39 – Captain Stanley Keith Muir MC

Stanley Keith Muir was the youngest son of parents John Franklin Muir, a Scot by birth who emigrated to Australia in the 1870s & his wife Josephine Muir (nee Holmes). He was born on 6th April 1892 at Elsternwick in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and had 4 elder sisters and two elder brothers.

Captain Stanley Keith Muir (Military Cross)

From the age of six, he was educated at Scotch College and later at the Church of England Grammar school in Melbourne from 1907.  Whilst at the Grammar school, he was diagnosed with an illness which turned into hip disease resulting in him leaving the school. 

After a period of six months laid up on his back, plus another six months on crutches, followed by a lengthy break at Gulpha (Gulpa) Station he eventually made a full recovery.  At Gulpha station there were several houses and stock loading facilities at the rail siding.

Stanley, or Stan as he was known, joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 18th August, 1914.  He enlisted with the 4th Light Horse Regiment (LHR) which had just been formed at Broadmeadows Camp Melbourne only a week earlier.

Light horse regiments were normally comprised of twenty-five officers and 497 other ranks serving in three squadrons, each of six troops.  Stan was assigned to “A” Squadron and allocated service number 152 with the rank of Private.

Light Horse Units in training at Broadmeadows 1914

According to his enlistment papers, he was aged 22 and gave his occupation as a Station Overseer.  As an overseer he would have been an excellent horseman, skilled as a stockman with sheep, whip and droving.  On his enlistment papers he also stated that he had served with the 29th Light Horse.

29th Light Horse Cap Badge

The Light Horse were mounted troops with characteristics of both cavalry and mounted infantry, who served in the Second Boer War.  Prior to the First World War, the 29th Light Horse were known as Port Philip Horse or Victorian Mounted Rifles and were part of the Citizen Military Force/Militia part time forces.

Following the completion of his training at Broadmeadows camp, Stan and his pals from the 4th LHR embarked at Melbourne and sailed aboard the troopship HMAT A18 Wiltshire bound for Egypt where they arrived on the 10th December 1914. 

TSS Wiltshire

Once in Egypt, the LHR were based at the Mena training camp at Cairo to undertake training prior to going to France.

When the rest of the division departed Egypt to take part in the Gallipoli campaign, the LHR were left behind as the authorities believed that mounted troops would not be needed in the campaign due to the terrain. However, infantry casualties were so severe it was decided to send them as infantry reinforcements without their horses. Whilst still in Egypt, Stan was taken ill on the 24th March 1915 suffering with Subacute Rheumatism and as a result he was admitted to the No 2 Australian General Hospital based in the Mena House Hotel at Cairo. 

Mena Hotel hospital

After staying at the Mena hospital for about a month, he was transferred to the convalescent hospital at Abbasia on the 25th April.  Whilst at Abbasia, the 4th LHR left Egypt for Gallipoli, landing at ANZAC Cove between the 22nd & 24th May.  On arrival, the regiment was broken up and provided squadrons as reinforcements for infantry battalions at various points around the beachhead, and it was not until 11th  June that the regiment concentrated as a formed unit.

4th Light Horse Regiment (LHR) with No. 152 Corporal Stanley Keith Muir on the left. (Photo taken c 1 April, 1915)

Following his convalescence break at Abbasiya, Stan rejoined to his Unit at ANZAC Cove as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) on 27thJuly, 1915.

On the 13th August, whilst at Gallipoli, Stan was promoted to Corporal.  According to the book “War Services Old Melburnians” Stan was wounded during the Battle of Lone Pine which took place between the 6th and 10th August but there is no evidence of this in his service records.  I wonder if it was due to his actions during the battle that he earnt the promotion.

However, just a few weeks later, he was taken sick on the 28th August with Rheumatic fever and transferred to the Hospital Ship Ascanius.  On the 31st he was transferred to the St Andrews Military Hospital in Valetta Malta on the 2nd September 1915.

After a two week stay in the St Andrews Hospital, Stan was transferred to the hospital ship Carisbrooke Castle on the 17th September for onward transfer to England.

On his arrival in England, Stan was admitted to the Fulham military hospital on the 24th September with Enteric Fever.  A few days later he was transferred from Fulham to the Addington Palace hospital on the 28th, from which he was discharged for furlo (leave) on the 30th

Addington Palace War Hospital

Whilst undergoing convalescence in England, Stan thought he would be re-assigned back to garrison duties.  Being an ambitious type, this did not meet expectations and on the advice of friends, he applied for a commission.  On the 16th November, he was discharged from the AIF due to being appointed a commission in the 20th Service Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps (British Empire League Pioneers).  He was assigned as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant at Norfolk House, Laurence Pountney Hill, London.

After a short course at an Officers School in Cambridge, he joined his unit, the 20th Bn KRRC in London.  By the middle of February the battalions strength stood at over 1,000 and Colonel Murray suggested to the War Office about moving outside of London in order to access better training facilities. 

The 20th Bn KRRC were a new unit formed in London on the 20th August 1915 by the BEL.  The BEL helped to mobilise troops during the Second Boer War and the First World War and was active in the dominions of Australia and Canada during the early part of the 20th Century.

In response, the War Office asked Lieut-General Wooley Dodd to inspect the battalion and to see if they were ready to go out to France.  this took place in Hyde Park on the 18th February.  As the unit had only just received its full complement of men and no training was given, especially in arms drill or musketry due to being no rifle range in London. Wooley Dodd advised the War Office that they should be moved to a training camp.

Stan wasn’t with the 20th Bn KRRC for that long as whilst based in London, near to the Hendon aerodrome, he had a strong desire to become an aviator.  Contrary to the advice of his superior officers in the KRRC, he applied for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps which was granted in March 1916. 

Maurice Farman MF11 Shorthorn © IWM Q 58597

He was at the Military School at Catterick Bridge where he passed all his examinations with credit and earned his pilots’ wings on a Maurice Farman Biplane, being awarded the Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate No 2942 on the 11th May 1916.

Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate No 2942
Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate No 2942

As a newly qualified pilot, Stans next assignment was to No 1 (Australian) Squadron on the 27th July 1916 who were based at Heliopolis in Egypt as an instructor.  The Sqn was declared operational at its new headquarters in Heliopolis on 12th June, when it took over aircraft belonging to No.17 Sqn RFC.  According to his service records, whilst in Egypt, Stan was temporary attached to No 17 Sqn RFC at Kaulara en-route for Salonika.

From 12th September 1916, the British began to refer to No.1 Squadron as No.67 (Australian) Squadron RFC.  His service records confirm he returned to his unit (67th Sqn on the 27th September.

C flight No. 1 Squadron, Captain Richard (Dickie) Williams (later Air Marshal Sir Richard) the OC, is seen in the centre. From left the other officers are; Frank Hubert McNamara (the only AFC winner of the Victoria Cross (VC) in the first world war), L W Heathcote, S K Muir, E G Roberts and L J Wackett, in front of a Martinsyde aircraft. (Wing Commander E G Roberts collection).

Whilst serving with No. 67(Australian) Sqn he was admitted to hospital on the 18th October for treatment at the No 26 Casualty Clearing Station. His records do not say why he was admitted, but eh discharged back to his unit the following day.

Stan and his fellow members of No 1 Sqn were involved in the Sinai campaign in 1916.  As a result of his actions during December, he was awarded the Military Cross.  The following entry appeared in the London Gazette published on the 6th March 1917: “Temp, 2nd Lt. (temp. Lt.) Stanley Keith Muir, Gen List & RFC. For conspicuous gallantry in action.  He carried out a daring bombing raid and was largely instrumental in shooting down aa hostile machine. On another occasion he pursued two enemy machines and succeeded in bringing one of them down.”

