloon. Forced to land in enemy territory, he repaired his plane and flew back over the lines at 200 metres altitude, under fire of enemy machine guns.


Sergent Boyau and Sous-lieutenant d’Hautefeuille combined to shoot down an LVG two-seater near Nancy on 13 July. Six days later the commanding officer of N.77 changed when Captaine de l’Hermite was replaced by a well-known pre-War Rugby player: Capitaine Pierre Mouronval (who played for Stade Toulousain).


Some of Escadrille N.77Some of the Escadrille N.77 pilots at Manoncourt-en-Vermois in July 1917.


From left to right :Caporal Henri Guillaume, Sgt Maxime de Ginestet de Puivert, Lt André Georges, unknown, Capt Joseph de l’Hermitte, Capt Pierre de Mouronval, Sgt Maurice Boyau, unknown, Sgt Yves Barbaza, Caporal Pierre Berthier, Sgt Paul Delestre, Sgt André Boillot, Caporal André Géhin, Adj Luc Sardier, Adj Henri Rebourg.



Aerial victories were scarce in August, perhaps as the Escadrille was busy becoming familiar with the new SPAD XIII, which was now operated alongside the Nieuports, SPAD VIIs and the two- seater SPAD XIs.


On 23 August, with fellow pilots d’Hautefeuille, Sardier, Boillot and Henri Rebourg (21) Maurice took part in a daring low-level attack on the German airfield at Marimbois, and railway stations at Hampont and Fresnes-en-Saulois. The next day Boyau, Sardier, Boillot and Rebourg attacked German installations at Frescati in the morning, destroying a barracks and damaging other buildings by dropping fourteen bombs from 250 metres.


In the afternoon, the same pilots dropped another fourteen bombs on railway buildings at Hampont, setting some on fire and photographing the damage caused. Three days later Maurice attacked three observation balloons, setting one alight – his seventh victory - and forcing the observer to take to his parachute.


Maurice’s next victories followed in quick succession.


These started with a balloon between Cirey and Bois Bertram flamed on 22 September, in conjunction with Henri Rebourg, followed by a solo attack on a balloon that he couldn’t ignite, but from which the observer parachuted.


The next day he shot down a two-seater near Coincort, bringing his victory total to nine. The fallen aircraft is likely to have been from FlAbt (A) 241, crewed by Vizefeldwebel Stiller and Leutnant Kuhne, who appear to have survived the action.


As September ended the designation of the Escadrille was changed from N.77 to SPA.77, to reflect its now total equipment of SPADs. Two pilots were cited in Army Orders: Sergent Maurice Boyau and Sous-lieutenant d’Hautefeuille.


On 1 October, Boyau, together with d’Hautefeuille and Capitaine Tourangin, a pilot from Escadrille N.89, combined to bring down a German two-seater that crashed behind the French lines north of Champenoux. The German aeroplane probably came from FlAbt 12, crewed by Leutnant Hans Frowein and Leutnant Oskar Sigg, who were both killed in action. Maurice received his eighth citation for this action - his tenth victory - and was made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur with the following commendation:


Maurice Boyayu with SPAD XIII
Maurice Boyau (left) with his SPAD XIII.

Le Prieur anti-balloon rockets are attached to the inboard interplane struts, and the individual aircraft number ‘9’ painted in medium blue.

Pilots from Escadrill SPA 77
Pilots from Escadrille SPA.7

From left to right – unknown; Maréchal des Logis Jean de Labier (1 victory - KIA 3.7.1918); Adjutant Francis Guerrier (5 victories); Lieutenant Gilbert Sardier (15 victories); Sous- Lieutenant Maurice Boyau (35 victories – KIA 16.9.18); Lieutenant Henri Decoin (5 victories); Sergent André Géhin (3 victories); Caporal Richard Mevius (1 victory – KIA 22.7.18)


Maurice Boyau in the cockpit of his SPAD

Maurice Boyau in the cockpit of his SPAD

Sergeant Boyau c.1917
Sergent Boyau in a jovial mood, circa 1917.

The Cross of Jerusalem isignia of Escadrile
The Cross of Jerusalem insignia of Escadrille N.77/SPA.77


A pilot of an exceptional audacity who has proven to be an incomparable master of pursuit, reconnaissance, photography and bomb-dropping from a low altitude.


On the 1 October 1917 he downed in our lines an enemy aircraft. Since the 16 March 1917, he had downed six balloons and four aircraft and executed three bold bombardments at very low altitudes. Already awarded the Médaille Militaire and seven times cited by orders for brilliant actions.


