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)

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.

18 – ANZAC Gt Uncle George – Defending the Suez

In this blog, I continue the story of my Gt Uncle Georges’ journey.  As mentioned in my earlier blog 11 – ANZAC Gt Uncle George – A Lancashire ‘Digger’ George was part of the rear party that was the last to be withdrawn from Gallipoli on the 19th December 1915.

The rear parties embarked on “SS Heroic” and landed back on the Greek island of Lemnos shortly after day break. 

SS Heroic

When George first went to Gallipoli back in September 1915 he and the 24th Bn departed from the Greek island of Lemnos.  The island was in fact only 50 miles from the Dardanelles and due to its close proximity, and its sheltered harbour at Mudros bay, it was chosen to be the supply point as well as the main embarkation and dis-embarkation point.

Map of the Aegean showing Lemnos, Imbros and Gallipoli

The troops that had been withdrawn from the Gallipoli peninsular were in a shabby condition and many of them were lean and worn.  High numbers were in bad health and all had lost weight and strength. Some of the earlier parties of the 24th Battalion to leave Gallipoli were conveyed on warships to Imbros with the remainder being sent to Lemnos.

In early December 1915, the Australian brigades moved into camps in the western hills of Lemnos. Between 4th and 20th of December, the 1st and 2nd Australian Division’s (comprising 5,965 and 7,209 men respectively) were based at camps at Sarpi.  George, as one of the last to leave Gallipoli went to Mudros and it is thought he and his comrades from the 24th Bn were camped at Sarpi.

Sarpi camp, Lemnos

With the irony of war, the men who were the last to leave the battlefield, men who had volunteered for what had been deemed as the forlorn hope, appeared to have been forgotten.  There packs had been left for them at Mudros harbour and after disembarking, they had to carry their packs, marching five or six miles and crawled into camp as if they had done nothing worthy of commendation.  Bully beef, bread, jam and a few questions from their pals who arrived earlier were all that greeting George and his party on their arrival.

Conditions in the troop camps were often inadequate, with General Monash actively seeking to improve the situation, in terms of the lack of tents and field kitchens.  However, mail from Australia had been held up at Mudros due to the evacuation and the abundance of parcels and letters from home provided the troops with a moral boost.

During rest periods troops would leave the camp to buy eggs, grapes and figs from the local Greek villagers. The YMCA provided entertainment facilities for the troops during their rest periods on Lemnos, including concerts attended by the Australian nurses.

ANZAC battalions are reported as having played cricket matches on the island, with nurses joining the spectators. A few miles from the camps, many troops visited the local natural hot spring bath-house at Therma. It became one of the most frequented “resorts” on the island.

HMT Minnewaska

On the 6th January 1916, the Bn left their camp at Sarpi and boarded HMT Minnewaska, departing Mudros harbour on Lemnos on the 8th and arriving at Alexandria on the 10th January 1916 where they were immediately entrained for the new Australian base at Tel El Kabir where the Battalion received considerable reinforcements and undertook further refitting and training.

Tel El Kabir camp

The troops had to undertake various training courses such as learning about artillery and the transport, setting up and firing of such guns. Other training courses covered subjects such as map reading, meteorology, and interpreting reconnaissance photos taken from aircraft.

The defence of the Suez Canal was vital to Allied shipping.  The canal was the quickest route between Britain and countries around the Indian and western Pacific oceans. Since its opening in 1869 the Suez Canal had featured prominently in British policy and concerns. The Convention of Constantinople of 1888 by the European Powers guaranteed freedom of navigation of the Suez Canal.

ANZAC training camps in Egypt

Among its great advantages were as a line of communication and also the site for a military base as the well equipped ports at Alexandria and Port Said made the region particularly useful.

The beginning of 1915 saw the action of World War One extend to Egypt and Palestine.  Between 26th January and 4th February 1915 a German-led Ottoman Army force advanced from Southern Palestine to attack the Suez Canal, marking the beginning of what became known as the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

The 100 mile stretch of the Canal was divided into three sections for defence.

Suez to the Bitter Lakes,

Deversoir to El Ferdan,

El Ferdan to Port Said,

Plus a HQ and genera reserves at Ismalia.

These defences were augmented by the presence in the Suez Canal of HMS Swiftsure, HMS Clio, HMS Minerva, the armed merchant cruiser Himalaya and HMS Ocean near Qantara, Ballah, Sallufa, Gurka Post and Esh Shatt respectively, with the French protected cruiser D’Entrecasteaux just north of the Great Bitter Lake, HMS Proserpine at Port Said, the Royal Indian Marine Ship Hardinge south of Lake Timsah and north of Tussum, with the French coastal defence ship Requin in Lake Timsah. The canal was closed each night during the threat.

British Headquarters estimated German and Ottoman casualties at more than 2,000, while British losses amounted to 32 killed and 130 wounded. The Ottoman Suez Expeditionary Force suffered the loss of some 1,500 men including 716 prisoners.

In another of my earlier blogs I looked at the story of Seaman Gunner George Edward Flint a sailor from Melton Mowbray who was involved in the Defence of the Suez Canal whilst serving aboard HMS Swiftsure when he assisted in the burial of over three hundred Turks following their failed attempt to take control of the canal.

Seaman Gunner George Edward Flint

The British subsequently allocated a large defence to protect the canal against future attacks.

The beginning of February 1916 brought orders for a move to the desert East of the Suez Canal, which was again threatened by the Turks and on the 2nd February, the Battalion left their base at Tel El Kabir and entrained for Ismailia to take up a section of the Canal Zone Defences. 

On arrival at Ismailia, the Battalion detrained at Moascar and marched on the night 2nd/3rd February to “Ismailia Ferry Post” where it bivouacked before moving on the next day, crossing the Canal on ferries and pontoon bridges and marching across the desert in a heat of 120˚ to a spot near the hill Kataib el Kheil about 10 miles East of Ismailia where a prominent sandhill lies called the “Sphinx”.