The recommendation for award held by the Australian War Memorial archive goes into more detail “Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Stanley Keith Muir, No. 67 (Australian) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. For conspicuous dash and skill on 22nd December 1916. In the attack of TEL-EL-SHARIA BRIDGE, he dropped his bombs from a low height and very accurately. In addition he afforded great assistance to the machine photographing BIR SABA during the same flight, by skilful fighting. He was mainly instrumental in shooting down a Fokker, which he followed down from 10,000 feet to 2,000 feet. Further, on the 1st January, 1917, he, single handed, pursued two enemy machines from EL ARISH to BIR SABA, one of which flew to the south, and the other he drove down over its own aerodrome, coming down to 3,000 feet to do so. During the chase he was under the enemy observer’s fire for 10 minutes, but with great coolness held his fire until within 70 yards, and must have inflicted severe damage on the enemy machine. He then waited over BIR SABA under heavy A.A. fire for the other machine, which flew in shortly afterwards, diving so fast to earth that he was unable to attack it. His ordinary work has been excellent.”

Stan and his colleagues on No 1 Squadron were involved in the the third and final battle to complete the recapture of the Sinai Peninsula on the 9th January 1917 which became known as the Battle of Rafa otherwise known as the Action of Rafa.

The weather cleared on 5th January, allowing No 1 Squadron to carry our a patrol where they observed 2 – 3,000 Ottoman soldiers digging defences south of Rafa in the area of El Magruntein.

Two days later, British air patrols found Ottoman garrisons in strength at El Kossaima and Hafir el Auja in central northern Sinai, which could threaten the right flank of the advancing EEF or reinforce Rafa.

While the British air patrols were absent on 7 January, German airmen took advantage of the growing concentration of EEF formations and supply dumps, bombing El Arish during the morning and evening. The next day No. 1 Squadron were carrying patrols all day, covering preparations for the attack on Rafa.

On the 13th  January 1917, Stan left the Middle East and embarked aboard the H.T. Kingstonian due to being assigned to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and disembarked at Southampton on the 30th January 1917.

According to records, the Fokker that he shot down was the first victory for the Squadron.

An entry on dated 19th January 1917 his service records show that he was ‘struck off strength 5th Wing’ which No 67 Sqn was part of due to having joined 68 Aust Sqn RFC.

The Shepparton Advertiser newspaper published in Victoria on 14th May 1917 stated that Stan had been promoted to Flight Commander and Captain.  “Capt. Stanley Muir (brother of Mr C. R. Muir, Euroa), has been promoted to the rank of Flight-Commander in the Royal Flying Corps, Egypt. Captain Muir, who is only 24 years of age, has been twice mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s despatches, and has been awarded the Military Cross.”

De Havilland DH5 scout (fighter) aircraft (Serial A9245) of 68 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (renumbered as No 2 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps from 19 January 1918) at Harlaxton aerodrome in Lincolnshire, England. AWM C01855

The next entry on his service records was by OC 68 Sqn on the 26th August 1917 stating that Captain Muir had marched in to No. 68 Squadron at Harlaxton, from Overseas with effect from 18th August, 1917.

The village of Harlaxton lies 12 miles North East of Melton Mowbray and 2 miles South West of Grantham, just across the border into Lincolnshire.  The airfield itself was located in a triangle of flat fields midway between Harlaxton Manor (now the University of Evansville’s British campus) and the nearby village of Stroxton.

The airfields that were chosen were not always ideal as OC 24th Wing stated in his memo to HQ Training Brigade dated 10 Jan 1917.  ‘Ref. yr. secret TB/809 dated 3/1/17’.  “ I was up at Harlaxton yesterday and of the opinion that the aerodrome is not fit to be classed as a Night Landing Aerodrome until the tree stumps on the aerodrome have been removed.  Urgent application has been made to the contractors to do this.”

No 68 Sqn were based at Harlaxton until September 1917 when they deployed to France.

68 Sqn at Harlaxton September 1917

It was during the build up for France that tragedy struck the Squadron.  The following entry is from the War Diary of No 2 Sqn for the month of September 1917.

“On September 12th, just before the squadron left England it suffered a terrible loss in the death of Capt. Muir (M.C.) as the result of an accident whilst flying a D.H.5. He was buried at Harlaxton Cemetery with full military Honours and Lieut. G. C. Wilson (D.C.M.) was appointed to command “B” Flight in his stead. The squadron finally mobilised 16.9.17 and Lieut Tooth in charge of Squadron Transport left Harlaxton on that date, the remainder of the personnel leaving by rail on the 21st…”

CWGC Headstone at Harlaxton

Stan is buried the the churchyard of SS Mary and Paul at Harlaxton. His grave is marked by a CWGC Commission headstone which bears the inscription “BELOVED SON OF JOHN AND JOSEPHINE MUIR MELBOURNE IN LOVING MEMORY”

Stans old Grammar School published an obituary for him in their Old Melburnians 1918” Stanley Keith Muir who was killed in England on 12th September 1917 as the result of an aeroplane accident was the son of Mr J. F. Muir. He was born in 1894 and was at the School in 1907 but left owing to illness, which eventually developed into hip disease. He as for six months on his back and another six months on crutches, but gradually grew out of his trouble, and after a long sojourn on Gulpha Station in Riverina was completely cured. He was a well-known amateur rider at picnic races in the Deniliquin district, and was a very fine horseman. He enlisted in the 4th Light Horse, was all through the Gallipoli campaign (though illness kept him back from the Landing), was © Cathy Sedgwick 2017 wounded at Lone Pine and invalided to England. He was there given a commission in the King’s Royal Rifles, but soon transferred ti the Royal Flying Corps, and obtaining his wings in May 1916 was sent to Egypt to instruct an Australian flying squadron. He carried out single-handed the great Baghdad railway flight. He flew 600 miles without a stop in 6 ¼ hours, and bombed the railway line, and was highly commended for work at Et Arish. He was attacked by three German aeroplanes. He brought down one and pursued the others over the Dead Sea till his petrol gave out. For these feats he was awarded the Military Cross. He returned to England and was about to leave for the West front when the fatal accident occurred. He had been in the air for about twenty minutes, and was about to take his swoop for hanger when one of the wings snapped and he fell 500 feet and was killed instantly. He was regarded as one of the six best flyers in the British Army and was noted for his “stunts.” A comrade writing of him says: “Our crowd were all broken up over his death, for he was white to the soles of his feet.” Major Oswald Watt, writing to his father, says: “His sad death deprives the flying service of one they can ill afford to lose. Never was an officer more truly mourned by his fellow-officers or by his men.”

In 2017, whilst on a visit to the UK, personnel from No 2 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force paid their respects at his grave. Air Combat Officer Flt Lt Joseph Noble said for a unit with a long and proud history as 2 Sqn “the opportunity to visit its roots was not to be missed”. He went on to say, “One can imagine the impact of his death would have had on the other men of the squadron”.

Sqn Ldr Bradley Machan of No 2 Sqn RAAF paying his respects to Captain Stanley Muir MC (Photo Flt Lt Joseph Noble/Australian Air Force News)

37 – Melton & District Spitfire Fund

The donation of specially marked weapons of war to the actual combatants has been carried out for centuries, and in the First World War (FWW) the tank and the aeroplane joined the list of presentation weapons. The government urged the public to “do their bit” and donate to funds which would “buy” a tank, ambulance, field gun or aeroplane.

This idea was resurrected in the Second World War (SWW), and a “price list” was made out: £5,000 for a single-engined fighter (usually a Spitfire but sometimes a Hurricane or other type), £20,000 for a twin-engined aircraft and £40,000 for a four-engined aircraft. A Spitfire was a snip at £5,000, this being just half the cost for a torpedo at that time.

