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One road at war: Arthurdon Road, SE4

The Great War had a global impact, but it was experienced my millions of individuals, families and communities across the world. By focussing on one street in South London, we can see something of the variety of war experiences.

In 1918, all men aged 21 or over and servicemen aged 19 or over were eligible to vote. The register for that year therefore lists (or should list) every man on military service in July 1918, when the register was compiled. Those who were absent on military service were marked with a lower-case ‘a’ next to their name and NM in the ‘qualification’ column (as opposed to HO for home owner and R for resident). Unfortunately, the more restrictive franchise for women means that very few female service personnel are listed.

Some boroughs published separate registers listing the military details of those men on war service. Lewisham was one of these boroughs and I have picked Arthurdon Road in Ladywell. The road is opposite the Ladywell entrance to Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, part of a series of roads with odd names: Phoebeth, Francemary, Maybuth. They were built around the turn of the century (the streets south of Ladywell road are not on the famous and fascinating Booth Poverty maps), so the people living there in the 1910s must have been among the first to occupy Arthurdon Road.

1930s map of Ladywell showing Arthurdon Road - from ideal-homes.org.uk

1930s map of Ladywell showing Arthurdon Road – from ideal-homes.org.uk

There were 148 voters for parliamentary elections registered in Arthurdon Road in 1918 (the local franchise was different, but the general election register is the key one for our purposes). Thirty one men were listed as absent on war service, or 21 %. These were men away on military service aged 19 or older (civilian voters were men over 21, and women over 30 with a property qualification – there were some women on the absent registers but not many, and none on Arthurdon Road).

These servicemen of Arthurdon Road were 31 of the 17,589 absent in Lewisham borough, which was smaller then than today with 81,220 voters, meaning that 31.6% were absent on military service. Across London 433,800 were registered absent of 1.96 million voters (male and female), or 22.1%.

Arthurdon Road today(from googlestreetview)

Arthurdon Road today(from googlestreetview)

Going along house by house, these are the men who were listed as absent voters in 1918:

Odds

1 – At the top of the street were the Youngs brothers, both of them confirmed war heroes:

  • Harold William Youngs was born in 1889 and married Violet Lillian Bellsham in 1911; their daughter Betty was born in 1913. In January 1917, he joined the Royal Flying Corps and in April he went out to France. In June 1918, he is noted as moving from 16th Balloon Company to 24 Squadron, but he appears later to have returned to ballooning. Sadly, he then died in March 1919 in France, serving with 14th Balloon Section; his death was officially attributed to his own negligence. This did not, however, stop the authorities from awarding him the Military Medal in July 1919. The medal was awarded for bravery in action, but sadly no citation explaining what he had done was published.
  • Arthur Leslie Youngs was two years younger than his brother. He joined up first, though, joining the Royal Army Medical Corps on 1 September 1914, leaving his job as a schoolmaster in Tottenham. He went to the Western Front in May 1915 with the 4th London Field Ambulance and remained there for nearly three years. In August 1916, he was awarded the Military Medal (three years ahead of his ill-fated older brother). He did not get through unscathed, however. On 8 April 1918, he was wounded in the right leg. His medical report states “Bricks from a house fell on him and bruised his right side. Was sea sick coming across [back to the UK] and brought up some blood. States he got some gas several days previously. Piece of metal taken from knee in France”. An x-ray showed there was still shrapnel in his leg. He was eventually discharged in March 1919.

3 – Their neighbour George Douglas Sylvester was a tea buyer born in Brighton in 1884, who lived with his mother and stepfather (in 1911 he was in nearby Tresillian Road). He joined the Royal Naval Air Service in September 1917 and later served in the newly-formed Royal Air Force. He served in Italy from November 1917 with 66 and 67 Wings. He was discharged in 1920.

9 – Harry Hayden Ellis was born in Stepney in 1878 and married Emma Frances Thornbury in 1903. In the 1911 census, he is listed as a journalist. During the war, he served in the 6th Battalion of the London Regiment as a rifleman. He died in 1951.

17 – Henry Emerson Sanderson, a bank clerk who had married in 1909, served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He survived the war, but died in 1931.

