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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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Gibb Mapplebeck: early aviator and escaper

The war experiences of ‘Gibb’ Mapplebeck sound more like something from a Biggles-type adventure novel than a year in the life of a young man from Liverpool. By the end of August 1915, he was buried in Streatham churchyard, but he had already been injured in aerial combat, carried out the RFC’s first battlefield reconnaissance and escaped capture behind enemy lines.

Gilbert William Mapplebeck was born in Liverpool on 26 August 1892 and joined the Special Reserve of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment as an officer in 1912. That year applied to transfer to the newly-formed Royal Flying Corps, to which he was attached (officially remaining a Liverpool Regiment officer). In January 1913, he qualified as a pilot at Hendon, earning Royal Aero Club Certificate number 386.

G.W. Mapplebeck's Royal Aero Club Certificate photo

G.W. Mapplebeck’s Royal Aero Club Certificate photo 

A few months later, this young pilot – apparently a bit of a daredevil, prone to stunt flying – suffered his first flying injury. In June 1913, he was thrown from an aeroplane (presumably while landing or taking off) at Upavon in Wiltshire and fractured his skull. He recovered, though: by October was fit to return to duty and in December he was appointed as a Flying Officer.

In August 1914, he was mobilised, with the rest of the armed forces, for the war in Europe. His first months at war were certainly incident-filled.

On 19 August, Mapplebeck and Philip Joubert carried out the first aerial reconnaissance ever by RFC airmen. Michael O’Connor quotes Mapplebeck’s account of the flight in his book Airfields and Airmen – Cambrai:

At 8 o’clock on the morning of the 19th Aug, I and my machine were both ready. At 8.15 Joubert (who was going in the Bleriot) and I were sent for by General Henderson, who told us each our particular jobs. Joubert was to go straight to Brain l’Allend(sic) via Nivelles, I was to go to Gembloux near Namur. He was to be over friendly territory and look out for Belgians, and I was to look for advanced German cavalry. […]

Using large scale map, followed Bleriot.. I did not pick up my position on the map, so I depended on Bleriot’s pilot for correct route, intending to branch off on arriving at Nivelles. Missed Nivelles, arrived at a large town (I was at 3,000 feet & in clouds) but could not place it on map. (on my return I discovered this had been Brussels.) I flew to the other side of the town, turned round and steered S.S.E. I then took out the small scale map and picked up my position at OTTIGNIES and soon found GEMBLOUX. After being in cloud I made a wide circle round it, being in clouds part of the time, but only saw a small body of cavalry about a mile in length moving faster than a walk in a south easterly direction. At this time I was at 3,400 [feet] and was just turning a little further south when I was enveloped in clouds. I flew on for about 5 miles, and then descended about 300 feet out of the clouds and saw Namur. I then turned west and passed CHARLEROI, & altered my course a little south. I missed MAUBEUGE, flew on for about 15 miles after realizing that I had missed it and landed at WASSIGNY (near Le Cateau) at 11.30 am, and flew back, landing at MAUBERGE at 12.0”

If Mapplebeck’s journey sounds haphazard, so too was Joubert’s. He got lost near Mons, landed and was fed by a local functionary at Tournai, then ran out of fuel and landed near Courtrai. There the locals were less hospitable and he was unable to identify himself as an ally until a Belfast linen manufacturer came to his rescue and confirmed that he was English. Eventually, he too got back to Maubeuge and the two officers gave their reports to General Henderson, the commander of the RFC, who personally delivered them to General Headquarters. (Some pages from Mapplebeck’s account appear on the RAF Museum’s blog, here).