Location of Australian trench positions in relation to Ismalia

On arrival at the “Sphinx”, the Battalion immediately took on entrenching work for its defence and the whole Battalion was engaged preparing the position which consisted of 1780 yards of trench with machine gun emplacements and wire entanglements along the whole front.  The trenches were usually in soft drift sand and had to be shoveled out by hand.  All food and water had to be carried on camels, and at times the water ration was down to ½ gallon per day.

Australian trenches along the Suez

Camels brought rations and water to them over the sand.  The troops went unwashed but lived well and healthy in the dry atmosphere of the desert.  Sports were carried out under extreme difficulties and sandstorms buried their equipment and filled in their recently dug trenches.

Camels being loaded with supplies for the 24th Bn

The health of the men remained good and Company’s not on actual digging duties were on outpost duties of 48 hours shifts so that each platoon had its turn in the advanced firing line.  The position was of great importance as it stretched across the main caravan route from El Tassa, the point from which the Turks made their attack in 1915 on Ismailia.

The work carried out the Battalion was spoken of in the highest terms by the G.O.C. who visited the position on several occasions as it was the extreme RH Flank of the 2nd Division.

When March arrived, the Battalion were told they were going to France and a new outlook filled the troops with great expectations.

On the 5th March, the Battalion handed over the Canal defences to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles which was completed by 12.00Hrs.  During their time in Egypt defending the Canal Zone, the 24th never actually came into contact with any Turkish attacking forces.

The Battalion marched or dragged their burdened frames back over the sand to the Canal.  Carrying full kits and blankets, men began to drop out before two miles had been covered.  Water bottles were emptied in the first half-hour and with no means of replenishing the supplies, the troops tramped on till the column became a line of stragglers. 

Half way on the journey, they stumbled on some horse troughs, and men stuck their heads down and drank like beasts, defying the Officers who forbade them to touch this polluted water.

When Ferry Post was reached on the night of the 5th/6th where they bivouacked, the water tanks of the other units there were besieged and emptied in defiance of all attempts to check the thirsty men. Weaker men cam drifting into camp until daylight the following morning.

Map of Egypt showing location of Moascar camp

It was reported that of all the strenuous marches accomplished by the Battalion whilst on active service, this journey over the heavy sand, on a day marked by the heat of a most oppressive nature, must have pride of place.

The next day the Battalion crossed the Canal and pushed on through Ismalia to Moascar.  On passing the ordnance store, all ‘old’ rifles were exchanged for the newer Mk VII version. 

On arrival at Moascar, they pitched camp and remained there until the evening of the 19th/20th during which preparations began for their departure for the Western Front and they carried out marching and field work.

On the afternoon of the 18th, the Battalion was inspected by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales who inspected the Brigade and the Battalion.  The Battalion, after hearing an address by Sir William Birdwood, marched passed HRH in Columns of four, afterwards, the camplines were inspected.

New orders were received on the 19th for the Battalion to entrain for Alexandria and the Battalion spent the rest of the day cleaning up and preparing for entrainment.  At 08:00 on the 20th, the Battalion embarked aboard 3 troopers and sailed from Alexandria at 16:30.

HMT Lake Michigan – 14 x Officers and 636 Other Ranks,

HMT Magdalena – 10 x Officers and 306 Other Ranks,

HMT City of Edinburgh – 1 x Officer and 50 Other Ranks

In the hold of the Magdalena was the Battalion band under the command of the bandmaster, R L Pogson practised diligently throughout the voyage.

At 09:30 on the 23rd, the Battalion received a message that the HMT Minneapolis had been torpedoed and was sinking.  Her position was reported as 12 miles due North of their current position.  The speed of their vessel was increased and course changed.  At 12:30, they received a further message that the Minneapolis was still sinking.  A further message was received at 17:00 that the submarine had been sighted 62 miles NE of Valetta this morning resulting in the convoy changing course again.

Orders were received on the 24th March from Admiral Malta that they were to proceed direct to Marseilles, where they arrived on the 26th at 15:30, disembarking at 19:00.

On arrival at Marseilles, the 24th Battalion formed up on the wharf and marched with the band playing military music to the railway station where they entrained at 23:45Hrs for the journey from Marseilles to Flanders.

24th Bn War Diary entry for 26 March 1916

According to the war diary, the Battalion numbers were made up of 14 Officers, 603 Other ranks and 9 prisoners!

In my next blog about Uncle George I will take a look at his journey after arriving at Marseilles in France.

Private George Badger

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.

11 – ANZAC Gt Uncle George – A Lancashire ‘Digger’

Lt George Hamer Badger

In this first blog about my Gt Uncle, George Hamer Badger (the brother of my Nanna, my Dads mum), I take a look at how a Lancashire lad ended up fighting at Gallipoli with the Australian Imperial Force ANZACs.

He was born on the 20th April 1897 and he was the second child from a total of 11 for Richard and Ellen Badger.

The family lived at Worston, a peaceful little village nestled at the foot of Pendle Hill in Lancashire with one street, a welcoming hostelry, run by the Badger family. Unspoilt, this was one of the locations used in ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ and today it is still a quiet one-street village.

Ellen Hamer who was originally from Stokesay in Shropshire, was working as a Nurse at the Lancaster Lunatic Asylum when she met Richard. They were married at Christ Church, Lancaster on 30 Oct 1895.

The Badger family were still at the Calf’s Head when the 1901 Census was carried out. However, at some time during 1901/1902 the family moved from the Calf’s Head in Worston to take over the Saddle Inn at Lea near Preston where they remained throughout World War 1. 