23 was the home of the Squires brothers, whom we have met before. Alfred Webb Squires was a clerk working for Nestlé before the war and joined Queen Victoria’s Rifles (1/9 Battalion, London Regiment) in August 1914, he went to France in November that year and served there until he was wounded at Gommecourt, where he was a stretcher-bearer during in the fighting on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He was awarded the Military Medal, possibly for his actions that day. He spent the rest of the war in the UK and got married in 1918. His brother Sidney Charles Squires was already in the Royal Navy in 1914 and served as a sick-bay attendant through the war, on a variety of ships – including one that was involved in a minor way in the Battle of Jutland. Both Squires brothers survived the war.

25 – Their neighbour was Frederick John Bryan Lucas, born in 1874. He does not appear to have married and the other people at number 25 were Wilfred and Katie Kent, so perhaps he was a boarder or relative of theirs. He was commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment in 1917 but was seconded to the East Yorkshire Regiment. He is listed in the electoral register as a Lieutenant in their 2/4th Battalion, which was then based in Bermuda.

27 – At the next house lived Frank Moorhouse, who lived there with his wife Julia and two children and was working as a traveller (i.e. travelling salesman) when he attested in the Derby Scheme in December 1915 aged 32. He attested the day after his younger child Geoffrey was born. In June 1916, he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery, before transferring to the Military Foot Police, with whom he served in France from May/June 1917 and became a Lance Corporal. He served on the Western Front from May 1917 until he was discharged from the army in September 1919.

Communication sent to Moorhouse in Arthurdon Road in late 1919

Communication sent to Moorhouse in Arthurdon Road in late 1919

35 – Charles Bray served in the RAF, having joined the RFC in Jan 1916 when he was a student aged 18. He served as a wireless operator and was in France from May 1917 to March 1919, when he was demobilised.

49 – Frederick George Hunt was another RAF man. He was born in 1880 in Rotherhithe and worked as a clerk before joining the Royal Naval Air Service in April 1916. He doesn’t seem to have served abroad. In the electoral register, he is described as serving in Group 5, No 1 Area, RAF.

55 – Completing the odd side of the road is Reginald Thomas Wilding, who was born in Dulwich in 1898 and lived in New Cross in 1911. During the war, he served in the Ammunition Column for 57th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He served in France from 4 October 1915. He survived the war and died in 1969.

 

Evens

12 – On the opposite side of the road William Francis Halfpenny is the first entry at number 12. He was born in 1883 in Walworth and worked as a carpenter and joiner before he joined the Royal Navy in September 1916. He served on a number of ships, including HMS Greenwich. In September 1917, he distinguished himself by his behaviour when HMS Contest was sunk (sadly, the details of his behaviour are not recorded). He was demobilised in early 1919. He died in Lewisham in 1954.

Contest

HMS Contest, torpedoed by German submarine U-106, 18 September 1917 ©IWM (Q 38536)

14 – The Halfpennys neighbours included George Sidney Bird and his parents George William and Sophia Emma Bird. George junior was born in a clerk, in 1911 he worked for the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, but when he joined up in November 1915, he was working for St John’s School, Wellington Street, Woolwich – and the school promised to top up his army pay to the level of his civilian pay. Bird joined the Queen’s Westminster Rifles (16th Londons) on 10 November 1915; he was sent to the Western Front in June 1916 and joined the unit a week into the Battle of the Somme. A year later, Bird was wounded in the thigh and was away from the unit until early October. Soon after that, he was allowed home for ten days to get married to a Sydenham woman named Lilian on October 24th. He was in action again at the start of the German Spring Offensive in 1918 where he was badly gassed on 22 March, as a result of which he was sent back to England at the start of April and remained in the UK for the rest of the war. He was sent out to France again on 20 November but returned to be demobilised in January 1919.