 The rest of 1917 was a quiet period for SPA.77

One of the unit’s more unusual pilots was lost on 4 December when Caporal Tadao Yamanaka, a Japanese from Hiroshima, and his observer, Maréchal des Logi (22) Nacotte, died of their injuries after their SPAD XI crashed during a test flight. Like many other non-Frenchmen who wanted to fly and fight for France, Yamanaka had come to the Service Aéronautique by way of the Foreign Legion, having joined La régiment de Marche de la Légion étrangère (23) in 1916.


At the end of 1917 SPA.77 was credited with a total of twenty-one confirmed victories, ten credited to Maurice, for the loss of eight airmen.


1918 was to be a very busy year for SPA.77, and the newly-promoted Sous-lieutenant Boyau started it by burning a balloon at Benay for his eleventh victory. From 5 February SPA.77 was attached to the newly-formed Groupe de Combat 17 that was part of Groupement Fequant in the Aisne sector of the Front. The same month saw the last two-seater SPAD XI leave the unit, which was now equipped with only the SPAD VII and XIIII. The Boyau and Sardier combination was active again on 20 February when the two airmen destroyed another balloon (as explained above, his first victory was confirmed as his thirteenth on 3 March).


The Escadrille moved to Fere-en-Tardenois on 8 March, and later that month two American volunteers, who had joined the Lafayette Flying Corps, (24) 66666 Caporal Herman Whitmore (25) and Caporal Thomas Buffum (26) were added to its flying ranks.


The series of major German offensives on the Western Front that commenced on 21 March caused many flying units to move bases.


SPA.77 was no exception, moving to Saponay on 1 April and two days later to Fay Ste Quentin, in the Oise area. On 14 May, SPA.77 was transferred to Group de Combat 13, part of the 1ere Division Aerienne flying over the Fouquerolles area.


Sous-lieutenant Boyau was credited with his first victory for three months on 28 May, when he was victorious over an Albatros D.V over Maisonneuve. Boyau attacked the Albatros – one of four flying in the upper half of a formation of eight – and subsequently escaped the attentions of the downed pilot’s companions.


The next day he attacked a balloon over Bois de Bole (oddly, instead of catching fire, the gasbag split in two, probably due to faulty construction – it was, nevertheless, a victory) and later on, together with Sardier, he shot down an Albatros D.V north of Ville-en- Tardenois.


His SPAD was hit by ground fire during the balloon attack, with two incendiary bullets hitting the fuel tank but, fortunately, failing to ignite the petrol vapour. Another bullet struck his seat, but missed him, prompting Sardier to remark “Seventy centimetres higher, and you’d be in hospital!”


His next victory was a Pfalz D.IIIa over Epieds on 1 June, followed by another combined effort with Sardier that destroyed two balloons on 4 June. Another balloon was accounted for on 27 June, bringing his victory total to twenty.


Sadly, the escadrille lost its commander on 30 May, when Capitaine Mouranval (27) was shot down and made a prisoner of war; he was probably the ninth victory of Leutnant Walter Blume of Jasta 9. Lieutenant Decoin was appointed to succeed him.


SPA.77 moved to Tille on 10 June, to be part of Escadre de Combat 2, a component unit of the 2eme Brigade Aerienne.


This was part of the build-up for the coming French offensive against Metz. At the end of June, Sous-lieutenant Gilbert Sardier, Maurice’s frequent companion in balloon attacks was made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur and transferred to command Escadrille SPA.48.


On 1 July, Maurice combined with Sous-lieutenant Claude Haegel (28) of Spa.100 to bring down a balloon in flames. On 5 July he downed a balloon and an aeroplane over Ville, followed by a Fokker


D.VII on 15 July, and another aeroplane north-east of Nesle-le-Repons on 17 July, during a period of heavy fighting.


On 22 July, SPA.77 experienced its most successful day of air fighting, with four victories confirmed – three of them fell to Maurice’s twin Vickers guns. The first was an aeroplane over Fresnes, followed by two balloons, both shared with Sergent Guerrier. (29) Maurice was given the Rosette d’Officier de la Legion d’Honneur after his 28th victory on 22 July; the Citation:


A pilot of remarkable bravery whose marvellous physical qualities are put to use by his most arduous spirit and fights at great heights. A magnificent officer with an admirable spirit of self-sacrifice, facing each day with the same smiling desire for new exploits, surpassing then succeeding. He excels in all branches of aviation; reconnaissance, photography in single- seaters, bombardments at low altitudes, attacks on ground troops, and is classed among the best pursuit pilots. He has reported twenty-seven victories, the last twelve in less than one month. He has downed sixteen balloons and eleven planes. He has the Medaille Militaire and Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur for feats of war. Eleven citations.