During the FWW, His Serene Highness, the Nizam of Hyderabad donated a squadron of D.H.9As, and had received a letter from the Air Ministry thanking him for his generous gift, saying that his name would be forever linked with a squadron of the RAF.

No 110 (Hyderabad) Squadron Crest

In recognition of this, each aircraft was marked with a suitable inscription and were operated by No 110 Squadron from that time on, the unit was officially titled No.110 (Hyderabad) Squadron, and eventually the Nizams’ crest depicting a demi-tiger was used as the basis of the squadron badge.

All 18 of the squadrons’ aircraft were inscribed on both sides of the nose ‘Presented by his Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad, Hyderabad No ……….’ They were individually numbered from 1 – 18 and F1010 on display at the RAF Museum at Hendon was the 13th aircraft but became No12a rather than 13 for superstition reasons and was coded ‘C’.

DH-9A F1010 at RAF Museum Hendon

However, with the end of the FWW hostilities the government of the day began cost cutting, and the RAF suffered drastically. No 110 (Hyderabad) Squadron was disbanded on 27th August 1919. The squadron reformed on 18th May 1937 with Hawker Hinds at RAF Waddington and on the outbreak of the SWW, the Nizam enquired what “his” squadron would be doing.

This created some embarrassment at the Air Ministry as the name “Hyderabad” had long been forgotten, but they extricated themselves from the situation by explaining that his original donation covered the cost of perhaps two modern fighters. The Nizam promptly stumped up more cash, thus setting a precedent. He also had small badges made for the pilots, and even sent them £60 with which to have a party, though the pilots thought he could have been a little more generous.

No. 152 Squadron reformed on 1st October 1939 equipped with Gloster Gladiator biplanes. Two months later it began to receive Spitfires funded by the Nizam of Hyderabad on 21 December 1939 and went operational on 6th January 1940, flying coastal and convoy patrols. Just like like it’s predecessor 110., the squadron became known as No.152 (Hyderabad) Squadron.

No 152 (Hyderabad) Squadron crest featuring the official head-dress of the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, the idea caught on, and “Buy a Spitfire” funds sprang up overnight, being further encouraged in 1940 by Lord Beaverbrook when he was appointed by Winston Churchill to run the newly-formed Ministry of Aircraft Production.

Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook and Winston Churchill (Photo: The Churchill Project)

The actual cost of a Spitfire was reported to be £8897.6s.6d, about £255,608 in todays money. Beaverbrook recognised that it would be difficult for cash strapped organisations to raise such large sums so he decided to make the public an offer that they couldn’t refuse. He dropped the nominal price of a Spitfire to just £5000, equivalent to £143,600 today. If communities or organisations could raise £5000 Lord Beaverbrook would build a Spitfire, stick their name on it and give it to the RAF.

Very soon the streets of every village, town and city resounded with the rattle of collecting tins, as well as assorted donations from overseas. From Accrington to Zanzibar, from Scunthorpe to New Zealand, from Iceland, America, Brazil, South Africa and India the money poured in.

Example of a Spitfire Fund poster for the Leicester Lord Mayors Spitfire Appeal
Leicester City & County Spitfire Fund

On the 6th September 1940, the Grantham Journal reported that Melton is to have a Spitfire Fund and that a Committee had already been formed to manage the scheme.

The committee was made up of the following individuals: Mr Oliver Brotherhood, J.P., Chairman of Melton U.D.C;  The Duchess of Rutland, Lady Daresbury;  The Vicar of Melton the Rev H.R. Bates;  The Rev T Lee; Mrs Cantrell-Hubbersty, J.P.;  Mrs A E Burnaby;  Mr & Mrs C J Clarke;  Mrs E Crawford;  Mr R W Brownlowe, chairman Melton Justices;  Mrs Freckingham; Mrs A Leate;  Mr James F Montagu, chairman of Melton and Belvoir R.D.C.;  Alderman T Sarson;  Mrs G Barrow;  Councillor T R Stockdale;  Messrs G W Whitlock, J.P.; A Bramley; Fred A Brown; J K Burton; F W Davies; W F Easom; L C Leader; A P Marsh and E P Sedntance; Mr J Green, manager of the Melton Branch of the Midland Bank is the hon. Treasurer, and Miss M J Gibson, also of the Midland Bank, hon. Secretary.

The fund was officially launched on Wednesday 11th September 1940 at a meeting held at the Plaza Theatre, arranged by the Rotary Club. The highlight of the evening was a talk given by Mr William Courtenay MM.

When he was seventeen, William Courtenay joined his local Territorial Army (TA) unit, the 4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment which was a large group of part-time reservists. When the FWW commenced a year later, the TA was mobilised and Courtenay, along with his pals in the 4th Cheshire was sent to the Middle East. Thus Courtenay came to be at Gallipoli and Gaza, where he was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for his part in the capture of the Turkish Headquarters staff in 1915.

Courtenay was recommended for a commission which he elected to take in the Royal Flying Corps. After the FWW, he became an aviation journalist focusing on the early development of British civil aviation, which led him to meet many of the well-known early aviators such as Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison whom he managed during their record breaking flights.

William Courtenay as a correspondent in Australia 1942 (Photo: The Churchill Project)

Shortly after Churchill became prime minister in May 1940, one of his main objectives was to work as closely with the Americans as possible. As part of that policy, in July 1941, the British government sent Courtenay to the United States, to undertake a six-month coast-to-coast lecture tour, telling American audiences about the Battle of Britain.

At the Spitfire Fund launch event on the 11th, Courtenay gave an inspiring talk dealing with many aspects of the war and told the audience he was glad to receive an invitation from the Melton Rotary Club. His talk was about the work of the RAF and about the momentous task to which it had committed itself in the historic battles which were taking place in the air.

These battles, he said, were perhaps the most momentous in the history of this country, because on the outcome depended not only the security of people in this country, but the whole future peace of Europe, and, indeed, all the things which man had built up in his upward struggle from the most primeval times of history. The issue was very clear cut and simple. They had got to seize this foul bestial thing which had arisen in Europe by the throat and thrash it until the last breath from its foul body was extinguished, adding; “We must give all that we haver in this time for freedom to crush this foul thing beneath our heel.” [Grantham Journal 13th September 1940].

Even before the launch event had taken place, donations were starting to come in and when the launch was held, the fund was already sitting at £600. Mr Joseph Wakerley J.P. got the ball rolling when he handed in a cheque to the Midland Bank. The Toy Soldiers band had started a series of whist drives on behalf of the fund. Every little helps as a profit of £2 11s 1d was raised from their first drive.

Both young and old were getting involved in the fundraising. The children of Asfordby Road Primary School started fundraising by holding a ‘white elephant stall’ and collected £5 for the Melton Spitfire Fund.  Over in Twyford, two small children, Patricia Thody and Edna Johnson held a jumble sale and raised 10s.

Nottingham Evening Post 28 August 1940

The Nottingham Evening Post reported on the 19th September that the Junkers JU-88 German bomber that was currently on display at the Messrs Shipsides premises on Parliament Street in the city will be moving to Melton to raise funds for the Melton Spitfire Fund which had passed the £1,000 mark in a week.

Grantham Journal 27 September 1940
Grantham Journal 04 October 1940

The Leicester Evening Mail reported on the 11th October 1940 that the Melton Spitfire Fund had now reached £3,300 and approximately £300 of this was from contributions from the Ju88 bomber exhibit which over 10,000 people visited the bomber.

Fundraising efforts were being undertaken throughout the district. Local firms continue to assist the fund with Messrs T Denman & Sons employees donating £6 11s; Melton UDC Highways Depot employees £1 15s 3d; Melton Ladies Bowls Club £8 8s. A variety of concerts raised £64 and entertainment by Mr & Mrs Edgar Heawood of Thorpe Satchville raised £5 8s.