16 – The next household included two servicemen, the youngest of the seven children of Mary Rebecca Gooding and her late husband Charles: Horace Rason Gooding was born in 1889 and was a gas fitter; he served in the Army Service Corps – the register lists his unit as 3rd DMT (District Mounted Troops) Company. Thomas Edgar Gooding managed to serve in both the army and the navy. He was an 18 year old clerk at the Home and Colonial Stores when he signed up for the 21st London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles) in 1909. He remained in this territorial unit through to its mobilisation in 1914. In March 1915, he went to France with them and served out the rest of his contractual period in the battalion before being sent home in January 1916 and leaving the army the February. A year later, he joined the Royal Navy and served out the rest of the war on various ships including NHS Devonshire.

18 – There were three voters registered at number 18. Two were a couple Richard John Walsh and Elizabeth Martha Walsh, who had married in 1902 and had at least three children (three are listed on their census return for 1911). Richard was from Bermondsey and worked as a jewellery buyer for a general store in 1911; he served in the Royal Field Artillery as a gunner during the war. The third voter was Frank Ernest Lancaster, who was serving in the Royal Marines Light Infantry, having joined up in 1901. He was born in 1879 in Walthamstow and worked as a slater for Walthamstow Council, taking after his father who had the same job for London Country Council (Walthamstow was then in Essex). Quite why he ended up being being registered at the Walshes’ house – did he know them? Had to lived there at some point earlier in the war? I simply don’t know.

20 – William Albert B. Thornbury was another Arthurdon Road man serving in the London regiment. He was born in Forest Hill in 1898; in 1911 he was a schoolboy living in Honor Oak Park. During the war he joined the London Regiment – I don’t know when, but he was serving before 1917 and in 1918 was in the 6th Londons and ended up as a Corporal. He married Dora Brightwell in Sussex in 1926 and they had at least one child (a son, Hugh was born in 1931), but William died in 1936.

26 – Edward Richard Pettitt was a shipping clerk and enlisted in the London Regiment on 17 April 1917, having already registered with them before his 18th birthday. He later served in the Royal Engineers as a switchboard operator and was discharged in 1919, having served only in the UK.

28 – Herbert Thomas Barnes was born in November 1879 and worked as a “handicraft instructor” for London County Council. He lived at number 28 with his wife Ellen. He joined the Royal Naval Air Service on 2 June 1916 and was absorbed with it in into the RAF in 1918, with whom he served until his demobilisation in February 1919.

32 – Charles Edward Calnan was a Sergeant in the Royal Field Artillery, but I have not been able to find out any more information about his military service. There was a Charles Edward Calnan living in Rotherhithe in 1911, a shorthand typist born in the area in 1890, who died in 1977. Perhaps that was this Arthurdon Road man.

36 – Albert George Maxted (or Manstead) was a theatre manager in 1911. His war service is neatly summed up in the National Roll of the Great War: “He joined in February 1917, and in the following year went to France, where he was engaged with the Cinema Section of the RASC, entertaining the troops in the forward areas.” He ended up as a Sergeant and was discharged in February 1920. He lived another 50 years and died in September 1970.

38 – Lawrence Sydney Pudney was born near Sittingborne in Kent, but lived in South East London before the war. He was married to Marian Bowes in 1912 and was a teacher employed by London County Council when he enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1916. He served in France for 9 months and left the army in 1919. He lived until 1978.

40 – Bookbinder’s overseer Richard Nathaniel Lamb and his wife Lilian were registered at number 40, with Richard absent in the RAF. Initially, though, he was an orderly working with the British Red Cross, having previously been a territorial member of the RAMC. He went to France in May 1915 and rose to the rank of sergeant-major, working at the Anglo-American Hospital at Wimereux. Then in July 1917 he applied for a commission in the Royal Flying Corps. He became an officer in November that year and served through to 1919 as a Lieutenant in the new Royal Air Force, but doesn’t appear to have gone out to the front with them.

R.N.Lamb's service record, showing the name his house in Arthurdon Road went by in 1918: "Inverkeithing"

R.N.Lamb’s service record, showing the name his house in Arthurdon Road went by in 1918: “Inverkeithing”

44 – Another RAF man lived a few doors down: John Sinclair Jenkins, a civil servant from Peckham who had joined the RNAS as a carpenter in November 1915 aged 29, served in France from June 1916 and by 1918 was a Corporal, serving with number 217 Squadron RAF.

