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Arthur Newland, observer ace

After the Royal Air Force was formed in April 1918, four new medals were created: the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Flying Medal, for officers and medal respectively who distinguished themselves in action against the enemy, and the Air Force Cross and Medal for courage and dedication other than in the face of the enemy. One Londoner earned the DFM twice as an observer ace who shot down 22 German aircraft in 1918: Arthur Newland.

The Distinguished Flying Medal (the other side showed the King's head)

The Distinguished Flying Medal (the other side showed the King’s head)

Arthur Newland’s record as an observer-gunner is outstanding. After arriving in France on 19 March 1918, weeks before the formation of the RAF, he qualified as an observer on May 19th – the day that he got his second aerial victory!

Flying with the American Iaccaci brothers as his pilots in the Bristol Fighters of No 20 Squadron, Newland became an ‘ace’ by the end of May, having shot down more than five enemy aircraft. His six victory came on 31 May and his ninth on 30 June, all but one having been German fighter aircraft.

These early victories earned him the Distinguished Flying Medal, which was awarded to him in August. The citation (published on 21 September) read:

He is an excellent shot, and has done remarkably well as an observer, gaining the confidence of the pilots with whom he has served. He has personally assisted in shooting down five enemy aeroplanes.

Paul Iaccaci was awarded the DFC on the same day for destroying six enemy aircraft, of which he had personally shot down two, his observers (including Newland) the other four.

Bristol_F2B_D8096_flying_1

Bristol Fighter

August 1918 marked the beginning of the end of the war, at least in hindsight. The Allies launched the campaign in France and Flanders that brought the Armistice within a hundred days.

August was also a peak period for Arthur Newland the marksman observer, although flying with different pilots. From 14 to 22 August, he shot down six more enemy fighters, including three on the 21st alone (although two were shared victories with other crews).

Again, he was rewarded for this stunning display, the citation of his second DFM reading:

This non-commissioned officer sets a splendid example of courage, skill and determination to the other non-commissioned officers of his squadron. During the month of August he crashed six enemy machines.

According to The Aerodrome.com, Newland was one of only two airmen to earn a second DFM during the Great War (i.e. a bar to his original honour). In September, again flying with Paul Iaccaci he added a further seven victories to his tally – all of them Fokker DVII fighters.

In early October, though, Newlands began to suffer from ‘flying sickness’ and was sent to a hospital at Wimeraux on the coast, and then on to Hampstead to recover. He never returned to the front, although he stayed in the RAF until early 1920, when he was – naturally enough – assigned the trade of ‘aerial gunner’. He was demobilised in July 1920, still suffering from his flying sickness.

Contrary to what the otherwise excellent The Aerodrome website says (which is repeated on Wikipedia and even in a book on Bristol Fighter aces), Newland was not in his thirties when he fought his aerial battles. He was born in January 1899, the eldest son of Frederick and Sarah Newland of Enfield; he was a fresh-faced, dark-haired lad, standing 5’ 10” tall. Frederick Newland worked as a machine hand at the Royal Small Arms Factory – as did Arthur’s Enfield namesake Arthur Ernest Newland, with whom other websites seem to have conflated the real observer ace.

Arthur Newland may well have worked at the RSAF as well, but since he was only 12 at the time of the 1911 census, I do not know for sure. He was living at 32 Elmhurst Road with his parents when he joined up at the age of 18 on 16 March 1917, although they moved to 73 Turkey Street by the summer of 1918. After a year’s training, Newland arrived in France on 19 March 1918. After his discharge in 1920, he was awarded a £40 gratuity for his wartime awards, £20 for each.

As a civilian again, Newland returned to his parents’ home in Enfield, before marrying Olive Keene in 1929 and moving back to Elmhurst Road. Later in the thirties they moved to 21 Sedcote Road, where they lived into the 1960s. Arthur Newland DFM & bar died in 1973, in Enfield.

Observer Sergeant Arthur Newland flourished as an observer gunner in his half year on the Western Front. He was clearly an excellent marksman with the Lewis gun (or guns, it seems to have varied) used by an observer in the Bristol Fighter. Other-ranks observer gunners are not the airmen we picture when we imagine Great War flying aces, but there were a large number of them who became aces, especially in the latter stages of the war.

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The Aerodrome.com’s page on Newland, although inaccurate on his pre-military life, is an excellent source of information about his victories and awards for bravery – as it is more generally for the other Great War aces.

 
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Posted by on 3 April 2013 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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The Non-Combatant Corps: a tale of three objectors

The most famous stories about conscription in Great War Britain are those of Conscientious Objectors. As with any other group, their stories varied enormously, as the stories of three men who ended up in the Non-Combatant Corps: A.J. Munro, W. Cooper and A.J. Elsdon.

Non-Combatant Corps capbadge

Non-Combatant Corps capbadge

When compulsory military service was introduced in 1916, men were entitled to claim conscientious objection to military service. This was an option refused to conscripts in other countries (including France), but it was widely seen as an option taken by ‘shirkers’ and cowards who simply did not want to fight. After 18 months of war and ceaseless calls for more men, it was hard for many people (including many tribunal members) to believe that anyone could not want to fight for their country if they were fit and able.