BE2a (Bleriot) aeroplane of the type flown by Joubert and Mapplebeck in August 1914 (note Union Flag on the tail rather than the tricolour used later)

BE2a (Bleriot) aeroplane of the type flown by Joubert in August 1914 (note Union Flag on the tail rather than the tricolour used later)

During the battle of Mons a few days later, Mapplebeck was again in action, flying over Belgium trying to keep track of where the British front line was. And on 25 August, he dropped a hand-grenade onto a German aircraft as it was landing – although he wasn’t able to tell whether he had done much damage (the machine overturned, but that may have because of the bad ground it was landing on)

A month later, Mapplebeck found himself in combat. On 22 September, he returned from combat with a German two-seater having been hit in the thighs, groin and stomach by gunfire while flying at 6,000 feet. His local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, reported that he still “managed to reach the British lines, being unconscious when he landed and his machine being filled with his blood”. Joshua Levine notes one aspect of his injury: “Unfortunately, he happened to be carrying loose change in his pocket and the force of the bullet drove a twenty-five cent piece into his groin, slicing away the tip of his penis”. His comrades found this wound rather entertaining; it’s probably safe to say that Mapplebeck did not.

Copies of telegrams sent to his mother in Mapplebeck’s army service record show that he was sent to a hospital in Braisne by 8 October and then on to the Astoria Hospital in Paris a few days later. By late November, his condition was said to be improving and on 11 December he was transferred to a Red Cross Convalescent Hospital for officers. After a stay in another such home, he was discharged on 2 February 1915. By this date, Mapplebeck had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (gazetted 18 February 1915); he had also been promoted to Lieutenant (back-dated to October) and was mentioned in despatches in October 1914.

Within weeks of leaving hospital, he was back in action again. On March 11th he took part in what was apparently in the first ever night-time aeroplane raid. Along with Captain Barton and Lieutenant Warrand (each in separate aircraft), he set out to bomb a German wireless station at Lille. Mapplebeck and Warrand were both shot down behind enemy lines. The Liverpool Echo reported that, after destroying his aeroplane, which the Germans soon found:

“Captain Mapplebeck lay for three days in a wood, living only on chocolate which he had carried, and then found shelter for a day in an empty house. Later, he made friends with some strangers and afterwards, steadily steered a course for Holland, it being impossible to get to our own lines in France. He loitered in Lille, only to tear down the proclamation which the German commandant had posted respecting himself and a comrade. He won through to Dutch territory and, still passing himself off as a French peasant, got to London on April 4, reporting himself to Farnborough on the same day.”

One particular ‘friend’ known to have helped Mapplebeck to escape was Camille Eugene Jacquet, a tradesman from Lille. Later that year, the German Governor of Lille posted a notice that Jacquet and three others were to be shot on 22 September “for having hidden the English aviator who came down at Wattignies on March 11th last; for having lodged him, and for having made his passage through France easy, so that he was able to rejoin the enemy’s lines; for having kept and helped members of the enemy’s armies, and who after their stay in Lille or suburbs, got them away into France.”

According to a website about a road named after Jacquet, a (or the) pilot that he and his daughter helped to escape in March 1915 flew over Lille a few months later and dropped an insulting message for the governor, which probably didn’t help matters for the captured escape committee! (At least that’s what google translate seems to say that the website says)

On 15 January 1916, General Joffre, the French commander-in-chief, issued an Order of the Day honouring Jacquet for his work in concealing French soldiers and helping them to escape. (Flight magazine, 1916)

Mapplebeck, however, did not make it to September 1915. In June, he was posted to No 2 Reserve Air Squadron and in August he was at Joyce Green, near Dartford, carrying out flight tests. On 24 August – just over a year after his first wartime escapades – Mapplebeck was flying a Morane aeroplane at Joyce Green – after taking off he climbed to 80 feet and then entered a sharp right-hand turn. The aeroplane stalled and spun ground into the ground. Mapplebeck was killed. Like Perry and Parfitt’s deaths in 1914, this crash was highlighted by Noel Pemberton-Billing in Parliament and investigated in 1916. Billing claimed that the pilot was killed in an aeroplane condemned by the French air force and due to some problem with the safety belt. The investigation concluded that the type of machine had indeed largely been taken out of use by the French. It would have been negligent to put an inexperienced pilot in such a machine, they said, but Mapplebeck was an ‘expert’ so it was not negligent; the crash was, they concluded, caused by ‘an unfortunate error of judgment on the pilot’s part’.

