Arthur Rowe Spurling was one of several Bermudians who served in both World Wars. In World War I he was a member of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps and later a Royal Air Force pilot credited with six aerial victories and during the Second World War he was a ferry pilot as well as contraband officer with the Imperial Censorship Detachment.
When the First BVRC Contingent arrived in England in June 1915, it was attached to the Lincolnshire Regiment and became the first colonial volunteer unit to reach the Front in France. By the following summer the Bermuda Contingent had suffered serious casualties, Rifleman Spurling being wounded twice. In July 1917 he became one of sixteen Bermudian enlisted men to become officers while serving in France. Not obliged to return to their original units, Rowe Spurling chose to join the Royal Flying Corps.
Flying a DeHavilland DH9 light bomber on August 1918 he became separated from his formation and almost landed on a German airfield. Being vastly outnumbered by 30 German fighters, he launched a single-handed attack and managed to shoot down three of the German planes, while his observer shot down two more. This made Lieutenant Spurling an ace and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
During the Second World War he returned to the RAF, serving in Transport Command, and reached the rank of Squadron Leader. At one point Rowe Spurling joined the Imperial Censorship Detachment as Contraband Control Officer, searching passengers on ships that came to Bermuda. He delighted in this role and developed his methods on two principles- that all beautiful women are wicked, and all polite people have something to hide. One of his reports included the comment ‘she was an exceedingly beautiful woman and gave me every possible assistance and I therefore subjected her baggage to an unusually severe scrutiny’.
On another occasion Rowe Spurling had to remove a German-born barber from the S.S. Excambion. When the man violently refused to leave the ship, Mr. Spurling ‘found it necessary to sit him down and take care of him’. The documents he confiscated from passengers often had great value to the Imperial Censorship Detachment and led to the internment of many foreign nationals.
After the war Mr. Spurling formed the Rowe Spurling Paint Company. He died in 1984.
Rambling Notes of a Bermuda Philatelist published in December 2023 and is available at bookstores island-wide.