It would appear that the advertising campaign by the Australians proved to tempting for the Badgers and in 1912, George and his father Richard emigrated to Australia with the rest of the family planning to follow later on. The motivation was, as is so often the case with emigrants, simply the hope to find a better life for their children somewhere other than in their home country.  

As part of the “Grand Plan” of moving the Badger family to Australia, Richard packed all his woodworking and carpentry tools along with many others and a vast selection of guns.

According to the PRO archives in Victoria, the immigration index lists Richard’s age as 51 and George’s age as 26.  I don’t know whether this is a transcript error with the application or whether the age annotated on the application form was incorrect.  George was born in 1897, so in 1912 when he emigrated, he would only be 15 and not 26 as listed in the index. 

The index also shows that Richard and George achieved unassisted immigration to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and they sailed from Liverpool travelling on the SS IRISHMAN ship operated by the White Star Line.   

SS Irishman

They set sail from Liverpool on March 15th 1912 and were due to arrive at Melbourne on May 14th 1912. On Wednesday 17th April, they heard by “Wireless” that the “Titanic” had gone down on her maiden trip, with 1500 lost. 

In early May, there was an outbreak of measles on the ship and on 4th May, George had to go into the isolation hospital aboard the ship. On the 5th May, land was in sight and about 70 miles offshore, the ship took a pilot onboard.  The ship got into Melbourne early on the 6th but was not allowed to dock and unload and the passengers were put into quarantine.  They eventually disembarked on the 14th/15th May.

Richard and George had made an impression with the number of guns and tools they had brought with them.  They initially stayed with William Angliss’s family in Toorak, then they went to the wool growing Geelong/Western District Area.  Shortly after his arrival in Australia, George became a Jackaroo. 

A Jackaroo is a young man working on a sheep or cattle station, to gain practical experience in the skills needed to become an owner, overseer, manager, etc.  The skills required to be were to be an excellent horseman, skilled as a stockman with sheep, whip and droving, and learned about sheep and wool.   

George became interested in becoming a wool classer responsible for the production of uniform, predictable, low-risk lines of wool, carried out by examining the characteristics of the wool in its raw state and classing it accordingly. After a year as a Jackaroo, George became an apprentice Wool Classer in 1914 and was working with a shearing gang contracted to a sheep station near Ivanhoe in Western New South Wales. 

Following the outbreak of World War 1, recruiting committees were formed in nearly every town throughout Australia during 1915. At the outbreak of the War, there had been a great outpouring of Australian support for the ‘mother country’ England, and the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed from men who volunteered. 

Typical Australian Recruitment Drive

The requirements in August 1914 to join the AIF were that the volunteer had to be aged between 18–35 years, height of 5ft 6in and chest measurement of 34 inches.  During the first year of the war approximately 33 percent of all volunteers were rejected. 

On his attestation papers, George’s height was recorded as 5ft 7 in, his weight 140 lbs, chest measurement 34 1/2 – 37 inches, fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair.   

So far so good, George met the majority of the recruitment restrictions except probably the most important one – the minimum age!  To join the AIF you had to be at least 18 years of age but George was only 17 years and 10 months!  To get around this, George lied about his age and recorded it as 21. 

Private George Badger

George Hamer Badger ‘signed on the dotted line’ on 9th March 1915 and was enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and assigned to Broadmeadows Camp. Whilst at Broadmeadows, George celebrated his 18th birthday and following his initial training,   

George was assigned to ‘A Company’ 24th Battalion “Red and White Diamonds” of the Australian Imperial Force at Broadmeadows, Victoria with the rank of Private and the Service No of 154. 

The 24th was part of the 6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division along with the 21st, 22nd and 23rd Battalions.

As a result of the hasty decision to raise the battalion very little training was carried out before the battalion sailed from Melbourne. A week after being formed, the 24th Battalion, including George and his shearer mates, departed Melbourne on 8th May 1915 aboard HMAT Euripides (A14) destined for Alexandria in Egypt where the Australians had several training camps. 

HMAT A14 Euripides at Melbourne

When they arrived at Cairo, the Australians were told they were to go to a big camp at Mena, ten miles south of Cairo, close to the wonderful Pyramids and the Sphinx.  Mena was an enormous camp built to hold around 20,000 troops and had been made ready for them just a mile from the Pyramids.

Mena Camp

Following their training in Egypt, the 24th Battalion were assigned to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and 28th August 1915 they received orders from 6th Bde to entrain at Helwich on the night of 29-30 Aug to proceed to Alexandria and embark on transport “Nile”.  At 9.45pm on the 29th, George and his colleagues from A Coy, along with B Coy,Signallers and Machine Gunners entrained for Alexandria and at 5:30am on the 30th, were embarked aboard transport ship HMT Nile. 

The “Nile” set sail at 4:30pm on 30th August, with 32 Officers and 233 Other details from the 24th Battalion.  Local Routine Orders were issued to the troops along with Special Instructions to protect vessel against submarine attack. 

The “Nile”, carrying George and his shearer pals along with the 24th Battalion and well ahead, had spotted the sub and managed to outrun it.  The “Scotian” with the 22nd Battalion on board also managed to dodge it, but the first the “Southland” knew of her predicament was the approaching torpedo. 

“My God – a torpedo!” was the shout from a sentry. “We watched the line of death getting nearer until it crashed, and the whole ship reeled. Then the order was given, ‘The ship is sinking – abandon ship.’” A subaltern on board the Southland went on to say, “Without a cry or sign of fear, or more hurrying than on a brisk march, and singing ‘Australia Will Be There,’ the order was carried out.” 

The “Nile” received a further signal confirming that help had been sent and that “Southland” was making port under easy steam. 

Colonel Richard Linton, OC 6th Brigade, was in one of the first boats lowered.  Unfortunately it was soon overturned, and being a strong swimmer, Linton decided to remain in the water, allowing others to take his place in the boats. However, many hours later when he was finally taken on board the French destroyer Massuo, the shock and exposure had proved too much and his heart gave out. Surviving him was his son Richard who was rescued by the Neuralia. 