Throughout the villages as well as in town, fundraising events were being organised. Lady Daresbury, The Duchess of Rutland organised a Whist Drive in Waltham and raised £113 10s which included 16 guineas raised from the auction of a sheep by the Duchess.

The Duchess also organised another fundraising event at Croxton Kerrial in the form of a whit drive and the proceeds from which along with donations raised another £33 towards the fund.

Another example of a Spitfire Fund Poster

The villagers of Ragdale responded generously by raising £26 3s. in response to an appeal by Mrs W P Cantrell-Hubbersty of Ragdale Hall.

At Frisby-On-The-Wreake, the village Childrens Effort raised £14 from a jumble sale.

Mrs O Pilkington organised a garden fete at her hunting home in Little Belvoir near Abb Kettleby. She was ably assisted by an enthusiastic band of helpers from the villages of Abb Kettleby, Holwell and Wartnaby. The opening ceremony was performed by Lady Daresbury and the Melton Toy Soldiers Carnival Band gave a display. The proceeds from the day raised nearly £100 towards the fund.

Spitfire Fund shop sign in London

In Sproxton, Mr W H Birch organised a collection and raised £17 2s 9d.

The Leicester Evening Mail reported on the 25th October 1940 that Mr John Green, the funds treasurer, announced in a recent meeting that the fund is within £900 of reaching its objective. Mr Frank Brewitt, brother of Mr F H Brewitt of Eye Kettleby Hall sent in £50 from Ireland and Mrs A E Burnaby of Thorpe Satchville raised £20 from a whist drive she organised. Mr Green went on to say “An intensive effort is to be made to raise the required sum and it is hoped to do so by November 23rd.

Mrs Burnaby also raised a further £7 2s. 3d. from collections in the village for the same fund.

On the 30th October, the village of Hose held one of its most successful social events. The event comprised games, competitions and dancing was organised by Mr & Mrs H Brooks in aid of the Melton Spitfire Fund. The winners of the ankle competitions were Mrs H Brooks and Miss Joan Hourd; the spot waltz Mr & Mrs Job Baxter; the statue dance the Misses Jean Hunt and Norah Barnes; book competition Miss Mavis Hunt. Mrs A Pearson was at the piano for the games and competitions and Mr E Burnett and Mr H Brooks were the MCs with Mr B Mantle in attendance with his radiogram for the dance music. The effort realised £4 11s 8d.

Just a few days later, Hose held another fundraising event in the schoolroom where gifts were sold including garden produce and groceries. Messrs H Brooks, C Hunt and E Burnett were in charge of the sale with the assistance of several lady helpers! The event raised another £18 for the Spitfire Fund.

At another event in Hose, the village children’s effort raised £4 2s from a ‘Mile of Pennies’.

Over in Eaton, Messrs G Warr and F Williams of the Home Guard organised a whist drive for the benefit of the Spitfire Fund. The winners were Miss Bagshaw, Mrs M Darby, Mrs C Johnson, and Messrs Pearson, WH Shipman and W Gould. The winners of the knock-out whist were Mrs Johnson and Mr Pearson. The MC was Mr F Williams. Mr O’Leary won a competition arranged by Mr G Warr and the proceeds amounted to upwards of £3.

Messrs G Warr and F Williams of Eaton collected a further £30 10s which was sent to the fund in December.

In the Grantham Journal on the 1st November 1940, Mr Green gave an interesting breakdown of the funds received up to the meeting mentioned above: Individual Donations £543, street collections £314, business houses £169, schools (excluding grammar school) £127, members of clubs including the Rotary and Masonic Clubs £196, from club funds £105, employees of firms £86; special efforts including Melton Bomber exhibition and Midland Woodworking Co.’s competition £783.

Mrs R E Strawbridge, a former well known hunting personality in the Melton District and now residing the United States collected sums amounting to $45, equivalent to £11 1s 1d. In a letter to the secretary of the fund, she wrote “Everyone in my country is working hard for Great Britain, and doing all in their power to help them in this their hour of need. Please remember me to all my Melton friends: they are always in my thoughts.”

Colonel F G D Colman gave a second donation of £5, and amongst village contributions received during the last few days are : Croxton Kerrial £33, Muston £10 4s 6d; Stathern second installment £6 7s 3d. The sum of £10 was also given by Snow Hill shoes Ltd.

£4,141 For Melton Spitfire was the headline in the Leicester Evening Mail published on 21st November 1940. Melton Spitfire Fund has reached a total of £4,141 19s. 5d. Included in the donations is £14 8s. 11d. from a sale of miniature Spitfires organised by Mr C Goldspink, headmaster of the Boys’ Modern School.

Spitfire Fund pin badges

Across in Buckminster, villagers Mrs Black and Mrs T Simpkin collected £11 for the Melton and District Spitfire Fund.

Throughout Melton and the surrounding villages, the people of the district pulled together in a fantastic fundraising effort and when the decision to close the Melton Spitfire Fund was announced in the Grantham Journal on the 6th December 1940, to total raised stood at just over £4,240.

By the time the fund actually closed in February 1941, the patriotic action that awakened the people of Melton Mowbray and surrounding villages into forming the Melton District Spitfire Fund and, thanks to the Melton Times newspaper’s efforts, the ultimate goal of raising £5,091 14s. 4d. was reached by 12th February 194.

A cheque for £5,083 12s 10d was sent to Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production.

Spitfire P8522 was just one of 18 presentation Spitfires produced with funds raised by the City of Leicester and towns across the County.

According to the official Air Ministry list, P8522 was built as a F Mk 1A, but was converted to a F Mk IIB during production.  she was built in April 1941 at the Vickers Armstrong Ltd. factory at Castle Bromwich, and was part of Contract No B981687/39/C.23(C) dated 12th April 1939 which was placed for the first batch of 1000 F MkII’s.

As requested by the fund organisers, P8522 wore the title “Melton Mowbray & District” along with the towns emblem of the Red Lion Rampant upon a white background.

Spitfire P8522 Melton Mowbray and District with the towns lion emblem and wearing the codes RF-W of No 303 Squadron

36 – “The balloon’s going up!”

No doubt you’ve all heard of the phrase “The balloon’s going up!”, but did you know it was an expression for an impending battle?

The phrase is derived from the fact that an observation balloon’s ascent likely signalled the beginning of an artillery barrage, guided by information provided by the observer in the balloon.

Balloons were used by the military for aerial observation and provided their operators with a great view of the battlefield and the first military use of observation balloons was by the French Aerostatic Corps during the French Revolutionary Wars and the first recorded use was during the Battle of Fleurus in 1794.  They were also used by both sides during the American Civil War of 1861–65 and continued in use during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.  The British Army also used them during the Boer Wars in South Africa in the 1880s/90s.

The First World War was the high point for the military use of observation balloons.  Despite it’s experience in operating balloons in South Africa, the British Army were behind in developments and were still using spherical shaped balloons.

A school in the sky over London town – how officers are trained in the Royal Flying Corps. Balloons flying over the capital, training RFC officers in observation and navigation skills in preparation for their role as pilots and navigators. The balloons were often mistaken to be for defence purposes but were used purely for training. Date: 1917

These were quickly replaced by more advanced types, known as kite balloons, which were more aerodynamically shaped to be stable and could operate in more extreme weather conditions.  Kite balloons were used for observation over their sector of the Western front, gathering intelligence and artillery spotting.

The First World War kite balloons were fabric envelopes filled with hydrogen gas.  Kite balloons, were controlled by a cable attached to the ground, were often known as ‘sausages’ and first used on the Western Front on 8 May 1915 in the Aubers Ridge area.

Each balloon was maintained and tethered by a team of 48 highly-trained men, carried two passengers, known light-heartedly as ‘balloonatics’ – a commander and an observer, who, via a telegraph wire down to the ground would send back information on troop formations and artillery locations.