Sous Lietenant Maruice Boyau wearing his many gallantry decorationsSous-lieutenant Maurice Boyau is wearing his many gallantry decorations and awards.


On 16 July SPA.77 received its first unit commendation:


An elite unit which was classed from the time of its formation among the better trained and as the most formidable for the enemy. Remarkably commanded by Capitaine de l’Hermitte, who formed it and who gave it his intense enthusiasm. It was later commanded by Capitaine Mouronval, who fell in enemy lines during combat. He has twenty-two downed aeroplanes, flamed thirteen balloons, taken more than one thousand photographs behind German lines, and executed in single-seater aircraft four-day bombing operations, at low altitude, with complete success.


8 August was a rather successful day


Maurice first flamed a balloon over Cury, then combined with Maréchal des Logis Antoine Lentz-Mitchell to destroy a Rumpler two-seater over Retz-sur-Matz, before going on to shoot down another two-seater, which had just accounted for Lentz-Mitchell’s SPAD. Lentz-Mitchell survived the action, but he was a prisoner of war.


Boyau had a period of leave before his next victory on 14 September, when, together with Caporal Edward J. Corsi (30) and Haegelen of SPA.100, he flamed a balloon near Etraye at 1745 for his thirty- second victory. The next day, a patrol by led Decoin with Boyau, Barbaza (31) and Adjutant-chef Strohl destroyed two enemy balloons in flames; the first at 1230 near La Haye des Allemans, and the other twenty minutes later near Foulgrey.


On Monday, 16 September, Maurice, together with Aspirant Henri Cassieux, attacked a balloon from Bz 152 at Harveille and sent it down in flames.


It was his thirty-fifth victory. However, subsequent events did not favour the French, as they were attacked by German fighters. Caporal Walk, another member of Boyau’s patrol, was hit in the spine by an incendiary bullet and forced to land, but on the French side of the Front line. Cassieux was severely wounded by ground fire from Bz 155’s anti-aircraft guns, but able to make it back to the French lines, where he passed on the dreadful news that Sous-lieutenant Boyau had been killed in action. His account of Maurice’s final action appeared in La Guerre Aerienne late in 1918:


Boyau was proceeding to attack a balloon about ten kilometres behind the lines. Two times he had fired bursts without results. Finally the third time the flames so often contemplated burst towards the sky. At the same moment, seven Boches unexpectedly arrived in a group. Tragic moment: the many machine guns on the ground fired without stopping. Walk himself flew towards his lines pursued by the horde. The ace, proceeding to help him, passed under the flaming balloon, feigned to escape the fight. The moment when he turned to swoop to the rear and continue his slaughter, a bullet fired from the ground, hit his plane and set it afire. From a distance, it appeared that the armour plates in his plane contributed to the descent: a large flame, then a tight spin. The fire seemed to go out. The plane righted itself. At the same moment, the disaster [fire] returned more violently than before, and then the SPAD fell vertically and crashed to the ground, destroying itself.


Boyau’s death affected many in the Service Aéronautique, especially those in SPA.77. The escadrille’s former commanding officer, Capitaine de l’Hermite, now commanding Groupe de Combat 17, wrote:


Boyau was the spirit of my escadrille, and he was also the spirit of my groupe.


Contrary to Aspirant Cassieux’s report, the Germans attributed Boyau’s demise to Leutnant Georg von Hantelmann of Jasta 15, as the fourteenth of his eventual twenty-five victories. The German version of events is that after the French patrol had burned the balloon, they were attacked by seven Fokker D.VIIs from Jasta 15. Two SPADs were shot down, that of Caporal Walk by Vizefeldwebel Gustav Klaudat (32), and Boyau’s by von Hantelmann.


However, the German and French versions of events agree that Boyau evaded the first Fokker to attack him then, after diving under the burning and falling balloon, tried to drive a Fokker away from the tail of Walk’s SPAD. At this point, Maurice’s aeroplane was hit either by von Hantelmann or by ground fire from a Ballonzug.


Leutnant Georg von Hantelmann was credited with shooting down two other aces.


On 12 September 1918 he brought down the American thirteen victory ace Lt David Putnam of the 139th Aero Squadron, USAS, near Limey.