Colonel Linton was buried at East Mudros at 7am on the 3rd September.  Following his death, OC 24th Bn AIF, Lt Col William Walker Russell Watson, took over command of 6th Brigade.  His first job as OC 6th Bde, was to concentrate all of “Southland’s” surviving troops aboard transport “Transylvania”. In all, 1324 all ranks was collected from 8 different vessels in port. 

Whilst at Lemnos, George and his mates from the 24th Bn, had developed an admiration for the poetry of Rupert Brooke. One of Brooke’s famous poems was “The Soldier”.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
 
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Brooke was a Sub-Lieutenant serving with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve when he died a few months previously after developing sepsis after an infected mosquito bite. He is buried on the island of Skyros.

At 9:30pm on the 3rd September, Lt Col William Walker Russell Watson received orders to transfer troops from the “Nile” and “Scotania” to “HMT Abbasieh” for transfer to ANZAC Cove on the 4th. 

HMT Abbassieh

George Badger and his mates from the 24th Battalion served in the Lone Pine sector, taking over responsibility for the front line the on 12th September. The position was very close to the Turkish trenches and was hotly contested. The position was so tenuous, that the troops holding it had to be rotated regularly, and as a result the 24th spent the remainder of the campaign rotating with the 23rd Battalion to hold the position against determined Turkish mining operations.  

All through September, the 24th were either in Lone Pine experiencing constant sniping and bombing throughout day and night or resting in White Valley after being relieved by the 23rd Bn.  The battalion remained at Gallipoli for three months until the evacuation of Allied troops took place in December 1915. 

The 24th Bn were mainly involved in the fighting at Lone Pine. All the ground that was won by the Australians during the main battle at Lone Pine during August was actually reached within a couple of hours of the start of the attack. However, the fighting at Lone Pine continued for several weeks as the Turks counterattacked incessantly and at great cost. The 2nd and 3rd Infantry Brigades were poured in to reinforce the Australian gains.  

Family folklore has it that George was offered a King’s Commission and a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant or a MID Mentioned In Dispatches.  As George had previously agreed with the AIF to have most of his pay sent back to his Mother, Ellen, back in England, he refused the MID and accepted the Commission as it would mean he could send her more money.  There is nothing documented in his service records to show this filed promotion, but the War Diaries for the 24th Bn records on the 14th October that “6 Officers have been promoted from the ranks”. 

Another family rumour is that towards the end of the campaign, George served under the Command of Captain Stan Savige.  Savige enlisted alongside George back Melbourne on 9th March 1915.  His service number was VX13 and George’s was VX154.   

Savige was passed over for a commission due to his lack of education, but was promoted to corporal on 30 April and lance sergeant on 8 May. The 24th Infantry Battalion landed at Gallipoli on 5 September 1915 and took over part of the line at Lone Pine. Savige became company sergeant major on 20 September. There, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 9 November 1915. Savige was one of three officers chosen to serve with the battalion rearguard unit C3 along with Lt McIlroy and lt Brinsmead who was appointed OC C3, of which George was part of.  Rear party C3 consisting of 1 Officer and 6 Other Ranks from the 21st Bn, 2 Officers and 18 Other Ranks from the 22nd and 3 Officers and 34 Other Ranks (including George and Savige) from the 24th  left Lone Pine at 2.40am and embarked at the pier at 3.30am.

To reduce noise whilst walking down to the beach, George and his colleagues placed woolen socks over their boots in order to reduce the noise. 

The rear parties embarked on “Heroic” and landed back at Mudros shortly after day break. 

SS Heroic

Whilst at Gallipoli, George became acquainted with Phillip Schuler, a newspaper correspondent for the AGE newspaper based in Melbourne.  Schuler, covered the Gallipoli campaign alongside Charles Bean. His bravery was legendary. His dispatches were evocative and compassionate. He captured the heroism and horror for Australian newspaper readers in ways the meticulous yet dry prose of Bean never could.

After Schuler’s classic account of the campaign, Australia in Arms, was completed in early 1916, Schuler abandoned the relative safety of a correspondent’s job and joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as a humble soldier. In June 1917, he was killed in Flanders. He was 27 years old. 

ANZAC Poster

In my next blog about Uncle George I will take a look at what happened to him after leaving Gallipoli.

08 – Seaman Gunner George Edward Flint

Seaman Gunner George Edward Flint

George Edward Flint was born on the 17th August 1888 in Kirby Bellars, Leicestershire. He was the son of James Flint a railway labourer, born 1861 in Frisby on the Wreake, Leicestershire, and his wife Emma Flint (nee Mann, married in the 4th quarter of 1885 in the Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire district), born 1863 in Long Itchington, Warwickshire.

George was educated in the British School, Melton Mowbray and upon leaving school he went to work in the office of Messrs. Sharman and Ladbury for about 12 months, then he started work for the Midland Railway Co as a booking clerk, first stationed at Ashwell then at Luffenham.

George volunteered to enlist in the Royal Navy to serve a 5 + 7 year engagement on the 12th September 1907. His medical examination recorded that he was 5 foot 6¼ inches in height and had a chest measurement of 35 inches, his hair colour was black and he had brown eyes, his complexion was described as fair, it was noted that he had moles on the left side of his chest and on his right forearm, he gave his trade or calling as clerk.

His record of service began when he joined HMS Victory, the accounting and holding Barracks for the Fleet sailing out of Portsmouth on 12th September 1907 as an Ordinary Seaman and he was allocated the service number SS/2110.

He was re-assigned from Victory to HMS Prince George on 30th October 1907 where he stayed until 31st March 1908. Prince George was recommissioned on 5th March 1907 to serve as the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth Division of the new Home Fleet which had been organised in January 1907. On 5th December 1907 she collided with the armoured cruiser Shannon at Portsmouth, sustaining significant damage to her deck plating and boat davits.