48 – Frederick Kitchenmaster served as a Sergeant in the 4th (Ross Highland) Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. He was killed in action on 21 March 1918, the first day of the last great German Offensive on the Western Front. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, meaning that he has no known grave; given that this was months before the register was compiled, one must assume that his family did not know of his fate in the summer of 1918 – months after his death.

4th Seaforth

A gas sentry of the 4th (Ross Highland) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, Frederick Kitchenmaster’s unit, at Wancourt, 23 October 1917. ©IWM (Q 6132)

52 – Harry George Kennedy appears to have served twice. Originally a private in the 20th London Regiment (Blackheath and Woolwich Battalion), having enlisted on 3 September 1915 he served on the Western Front for exactly six months in 1915. He then suffered from elipeptic fits, which had happened before the war. He was discharged in December 1915, but seems to have rejoined and served in the Labour Corps. On the electoral register he is listed as serving in the Officers’ Mess, 16th Corps HQ.

54 – Victor Robert Stotesbury  was born in Greenwich in 1888 and grew up in Deptford; before the war he was a house decorator. He served as a gunner in 189th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery and survived the war. He lived until 1979.

60 – Percy Edward George Farrow is listed as a corporal in a Royal Engineers Anti-Aircraft unit (service no 563779), but I have not been able to find any more information about his military career. He appears to have been a library assistant, who was born in Chelsea in 1880 and died in 1968.

68 – Walter Herbert Victor Badger was born in 1883 and in 1911 lived in Ladywell, on Wearside Road, working as a gas company’s representative traveller. In 1916, giving his occupation as “outdoor inspector” he joined the RNAS, later becoming an RAF aircraftman, serving in Kingsnorth, Kent (the airfield was where the power station is now), as a fitter.

 

As with any attempt to list service personnel from a particular place, the list is imperfect. For one thing, the names were provided by the head of the household, potentially meaning that men who had moved away before the war were listed because they had no other address even if they had left home already. For example, both Youngs brothers gave addresses on Whitehorse Lane, South Norwood in their files at the end of the war.

In addition, those men who were reported missing but who had died or whose deaths had not yet been reported would have been listed (like Sgt Kitchenmaster). On the other hand, men who had already been discharged or died were not listed as absent voters, so it is far from a full list.

The service dates of those whose information I have been able to uncover may suggest that there were some others who joined up earlier but died or were discharged. Three were already serving before the war (one of them as a part-time Territorial soldier), two joined up in 1914, three in 1915, seven in 1916 and five in 1917. Overall there was a broadly-even split in recruiting between those who joined the Army between August 1914 and December 1914 (as volunteers) and those who were called up in 1916-1918, having attested under the Derby Scheme or been conscripted. In this record of Arthurdon Road, those joining up in 1916-17 far outnumber those from 1914-15. This suggests either that the street was quite unusual in its pattern of enlistment, or that earlier recruits had been killed or discharged – or possibly both. Unfortunately, it is hard to identify which young men living in Arthurdon Road had died or been discharged before the summer of 1918.

One of the war dead associated with Arthurdon Road was Sydney William Batchelor – the only entry on the CWGC database with the street listed in his details. He enlisted in Chelsea and served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He died of wounds in 1918 while serving with the 1st/3rd (North Midland) Field Ambulance, and was buried in a cemetery at Etaples. His parents are listed by CWGC as living at 48 Arthurdon Road, possibly meaning that between the summer of 1918 and the return of the Commission’s information form, Nellie Kitchenmaster had moved out and Mr and Mrs Batchelor had moved in.

It is not a complete list, but hopefully this blog post gives some sense of the range of things that Londoners did during the war. And this is only among the military roles that men played, and it doesn’t include the service or work undertaken by women.