Two observer officers in the basket of a kite balloon. Note the telephones, map rest, parachute and parachute harness. Photograph taken in Gosnay, 2 May 1918

Each basket was equipped with telecommunication equipment, binoculars, a long range camera, maps, sandbags, pressure gauge, code book, a barometer, an air speed indicator and, more ominously, two sheath knives, two life savers and two parachutes.

Kite balloon observer testing his telephone before ascending, Sep 1916.

Due to the flammability of the gas it unfortunately led to the destruction of hundreds of balloons on both sides with the loss of the ‘Balloonatics’ commanders, observers and also the pilots of the attacking aircraft.

The ‘Balloonatics’ who manned these observation balloons frequently had to use a parachute to escape when their balloons were attacked by enemy aircraft whose pilots earned themselves the name of ‘Balloon Busters’.

German Balloon Buster by Larry Selman

The parachutes were nicknamed ‘Acorns’ and were fitted to the outside of the basket. The idea was to grab the end of a static line as you leapt over the edge of the basket if the balloon came under attack, hoping very much it would open and you would manage to jump free of any potential entanglement.

One of these ‘Balloonatics’ was a young Canadian Officer named Elfric Ashby Twidale.  Elfric was the grandson of the late Reverend Joseph Twidale, the long standing rector of over 50 years at the Melton Mowbray Congregational Baptist Church.

Elfrics father, Ashby Pearson Twidale was born in Melton Mowbray as the 5th child of the Rev Joseph and his wife Catherine and was a timber merchant by trade.  In the late 1880s, Ashby emigrated to Canada where on the 3rd June 1891 he married a Canadian lady named Clara Wilhelmena Heinrichs whose father, Peter was a native of Germany.

For the last 6 years, since his 18th birthday, Elfric had been part of the 44th Lincoln and Welland Regiment in the Militia.

Just as the First World War was erupting around the globe, Elfrics German grandfather Peter died on the 15th July 1914.  I wonder if the events around the globe caused any unrest in the family due to the German patronage?

On the 6th August 1914, Elfric was a Sergeant with the 44th when they were placed on active service for local protection duties as part of the Welland Canal Force.  The Welland Canal is a ship canal in Ontario, Canada, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie that enables ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment and bypass Niagara Falls. 

Elfric enlisted into the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on the 8th April 1915 aged 24 years.  He was allocated service number 651 when he joined the Canadian Machine Gun Brigade, serving with the No 2 Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery. 

The Eatons were formed in January 1915 under the Command of Major W J Morrison.  They were named after Sir John Eaton who had given $100,000 for the purchase of “quick-firing machine guns mounted on armoured trucks” This paid for fifteen guns and the government supplied twenty-five.

An example of an Eaton armoured truck

Prior to joining the Army, Elfrics trade according to his attestation papers was a chemical engineer and whilst he was at Toronto University, he was a member of their Track Team who were the Inter-Collegiate Champions in 1913. 

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO TRACK TEAM, INTER-COLLEGIATE CHAMPIONS, 1912.

The Eatons unit recruited mainly from Toronto and appealed to motor mechanics, drivers and athletes so it could be this that attracted him to join this unit.

On the 4th June 1915, Elfric along with 263 other ranks and 24 officers embarked for England on the RMS Metagama.  The ship was operated as part of the Canadian Pacific North Atlantic Service and remained in Canadian Pacific service throughout the FWW.  She however, carried Canadian troops in her third-class accommodation on East bound crossings.

RMS Metagama

It seems that not only was the Metagama a new and capable ship, she was a lucky ship as only a month before, the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat U-20 off the coast of Ireland with the loss of 571 lives. Throughout the war the Metagama continued to transport troops across the North Atlantic without incident.

The Eatons arrived at Devonport in Plymouth on the 13th June 1915. From Devonport, the Brigade proceeded to the Shorncliffe Military Base known as “Caesers Camp” near to Folkstone, Kent.  Shorncliffe had been set up in April 1915 as a Canadian Training Division for the Second Canadian Contingent to overcome difficulties such as excessive rain, mud and exposure experienced by the First Contingent troops at the initial Canadian camp located on the Salisbury Plain.  Shorncliffe was also used as a staging post for troops destined for the Western Front due to its location. As the crow flies, it is only 90 miles from Ypres in Belgium.

Whilst at Shorncliffe, Elfric was promoted and became a Signalling Sergeant and at some point later he became a Sergenat Major with he unit.  Whilst in England, he applied to his Commanding Officer Captain E.L. Knight for a commission in the New Army, Imperial Forces – that is the British Army.

This request was granted and he was Struck Off Strength from the Eatons on the 19th November 1915 due to being granted a Commission with the Royal Field Artillery in the New Army.

Elfrics promotion to 2nd Lieutenant (2nd Lt) with the Royal Field artillery was ‘gazetted’ on the 25th November 1915 “The undermentioned to be Second Lieutenants  (on probation) Dated 20th November 1915 Elfric Ashby Twidale”.

He was appointed as a 2nd Lt with ‘C’ Battery 64th Brigade and went to France in April 1916 serving on the Western Front from Wailly to Hohenzollern Redoubt and at the Somme in the Montauban-Longueval and Auchonvillers-Ovillers areas

The London Gazette published on the 25th November 1916 recorded his promotion to Acting Captain “Whilst commanding a Trench Mortar Battalion.”  He held this rank until 26th January 1917 when he relinquished the rank of Captain and reverted back to 2nd Lt due to no longer commanding a Trench Mortar Battalion.

It would have been after this that he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps taking on the role of an Observer becoming one of the ‘Balloonatics’ with No 16 Kite Balloon Section based in the area around the town Arras at map reference 51c.K.18.a supporting the VII Corps.

Kite balloon view of the trench lines around Arras, Nov 1917.

From the 9th April to 16th May 1917, the British were involved in a major offensive on the Western Front in what was known as the Battle of Arras, or the 2nd Battle of Arras.  The Battle of Arras was the British Empire’s part of a larger offensive planned by the French. Arras would both divert German attention from the French attack, to be launched further south along the Aisne, and allow the British to test newly developed offensive tactics.

Battle of Arras 1917

Aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), along with their observation balloons were used in conjunction with rifle fire and trench mortars from infantry and artillery units to attack the German trenches, supply lines and observation posts.

Although the RFC entered the battle with inferior aircraft to the ‘Luftstreitkräfte’, this did not deter their commander, General Trenchard, from adopting an offensive posture. Dominance of the air over Arras was essential for reconnaissance and the British carried out many aerial patrols.

The RFC carried out artillery spotting and photography of trench systems using both fixed wing aircraft and balloons. The aircraft were also involved in bombing enemy positions as well as patrolling their own front lines.

Aerial observation was hazardous work.  For best results, aircraft had to fly at slow speeds and low altitude over the German defences whilst kite balloons were essentially sitting ducks.  It became even more dangerous with the arrival of the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen in March 1917 and the presence of ‘Jasta 11’.

It was during the Arras campaign that 2nd Lt Elfric Twidale lost his life.  From 16th April, it was apparent that the French part of the Nivelle Offensive further South on the Aisne had not achieved a breakthrough. Field Marshall Haig continued to attack at Arras, to continue to divert troops from the French on the Aisne.

On the 22nd April, the day before the Second Battle of the Scarpe which took place on the 23rd & 24th, Elfric was performing his duties as a ‘Balloonatic’. He would have been observing and recording enemy positions from his balloon basket, most probably observing actions on the front-line and behind it, spotting enemy troop movements or unusual activity of any sort, and to call down artillery fire onto any worthwhile targets.