Following his assignment on the Prince George, he was re-assigned to HMS Duke of Edinburgh, joining the ships company on the 1st April 1908. The Duke of Edinburgh was assigned to the 5th Cruiser Squadron from 1906 to 1908 and was then transferred to the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Channel Fleet.  When the Royal Navy’s cruiser squadrons were reorganized in 1909, the Duke of Edinburgh re-joined the 5th Cruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet.  Whilst serving with the Duke of Edinburgh, George was promoted to Able Bodied Seaman, staying part of her company until 14th March 1910.

On the 15th March 1910, George was assigned back to HMS Victory at Portsmouth until 31st May 1910.

From the 1st June, he was assigned to HMS Jupiter.  Jupiter was the flagship of the Home Fleet Portsmouth Division from February to June 1909 and later second flagship of the 3rd Division. During this service, she underwent refits at Portsmouth in 1909–1910, during which she received fire control equipment for her main battery.

On 26th June 1910, he was allocated a new service number J/8281 and continued his service abord HMS Jupiter until 28th October 1910.

George was assigned to HMS Britannia on 29th October 1910.  Britannia was a King Edward VII-class pre-dreadnought battleship, named after the Latin name of Great Britain under Roman rule. The ship was built by Portsmouth Dockyard between 1904 and 1906. Armed with a battery of four 12-inch (305 mm) and four 9.2 in (234 mm) guns,

George’s next assignment commenced on 15th October 1912 to HMS Excellent at the Whale Island Gunnery School where he went to gain experience in gunnery.

Following his successful completion of his gunnery courses, he joined HMS Dreadnought on 1st July 1913. Dreadnought was the battleship that became synonymous with revolutionising naval power due to the advance in naval technology that her name came to be associated with and an entire generation of battleships, the “dreadnoughts” were a class of ships named after her. 

Dreadnought became flagship of the 4th Battle Squadron in December 1912 after her transfer from the 1st Battle Squadron, as the 1st Division had been renamed earlier in the year. Between September and December 1913 Dreadnought was training in the Mediterranean Sea.

George was re-assigned from Dreadnought back to HMS Victory I at Portsmouth where he stayed until 28th May 1914.

Following this stint at the shore base Victory, George was next assigned to HMS Psyche on the 29th May 1914.  HMS Psyche carried a complement of 224 and was armed with eight QF 4-inch (25 pounder) guns, eight 3 pounder guns, three machine guns, and two 18-inch (450-mm) torpedo tubes.  Psyche was part of the Pelorus class ships that displaced 2,135 tons and had a top speed of 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph). Most served in minor roles on overseas or colonial patrol work, not with the main battlefleets. 

HMS Psyche

Whilst aboard HMS Psyche, he was despatched to the naval station at New Zealand where he is involved in training the naval men of that colony.  When the outbreak of hostilities, the Psyche, along with other British Warships and units of the Japanese Navy were involved in the endeavour to round up the ‘notorious’ German raider, the Emden.

SMS Emden spent most of her career overseas in the German East Asia Squadron, based in Tsingtao, China. At the outbreak of World War I, Emden captured a Russian steamer and converted her into the commerce raider Cormoran. Emden rejoined the East Asia Squadron, then was detached for independent raiding in the Indian Ocean. The cruiser spent nearly two months operating in the region, and captured nearly two dozen ships. On 28 October 1914, Emden launched a surprise attack on Penang; in the resulting Battle of Penang, she sank the Russian cruiser Zhemchug and the French destroyer Mousquet. On 15 August 1914 HMS Psyche, HMS Pyranus and HMNZS Philomel were escorts for the troopships Monowai and Moeraki which had been requisitioned from the Union Steam Ship Company as transports for the Samoan Expeditionary Force which departed Wellington for Apia with 1385 troops. The naval party brought about the surrender of the German occupied Samoan islands.

Two picket boats from Australia swept the channel as a precaution before the transports entered. The Union flag was hoisted at 12.45pm and the landing of the troops commenced at 1.00pm. At 8.00 am on Sunday 30th August the British Flag was hoisted over the Courthouse and a proclamation read by Colonel R. Logan ADC, NZSC, the Officer Commanding the Troops, in the presence of Naval and Military Officers and men, Native Chiefs and the residents of Apia. A salute of 21 guns was fired by Psyche.

The “Auckland Weekly News” published a pictorial about the surrender with Seaman Gunner Flint featuring in several of the images.  Flint was one of the boat’s crew that took officers of the Psyche to the landing stage at Apia on August 29th under a white flag, with a despatch to the German governor demanding surrender of the islands.  George was also shown in another image where the Union Jack was being hoisted up the flagpole of the Apia Court House on the morning of the 30th.

German surrender at Samoa

Upon the Psyche along with the Pearl Class cruiser HMNZS Philomel being handed over to the New Zealand Naval Department, the crews were taken by a P&O ship to the Suez where Seaman George Flint joined the company of HMS Swiftsure on the 9th January 1915.

Swiftsure and her crew took part in the defence of the Suez Canal when the Turks had tried to cross it.  Following this abortive attempt, George was one of her crew that assisted in the burial of over three hundred Turks.

HMS Swiftsure

From the Suez, the Swiftsure then moved onto the Gallipoli Peninsua taking part in the landings of British, Australian and New Zealand troops at the now infamous historic ANZAC cove.

The Swiftsure was firing her guns until they were red hot covering the landing troops and when a lot of wounded soldiers trying to land on the beaches were seen in difficulties in the water, George and some of his shipmates left their gun battery to assist them.

George and his shipmates were working up to their necks in the water trying to save the wounded soldiers, resulting in him contracting a sever chill which subsequently turned into pulmonary consumption (tuberculosis).