And so ended a colourful, early-war flying career. He may not have achieved the aerial victories and public plaudits of a James McCudden or Albert Ball, but Mapplebeck was one of the exciting characters who made up the early Royal Flying Corps.

Other sources:

 
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Posted by on 18 August 2015 in Award-winners

 

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ML Gardner and a tragic air crash

Maurice Leigh Gardner was killed in a tragic air crash just as he was about to set out on his career as an officer in the Royal Flying Corps.

Maurice Leigh Gardner's accident, reported in the Daily Mirror, 21 January 1915

Maurice Leigh Gardner’s accident, reported in the Daily Mirror, 21 January 1915

Maurice Leigh Gardner was born in 1886, the son of Frederick Leigh Gardner and his Cape Town-born wife Miriam Gardner. Living with his father (and a domestic servant) at 14 Marlborough Road, Gunnersbury in 1911, he is described in the census return as living on ‘private means’. Frederick Leigh Gardner was similarly described – he had been listed in the 1891 census as a ‘dealer in stocks and shares’, but early in the new century gave that up and became an occultist, bookseller and author.

In the summer of 1914, Maurice Leigh Gardner took up flying lessons at the Beatty School at Hendon (run by American aviator George W Beatty). After a few months’ training, he passed his flying test on a Wright biplane and earned his Royal Aero Club Certificate (No. 1002).  At the same time he must have applied to join the Royal Flying Corps because on 19 January 1915, the London Gazette carried a notice that, as of 11 January, he was a Second Lieutenant in the RFC Military Wing.

That same day, 19 January, disaster struck. Flying in a Maurice Farman biplane at Farnborough, Gardner had completed a number of manoeuvres and was approaching the aerodrome at around 4.30pm. Suddenly the aeroplane dived and ploughed into the ground, engulfed in flames.  RFC comrades were soon on the scene and extinguished the flames as quickly as possible, but Gardner was dead and his body charred by the time he was pulled from the wreck.

Accounts vary about exactly what happened. Initial reports were that the aeroplane had mysteriously caught fire in the air (this was reported in Flight magazine and the Daily Mirror). However, the inquest found that the fire occurred after impact, when the fuel tank crashed into the engine.

Why Gardner’s aeroplane plummeted so spectacularly and disastrously into the ground that day is something of a mystery, as far as I can tell. The official inquest was inconclusive. The Aeroplane magazine stated in 1915:

 “An eyewitness of the accident expresses the opinion that Mr.  Gardner must have fainted in the air and have fallen onto his controls, so causing a dive for die last 60 feet. It may be, however, that he merely misjudged his height, and had no room in which to pull the machine back, as in the fatal accident to Flight Sub-Lieut. Ffield, R.N., at Hendon recently. It was not made known whether he was strapped into his seat or not.”

Either way, like Henry Ralph Lumley a few years later, Gardner’s nascent flying career came to a horrible end just as it was beginning. He is now commemorated in Golders Green crematorium.

Sources and links:

 
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Posted by on 19 January 2015 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead

 

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London’s first casualties in France, August 1914

The British Expeditionary Force arrived in France in mid-August 1914. Part of the force was the first overseas wartime contingent of the Royal Flying Corps. Sadly, two of London’s first Great War casualties were among these airmen: E.W.C. Perry and H.E. Parfitt. Their deaths on 16 August was later part of a major controversy over the attitude of the RFC to its pilots’ safety.

The Royal Flying Corps was established as the aviation arm of the British Army in 1912 (the Royal Air Force only came into existence in 1918, combining the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service). When the BEF set out to France, the RFC actually set out ahead of them, beginning their journey and assembly on 13 August. The serviceable aircraft of 2, 3, 4 and 5 Squadrons set out form the south of England – also not without incident as Lieutenant R.R. Skene and Air Mechanic R.K Barlow were killed taking off near Dover.

