Per Ardua Ad Astra

On 31st August 1917, a young pilot on a training run met his death when his Martinsyde G100 Elephant scout caught fire and broke up in the air before crashing near Hanworth, south west London.

His name was Lieutenant Arthur Doricourt Roberts M.C., he was just twenty two years old, and yesterday, exactly one hundred years after his death, I was invited to a small ceremony in the churchyard of St. Mary’s in Byfleet in Surrey to commemorate his life.

Jim Allen, long-time BigNote follower, all-round good bloke, and Chair of the Byfleet Heritage Society reads a resumé of Arthur’s life,…

…before laying a wreath on the grave.

Arthur had enlisted in the Scottish Rifles in November 1914 as a temporary Second Lieutenant, gaining his Military Cross in September 1916 for ‘conspicuous gallantry in action’, before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in November 1916.

Words from the rector (above & below).

Jim & Arthur.

Arthur’s medals, M.C. on the left.

Following which we paid our respects at the grave of another flyer, one Richard Harold Barnwell, who was killed just a week before Arthur Roberts.

Julian Temple, Estates & Heritage Manager at the Brooklands Museum Trust, tells the gathering a little about Harold, as he preferred to be called, Barnwell’s life.

Barnwell was a Scottish aviator, designer, constructor and racer who was one of the earliest flyers in the country to gain his aviator’s certificate (No. 276), and who, in early 1913, began flying as what we would now call a test pilot (the term did not come into use until later in the Great War) for Vickers Aviation at Brooklands, in August 1914 becoming their chief pilot.

Over the next three years he would make the first flight of no less than sixteen prototype aircraft, culminating in the maiden flight of the Vickers FB26 Vampire night fighter on 16th August 1917, and it was in a Vampire, ten days later, that he met his death, apparently making no attempt to recover from a spin that took him and the aircraft into the ground at something over 150 m.p.h.

We even had a flypast,…

…the Piper Archer piloted, would you believe,…

…by Ian Whittle,…

…son of the late Sir Frank Whittle,…

…inventor of the turbojet engine.

After which Jim kindly opened the church for me to take some more photos within (you may or may not be aware that we have visited St. Mary’s before, a good few years back now), the results of which will appear in the Back in Blighty category in due course.

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10 Responses to Per Ardua Ad Astra

  1. Andrew Brennan says:

    Great memorial. God rest their souls.

  2. Sid from Down Under says:

    A very worthy post and fitting that Ian Whittle made a fly-past.

    As often happens, MJS, you arise my interest in this instance causing me to delve a little deeper to “investigate” the Martinsyde G100 Elephant. Reportedly an unusually large single-seater for its day and named Elephant because it lacked maneuverability. I have a photograph but can’t imbed here however Google will show anyone so curious as I.

    Alright, I admit, you also made me investigate the Vickers FB26 – a “pusher” bi-plane with two impressive Lewis Guns sticking out front. Harold Barnwell is mentioned in Wikipedia.

    • Magicfingers says:

      You may also have discovered that the death of Harold Barnwell also saw the end of the Vampire project; once the prototype had been destroyed, no more were ever built. You may also find yourself wondering why Vickers were still designing pushers in 1917! If so, me too!

  3. Sid from Down Under says:

    We must be reading different accounts MJS – according to my reading two maybe five more Vampires were built after Barnwell’s demise – but by the time their problems were sorted, the Sopwith Salamander was on order so Vampire further development was abandoned c 1918.

    Then 26/28 years later along came the turbojet Vampire that from 1946 replaced our awesome sounding Rolls Merlin V12 piston engine fighters – ah what a sound – I can still hear them – well so still can you on special days in England, you lucky devil

  4. Magicfingers says:

    No, no, I was going from memory and from what I (thought I) heard the other day. I bow to your research on the Vampire.

  5. ALAN SEAH says:

    Thank you for the post.

    Just wondering, but why doesn’t Arthur Roberts have a CWGC headstone? Did families have the option of their own headstone if a man was buried in the UK in a non-military cemetery?

  6. Doric Roberts says:

    Just stumbled on this site by chance. What a shame not to have known about this – our family held separate commemorations on the centenary of the end of the First World War and he was recognised with a ceramic poppy at the Tower of London exhibition. Arthur (who was always known as Doric) was my grandfather‘s brother (his brother and sister both lived to their late 90’s – and his nephew, my father is still in rude health). Both he and his brother were awarded MCs and I was named after him.
    Doric Roberts

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Doric. Better late than never, I say! Thank you so much for commenting – and explaining your name! I am glad you know about this now, though. It was a privilege to be invited.

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