In spite of falling sick he continued to perform his duties and witnessed the sinking of the Irresistible, Ocean, Triumph, and the French ship Bouvet, his own ship the Swiftsure being only narrowly missed by a torpedo which was fired at it from a submarine.

He was initially transferred to the hospital at Malta, then transferred again to Haslar Hospital in Portsmouth where he stayed until 9th July 1915 when he was invalided from the service.

After being discharged from the Service, he was transferred to the new Leicestershire Sanatorium at Mowsley near Market Harborough.  Around the 26th January 1916, he was transferred to his parents home in Melton where he stayed until he passed away peacefully.

After being discharged from the Service, he was transferred to the new Leicestershire Sanatorium at Mowsley near Market Harborough which had recently been built during 1914-15 to hold fifty patients suffering from tuberculosis. 

Around the 26th January 1916, he was transferred to his parents home in Melton where he stayed until he passed away peacefully.

His funeral took place on Saturday 12th February 1916 where the inhabitants of Melton Mowbray turned out in thousands last Saturday afternoon to pay homage to a local sailor who had given up his life in the service of his country.

Owing to the absence of Bluejackets in the Melton neighbourhood, Mr. A. E. Mackley, one of the local civilian recruiting sergeants made the necessary arrangements for full military honours to be accorded.

By the kindness of Colonel R. S. Goward, the services of the band of the 3/5th Leicestershire Regiment were secured and the bearers, a firing party, and a bugler were supplied from the Wigston Barracks – the Headquarters of the Leicestershire Regiment.

The Melton St. John Voluntary Aid Detachment under the command of Captain S. C. Hobson, also attended, as did likewise a contingent of 16 men from the Melton Farriery School under Sergt. T. Bugg, of the Duke of Wellington’s.

A few men were drawn from each Corps to represent the R.F.A., R.G.A., A.S.C., R.E., and Infantry. Lieut. Paget attended as representing the Leicestershire Yeomanry, and Sergt. Biddle, from the local recruiting office, was in charge of the bearers, the firing party being under Sergt. Grant.

The coffin was placed on an open hearse, and was covered with the Union Jack, on top of which deceased’s white naval cap was deposited. The body was taken to the Congregational Church, where the first portion of the service was read, the Rev. E. Williams officiating.

There was a crowded congregation amongst whom were noticed Mr. Josiah Gill, J.P., and Dr. Hugh Atkinson. The service was choral, the hymn “Nearer my God to Thee,” being feelingly sung, and Mr. Riley Brown, who officiated at the organ played suitable voluntaries. As the cortege wended its way from the Church to the Thorpe-road cemetery the band played the Dead March in “Saul.”

The streets were lined with spectators, and an enormous crowd assembled at the cemetery. After the coffin had been lowered into the grave the firing party fired three volley’s, and the bugler sounded the Last Post.

Seaman Gunner George Edward Flint Gravestone

George is buried in Section J, Grave Reference 2120 at Thorpe Road Cemetery, Melton Mowbray. Even though this is a CWGC grave, the family chose to erect their own memorial in place of the CWGC headstone. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Record can be seen here.

In 1913, Georges brother David James Flint married Sarah A Gunby and on the 19th May 1917, they had a son and named him George Edward Flint.  When the 1939 register was taken, George was living at 22 Snow Hill with his parents and his brother Arthur.  George was listed as a bricklayer, the same as his father David, and Arthur as an Apprentice Joiner.

In 1940, George married Florence A Woolley and in 1942 they had a daughter Margaret. At some point after 1939, George enlisted in the army serving as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers. George died on 21 January 1944 and is also buried in Thorpe Road Cemetery, Melton Mowbray. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Record can be seen here.

CWGC Headstone for Sapper George Edward Flint

06 – Major Ronald Anthony Markham

In this blog, we move away from the Royal Air Force and take a look at the Major Ronald Anthony Markham, one of Meltons best known soldiers who served with the Coldstream Guards. He was killed in France shortly after the outbreak of WW1 and his body was one of the few repatriated back to the UK for burial.

Ronald Anthony was born in on the 15th October 1870 in West Cowes, Isle of Wight, Hampshire and baptised on the 24th November 1870 in St. Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.  Born and officially registered at birth with the Christian name of Ronald, at his baptism he was given the second Christian name of Anthony, and latterly he was also referred to as Roderick Anthony Markham.

Major Tony Markham

He was the son of Colonel William Thomas Markham who had served in the Crimean War in the Rifle Brigade and Coldstream Guards and his wife Anne Emily Sophia Grant (also known as Daisy Grant or Mrs Colonel William Thomas Markham). Anne’s father was the famous Scottish painter Sir Francis Grant. Her portrait, painted by her father, hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland, and has been noted for its depiction of Victorian womanhood.  Another of his famous paintings, The Melton Hunt, which he completed in 1839 was purchased by the Duke of Wellington.

His siblings were, Mabel Wilhelmine Frances, born 5th April 1858, William Hope, born 13th December 1859 , Cecile Mary Isabella, born 6th February 1861, twins Claron Henry and Cyril Faulke, born 21st July 1866 , Hermione Violet Cyril, born 9th September 1867 and Rupert Evelyn, born 13th December 1868, Ethel Winifred Victoria, born 21st November 1871, Nigel Ivan, born 10th November 1872, Averil Constance Antoinette Janetta, born 1873, Gwendoline Beatrice Sanchia May, born 1876, and Sibyl Annesley Giana, born 1877

In April 1881, Ronald was a school boarder, and was residing at Palmer Flatt Boarding School, Aysgarth, Yorkshire and latterly he was educated at Charterhouse (Daviesites 1884-1887).

He initially joined the 3rd Battalion Prince of Wales’s Volunteers, South Lancashire Regiment and according to the Army and Navy Gazette published 20th April 1889 he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on April 13th.