Due to their importance, kite balloons were usually given heavy defences in the form of machine gun positions on the ground, anti-aircraft artillery, and standing fighter patrols stationed overhead. Other defences included surrounding the main balloon with barrage balloons; stringing cables in the air in the vicinity of the balloons; equipping observers with machine guns; and flying balloons booby-trapped with explosives that could be remotely detonated from the ground. These measures made balloons very dangerous targets to approach.

In the early days of the war, balloons were occasionally shot down by small-arms fire but generally it was difficult to shoot down a balloon with solid bullets, particularly at the distances and altitude involved. Ordinary bullets would pass relatively harmlessly through the hydrogen gas bag, merely holing the fabric. Hits on the wicker car could however kill the observer. It was not until special Pomeroy incendiary bullets and Buckingham flat-nosed incendiary bullets became available on the Western Front in 1917 that any consistent degree of success was achieved,

A British Caquot kite balloon falling down in flames after having been attacked by an enemy aircraft. Boyelles, France, 3 February 1918.

Unfortunately for Elfric, his kite balloon came under attack from a German ‘balloon buster’ aircraft and in an attempt to save his own life, he leapt over the side of the balloon basket.  Tragically, his parachute didn’t open properly and he plummeted to his death.

Bucquoy Road Cemetery

His body was recovered and buried in the Bucquoy Road Cemetery at Ficheux approx. 9km from Arras.  In November 1916, the village of Ficheux was behind the German front line, but by April 1917, the German withdrawal had taken the line considerably east of the village and in April and May, the VII Corps Main Dressing Station was posted there, near for the Battles of Arras. 

For British soldiers the average daily loss rate at Arras was the highest of the war at 4,076. Total casualties amounted to 158,000, with the Germans losing around the same number.

The increased losses of RFC personnel providing British air support during the Battle of Arras in April 1917 resulted in it becoming known as ‘Bloody April’ for the RFC.

During April 1917, the British lost 245 aircraft, 211 aircrew killed or missing and 108 as prisoners of war. The German Air Services recorded the loss of 66 aircraft during the same period. As a comparison, in the five months of the Battle of the Somme of 1916 the RFC had suffered 576 casualties. Under Richthofen’s leadership, ‘Jasta 11’ scored 89 victories during April, over a third of the British losses.

However, the figure of 211 only relets to aircrew.  The CWGC Casualty database actually records 258 casualties serving with the RFC who died during April 1917 across all theatres of war, not just on the Western Front.

35 – Meltons ‘Barnstormer’ and Pioneer Aviator.

Samuel Summerfield was born in Osmaston in South Derbyshire in 1894.  Records show by his sixth birthday his parents Samuel and Alice Summerfield had arrived and were living in the small community of Sysonby near Melton, they set up as graziers and produced meat for the local market.

Samuel junior was one of eight children and their second son. Ten years on the family were established in their own butchers shop and young Samuel seemed already obsessed with the idea of flight‘.  When not working as a clerk at the Gas works in town, the majority of his spare time and money was directed towards his hobby.

As a young teenager Samuel is recorded as supplying aviation materials by mail order from an address in Sherrard Street. Surrounded by the materials he needed to construct a rudimentary flying machine, it was not long before he was able, at the age of 15 – from eyewitness accounts given by local inhabitants, to glide aboard home-made machines at around the time of Bleriot‘s great achievement.

The Flight magazine published 4th March 1911 published the following:

“Catalogue: Model and Full size aeroplanes, Engines and Accessories. S Summerfield, Sherrard Street, Melton Mowbray. Price 3d.”

In September 1912, Sams enthusiasm and focus shown as a youth, together with a series of flying lessons as a teenager had paid off. Samuel Summerfield was awarded a prestigious Aviators Certificate; No. 292 from the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom having passed the necessary test on a Bristol biplane.

Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates
Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificate No 292

The Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News reported on the 31 July 1913 “A large company assembled on the Nottingham Road ground on Saturday to witness an exhibition by Mr Sam Summerfield, of Melton Mowbray, on his Bleriot monoplane.  Considerable delay was occasioned by a mishap to the machine, and when eventually the local airman attempted a flight, he was caught by a gust of wind directly after leaving the ground and ran with considerable force into a hedge.  The machine was partially wrecked but Mr Summerfield escaped with slight injuries.  In the evening, Mr F Manley made a very successful parachute descent.

Sam Summerfield and Bleriot at Melton Mowbray

Sam sorted out each problem as it arrived and he was known to use two or three different fields, all reasonably close the edge of the town, with possibly ‘his first choice being the Polo ground which lies just south of the railway line that passes the village of Brentingby. Long used as a sports venue, it was an unobstructed and level area of grassland that would have suited his needs adequately.

His second choice was likely to have been the large field that stretched between Nottingham Road, at the junction next to Sysonby Lodge Farm and the rear of the Wymondham Grammar School Farm on Scalford Road. This was a venue which was later to be used by the Government during the period of the Great War by the fledgling members of the new Royal Flying Corps.

Much later, during the 1920‘s, Sam would use the new landing field which was then situated at what is now Norfolk Drive, which runs between Sandy Lane and the Burton Road, but this was at a time when the phenomenon of flying an aeroplane had lost some of its pioneering zeal and a club had been started in Melton for the many new recruits and enthusiasts.

The Flight magazine of 20th December 1913 contained the following article: Mr. Summerfield at Melton Mowbray. In anything but ideal weather Mr. S. Summerfield made a fine flight on his Bleriot machine at Melton Mowbray last Saturday. For most of the time he kept about 1,000 feet up and came down by a splendid spiral vol plane’. There was one apprehensive moment when the machine side-slipped, but the pilot skilfully corrected that in good time.

Shortly afterwards, on the 26th June, the magazine reported ―Mr. Summerfield, of Melton Mowbray, who has recently been flying the Watson rocking wing machine at Buc, had a narrow escape whilst flying his Bleriot monoplane recently. He was coming down in a steep spiral, and, when trying to flatten out at a height of about 50 ft., found that one of his rudder control wires had come adrift, thus rendering the rudder useless. Taking his feet off the rudder bar and placing them on the tank he awaited the smash. The machine struck the ground with great force and was totally wrecked, but Mr. Summerfield escaped practically unhurt. He is of the opinion that had he kept his feet on the rudder bar he would have broken his legs.

Samuel Summerfield Certified Aviator – No 292 – On the Watson Rocking Wing Aeroplane at Buc aerodrome, France.

In 1914 as the world was engaged in the Great War, the Summerfield family were affected, just like many others across the country.  On the Melton Mowbray war memorial, there is a S Summerfield listed and it is often thought to be Sam.   

Sam was the Chief Flying Instructor at the Bournemouth Flying School which had been established by the Bournemouth Aviation Company on farmland at Talbot Village. It was used to train prospective Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilots and, although it was wartime, flights were also available to the public at a cost of £3.

The school was equipped initially with three Caudron type Biplanes of 35,45 & 60 Horsepower and , under the instruction of the chief instructor ,Mr S Summerfield,the pupils built another similar machine.By August 1916 there were 4 aircraft and an additional instructor – Mr E Brynildsen.

Bournemouth Flying School 1916

There was avid public interest in flying and at weekends numerous spectators gathered to watch the aircraft.
A (weekly) report from Flight (May 25 1916) stated…..

” Bournemouth School. Pupils rolling alone last week: Messrs. Kennedy, Barlow, Brandon, Pritt, Scaramanga, Daniel, GreenTurner, Hammersley, and Minchliff.
Straights alone: Messrs. Morley, J. Wilson, O. Wilson, Morris, A damson, Smith, Gordinne, and Barlow.
Figures of eight and circuits alone : Messrs. Frank Simpson and Morley.
Instructors: Messrs. S. Summerfield and Brynildten. 35-45 and 60 h.p. Caudrons in use.
Certificate was taken by Mr. Frank Simpson, who attained a height of 1,300 feet, vol plane’d down, landing right on the mark. His flying was exceedingly good.
On Wednesday Mr. Summerfield gave various exhibition flights before a fair-sized crowd, his steep dives being a feature.
The usual number of visitors were again present on Saturday, and witnessed some fine steep banks and spirals by the same pilot. On one flight he attained a height of 3,000 feet, indulging in all sorts of evolutions with engine off.
Towards the evening, two passengers were taken up, one of whom was Mr. C. Hudson, of Birmingham, who had the pleasure of enjoying several stunts performed by Mr. Summerfield at an altitude of 2,000 feet; afterwards, he spiralled down to earth.”

