The time Col. Lambert was shot down over enemy lines

Published 9:22 am Saturday, August 17, 2019

Bill Lambert’s birthday is this Sunday. He was born Aug. 18, 1894 and would have been 125 years old this year. Bill was an unusual individual in that he flew for both the Royal Flying Corps in WWI and U.S. Army Air Corps in the WWII and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

In just five months during WWI, he was credited with downing 22 enemy aircrafts, according the U.S. Air Force Magazine. Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia, credits him with 18. It also says he was diagnosed with combat fatigue after a bombing attack on his airfield, after which he was sent back to England for rehab.

He told me that what caused his nervous breakdown was from shooting Germans as he flew down a line of trenches. He was low enough that he could see the enemy he was shooting.

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It also caused his crash behind enemy lines. A stray bullet punctured his fuel tank and he ran out of gas.

He told me he jumped out the plane and headed for the Allied lines when he remembered that he didn’t get his timing watch, a stop watch that he used to estimate his fuel usage since the plane had no fuel gauges.

At that point, he ran back and grabbed his watch. He said he really didn’t know how he was able to pull it off the instrument panel since it was well secured.

After telling me the story, he took me into his bedroom and showed me where he had the watch hanging on the wall over his bed. To finish the story, of course, he was fortunate to have been able to sprint to the Allied lines without being shot.

Col. Bill smoked a pipe and he used a prop that attached to the pipe to sit it on his chin. He had a U.S. patent on this gadget. He said without it, it was difficult to hold the pipe in his mouth since he had false teeth.

I think sometimes he blew rather than sucked on his pipe. His shirts had little burn spots on them. Since we took him to the Air Force meetings several times, my wife, Maybelle, kept an eye on him. She was afraid that that he would set himself on fire. 

He wrote a couple of books, “Combat Report” and the other one was about his exploits as he barnstormed across the country. Barnstorming has been described as flying low over a town to get attention. Then, the pilot would land in a pasture field close by and take people on rides in the plane. The planes were invariably WWI trainers called “Jennys.” They were available after WWI as surplus for a few hundred dollars.

The book lists the price for a ride was $5, which was a lot of money in those days. He said the girls really worshiped pilots. When he gave me the second book, he took me aside and said, “Don’t let your wife read this.”

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at