E.W.C. Perry, experienced aviator and the first British officer to die in France in August 1914 (image from his Aero Club certificate)

E.W.C. Perry, experienced aviator and the first British officer to die in France in August 1914 (image from his Aero Club certificate) 

The aircraft that did make it to France gathered at Amiens (which was to play a significant part in Britain’s war in later years). One of the pilots was 23 year-old Evelyn Walter Copland Perry; the only child of barrister Walter Copland and his wife Evelyn Emma Perry, he was born in London and – after attending Cambridge University – returned to his parents’ house at 29 Thurlow Square and began working at the Royal Aircraft Factory. While there, in 1911, he gained his Royal Aero Club certificate. He joined the Special Reserve of the Royal Flying Corps, from which he had been mobilised when Britain entered the Great War. After leaving the Royal Aircraft Company, Perry (or Mr Copland Perry as he is known in some sources) went to Brooklands to work with Tommy Sopwith on his aeroplanes, then flew an Avro aeroplane to Portugal and tested aircraft for the Portguese army. Returning to the UK, he began producing aeroplanes himself, with a Mr Beadle.

Perry wrote a letter home from Amiens in August 1914, “full of his extreme enjoyment” of the flights he had undertaken thus far in his war service (according to de Ruvigny’s roll of honour). Leaving Amiens, he was accompanied by another Londoner, Herbert Edward Parfitt. In 1911, Parfitt had been an engineering labourer, born in Battersea and living there with his parents William James Parfitt and Clara Jane Parfitt; William was a printer’s compositor.

Perry and Parfitt were among the last to take off from Amiens on 16 August. As they took off in their BE8 (number 625), the aeroplane stalled at about 150 feet from the ground – losing speed from climbing too quickly or with too little power. The aircraft turned over on its side and fell to the ground, where it caught fire. Both men were killed. They were the first British airmen ever to die in a theatre of war; Perry was also the first British officer fatality of the war (the majority of British servicemen who died before or on 16 August died in the UK). They had a full military funeral in Amiens with flag-draped coffins escorted by soldiers and senior officers, as well as members of the RFC. On 26 August, a memorial service was held for the two men at St Thomas Church, Orchard Street, Portland Square – possibly organised by Perry’s grieving parents (the church is no longer there; its site was roughly where the back of Selfridge’s is, now covered by the shop and Edwards Mews).

The BE8 in which Perry and Parfitt died (image from Mike O’Connor's book Airfields & Airmen: Somme)

The BE8 in which Perry and Parfitt died (image from Mike O’Connor’s book Airfields & Airmen: Somme) 

The sad deaths of these two young men came to a kind of prominence two years later when Noel Pemberton Billing, described by the Dictionary of National Biography as an “aviator and self-publicist”, used their case as an example to attack the Government. Billing had served in the RNAS early in the war, including in a raid on a Zeppelin base in 1914, but resigned his commission in order to publicly criticise the conduct of the air war. He fought and lost a by-election in Mile End in January 1916, but was elected in March in East Hertfordshire. That month he accused the authorities of ‘criminal negligence’ over a series of accidents and incidents that had caused the deaths of air crew. He was particularly critical of Royal Aircraft Company aeroplanes (of which the BE8 was one).

Among the cases cited by Billing in Parliament in March 1916 was that of Perry and Parfitt. He referred to the case only obliquely, referring to the tendency of the BE8 to side-slip and nose-dive, with fatal consequences. The Committee that investigated each case set out what happened to Perry and Parfitt  (quoted in Flight magazine):

“Mr Perry, on leaving Amiens, appears to have stalled his machine, i.e., to have attempted to climb too fast with the result that the machine lost speed, turned on its side, fell to the ground, caught fire, and Mr Perry was killed. Mr Perry was pleased with the performance of his machine on the flight to France, and spoke of it as the pick of the bunch. The aerodrome at Amiens is particularly large. Mr Perry was an experienced pilot. The type of machine has been abandoned. It was not successful and was somewhat under-engined, and was apt to lost speed quickly in the air. It was abandoned because it was not fast, and not sufficiently better than other machines then in use to justify its continuance at the Front. It is still used for training.