He joined the Coldstream Guards from the Militia in December 1890, becoming a Lieutenant in August 1896, and Captain in December 1899.

He served with the first advance against the Khalifa in the Nile Expedition of 1899, for which he received the Egyptian Medal and Clasp.  An important and largely unsung figure in the early exploration of the Bahr-el-Ghazal region, he is a rare and officially confirmed officer recipient of the Bahr-el-Ghazal clasp.

From August 1899, to August 1903, he was employed with the Egyptian Army, serving as the Aide De Camp to the Sirdar Sir Reginald Wingate from April 1900 to December 1902, for which he received the Insignia of the 4th Class of the Imperial Order of the Medjidieh.

He travelled up the White Nile from Khartoum on 3 July 1901 with Pasha Von Slatin in the gunboat ‘Sheikh’ to deliver important communications from the Sirdar to local commandants in the region, and to seek news from the Austin-Bright Survey Expedition in July 1901. In the course of this journey he travelled inland, meeting and negotiating with local Sheikhs and tribal leaders.

Nile Gunboat “Sheikh”

After the murder of Bimbashi Scott Barbour on 10 January 1902 and the subsequent punitive expedition, there was much tension and potential danger in the region. A few months later, Bimbashi Markham was sent on an expedition up the White Nile from Khartoum (with Pasha Von Slatin) in the gunboat ‘Sheikh’ with several private communications from the Sirdar to the local commandants. Leaving on 3 July 1902, his expedition took several weeks.

binbashi, alternatively bimbashi, (from Turkish: Binbaşı, “chief of a thousand”, “chiliarch”) is a Major in the Turkish army, of which term originated in the Ottoman army. The title was also used for a Major in the Khedivial Egyptian army as Bimbashi (1805–1953).

As recorded in The Sudan Intelligence Report No.84 (1st to 31st July 1901): ‘Bimbashi Markham left Khartoum on the 3rd instant in the gunboat “Sheikh” for Sobat, Baro, and Pibor rivers to endeavour to open up communication with the Austin-Bright Survey Expedition, about which no news is as yet forthcoming. He carried letters from the Sirdar to the commandants of the Abyssinian posts at Gore and in the neighbourhood of Lake Rudolf, as well as one for Major Austin himself.

Markham was also with Miralai Sparkes Bey, Commandant of the Bahr-El-Ghazal Expedition, when they arrived at Khartoum from Wau on 28 September 1901. Markham had joined him from Meshra er Rek, as mentioned in Sudan Intelligence Report No.86 (1st to 30th September 1901).

On April 19th 1901, the London Gazette published the following notice “Whitehall, April 18, 1901, THE King has been pleased to give and grant unto each ot the undermentioned Officers His Majesty’s Royal licence and authority that he may accept and wear the Insignia of the Imperial Ottoman Order appearing against his name, the Decorations in question having been conferred by His Highness the Khedive of Egypt, authorised by His Imperial Majesty the Sultan of Turkey, in recognition of the services of these Officers while employed in His Highness’s Army. Medjidieh, Fourth Class, Captain Ronald Anthony Markham, Coldstream Guards.”

Major Markhams medals

His medals were sold by the Auctioneers Bonhams in November 2014 for £360 incl premium.

He was promoted to Major in 1907 and was serving with the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards.  At the time of the 1911 Census, Tony was stationed at Malplaquet Barracks, Marlborough Lines, Aldershot, Hampshire.

In August 1914, the 2nd Battalion were based at Windsor.  Eight days after the declaration of war, on August 12th 1914, Major Markham and the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards entrained at Windsor on two trains at 3:10am and 5:15am bound for Southampton.  On arrival at Southampton, the right half of the Battalion embarked on SS Olympia and the left half on SS Novia and sailed for Le Havre at 8pm and 7pm respectively.

The Battalion arrived at le Havre around noon on the 13th and disembarkation was completed by 2:30pm after which they marched in hot weather to rest camp, arriving at 4:30pm.

The 2nd Bn was with the BEF during the historic retreat from Mons.

On the 21st the Battalion was ordered to advance at 8.00am and to gain the Zonnebeke – Langemarck road, from which point it was to conform with converging attacks by the Irish Guards and the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, on the right and left flanks respectively.

The Battalion entrenched a strong position which they held throughout the 22nd and 23rd, under an exceedingly heavy fire (principally high explosive) from the enemy’s artillery. Considerable opposition was found and the whole of the battalion was absorbed into he firing line, but by 3pm, the line of the road had been gained.

The Battalion was ordered to fall back during the night to conform with the line held by the remainder of the Brigade.  This operation as successfully carried out under the cover of darkness and the Battalion entrenched a strong position which they held throughout he 22nd and 23rd under exceedingly heavy fire, principally high explosive from the enemy’s artillery.

Tony was Mentioned in Dispatches twice by Field Marshal Sir John French, 1st Earl of Ypres who commanded the British Army on the Western Front.

The casualties of the 2nd Battalion from the 1st Battle of Ypres were Major Markham (killed), 2nd Lieutenant R. L. C. Bewicke – Copley (wounded), 15 Other Ranks killed, 34 wounded, and 4 missing.

Major R. A. Markham (Second in Command) who fell mortally wounded and whose loss was much regretted; was struck by a spent bullet and died without recovering consciousness two days later in hospital at Boulogne.

On Friday October 30th 1914 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette published the following article under the heading. “MELTON’S ROLL OF HONOUR” – SIX LOCAL OFFICERS KILLED – MAJOR MARKHAM TO BE BURIED IN SYSONBY. A deep gloom has been cast over Melton Mowbray by the fact that four of its prominent foxhunting citizens, and other officers from Eaton and Kirby Bellars, have lost their lives whilst serving their country. A week ago we recorded with great pleasure and pride that Major R. A. Markham, of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, had been mentioned in Field Marshall Sir John French’s latest despatches for special gallantry in the field. It is now our painful duty to announce that he was fatally wounded at the beginning of the week.

