Royal Flying Corps

This is a collage of my grandfather’s Royal Flying Corps memorabilia. As outlined in previous posts, Fred was stationed at the RFC Training School, Aboukir, Egypt from 1915 to 1918.  In this photograph he is dressed in a desert uniform for a postcard which is inscribed: “Best love to all [at] home”.  This is surrounded by two of his RFC badges, his stripes, his 1919 release papers from Fovant and some basic anti-personnel devices which were simply thrown over the side of the aircraft cockpit:

RFC

There were some requests from an earlier post to see more of the copying stand. The PZO UR 9711 is still resident on the dining room table only this time the mounted camera is connected by wifi to an iPad such that I can see the picture, focus and fire the shutter remotely (rather than climb on the wobbly pew to look through the viewfinder 🙂 ). All a bit over-engineered for the task but the real benefits of the wifi connection will arise when the camera is mounted on a six metre pole – it removes the need for guesswork:

UR 9711

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When this bloody war is over….

…No more soldiering for me
When I get my civvy clothes on
Oh how happy I shall be

No more church parades on Sunday
No more putting in for leave
I shall kiss the Sergeant Major
How I’ll miss him, how he’ll grieve.
(traditional)

When I have published this photograph previously I have concentrated on the faces, there is such a wide variation of emotion. This time I have reproduced the entire postcard because there is some interesting detail, including the the old-fashioned guy ropes and the nosey private poking his head out from one of the tents.  Judging by the shoelaces on the front row it was a rush job, so maybe some of those expressions are prompted by irritation.

Fred at army camp

I am guessing this is my maternal grandfather, Fred (seated on the right with a cigarette in hand), when he was still in the Territorial Army, before his dispatch to Gallipoli in January 1915.  I have no record of how long he was posted there  but by late 1915 he was at the RFC Training School, Aboukir in Egypt where he would stay until January 1919, rising to the rank of Chief Mechanic.

Fred's demob account

This demobilization account shows he was granted 50 months of War Gratuity up to 18th February 1919 when he was finally dispersed from Fovant Camp in Wiltshire.  There is some fascinating detail on this aged piece of bureaucracy:

  • The daily wage is seven shillings, almost a third being sent home to the dependant, in this case, Fred’s mum and dad;
  • On dispersal he is granted 28 days leave in arrears at the rate of five shillings per day, a ration allowance and money for a set of ‘plain clothes’ – is this the suit he is proudly wearing in this post?
  • He walked out of Fovant with £2 in his pocket and two postal drafts – his identity paper shows that these were cashed at his home town of Andover on the 1st and 11th March 1919 respectively – his Savings Bank Book was issued on 26th March 1919.

In the midst of the small print and the cumbersome administration is perhaps the most telling of all mean-spirited statements:  The Service Gratuity of £1 per annum is not payable in addition to the War Gratuity.  They had evidently not done enough to deserve it.

Royal Flying Corps – Aboukir

In an earlier post I made reference to my maternal grandfather, Fred, being amongst young men in their prime having the time of their lives, securely distant from the horror of the trenches.  Whilst there must be an element of truth in this, life at the Royal Flying Corps Training School at Aboukir, Egypt was always close to the edge.  On the ground or in the air, this picture taken by Fred soon after the incident, conveys the ever present dangers of life at No3 SoMA (School of Military Aviation).

Historic aviation writer David Bruce (http://www.cairdpublications.com) describes this incident as follows:  An aircraft (looks like a D.H.9) ends up nose deep in the roof of a hangar. This is unlikely to have been a crash from height – the aircraft is too intact for that. It is more likely that a trainee pilot made a heavy landing, and by a mixture of throttle mismanagement and a lack of control managed to bounce his way towards the hangar.

Fred survived the war but as we know, his brother William did not.  His local release form from Aboukir is dated 19th January 1919 with a destination of Railway Station nearest home: Andover.  The sea journey back home would take him to No.1 Dispersal Unit Fovant where he was finally authorised to travel to Andover on 18th February 1919.  Did he know that William was gone or did that tragic news await him as he stepped down from the railway carriage that bleak winter’s Tuesday.

Life goes on.  On 21st October 1921 he would marry the pretty Florence May who would eventually turn into ‘Mrs Kipper’, my fearsome grandmother.  It is disconcerting how people can change both physically and mentally as life grinds them down from day to day.

In his obituary the Andover Advertiser newspaper describes Fred as a skilled fitter who was keen on motor-cycle and motor trials and with Mr Macklin built a car which was used for racing.  I am inclined to think this happened between 1919 and that fateful day in 1921 as I am not convinced Florence May would have countenanced such magnificent activity by men in their machines.  Not for the first time, I could be wrong about Mrs Kipper.  The family story is that the car, a Lea-Francis bolted together from two crashed halves, was raced at Brooklands so now I am in touch with their archive to see if this can be confirmed.  I am longing for this to be true.

Great Uncle Billy

Earlier posts show my maternal grandfather serving with the Royal Flying Corps in Egypt during the Great War.  Fred was dispersed from Fovant Camp near Salisbury on 18th February 1919.  His brother William, also in the Royal Flying Corps but based in the UK was already gone, dying in the last gasps of conflict from Spanish flu.  “La Grippe Espagnole” killed more people than were lost during the entire Great War.  It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in world history, killing more people in a single year than during the four years of the Black Death.

His distraught parents received this acknowledgement of a life taken too early:

The King commands me to assure you of the true sympathy at His Majesty and the Queen in your sorrow.  He whose loss you mourn died in the noblest of causes.  His Country will be ever grateful to him for the sacrifice he has made for Freedom and Justice.

An unthinking example of disconnected bureaucracy, it fails to acknowledge who He is, whilst succumbing to flu is somehow deemed a noble cause rather than the tragic chance act of nature it really was.   The standard letter is ‘signed’ (printed) Winston S Churchill, Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force (the RFC became the RAF on 1st April 1918).  ‘Billy’ died on 5th November 1918 aged 25 and was buried six days later on a day heavy with symbolism, November 11th, Armistice Day.  His funeral was marked with military honours at Andover Cemetery in the presence of his mother, father, ‘chums and superior officers’ and his fiancée, Miss Coombes.  Miss Coombes and Billy, the great aunt and uncle I never had.  Fred was still half a world away in Egypt and given the communications of the day, almost certainly unaware of his loss.