Nonetheless we can see that, at the point in time that their service was registered in 1918:

  • Eight served in the RAF and/or its predecessor units (RFC and RNAS);
  • Five served in the Royal Navy or Royal Marines (excluding RNAS);
  • Four served in the London Regiment;
  • Four served in the Royal Artillery (RFA and RGA);
  • Three served in the Royal Engineers;
  • Two served in the Army Service Corps;And the other others served in other infantry units, the Military Police and the Labour Corps.

Arthurdon Road was probably no different to other roads in the area, or many other areas of the country. There was no dominant industry that kept men out of the forces – or pushed them into it through unemployment. Men from Arthurdon Road served around the world – but primarily on the Western Front or at sea. Among them were heroes, decorated for their bravery. I hope that by highlighting some of their stories, I have shown some of the variety of experiences Londoners had in the armed forces during the Great War.

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Posted by on 10 August 2016 in Ordinary Londoners, Places

 

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William Wedgwood Benn, MP and war hero

There has been talk recently about the new Viscount Stansgate seeking to enter the House of Lords. His father, Tony Benn, famously resigned his peerage in the 1960s after the first Viscount Stansgate died. William Wedgwood Benn, the first Viscount Stansgate was more than just a politician – he was a bona vide hero of the Great War.

William Wedgwood Benn was born in Hackney in 1877, the son of publisher and politician Sir John Williams Benn and Elizabeth (nee Pickstone), who was distantly related to the Wedgwood pottery family. Benn was elected as Liberal MP for St George’s (made up of Wapping and St George’s in the East), for which his father had been MP in 1892-95 (Sir John was MP for Devonport in Plymouth 1904-10); the younger Benn became a party whip in the House of Commons from 1910.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes his extraordinary war experiences after leaving behind the more conventional charity-organising work that an MP aged nearly 30 would be expected to undertake in wartime:

“In 1912 he successfully organized relief of suffering during the dock strike and two years later, when war broke out, he became chairman of the organizing committee of the National Relief Fund.

In October, when over £2 million had already been raised, Benn answered an inner call and resigned this post to apply for active service. Despite his short stature, he secured a commission in the Middlesex yeomanry. He took part in the fierce fighting on the heights above Suvla Bay in August 1915, during the Gallipoli campaign, and later became an observer with the Royal Naval Air Service; he participated in the pinpoint bombing of the Baghdad railway. Among his other exploits was to be rescued from a sinking aeroplane in the Mediterranean, and to be aboard an improvised aircraft-carrier sunk by shore batteries at Castelorizo. He also commanded a party of French sailors in guerrilla activities against the Turks and served in authorized privateering in the Red Sea, before returning to Britain to qualify as a pilot.”

William Wedgwood Benn as a new pilot, 1917 (from his Royal Aero Club certificate)

William Wedgwood Benn as a new pilot, 1917 (from his Royal Aero Club certificate)

When David Lloyd George replaced H.H. Asquith as Prime Minister in late 1916, Benn was offered the job of Chief Whip (a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in Government), but he turned it down – apparently because he did not trust David Lloyd George. Although he was 40 years old – much older than most wartime trainee pilots, who were generally in their late teens or early twenties – Benn went through his training and became an operational pilot. Much of his work still as an observer.

He then went out to Italy, where he earned a string of medals for bravery and good service. In 1917, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Working with the Italian army, he and another British pilot organised and carried out the first parachute drop of a secret service agent over enemy lines. The story is told in Robert Kershaw’s book Sky Men:

“In mid-1918 an old Savoia-Pomlio SP4 biplane piloted by two British fliers, Lieutenant Colonel W Barker and Captain William Wedgwood Benn, flew over the Piave River in darkness. Fixed searchlight beams guided them towards the approaching Austrian lines. Nervously sitting in the back with a brave face was Italian agent Allessandro Tandura, attached to a black-canopy Guardian Angel parachute fixed to an iron frame beneath the undercarriage. To drop accurately on targets in total darkness, Wedgwood Benn explained: ‘We arranged that the agent should sit in a cockpit on a trap-door hinged at the sides and opening in the middle. This floor was held in place by bolts controlled by a rope connected with the observer’s seat. The result was that it was the observer who decided when the bolt was to be drawn and the agent, waiting presumably with some qualms, at the right moment found himself suddenly with nothing under him and thus launched into the future.’