Conclusion.- There was no negligence in giving this type of machine to an experienced pilot, as Mr Perry was; although with the 80 h.p. Gnome engine with which it was then fitted it required careful handling, especially in climbing, to prevent its losing flying speed.

“In considering whether the use of a particular type of machine was or was not negligent, it is necessary to bear in mind the enormous progress that has been made during the war in the development of aeroplane engines by ourselves and by other nations engaged in the war, although even yet no absolutely reliable type has been evolved. The question of negligence in the use of a particular type of machine must always be determined with reference to the types of machines and engines available at the date when a given accident occurred. It might be quite proper to use in the early stages of the war and aeroplane whose use to-day would be wholly wrong.”

In other words, they thought that it looked bad in retrospect (in 1916), but stressed that it was not a bad aircraft by the standards of the day. The fact that it was soon replaced, and that training was notoriously dangerous (and this type was only used for that until 1916), suggests that the BE8 was not an effective aeroplane (it should not be confused with the RE8, which saw service throughout the war).

The account given in de Ruvigny’s roll of honour (presumably supplied by Perry’s parents) is that Perry was happy with the aeroplane in which he flew over to France, but had to give that one up before leaving Amiens. This change of aeroplanes is corroborated by Mike O’Connor’s book Airfields and Airmen: Somme, which says that another pilot flew BE8 number 625 to France. This contradicts the implication in the official account that Perry was previously perfectly happy with the BE8 in which he had his fatal crash, somewhat undermining the official account (note that the account says he was happy with the aeroplane he flew out in, without explicitly saying that it was number 625).

Whether it was negligence, a simple accident or pilot error, this death of two young airmen before they had even encountered the enemy was desperately sad. The Perrys lost their only child; on his gravestone is the inscription ‘First on the Roll of Honour; all glory to his name’.

The Parfitts lost their middle son of three (they also had three daughters). A few months later, Walter William Parfitt, Herbert’s older brother, also died. He had been in the navy before the war and was serving on HMS Bulwark when the ship exploded in the Thames near Sheerness at 7.50 am on 26 November 1914. An inquiry into the accident found that the ammunition had exploded, probably because it was stored badly and close to a boiler room. Staggeringly, the Parfitts lost two sons in the first four months of war in accidents unrelated to enemy action that were both the subject of official inquiries in the subsequent months and years.

In Amiens, on 16 August 2014, there was be a short remembrance ceremony for E.W.C. Perry (and, I hope, H.E. Parfitt). Perhaps people in London will also be remember these two young men who set out from this city to fight in the war but who died so prematurely on their way to the battlefield.

Sources:

  • Flight magazine, 1916
  • The Times
  • Mike O’Connor, Airfields and Airmen: Somme
  • Joshua Levine, On a Wing and A Prayer
  • Long, Long Trail
  • CWGC
  • Ancestry service and census records
 
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Posted by on 17 August 2014 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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The Roy brothers: fighting for King and Emperor

Millions of Indians served in the British Indian army in the centuries of British rule over the subcontinent. There were also a small number of Indian-born men in London during the Great War who joined the British forces and served alongside white British servicemen. Two of them were Paresh Lal Roy and his younger brother Indra Lal Roy, who became the first Indian fighter ace.

Lolita Roy and her six children were all born in Calcutta but lived in London from 1901. Her husband Piera Lal Roy was the director of public prosecutions in Calcutta. In 1911, Lolita and the children lived at 77 Brook Green, West London.  The eldest daughter, Leilavati, was 22 years old and married, Lolita’s other daughters were Miravati and Hiravati. The sons all appear to have been educated at St Paul’s School: Paresh Lal, Indra Lal and Lolit Kumar. By 1914, they had moved to 15 Glazeby Road before moving on again in October 1915 to 67 Fitz-George Avenue in Kensington.