The school moved to nearby Ensbury Park in 1917 and the site reverted to farming.

Ensbury Park, then on the northern outskirts of Bournemouth, took over from Talbot Woods at the beginning of 1917. Although still a civilian flying school, the Bournemouth Aviation Company continued to train pilots for both the RFC and Royal Naval Air Service, as well as Belgians and Canadians. It claimed to be the best -equipped flying school outside London. Aircraft used included Caudron, Curtiss JN-3s and Avro 504s. On 1 April 1918 the Royal Air Force was formed and the site became RAF Winton.

Sam served in the RFC/RAF during the First World War and survived.  However, the name of the casualty on the memorial is actually that of his younger brother Sidney who was serving with the 8th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment.

On Friday October 13th 1916 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette published the following article under the heading. “MELTON AND THE WAR.” – MELTON SOLDIER’S KILLED. During the past week news has reached Melton Mowbray of the death of several more local soldiers. On Sunday morning Mr. S. Summerfield, butcher, Nottingham-street, received the following letter:- “3rd October, 1916. Dear Mr. Summerfield, – It is our painful duty to write and let you know that poor Sid was instantly killed by a shell on the night of the 24th September. Unfortunately neither of us was near him at the time, so his officer took his papers, and was afterwards wounded. We, being great friends of Sid, can sympathise deeply with you in your great loss. If there is anything further you would like to know, we shall be only too pleased to do anything in our power on hearing from you. Yours sincerely, W. G. Butteriss, E. Simpkins.”
The following letter was received by Mr. Summerfield on Tuesday:- “B.E.F., October 5th. Dear Mr. Summerfield, – I write to you with much regret of the sad news of your son Sidney in the recent action that took place on the 24th September, this being my first opportunity of writing. I hardly know how to write such sad news. Though I was not actually with him at the time, I learn from those who were by his side at the time that a wiz-bang shell bursted against him and caused instant death. having been a great chum of Sidney’s for many years, we always made it understood that whatever happened to either of us, one should break the news if possible, and believe me, I am awfully upset to have to write such heart broken news, yet one never knows out here when your turn may come. I saw Sidney only a few hours before he went into the line, and he was the same as he always has been – very cheerful up to the time I left him. I am sure it is very hard for me to write such sad news, but I think it my duty to tell you the truth. It’s lucky for myself that I am able to do so. Sidney being much liked amongst platoon, and always having a good heart, is very much missed by us, and those who have once more returned along with myself, wish me to send you and family their deepest sympathy. I now close my letter, this being our wish made between us to write home who ever got through safely. I remain, yours truly, Pte. H. Warner.
Pte. Sid Summerfield was the third son of Mr. S. Summerfield, and was 20 years of age. He was educated at Melton Mowbray Grammar School, where he took a foremost place in sports and athletics, and won a number of prizes. Afterwards he played for Egerton Park C.C., and in several matches made big scores, always batting in splendid style and seldom failing to punish home balls. Deceased also became a member of Melton Rugby Football Club, for whom he played half-back, and was also a member of the Young Men’s Institute. At the outbreak of the war he was employed at the Great Northern Railway Station, and at once enlisted in the Leicester’s with his friends, Butteriss, Dixon and Simpkins. It will be remembered that some years ago Pte. Sid Summerfield and his brother Alfred nearly lost their lives on the river at Sysonby, at the time their parents resided at Sysonby House, now known as the Riverside Colony. After a frost they were sliding on the river, when the ice broke, and let them in. Mrs. Summerfield and her two daughters bravely rescued them at the risk of their own lives by forming a human chain, and were afterwards awarded life saving certificates. One of the deceased’s brothers is serving with the forces at Salonika, while another is chief flying instructor at the Bournemouth School. It will be noted from the first letter that Sergt. Simpkins, who was last week stated to have been killed, is still safe.

Sids body was never found and he is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme in France.

In addition to the Thiepval Memorial, Sid is also commemorated locally on the King Edward VII Grammar School War memorial at Sage Cross church, the WW1 tryptych at St Marys Church, the WW1 tablet at the RBL Keswick House and the Egerton Lodge War Memorial.

Melton Mowbray King Edward VII Grammar School War Memorial

After serving in the RFC/Royal Air Force during the Great War, Sam earnt a living ‘barnstorming’ and providing leisure flights with a travelling air circus. He also served in the Reserve of Air Force Officers (RAFO) where his promotion to Pilot Officer was ‘Gazetted’ on 23rd March 1926. He held this rank until he relinquished his commission in the RAFO on the 23rd March 1931.

London Gazette 1926

In the summer of 1926, Sam was a pilot working for the Northern Aviation Company taking passengers on pleasure flights. On one occasion, he was the pilot of one such trip with Pearson Hardcastle of Colne Bridge near Huddersfield and Margaret Mercer of Heysham in Lancashire were passengers on a pleasure trip around the Morecambe area.

Shortly after takeoff, Sam noticed an unusual draft around the back of his neck. Almost at the same time as the other passenger touch him on the shoulder, he turned around and saw Pearson Hardcastle in the 2nd seat behind the pilot standing up with his hands above his head.  In a flash, the man had disappeared over the side of the plane falling to his death.  The inquest into the incident concluded that the man had suffered a sudden heart failure resulting in him falling from the aircraft and no blame was attributed to Sam as the pilot.

Sam, aged 40, made a life-changing commitment when he left England on the 2nd November 1934 aboard the P&O Electric Ship Strathnaver, The first of five Strath Sisters was specifically designed for the UK-Suez-Bombay-Australia run.

A painting of Strathnaver on the Suez Canal Egypt by artist Roger H. Middlebrook

He travelled to Brisbane in Australia with another pilot, 28 year old Maurice Brunton whom he lived with at 13 Lewin Road Lambeth, London SW16.  The two pilots travelled 3rd/Tourist class.

Sam had had been flying planes in England and western Europe since before World War One. He had been barnstorming around Queensland and the Northern Territory when he flew into the new Tennant Creek goldfield, being the first plane to ever arrive at the new settlement.

His plane was blown away by a dust storm, and damaged beyond repair. So he stayed on at Tennant Creek as a prospector, owning the Mary Lane lease for 30 years.

The trip ‘down under’ was only intended to be a six months return trip working to earn a few shillings in the ‘off’ season.  However, it became a one-way migration when, after a very short period of flying his plans were shattered.  He was diagnosed with a hearing defect which had been traced back to his exposure to an explosion in the early days of hostilities of the First World War.  The Australian authorities deemed this sufficient enough to prevent him from obtaining a commercial pilot’s licence in Australia which meant that he was never to fly again.

Sam Summerfield

He stopped prospecting in 1966 after falling and breaking a hip, then died the following year on the 2nd April aged 73. He is buried in the small mining town of Tennant Creek.

12 – Hotel Cecil – the birthplace of the Royal Air Force

As we commemorate the birth of the Royal Air Force in April 1918, let’s take a look at the Hotel Cecil, the birthplace of the world’s first independent Air Force.

Hotel Cecil was named after the former London home of the powerful Cecil family, Cecil House (also known as Salisbury House) which once occupied the site, it opened in 1896, three years before the nearby Savoy, and stretched from the Strand to the Thames.