On Monday evening a cable was received from Lady Sarah Wilson stating that he had died in her hospital at Boulogne without regaining consciousness, having been shot in the head.

Corporal Handley, who served in Major Markham’s Battalion of the Coldstream Guards up to the time he was wounded on the 15th September, speaks in the most glowing terms of many excellent qualities which the deceased possessed both as a soldier and a gentleman. To quote his words, “He was a gentleman to the officers and the rank and file. He was a soldier who was wonderfully liked by every man in the battalion, and the 2nd Coldstream Guards will mourn his loss for many years to come. Several times when we were without food he ran down the lines giving us a cheery word, and said he had tried his best to get some for us, but was sorry he had failed. He always did the best he possibly could for us, and never omitted to look after our comforts. In my opinion there was no better officer in the British Army, both for the way he looked after his men, and as a soldier.

Major Markham was our senior Major, and would have been Colonel after the war had he lived through it. He never knew what it was to be afraid, and whenever the Coldstream’s were called upon to do any desperate fighting he was always in the thick of it. When he got into the firing line he would take his place in the trench, borrow the rifle from the man who happened to be next to him, and do his share just the same as an ordinary Private. He has performed numerous personal acts of gallantry. On one occasion he was instrumental in saving the No.2 Company from total destruction. We were posted on the summit of a hill, with instructions to hold the position at all costs. Soon we came under an exceptionally heavy artillery fire which in a very short time would have wiped us all out. Major Markham suddenly dashed up to us in the face of the fiercest fighting, and led us back to a place of safety. We all retired in good order, and have only Major Markham to thank that any of us escaped alive. It was Major Markham who brought to the notice of the General a gallant deed performed by Corpl. Brown and Pte. Dobson who have been recommended for the V.C. He asked for volunteers to fetch in a wounded soldier, and these two went out in the face of a heavy fire.

Major Ronald Anthony ‘Tony’ Markham was wounded in action on 23rd October 1914 and died 2 days later on the 25th.  An early casualty of the Great War, during which the repatriation of the bodies of officers and soldiers was still possible, his body was repatriated back to the UK.

On Thursday 5th November 1914, the Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham news reported the following:

MELTON OFFICER’S FUNERAL. MAJOR MARKHAM INTERRED AT SYSONBY. The esteem and respect enjoyed by the late Major R. A. Markham and Coldstream Guards, who died earlier in the week at a hospital in Boulogne from the effects of wounds in the head sustained whilst fighting for his country’s honour, was demonstrated by the large number of persons who attended the funeral at Melton Mowbray on Saturday afternoon , the body having arrived just previously.

It was in a polished oak coffin, with brass furniture, covered with the Union Jack, and was conveyed straight to the Parish Church. The chief mourners were Mr. Archibald Smith (brother-in-law), Mr. Guy Markham, Mr. Frederick Markham, Mr. Richard Pearson, Mr. Davidson, Corporal Handley, and Coldstream Guards (who has returned home from hospital after being wounded in France), and Mr. H. Wood.

Those present included many of the deceased officer’s hunting comrades, amongst those noticed in the church being the Countess of Kesteven, the Countess of March, Sir G. S. Hanson, Captain Sir P. T .Fowke, Colonel Bouverie, Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Muir, Mr. A. V. Pryor, Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Strawbridge, the Hon. Gerald Walsh, Captain and Mrs. F. Forester, Mr. C. J. Phillips, Colonel C. E. Fate, M.P.. Mr. F. B. Mildmay, M.P., Mrs. Cecil Chaplin, Miss Chaplin, Miss C. T Muir, the Misses Brocklehurst, Mr. Bernard Wilson, Mr. J. Montagu, Mr. Hare, Major T. B. Atkinson, Mrs. R. Blakeney, Captain H. Allfrey, Captain H. T. Barclay. Captain R. B. Sheriffe, Lieutenant Stewart Muir, Lieutenant Reynolds, the Rev. F. W. Knox (representing the Duke of Rutland), the Rev. R. C. Dashwood, the Rev. P. F. Gorst, Mr. E W. J. Oakley, J.P., Dr. H. C. Roberta, Dr. M. Dixon. Dr. Furness, Mr. G. W. Brewitt, MT. J. Gill, J.P., Mr. E sleeves. Mr A. H. Marsh, Mr. S. Fletcher, Dr. G. T. Wiliam, Mr. S. H. Garner, Mr. J. Atteriburrow, Mr. W. F. Hill, CC., Mr. F. Wright, Mr. G. Dickinson, and many others.

The whole of the men who have enlisted in the Reserve A Squadron of the Leicestershire Regiment were present under Major Wardsworth Ritchie, 116 were also the Reserve C Company 5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment under Corporal Harker. and a detachment of non-commissioned officers and men from the Melton Army Remount Depot. under Captain Saunders, formed a guard of honour in the churchyard.

The Rev. Caron Blakeney read the service, the Rev. Canon Markham taking the lesson. Suitable voluntaries were played on the organ by Mr. M. Sargent, Mus. Bac and the choir rendered the hymns, “My God, my Father, while I stray” and “Peace, perfect peace.” At the conclusion of the service the mournful procession wended its way to the hamlet church Cemetery at Sysonby, where the interment took place, the Rev. Canon Blakeney officiating at the graveside.’ A very large number of handsome wreaths were sent.

Headstone of Major Tony Markham

He was a member of the Guards’ Nulli Secundus, and the Turf Clubs; also of the M.C.C. and I Zingari. He was fond of cricket and shooting, and was a very keen and hard rider to hounds. He grew up in Melton Mowbray, from which place he had hunted all his life, and is buried in Sysonby Churchyard.

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.