“Several attempts with dummies had taken place and the uneasy Tandura was instructed to fold his arms on nearing the objective. His predicament was closely akin to the hangman’s drop. Wedgwood Benn dryly added: ‘with little required of the agent other than exceptional fortitude, it was not thought necessary to train him in the art of parachuting. Two hand-dropped bombs were lobbed out to aid deception. Barker, piloting the aircraft, gave the signal and slowed to stalling speed, while Wedgewood Benn jerked the trap-door handle: ‘I pull, and wait. No jerk, no apparent result. The bolts have stuck” I pull again. The wire slacks with a rush, the machine shivers and resumes its course. For good or ill, Tandura is gone.’

“Tandura survived the experience and successfully completed his mission.”

In September 1918, Benn was awarded the new gallantry medal for bravery in the air, the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation reads:

“A gallant observer of exceptional ability. After setting out on a bombing raid, the Scout machines assigned to act as an escort became separated, and it then became necessary for the bombing planes to proceed on their task without support. Captain Benn’s machine took the lead, followed by three other bombers, and succeeded in dropping his bombs (direct hits) on an enemy aerodrome. On the return journey the bombing machines were attacked by several enemy scouts, which were eventually driven away. Recently, this officer organised and carried out a special flight by night over the enemy’s lines, under most difficult circumstances, with conspicuous success. He has at all times set a splendid example of courage”

In November 1918, he was awarded the Italian Bronze Medal for Military Valour. As well as this and his British awards, he also earned the Italian War Cross and the French Croix de Guerre and was made a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. By the Armistice, Benn had served in all three of Britain’s armed forces: the Middlesex Yeomanry in the army, the Royal Naval Air Service, and the newly-formed Royal Air Force.

Capt Wedgewood Benn DSO DFC

Capt Wedgewood Benn DSO DFC

In December 1918, there was another election (delayed by the war since 1915 and called quickly by Lloyd George after the Armistice). Benn, still not keen on Lloyd George, stood as a non-Coalition Liberal in Leith, Scotland, after the boundary reforms of 1918 had abolished his St George’s seat. He remained a Liberal MP until 1927 when he left the party; as a Labour MP he was Secretary of State for India in 1929-31. Although out of Parliament from 1931, he won a by-election in 1937. He rejoined the RAF in 1940 and was made an Air Commodore, he was also made a Viscount in 1942 to increase the number of Labour peers in the (predominantly Conservative) House of Lords. As Viscount Stansgate he worked on planning the reconstruction of Italy and after the 1945 he became Secretary of State for Air before being reshuffled out of that post the next year.

William Wedgwood Been died in 1960. His two eldest sons had served as pilots in the Second World War: Michael, the eldest and therefore the heir to the peerage, earned the DFC but died of wounds in 1944. Tony therefore became the heir and helped to change the constitution by refusing to take his seat in the House of Lords as the Second Viscount Stansgate after his father’s death in 1960. Tony Benn had been MP for Bristol South East for ten years and the voters there re-elected him despite the fact that he was disqualified from sitting in the Commons. The man who came second (Conservative Malcolm St Clair) took the seat and promised to give it up if Benn was able to disclaim his peerage; Benn did so after the Peerage Act 1963 allowed him to, and St Clair gave up his seat to Benn by resigning to prompt a by-election.

Now that Tony Benn has died, his eldest son (Stephen) is the Third Viscount Stansgate but is not currently a member of the House of Lords. Ninety-two hereditary peers are entitled to sit in the House, alongside the more numerous Life Peers; hereditary peers are replaced through by-elections when they die, so Stansgate may have a wait on his hands to replace one of the two Labour hereditaries currently in the House.

William Wedgwood Benn had an extraordinary Great War. He could have stayed at home and helped to steer vital legislation through the House of Commons as a whip and later as Chief Whip, but instead he served in all three armed forces and earned a staggering array of medals for his bravery and good work.