Hotel Cecil

Designed by architects Perry & Reed in a “Wrenaissance” style, the hotel was the largest in Europe when it opened. The proprietor, Jabez Balfour, later went bankrupt and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.  It had 800 spacious rooms – a staggering number when one considers that the Savoy today has just 268. Public areas included a bright and airy courtyard, a vast Palm Court ballroom (perfect for afternoon tea during the day and dancing at night) and three restaurants capable of feeding a total of 1,150 diners.

It was, by the start of the First World War, a fashionable venue for London Society.  In 1917, the hotel was requisitioned for the war effort in 1917, and became the recruiting office for the Sportsman’s Battalion, later absorbed into the Royal Fusiliers.

The origins of the Royal Air Force lie in the increasingly-effective German air raids of 1917 and worries that the army’s Royal Flying Corps and the navy’s Royal Naval Air Service were competing for scarce resources. South African General Jan Christian Smuts was brought in by the British War Cabinet to review the nation’s air power position.

Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts statue London

In August 1917, Smuts submitted his report to Lloyd George’s war cabinet, in which it was recommended that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service be amalgamated into one single independent force.

The report recommended, among other things, the creation of an Air Council and an air service independent of the Army and Navy.

Following the passage of the Air Force Constitution Act in November 1917 (debates on which included an unsuccessful attempt by pilot and notable scoundrel Noel Pemberton Billing to name the new force the ‘Imperial Air Force’), the new force came into being on 1 April 1918 with a strength of over 20,000 aircraft and 300,000 personnel, including the Women’s Royal Air Force.

Royal assent was received from the King on 29th November 1917, and on 1st April 1918 the Royal Air Force was officially formed at the Hotel Cecil, which served as its headquarters for the remainder of the war up to 1919.

In 2008, to mark the 90th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force, the Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy unveiled a green plaque proclaiming: The Royal Air Force was formed and had its first headquarters here in the former Hotel Cecil 1 April 1918.

The Hotel Cecil was largely demolished in Autumn 1930, and Shell Mex House was built on the site. The Strand facade of the hotel remains and is now occupied by shops and offices, with, at its centre, a grandiose arch leading to Shell Mex House.

Unveiled in 1931, Shell Mex House, the former London headquarters of Shell-Mex and BP, is an imposing masterpiece, boasting 49,900 square metres of floor space and crowned with the biggest clock face in London (wags dubbed it “Big Benzene”). 

Shell Mex building today

During World War II, the Shel Mex building became home to the Ministry of Supply, which co-ordinated the supply of equipment to the national armed forces. It was also the home of the “Petroleum Board”, which handled the distribution and rationing of petroleum products during the war. It was badly damaged by a bomb in 1940.

The building reverted to Shell-Mex and BP on 1 July 1948, with a number of floors remaining occupied by the Ministry of Aviation (latterly the Board of Trade, Civil Aviation Division) until the mid-1970s. During this time, until the department’s move to the present location in Farnborough, the building was also the headquarters for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

On the Thames embankment, outside of the Shell Mex you will find the Cleopatra’s Needle. This obelisk, which dates back to 1450 BC, was given to London by the ruler of Egypt and erected beside the Thames in 1877.

Either side of the obelisk, you will find the Sphinxes and if you look closely you’ll see shrapnel holes on one of the sphinxes caused by a German First World War bomb.

Sphinx with WW1 bomb damage
Sphinx Plaque

A few meters from Cleopatra’s Needle you will also find the Royal Air Force Memorial, dedicated to the memory of the casualties of the Royal Air Force in World War I (and, by extension, all subsequent conflicts).

RAF Memorial

A committee to erect an RAF memorial was first established in February 1919, and relaunched in January 1920.  Led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard and Lord Hugh Cecil, a descendant of the Cecil family that owned the original building that stood where Hotel Cecil was located, (the eighth and youngest child of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, three times Prime Minister of the UK). Lord Cecil served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.

The memorial designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield was unveiled on 16 July 1923 by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII).  It became a Grade II listed structure in 1958 and was upgraded to Grade II* in 2018. It is considered to be the official memorial of the RAF and related services.

04 – A Mech 3 William Ernest Plumb

William Ernest Plumb was born 20th March 1899 in Oakham and his parents were Alfred and Harriet.  At the time of the 1901 census, William, his elder brother Cecil and their parents were living at No 6 Roseberry Avenue Melton Mowbray.

He was baptised on 25th December 1904 at Thorpe Arnold Church. By the time of the 1911 census, the family had grown in size. William was now aged 12, his elder brother Cecil was a plumbers apprentice and they, along with their 2 younger siblings, John (4) and Edith (1) were now living at 11 Stafford Avenue Melton Mowbray with Alfred and Harriet.

After leaving school, William became a joiner (Carpenter Apprentice) working for Mr. Waite.  Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, William enlisted in the Army on the 17th April 1915, being appointed as a bugler with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

On the 22nd February 1918, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps with the rank of Air Mechanic 2nd Class and was  promoted again to Air Mechanic 3rd Class on the formation of the Royal Air Force on the 1st April with the merge of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.

According to the RAF Nominal Roll, Williams service number was 145257 and his trade on joining the RAF was Rigger (Aero.) and he was earninmg 2s 0d per day.

RAF Nominal Roll

On the 4th May 1918, he was assigned to No 8 Training Depot Station at Netheravon, where he stayed until 31st May when he was re-assigned to No 207 Squadron.

As part of the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, No. 7 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service became No 207 Squadron Royal Air Force.

To ‘celebrate’ this occasion, on the last night of March 1918 preparations were put in hand for a raid in the early hours of 1 April against Bruges Docks and Thourout railway junction, involving four Handley Pages from 207 Squadron, (HPs 1459, 3128, 3119 and 1462), and five from 214 Squadron. The raids were carried out between 0330 and 0430 hrs and a total of seven tons of bombs were dropped.

It was the last raid to be flown by 207 Squadron for the moment because on 22 April the unit was withdrawn first to Cappelle and then to Netheravon, England, later moving to Andover on 13 May, in order to re-equip with new Handley Page 0/400s and to train replacement air and ground crews.

Handley Page 0/400

At the time, it was the largest aircraft that had been built in the UK and one of the largest in the world. It was built in two major versions, the Handley Page O/100 (H.P.11) and Handley Page O/400 (H.P.12).  The O/400s could carry a new 1,650 lb. (750 kg) bomb which was aimed with the Drift Sight Mk1A bombsight. In service, they were deployed in force, with up to 40 aircraft participating in a raid. 

Following re-equipping, the Sqn commanded by Maj G L Thomson DSC, returned to France, arriving at Ligescourt, from where it recommenced operations under the control of the 54th Wing, IX Brigade RAF.

Following the Armistice on the 11th November, the Squadron moved forward to Carmin aerodrome near Lille on the 1st December 1918, and then to Merheim, Cologne, on the 1st January 1919 where it was placed at the disposal of the Army’s 2nd Brigade for duty with the Army of Occupation.

Shortly after his arrival in Germany, William contracted bronchial pneumonia and died on 20th January 1919 at the age of 19.  He is buried in the Cologne Southern Cemetery in grave I.C.3.

His death was announced in The Melton Times on the 14th February 1919 and in the Weekly Casualty List (dated 20th Feb 1919) issued by the War Office & Air Ministry.

Weekly Casualty List (War Office & Air Ministry ) – Tuesday 25 February 1919

William is commemorated by name on the World War 1 Memorial inside St Mary’s Church.

St Mary’s Church WW1 Memorial

In addition to the memorial at St Mary’s Church, he is also commemorated on the towns main war memorial at Egerton Lodge memorial Gardens plus on a 3rd memorial at St Mary the Virgin Church Thorpe Arnold.