The Military Service Act 1916 (as posted on the Great War Forum in full) contained section 2(3), which read:

“Any certificate of exemption may be absolute, conditional, or temporary, as the authority by whom it was granted think best suited to the case, and also in the case of an application on conscientious grounds, may take the form of an exemption from combatant service only, or may be conditional on the applicant being engaged in some work which in the opinion of the Tribunal dealing with the case is of national importance […]”

The phrasing of the section on conscientious objectors (COs), which bears the hallmarks of a late inclusion in the text, led many to misunderstand what was allowed. The Act was supposed to offer absolute, conditional or temporary exemptions to COs, with an additional option of non-combatant service. The phrasing, though, could easily (if perhaps willfully) be misread as suggesting that only non-combatant service was available to COs.

Many tribunals, unsure of how to judge the validity of philosophical objections to war, opted for the non-combat route as one that seemed suit everyone: they got rid of the CO, the CO was not forced to take part in combat, and the military got an extra soldier. However, it was not so simple: many objectors objected absolutely to military service and refused to take up even non-combatant service.

The units that many of these men were sent into were companies of the Non-Combatant Corps, part of the Labour Corps. The NCC was mocked my many soldiers, the press and others, gaining the nick-name ‘No-Courage Corps. One soldier sent in his idea for a regimental crest to the Daily Mirror:

(Daily Mirror 20/4/1916)

(Daily Mirror 20/4/1916)

Walthamstow clerk Arthur James Elsdon was called up in the summer of 1916 at the age of 21 and claimed a conscientious objection to military service. When he was enrolled in the army, he refused to sign his service papers. He was allocated No 4 Eastern Company on 15 June, and on the 23rd was tried to 112 days hard labour. It is not clear from his service papers what he had done wrong, but it is likely that he was refusing orders from superiors, as many absolutist COs did. In September, Elsdon was transferred to the army reserve.

Elsdon refused to sign his service papers.

Elsdon refused to sign his service papers.

In early 1917, the authorities decided to put Elsdon to work and he was ordered to work at Messrs Bibby’s, a large oil mill in Liverpool. On 31 March 1917, though, having not arrived in Liverpool he was recalled to the army; since No 4 company was in Ireland, he was ordered to report to No 10 company at Gravesend on 6 April. Eldson wrote to the War Office asking whether this was right, as his unit was No 4. He also told them that he was in correspondence with an MP about the Home Office employment schemes that were, by then, being used to occupy conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the armed forces.

Elsdon never arrived at Gravesend. A policeman called at his father’s house in Westbury Road, Walthamstow, where he heard that Arthur had called at the house on the 6th (presumably the day he wrote the letter) but disappeared – the house was kept under observation but no sign of the young man was forthcoming. Eventually, he was apprehended in March 1918 and sentenced to two years’ hard labour.

William Cooper, a coffin-maker from Barking, also ended up in jail. His route was slightly different, though. Although his faith as a member of the Plymouth Brethren meant that he was opposed to military service, his father made an appeal to the local tribunal on the basis of William being indispensable to their business. A tribunal hearing on 16 June 1916 accepted this reason and exempted him, although another in October made it conditional on joining the St John’s Ambulance, which Cooper promptly did.

On 21 December, it was announced that being an undertaker was no longer deemed work of national importance. In March, Cooper’s exemption was upheld, only to be cancelled in April. At a hearing on 24 April 1917, he told the tribunal of his conscientious objection but it was rejected as having been formed since the start of the war (which was not a valid ground for exemption) because it had not been part of his previous appeals. Through April and May he wrote to the War Office and to David Lloyd George about his case: that his father had made the previous appeal and ignored his conscientious objection.

Cooper’s appeals were not enough though and he reported to Westminster to join the Rifle Brigade. Despite reporting there, Cooper refused to obey orders and was sent to the guard room, where he found another CO, but this man was rude and objectionable so Cooper asked to be moved into another room, which he was. He ended up being sent to Wormwood Scrubs and later served in the NCC. (Cooper’s diary is available to read in the Liddle Collection in Leeds)

Different again was the story of Andrew John Munro, a schoolmaster from Enfield, who appeared before Croydon tribunal on 3 March 1916. Oddly, Munro had been previously served in the 20th London (the Blackheath and Woolwich battalion) – presumably either pre-war or in the second or third-line unit. He was exempted from combatant service and was called up on 23 March and joined the 1st Eastern Company NCC. A month later he was in France.

Munro served out the rest of the war doing labour work in the NCC in France. He spent most of the war serving in a detachment with the 19th (Western) Division on the Western Front, serving with them from November 1916 to May 1917 and again from October 1917 onwards. Unlike Cooper and Elsdon, Munro was apparently content with his role in the army – his disciplinary record is completely clean.

The Non-Combatant Corps was an attempt to give those who objected to taking human life a way to serve in the army. Many were allocated to it unthinkingly: those who objected to military service as a whole, either for religious or political reasons, simply could not countenance serving in even this unit. For some, though, it was an appropriate vehicle for them to serve their country when the law mandated that they should, without having to take direct part in the fighting. Other objectors took up work in the Royal Army Medical Corps in order to save lives rather than take them (just as many quakers had joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit early in the war).

Conscientious Objectors were a diverse group, including absolutists who fled or were arrested rather than serve and those who did labouring work for the Home Office well away from the military, as well as those who were content to serve in the military a non-combat role.

 

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