by wood smith
Pilots in the early days of WW1
The Royal Army Flying Corps.
Stanley Smith had a dream, his dream was to fly, many was the time he had been caned for looking out of the classroom window, and daydreaming about flying a plane.
His family lived near a large flat field, that a group of flying enthusiasts used to fly their planes from, every weekend, Stanley, walked the three miles out to the field, to watch the men fly their planes from the field, he would do odd jobs for them.
Now and again, one of the men would take Stanley for a short flight around the surrounding countryside. As time went on, Stanley helped the men strip down and rebuild engines, he had a knack with engines.
Before long he was doing most of the mechanical work on the planes. The only problem was rumbles of war with Germany.
The Army decided to form the Royal Army Flying Corps, as soon as Stanley was old enough, he enlisted in the R.A.F.C. for some reason, there was a shortage of recruits for the Corps. Stanley found the training easy, thanks to the months that he had spent at the airfield.
He completed his training, and was posted to a fledgling R.A.F.C base, he was now Flying Officer Smith. The base came as a bit of a shock, everything was under canvas.
The planes were housed, separately under large tents, all personal were living in tents, Stanley found that as he was a Flying Officer, he was assigned a Batman, who laid out his clothes, made sure that his uniform was clean and pressed.
It took Stanley a long time to get used to having somebody doing everything for him, eventually, his Batman, a young lad of 17 called Alfie Bates, learnt that Stanley didn't need everything done for him.
So now all that Alfie had to do, was polish Stanley's boots, clean and press Stanley's uniform and bring Stanley a mug of tea in the morning.
Every day started the same,
9:00, all aircraft to be refuelled, ready for immediate take off,
10:00 morning Briefing,
11:00 was checking their aircraft over for faults,
12:00, Lunch served in the mess,
1:00, Afternoon flights, all aircraft to be landed by 4:00, 5:00, Debrief.
6:00 Dinner in the mess.
7:00 stand down.
All rank allowed off base if not needed for repairs to aircraft. All aircraft to be tied down with wheels chocked.
Most of the off duty other ranks, would leave camp on the few bicycles that they had on camp, for use for checking the runway for loose debris, before any planes took off.
The lucky O. Rs would cycle to the local village and have a couple of pints of weak beer, before cycling back to camp before lights out. The next day started out the same, but ended very differently.
One plane piloted by Flying Officer Geoffrey Jones, stalled on approach, and plummeted into the ground from 50ft, and burst into flames.
The fire was so intense, that ground crews were not able to get Flying Officer Jones out of the wreckage of his plane. Ground crews tried to put out the fire with buckets of water in a chain, passing them one to another.
But it was no good, F.O Jones was dead when the wreckage had cooled down enough to approach. The inquest stated that F.O Jones had been killed on impact, but Stanley as well as other were sure that they heard Geoffrey screaming in the wreck.
F.O. Jones was buried in the local Churchyard, with full military honours. The whole of the base was in attendance, wearing full dress uniform, Stanley was one of the Pallbearers. There was a 21-gun rifle salute over F.O. Jones's grave. This was the first-time Stanley had seen death this close.
After a cruel winter spent under canvas, in March 1915, they got the orders they were waiting for, they were going to France. Everything was packed up into crates, and stacked ready to be transported to Dover to the docks, ready for shipping to France.
The planes were flown in stages, from the airfield in Norfolk, across country to Kent, then on down to a field outside of Dover.
When the whole flight was assembled, they spent a week waiting for the rest of the ground crew and kit to be transported across the channel and set up ready for them.
They flew across the channel, and regrouped outside of Ypres. They took over a French boarding school, using the sports field as a runway, they made sure that there was firefighting equipment, along the runway.
All the planes were camouflaged under the trees, to the sides of the field. All personnel were billeted in the school buildings.
The pilots were given a room each, the rooms that they were given, were used before the war by the children of rich French citizens. The ground crew, fitters, mechanics, etc. were billeted two to a room in the old staff quarters.
The kitchen and school cafeteria, were used by the camp cooks, and everybody ate in the mess room. The officer's batmen were used as waiters.