Four days later he shot down Maurice Boyau and on 18 September he shot down the six victory American ace Lt Joseph Wehner (33) of the 27th Aero Squadron, USAS, near Serronville. After surviving the War, he was murdered by Polish poachers on his estate in East Prussia on 7 September 1924.


Racing Club de France was scheduled to play a Rugby match on the Saturday after Maurice’s death. As a mark of respect after the loss of their much-esteemed member, the club opted to take the field with only one flanker, leaving Maurice Boyau’s position vacant.


SPA.77 was to receive another citation before the Armistice; on 8 October the following was promulgated (the translation leaves a little to be desired):


An exciting Escadrille of magnificent combat ardour of the highest patriotism and loyalty for victory. Under the remarkable command and driving impetus of Lieutenant Decoin, inspired by the outstanding heroism of Sous-lieutenant Boyau, who brought to the Groupe de Combat where his illustrated by his exploits, the noblest traditions of honour and spirit of sacrifice. In spite of the most painful losses, it took during the last phases of the War the most glorious and active parts and brought the number of its victories to 59: 34 aircraft downed, 25 balloons flamed, 1006 photographs, four bombardments.


On 15 October, SPA.77 was given the right to display the Fourragere (a braided cord, worn from the shoulder) in the red and green colours of the Croix de Guerre, a signal honour.

Its eventual total of victories was sixty. More than half of these victories were achieved by the former flanker from Stade Bordelais whose thirty-five victories made him the fifth most successful French fighter pilot of the War (34). Twenty-two of his victories were observation balloons - the fourth most successful ‘balloon buster’ of the War (35) in total. SPA.77 lost eighteen airmen either killed, wounded or taken a prisoner of war.


Unlike many Great War airmen, Maurice Boyau is well remembered today, as US Dax, his first Rugby club, play their home matches in the Stade Maurice Boyau (36). A statue of Maurice, in flying clothing, is located in a park outside the stadium.



(1) Some sources have 1 May 1888 as his birthdate, but most agree on 8 May.

(2) Increased to three years in August.

(3) Scoring values at the time were: 5 points for a goal/converted try; four points for a dropped goal; three points for an unconverted try, a penalty goal or a goal from a mark.

(4) This was the third season where France competed with England, Ireland Scotland and Wales to make it a Five Nations’ Championship. The competition was expanded to Six Nations in 2000 with the addition of Italy.

(5) Replacements for injured players were not permitted at this time. Indeed, replacing injured players was not allowed until the late 1960s.

(6) Scotland’s South African-born fullback, Walter Dickson (Oxford University and Blackheath), a Rhodes Scholar, was quite deaf, and reportedly thought that the commotion in the crowd was in appreciation of Scotland’s good play. He was killed in action at Loos on 26 September 1915 while serving as a Lieutenant in the 11th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

(7) South Africa won all the international matches on the 1912-1913 tour of the United Kingdom and France: Scotland 16 - 0; Ireland 38 - 0; Wales 3 - 0; England 9 - 3 and France 38 - 5.

(8) He won the Silver Medal for the High Jump in the 1908 Games and Bronze for the 4 x 400 metres relay in 1920.

(9) Mr Arthur Owen Jones (1879-1914) was one of the most respected referees of his day, and was in control of five international matches, as well as refereeing several matches during 1908 Wallabies’ tour of England and Wales. He also captained England at cricket.

(10) A morning kick-off was scheduled so that the spectators and players could attend the Corhorse races in the afternoon.

(11) The Coupe de l’Espérance was won by Stade Toulousain in 1916, Stade NantaisUniversité Club in 1917, Racing Club de France in 1918 and Stadoceste Tarbais in 1919.

(12) Peter the Hermit (c1050 - 1115) was priest in Amiens, France, whose preaching was a key factor in the origins of the First Crusade.

(13) Lieutenant Henri Felloneau was posted as missing in action on 21 July 1918.

(14) Adjutant-Ched Emile Strojl was credited with two victories.

(15) Henri Decoin (1890-1969) was credited with four victories; he became a renowned film director and screenwriter who directed some fifty films between 1933 and 1964.

 (16) André Boillot (1891-1932) raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1919, 1920 and 1921, won the Coppa Florio in 1922 and 1925, as well as the Spa 24 Hours in 1926. He was killed in a car crash in 1932 while practising for a hill climb race.

(17) Lieutenant Jean Marie Luc Gilbert Sardier (1897-1976) was credited with fifteen victories, five of them being observation balloons. He continued to be involved in aviation during the inter-war period. During the German occupation of France between 1940 and 1945, he was head of the Clermont-Ferrand branch of La Legion Française de Combattants, a pro-Vichy organisation that collaborated with the Germans.