 

Sources:

Oxford DNB

Biography on Spartacus

Wikipedia

 
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Posted by on 14 July 2014 in Award-winners, Famous People

 

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Harry Fusao O’Hara: Japanese Fighter Pilot, 1918

If British people think of Japanese fighter pilots, they probably think of the Second World War and the Zero long-range fighter aircraft, or even kamikaze. They certainly do not think of a young man in a Royal Air Force biplane. But Harry Fusao O’Hara was a Japanese fighter pilot, flying with the RAF in 1918.

Harry Fusao O’Hara was born in Tokyo in 1891. As a treaty partner of the UK, Japan joined the Allies early in the war; O’Hara, though, seems to have decided to fight for the British rather than his homeland. First, he served in the Indian Army in the 34th Sikh Pioneers, the pioneer unit of the 3rd (Lahore) Division, which served on the Western Front in 1914 and moved to Mesopotamia in August 1915. It is not clear whether O’Hara served at the front with the SIkhs. Instead of going to Mesopotamia, though, O’Hara joined the Middlesex Regiment in December 1915 and did then go out to France, arriving on Christmas Eve.

In August 1916, O’Hara was wounded in action. Although the records do not detail his actions, he was awarded the Military Medal in January 1917 and, when inspected by a Royal Flying Corps doctor, he was found to have shrapnel scars on his left arm, chest, left shoulder, right arm and right thigh. He had clearly – as the phrase goes – been through the wars.

Harry Fusao O'Hara's flying certificate photo, 1917

Harry Fusao O’Hara’s flying certificate photo, 1917

In March 1917, O’Hara transferred to the RFC as a 2nd-class air mechanic (the basic rank for RFC men – equivalent to his rank of private in the Middlesex Regiment).  He was soon undergoing flying training, though, and living in London at 25 Fitzroy Square, a boarding-house run by Jukicki Ikuine, another Japanese man living in London. In 1911 Ikuine and his English wife had run a boarding-house entirely populated by Japanese men (servants, cooks and waiters), so perhaps his properties were a standard place for Japanese men to board.

O’Hara qualified as a pilot on 21 July 1917 at the London and Provincial flying school in Edgeware, and was immediately promoted to Sergeant by the RFC.  It is not clear where he was stationed between then and March 1918, when he was posted from France to the No 1 School of Military Aeronautics (in Reading), but at some point he became engaged to Norfolk-born Muriel M McDonald. They married in Lewisham in September 1917.

No 1 Squadron with their SE5As and dog

In 1918, Sgt O’Hara went out to the front again to join No 1 Squadron RFC/RAF. Quite what his commanders and comrades made of this Japanese man with an Irish name we will never know.  Given his proven bravery and obvious technical capability shown by gaining his flying certificate, it seems likely that his race held O’Hara back from becoming an officer. Nonetheless, the RFC and RAF accepted sergeant-pilots and O’Hara was able – again – to fight for Britain in France and Flanders.

On 1 June 1918, O’Hara was again wounded and sent to hospital. This time he suffered a gun-shot wound in his jaw.  Two weeks later (after treatment in Boulogne) he was back in England and sent to Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup, which specialised in facial reconstructive surgery. He was granted a month’s furlough in both September 1918 and April 1919, effectively leaving the RAF during the latter before being discharged officially a year later. He was awarded a war pension of 19s 3d per week from November 1919.

Sadly, the hospital records on O’Hara are incomplete, only covering a return visit to Sidcup in 1923-24 to have a new set of dentures fitted – presumably to replace those made after his injury in 1918.  The photos of his face don’t show the severe wounding experienced by other Sidcup patients (like HR Lumley), so it looks like he was one of the lucky ones among facial wounding victims.

Harry and Muriel O’Hara lived on in London after the war, first of all at 39 Thornford Road, near Lewisham Park, and later at 32 Pemberton Gardens, Islington.  In the early 1920s, Harry worked teaching Japanese at SOAS, but otherwise little record of their life remains. The National Army Museum’s collection includes a cigarette box given by O’Hara to a former officer of the 34th Sikh Pioneers in 1932 “in memory of World War One”, so he obviously maintained some links with his wartime comrades.

