Major Charles Dixon insisted in later life that he only became a World War One pilot because he had seen the horror of the trenches and never wanted to go back.
“I was, really, a coward,” he reportedly told wife Vera.
His record as a flying major would suggest he was anything but.
This Sheffield son of a steelworker - who was born and raised in Northumberland Road, Broomhill - was awarded the Military Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Belgium Croix de Guerre for his exploits during the 1914-18 conflict.
Now, in the centenary of World War One, his story is to form the centrepiece of an exhibition at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, near Chichester.
“How would he feel about it?” ponders son Stephen Dixon, down the phone from Oxford. “He never talked about the war - we didn’t even know he’d won the Military Cross until he passed away - so I’m not sure he’d want the attention. But we’re very proud.”
Among heroics that could come straight from Biggles, he once acted as bait to lure two German fighters into a trap where they were shot down. In an especially successful week in August 1918, he destroyed three enemy machines in three separate aerial skirmishes.
But he respected his opponents too. After hearing of the death of a skilled German pilot, he flew low over enemy lines to drop a wreath at the funeral.
“There was no personal animosity,” says 75-year-old Stephen. “These lads respected each other.”
Major Dixon was born in 1894 and was working for Tinsley steel firm Hadfields when war broke out. He enlisted in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and served at Ypres before being shot in April 1915. Referring to the incident in which a bullet tore through his wrist, he noted in his dairy simply: “I was wounded today.”
“He was sent back to England to recover and decided he didn’t much like the trenches,” says Stephen.
He used his own savings to pay for flying lessons. They lasted just three days - “but planes back then were very rudimentary,” notes Stephen. “They had two speeds: off or full throttle.”
Within six months, Major Dixon was back in France with the Flying Corps. He won the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry in action”. The citation noted: “He has carried out many bombing raids with great courage.”
After the war he became managing director of a tobacco chain, married Vera and had two children, Jane and Stephen. They settled in London. He passed away from a smoking illness aged just 56.
“We were looking for someone whose life captured the heroics of the pilots of World War One,” says Joyce Warren, museum secretary. “His did that perfectly.”