(18) Sous-lieutenant Havet was probably shot down by Vizefeldwebel Schlegel and Leutnant Metzger from  Flieger-Abteilung 39, who claimed a victory south of Thiacourt.

 (19) Lieutenant Marcel Huges transferred to Escadrille N.97 and later to N.81 and then SPA.95. He was credited with twelve victories by the Armistice. He went on to serve as a Lieutenant-Colonel in l’Armee de l’Air in the 1939-1945 War.

(20) Lieutenant Charles d’Hautfeuille commanded Escadrille SPA.100 from 16 January 1918. He was posted as missing in action on 20 April 1918, probably the tenth victory of Ltn Hans Pippart of Jasta 19.

(21) Sous-lieutenant Henri Rebourg (1892 - ?) was credited with three victories.

(22) A Maréchal des Logis is a Sergeant in the Artillery or Cavalry.

(23) La régiment de Marche de la Légion étrangère was a composite unit formed on the Western Front in 1915 with battalions from both the 1er and 2e Regiments of the Legion. The RMLE was one of the most (24) decorated units in the French Army during the war.

(24) The Lafayette Flying Corps encompassed all the Americans who flew with the French. The number of men involved is estimated to be between 180 and 300.

 (25) Caporal Herman Whitmore was shot down and captured on 6 April. 

(26) Caporal Buffum was shot down and captured on 4 May.

 (27) Capitaine Mouranval was credited with three victories.

 (28) Sous-lieutenant Claude Marcel Haegelen (1896-1950) was credited with twenty-two victories while serving with Escadrilles N.3 and SPA.100. He fought with the French Resistance during the 1939-1945 war.

(29) Sergent François Gurrier flew with SOP.234, before he joined SPA.77, where he was credited with five victories.

(30) Caporal Edward Corsi was another American from the Lafayette Flying Corps; he was credited with two victories. 

(31) Sous-lieutenant Yves Barbaza (1893-1976) flew with N.38 and SPA.77; he was credited with five victories.

 (32) Caporal Walk’s SPAD was his sixth, and last confirmed victory.

 (33)  Lt Joseph Wehner is often remembered as the frequent partner of eighteen victory ace Lt Frank Luke Jr.

(34) After Capitaine René Fonck (75 victories), Capitaine Georges Guynemer (54), Lieutenant Charles Nungesser (45) and Capitaine Félix Madon (41).

 (35) After Sous-lieutenant Willy Coppens of Belgium, with 35 balloon victories, Sous-lieutenant Jean-Pierre Bourjade of France with 27 and Lieutenant Michel Coiffard of France with 24.

(36) The ground attendance record at Stade Maurice Boyau is 15,000, set when US Dax played Perpignan in 2008.



Source: The Australian Society of WWI Aero Historians, (accessed 9 November 2015)

Above the Lines. Normal Franks, Frank Bailey & Russell Guest
ISBN 0 948817 73 9

An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Uniforms of World War I. Jonathan North. ISBN 978-0754823407

Balloon-Busting Aces of World War I Jon Gutman ISBN 1 84176 877 4

Fighter Aircraft of the 1914-1918 War. W M Lamberton. Harleyford Publications 1961

Nieuport Aces of World War I. Norman Franks. ISBN 1 85532 961 1

Over the Front. Norman. Franks & Frank Bailey. ISBN0 948817 54 2

SPAD VII Aces of World War I. Jon Guttman. ISBN 1 84176 222 9

SPAD XII/XIII Aces of World War I. Jon Guttman. ISBN 1 84176 316 0

The Balloonatics. Alan Morris. Jarrolds 1970

The Complete Who’s Who of International Rugby. Terry Godwin. ISBN 0 7137 1838 2

The French Air Service War Chronology 1914-1918. Frank W Bailey & Christopher Cony. ISBN 1 902304 34 9

The French Army 1914-1918. Ian Summer. ISBN 978 1 85532 516 6

The Jasta Pilots. Norman Franks, Frank Bailey & Rick Duiven. ISBN 1 898697 47 7

The Jasta War Chronology. Norman Franks, Frank Bailey & Rick Duiven
John Griffiths. ISBN1 898697 84 1

The Phoenix Book of International Rugby Records. John Griffiths. ISBN 0 460 07003 7


Stade Maurice Boyau6
Stade Maurice Boyau – the home of US Dax Rugby Club in France.

The Statue of Maurice Boyau at the stadium
The statue of Maurice Boyau (above) outside the stadium that bears his name.

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