When war came again, Harry O’Hara became an enemy alien after Britain declared war on Japan in December 1941; so too did Muriel under the laws of the day, whereby a woman automatically held her husband’s nationality.  She reclaimed her British nationality in 1944, but he apparently remained Japanese.  There is no record of his having been interned, so hopefully this decorated and repeatedly-wounded war hero of the Great War was allowed to live on in peace (from the authorities at least) in his house in Islington.  Harry Fusao O’Hara died in Hampstead in 1951.

A nation’s wartime armed forces really take all sorts.  The RFC and RAF included men from across the Britain’s Empire, dominions and other allied and friendly nations.  Harry Fusao O’Hara may well be unique, though, as a Japanese fighter pilot on the Western Front.

___________________________

Archive sources:

National Archives: AIR 79/1/1 RAF service record of Harry Fasao O’Hara

The Papers of Harold D. Gilles at the Archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of England: Ref. ADDMSS622, Box 26, Sgt H O’Hara: ID 1541

 
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Posted by on 23 April 2013 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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Those moustachioed men in their flying machines

A slightly more frivolous post than normal, today – but it is for a good cause. We are now a week into Movember, meaning that many men (including yours truly) are growing moustaches to raise money for testicular and prostate cancer charities. You can sponsor my moustache here.

In honour of Movember, here are some moustachioed Londoners of the Great War. They had moustaches of different shapes and sizes; all of them were pilots in the Royal Flying Corps.

2nd Lt John Lovell Dashwood

John Lovell Dashwood was born in London in 1891 and lived in Maidenhead, working as an English lecturer. He gained a commission in the Royal Flying Corps in late 1915 and qualified as a pilot in February 1916. Bizarrely, he then left the RFC and moved to the Canadian Infantry, joining the 58th battalion in July 1916. He was killed in actionat Vimy Ridge in April 1917 and was posthumously awarded the Military Cross in June 1917 for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a raiding party. He personally made prisoners two groups of the enemy and carried in several wounded men under heavy fire. He displayed great gallantry throughout.” (Oddly there is an academic article about Dashwood, but it is behind a paywall so I don’t know what exactly it says.)

Sgt Alfred Robert May

Alfred Robert May was born in Woolwich in 1891 and joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1912. He was serving as a serjeant in No 3 squadron when he qualified as a pilot on 4 August 1914. I don’t know what he did during the war, but he was still around in 1914, when he was promoted from Warrant Officer to temporary Flying Officer in the RAF.

Lt. Victor Osborne Rees

Victor Osborne Rees was a 25-year-old living in Balham in 1912 when he was commissioned as an officer in the 23rd Battlaion of the London Regiment (a territorial regiment). He qualified as a pilot in October 1915. By 1921, he was a Squadron Leader and was awarded the OBE, and he retired as a Group Captain in 1935.

2nd Lt. Gerard Octavius Rooney

Gerard Octavius Rooney was born in 1889 in Clapham (the youngest child of Robert Rooney) and qualified as a pilot while he was an officer in the Royal Irish Fusiliers. In 1918, he was living in Wandsworth and he survived the war – indeed to lived until 1986.

Sgt-Major Frederick Henry Unwin

Frederick Henry Unwin was born in 1882 and, like May, was already in No 3 squadron RFC when he qualified as a pilot the day before the war began in August 1914. In 1919 he was a Major and was awarded the OBE and was later promoted to Wing Commander before retiring in 1932.

Richard Upton

Last but by no means least, Richard Upton also qualified as a pilot in August 1914. He was a master mariner at the time, but went on to join the RFC as a serjeant. He was serving with No 10 Squadron in May 1915 when he died of pneumonia. He is buried in Streatham Cemetery.

 
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Posted by on 8 November 2012 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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London’s air defences

The defence of London from aerial attack is in the news this week. A group of tenants in East London is protesting about stationing of anti-air missiles on their block of flats during the Olympics. Ninety-five years ago, London was encircled by air defences for the first time – guarding against a much more obvious aerial threat: the German Gotha bombers.

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Posted by on 10 July 2012 in Air Raid

 

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