Lolita Roy and her six children, listed in the 1911 census at their home at 77 Brook Green, N1

Lolita Roy and her six children, listed in the 1911 census at their home at 77 Brook Green, W

On 21 December 1914, Paresh Lal Roy enlisted in the reserve battalion of the upper-class Honourable Artillery Company, signing up for overseas service immediately. After a few months of training, he left for the front, arriving with the 1st battalion on 1 May 1915, joining 3rd Division. The unit subsequently served as Headquarters troops, as well as serving in the Royal Naval Division (63rd Division) from July 1916 to June 1917.  Other than a note that he was wounded in action on 24 May, but was not hospitalised, and that he was sick for a week in August 1917, there is little information in his service record about his war service in the HAC.

Indra Lal Roy

Indra Lal Roy

Meanwhile, Indra Lal Roy was serving in the school cadet force at St Paul’s.  In April 1917 he left school and joined the Royal Flying Corps. During the months he spent in training he was commissioned the British Army, as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. As we’ve seen in the cases of G.E.K. Bemand and Walter Tull, non-white men were not strictly allowed to become officers in the army. However, Roy was able to be commissioned; Flight magazine described him as

one of a band of young Indians studying here who, precluded until recently from any chance of obtaining commissions in the Army, found scope for striking a blow for the Empire in the new arm of our forces.

Roy was not the first of these young men who became flying officers. Hardutt Singh Malik, a student at Oxford at the outbreak of war, campaigned to be commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps. Eventually he was given an honorary commission in April 1917 and went to the front in June. Malik served in 62 and 28 Squadron and was credited with two victories.

Following his training and commission, Indra Lal Roy joined the elite 56 Squadron. He was not particularly successful as one of their SE5a pilots, though, and after being injured a crash in that winter he was sent home (accounts vary about whether this was November or December or even early 1918). He had further training back in the UK before being sent back out to the front and joining 40 Squadron (now part of the Royal Air Force) in June 1918, this time as a temporary Lieutenant.

An SE5a fighter

An SE5a fighter

This time, he was extremely successful. During two weeks from 6 to 19 July 1918, he shot down ten enemy aircraft in just over 170 hours of flying. Flying SE5a  number B180, he shot down three German aircraft on 8 July and two each on the 13th and 15th. This was an incredible run of success, perhaps unique. Indra Lal Roy became the first Indian fighter ace.

On 22 July, though Roy successful streak came to an end and he was shot down during a dogfight with Fokker DVIIs from Jasta 29.  He did not return from his mission, but his fate was unknown. It was not until 18 September that it was officially assumed that he had been killed in action.  In the end his body was found, identified and buried in Estevelles Communal Cemetery in France.

Just three days after he was officially declared dead, Roy was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and skill in those weeks in July:

A very gallant and determined officer, who in thirteen days accounted for nine enemy machines. In these several engagements he has displayed remarkable skill and daring, on more than one occasion accounting for two machines in one patrol.

At the same time, Paresh Lal Roy was seeking to follow his younger brother’s lead and join the Royal Air Force. At the end of September, he was transferred home from the HAC to become a cadet in the RAF. He had not qualified by the end of the war and was discharged in early 1919.

Lt. Indra Lal Roy DFC and Pte Paresh Lal Roy were Indian-born British subjects, living in London. Like many of their contemporaries who remained in India, they joined up to fight in the war and they both served on the Western Front.  Indra was an exceptional example, both for getting a commission in the RFC and RAF and for the skill he displayed that earned him a gallantry medal. Paresh served in the army from 1914 to 1918 and survived the war; he appears to have returned to India and become a prominent amateur boxer (as well as a traffic superintendent).

Sources:

Census records 1901 and 1911

P.L. Roy’s service record

Wikipedia entry on P.L. Roy

National Archives page on I.L. Roy including his service record

The Aerodrome page on I.L. Roy

Dictionary of National Biography entry on I.L. Roy

Flight magazine obituary of I.L Roy

 
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Posted by on 9 October 2013 in Award-winners

 

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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.

