M.C. London Gazette 22.6.1918 'For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During 10 days' operations he showed splendid courage and skill in carrying out Reconnaissance and Contact Patrols at low altitudes and under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire. He obtained valuable information as to the enemy's movements, and attacked enemy troops and transport with machine-gun fire. He also bombed enemy Batteries with excellent results'.
Captain James Godfrey "Jim" Burchett, M.C., of Kew, Surrey, was born in 1892 and lived an adventurous life before the Great War, cow-punching in Argentina, and afterwards running a bar in Central America with a shotgun reassuringly rigged under the counter. Commissioned Temporary 2nd Lieutenant on the General List in April 1917, he joined No. 15 Squadron, R.F.C. in France with just nine hours flying time in December of the same year. He duly damaged two RE8s in quick succession, and despairingly was ordered over the lines for the first time. Fortunately the Front was relatively quiet, but in the early part of February he lost his Observer in 'nerve-wracking' circumstances:
'The Observer had been an inexperienced one, and had failed, apparently, to see the Circus until it was on the tail of Burchett's machine. The Observer had been shot through the heart before he had time to give Jim a warning or to get his own machine-gun into action. The first thing that Jim knew was when he felt bullets whistling past his ear into the dash-board above his head; and was left to get himself out of the fight with a dead Observer in his rear cockpit, and no rear machine-gun for his defence. He was lucky to do so'.
The hazards of Artillery Observation work were not confined to the enemy as Burchett himself related in after years: 'On 26 February Smith and I were doing a shoot with 142 Siege Battery. A howitzer shell, at the top of its trajectory, passed between the flying-wires of the top and bottom plane beside the Vickers gun and out over the tail plane which it grazed. We found the mark afterwards. I don't usually recount this, as it is apt to engender mistrust'.
The launch of the German Spring Offensive in late March 1918 signalled the commencement of a hectic period of patrols and ground attack work for Squadrons all along the Front as the Infantry were driven back thousands of yards by the long planned and well sustained enemy effort. Burchett remembered: 'On 22 March I was out with Haddow. Came back to find aerodrome full of shell-holes. That afternoon we moved to Laviéville. 23 March. With Haddow. Rear spar shot through from the ground. 24 March. Still with Haddow. Two Pfalz Scouts got after us, but we dodged into an enormous black smoke-cloud going up from a dump near Baupaume. They went over the top and were ready for our exit, but we foxed them by turning round in the cloud and coming out the same side again ... That evening we moved to Lahousseoye. 25 March. Went out bombing. The main spar got shot through. 26 March. Move to Fienvillers. 28 March. Went out bombing, and got some bits of Archy in the plane. Did a special reconnaissance in rain clouds at 300 feet. Returned and smashed machine. 30 March. Dropped bombs on Albert - a fruitless occupation. 1 April. We did the same on Autheuil - doubtless equally futile'.
The above and other narrow shaves all contributed to an aberration brought about by a change in the character of this 'little, dark, cantankerous man', as one Observer, whose general cheerfulness was the antithesis of Burchett's early morning outlook, noted: 'It was a morning during the March Retreat, when we were as usual on some dreadful new aerodrome where we had landed for the first time the night before. Jim and I were lodged within a wet tent, set up within a wet hanger. We had slept wringing wet. We went across to a wet mess for breakfast where leaks in the corrugated-iron roof dropped water on us. I was enjoying the circumstances, thinking that this at last was actually 'seeing life' Jim, who had seen a lot of life, did not agree. He did not offer a single word in answer to my conversational openings. He remained embittered and mum. We went out on to the aerodrome, climbed in to the machine (its seats, of course, wringing wet), and Jim Burchett, still without letting a word cross his lips took off straight across wind - the only assured method, in those days, by which a Pilot could commit suicide ... For the space of the hour-long seconds that followed, as we tore with gathering speed across the aerodrome, I was left in full belief that Jim had decided to cut the whole connection, and run me, himself, and the RE8, nose first into the earth: I had the strange experience of believing that I was the prey of a maniac ... I banged Jim on the shoulder, shouted, and pointed to the wind-vane; and he came out of his gloom-sodden trance just in time to turn into the wind and avoid disaster...'
Having been made a Flight-Commander in April 1918 and having been kept out in France for longer than was normal because of the German Spring Offensive, Burchett was promoted Temporary Captain in June 1918 whence he returned to the U.K. and was transferred to the Unemployed List in May 1919.