The Men Who Came Home – A Memorial Part Five – ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra’

‘Through Adversity to the Stars’.  Royal Flying Corps mechanics at work, 1915. 

For every pilot soaring above the trenches, numerous mechanics would be beavering away in the background to keep the planes aloft, and some paid the ultimate price, more often than not through enemy bombing, I would imagine, the number of air raids from both sides increasing as aircraft design, bomb capacity and range improved as the war progressed.  Most of the men pictured in this post were air mechanics, and some of them were among those injured or wounded during the war.

The Royal Flying Corps came into being on 13th April 1912 – two days before the Titanic disaster, by the way, but you knew that – when King George V accepted the recommendations of the Committee of Imperial Defence that a flying corps consisting of military & naval wings, a flying school and an aircraft factory, should be established.  However, the R.F.C. was not the first flying unit of the British Army, because the A.B.R.E. preceded it.  Did you know that, I wonder?

What, pray tell, was the A.B.R.E.?  In 1888 the British Army set up a training & test centre for experiments with airships & balloons.  Known as the School of Ballooning, and later the Balloon Factory (and from 1912 the Royal Aircraft Factory), in 1911 a section of the Factory became the Air Battalion Royal Engineers, and it was the A.B.R.E. that was the first unit of the British Army to attempt to explore the skies with heavier-than-air machines.  Interestingly, although officers could come from any branch of the service, other ranks were exclusively taken from the Royal Engineers.  The A.B.R.E would become part of the R.F.C. on its formation in 1912, which by the end of the year was operating thirty six aeroplanes, as well as a number of balloons.  On 1st July 1914 the Royal Navy formally separated the naval wing of the R.F.C. and the Royal Naval Air Service was created, and on 1st April 1918 the R.F.C. & the R.N.A.S. were once again amalgamated, with the creation of the Royal Air Force.

It is actually quite difficult to establish exactly how many men of the R.F.C., R.N.A.S. & R.A.F. were killed during the war.  Figures of 6,166 killed, 7,245 wounded and 3,212 missing crop up quite frequently, although if you search the CWGC database you will find a figure of 10,358 U.K. air force deaths.  These, however, are some of the men who came home.

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8 Responses to The Men Who Came Home – A Memorial Part Five – ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra’

  1. Nick Kilner says:

    Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, propeller injuries were apparently quite common. You’d think people would give the prop a wide berth, but a bit like a ticking clock, the brain switches off to the noise after a while and people would get caught on the spinning blades. My partners godmothers brother (yes I know it sound convoluted lol) did exactly that during WW2, whilst working in Africa servicing Hurricanes. Amazingly, he survived being hit in the head. He spent six months in a coma and it took him a year to learn to speak again, but he lived to be 90+. He had quite a dent in his head where they’d patch his skull back together using a graft from his thigh one. Many I suspect were not so fortunate.

    • Magicfingers says:

      That s a fine point, and I am pleased I included the word ‘injuries’ as well as ‘wounded’ in the text. And I am not so sure I am that surprised either. But what a story!

      • Nick Kilner says:

        Indeed. I’m sure there were more than a few injuries as a result of starting props by hand too. That’s the sort of thing you don’t get wrong twice. Great post, and a superb series.

  2. Nick Kilner says:

    It’s funny how sometimes a post like this just trips something in the brain. From the time I started reading it something was niggling away in the back of my mind, and I’m pleased to say it’s finally come to the fore. Louvencourt cemetery, plot 1, row C, grave 1. Serjant Benjamin Fredrick Barnard 8th Squadron RFC. Died of ‘accidental injuries’ 15th August, 1915. I actually went looking for the airfield last time I was there, based on a German map, but without success. The area marked turned out to be in a valley floor no more than 100yards wide and with a stream running through it. I can’t imagine that was correct. It rather put me in mind of Baldricks elephants lol. Fascinating place Louvencourt, you really must go.

  3. Alan Bond says:

    My partners Uncle serving as pilot in the RAF flying Halifax bombers in Algeria was killed when one of the propellers shared off and into the cockpit in 1945. Gossip in the family says that it had been partly cut by Vichy terrorists although I have not be able to find any proof of this and feel it might have a story told to make his death slightly less pointless than being told he died due to mechanical failure.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Are there any books, I wonder, on Vichy terrorists, as you put it? Tragic, but an interesting tale – I hadn’t really considered Vichy sabotage etc before.

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