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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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SH Quicke fought the Red Baron

Manfred von Richthofen was credited with the most ‘victories’ of any Great War fighter ace, bringing down 80 allied aircraft between September 1916 and April 1918. Londoner Flight Sergeant S.H. Quicke faced him at least twice and perished in the Red Baron’s 29th victory.

F/Sgt Sidney Herbert Quicke

F/Sgt Sidney Herbert Quicke

Sidney Herbert Quicke was born in September 1889, the son of Devon-born stained-glass painter Alfred and Londoner Annie Quicke. In 1891, they were living, along with Sidney’s elder sister Alice and brother Alfred and their maternal grandmother Maria Edwards in Alma Street, St Pancras. In 1896, Alfred died at the age of 35 and Annie took in work at home to bring in more money, aided by her elder children once they were old enough to work (i.e. over 12 years old).

By 1911, Annie had remarried; three of her children (including Florence, born in the early ’90s) were each working, and they lived with Annie and with their step-father, Henry Rea at 36 Struan Villas, East Finchley. Sidney was a motor-car driver at a chemical works (Alfred junior was, intriguingly, a playing-card maker).

In 1913, Sidney joined the Royal Flying Corps, which had been formed the year before. He went to France almost as soon as the war started, arriving with No 4 Squadron on 12 August 1914.

By March 1916, he had qualified as an observer, but – clearly showing a great aptitude for his work – he soon became a pilot. He was awarded Royal Aero Club Certificate number 3890 in November 1916 and became an RFC sergeant pilot shortly afterwards.

Having joined 16 Squadron, Quicke was in the air on 6 March 1917 on an artillery observation mission near Vimy when he witnessed Richthofen’s 24th aerial victory, over another 16 Squadron aeroplane in which G.M. Gosset-Bibby and G.J.O. Brichta died.

Just as they saw their comrades’ aircraft spinning to the ground, Quicke and his observer (Captain L.E. Claremont) heard the guns of an enemy fighter. Soon two Halberstadts were upon them: one white and one red. The red one swept round behind them and fired, damaging struts and an aileron, before being driven off by 70 rounds fired by Claremont. They had survived a brush with the Red Baron.

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron

Quicke’s luck did not last much longer though. Just over a fortnight later, he was again up in the air near Vimy with an officer as his observer, 2nd Lt W.J. Lidsey from Oxfordshire.

Richthofen’s combat report sums up the encounter from the German’s perspective:

Message came through that enemy planes had been seen at 1,000 metres altitude in spite of bad weather and strong east wind. I went up by myself intending to bring down an infantry or artillery flyer.
After one hour I spotted at 800 metres a large number of artillery flyers beyond the lines. They sometimes approached our front, but never passed it. After several vain attempts I managed, half hidden by clouds, to take one of these BEs by surprise and to attack him at 600 metres, one kilometre beyond our lines.
The adversary made the mistake of flying in a straight line when he tried to evade me, and thus he was just a wink too long in my fire (500 shots). Suddenly he made two uncontrolled curves and dashed, smoking, into the ground. The plane was completely ruined; it fell in section F.3

The aircraft crashed behind the British lines, but the crew could not be saved. The pilot, Sidney Herbert Quicke, was already dead (either from the combat or from the crash) when he was pulled from the wreckage; Lidsey was still alive but severely wounded and died the next day. Quicke was buried in Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension; Lidsey in Aubigny Communal Cemetery, presumably having been died at one of the nearby casualty clearing stations.

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Note: the details of Quicke’s encounters with Richthofen (including the combat report) are taken from the book Under the guns of the Red Baron by Franks, Giblin and McCrery. It is an exhaustive resource about the men who were defeated in battle by the Red Baron, as well as about the two times that he was shot down.

 
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Posted by on 18 April 2013 in Famous People, Ordinary Londoners

 

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