The fitters were working under large camouflaged sheets suspended between trees, they were awaiting a delivery of aeroplane fuel, before they could start flying recognisance flights above German lines.
Soon the fuel arrived, and the first flights were arraigned for the following day. At 6:00 am, the first 4 Sopwith Camels, took off into the rising sun, to overfly the German lines.
Two hours later, the 4 planes, flew back to the school, all landed safely, while the pilots were being debriefed, the planes were refuelled and made ready for the next flight.
That afternoon, 4 more planes took off to patrol above the German lines, the flight didn't go as well as the morning flight, there was a patrol of German planes waiting for them, the British planes were unarmed, but the German planes were fitted with machine guns that could fire though the spinning propeller, without hitting it.
All the British pilots were armed with, was a .38 Webley revolver, which had a range of about 25 ft. two planes didn't return, one of the ones that did return, crashed on landed, killing the pilot and two ground crew.
The three were buried in a local cemetery, as most of the bodies had been burnt in the crash, the coffins were loaded with sandbags.
One of the fitters, noticing that the plane had bullet holes coming up from under the seat, sent two of his men to a vehicle workshop, to get several large pieces of sheet metal, some pieces about 2ft square and other pieces 2ft by 18 inches.
They brought these pieces back to the airfield and fixed it the planes, the large piece behind the seat and the smaller piece under the seat, it wasn't much but it gave them some protection from attacks from below.
One of the pilots paid a visit to a Royal Engineer camp, and asked if it was possible to make up small bombs that could be dropped by hand from the planes, onto the German positions.
He returned to the airfield, with several boxes of 1lb bombs, each had to be armed before use, and then just dropped over the side of the plane. These worked fine, but it was difficult to do while flying the plane.
Then they got some new planes, Bristol Type 22s, these were two seaters, so, the person in the rear seat, could be armed with a Short magazine Lee Enfield .303 Rifle. And a couple of boxes of bombs.
This led to the rear passenger being named a "Bombardier" with the Bombardier aiming and dropping bombs, accuracy was greatly improved.
Much use was made of static hot air balloons, these would be tethered to a rope about 2000 ft. long, two men would be in the basket underneath and it would be raised into the air, the men would have binoculars and would spent about 30 minutes aloft, then they would be winched down and debriefed, this ensured that battlefield conditions were up to the minute before an attack.
The problem was that the Germans knew that the Balloons were used to spy out the land. So, would use their planes to shoot the balloons down, the men in the balloons, wouldn't be equipped with parachutes.
So, they ran the risk of being shot, or burnt when the balloons exploded, or killed in the fall from the basket. The British, decided to catch the Germans out, by sending up Balloons, with the baskets containing dummies, and packed with explosives.
When the German planes fired on the balloons, the whole basket would explode, and the shock wave would knock the German plane out of the sky.
The planes would crash behind Allied lines, and the wrecks were stripped of any interesting items and these were sent back to the research laboratories in Farnborough.
This is where they discovered the secret behind the stop gear that allowed the German machineguns to fire through the Propeller. Life went on for Stanley and the rest of the squadron, they were making the most of living in a posh boarding school.
They discovered that there was a large wine cellar below the kitchen, so most evenings, several of these would be opened and the assembled pilots would get slightly drunk and play silly games, like tobogganing down the stairs on tea trays.
The following morning's, the pilots would be very the worse for wear, but they found that a quick draught of pure oxygen from the Medical Room, would soon have them feeling better and ready to fly.
One morning, Stanley was walking back from the Bathroom, when he saw Flight Officer Smyth being led down the corridor towards the bathroom, by his batman, Allister Smyth was staggering along barely conscious, his dressing gown hanging open, showing everything underneath.
Stanley stopped and said to Allister's batman "you know why Allister isn't working this morning.?" The batman said, "No Sir" Stanley said, "You forgot to pull the choke out." And reaching forwards grabbed hold of Allister's penis, and gave it a quick hard tug.
Allister said, "Oh I say." Stanley said, "See works every time." Then he turned, walked back to the bath room, and washed his hands and went down to breakfast.
After breakfast, he went out to his plane, he noticed that the weather was getting colder. To get his plane started, one of the ground crew had to swing the propeller round until the engine started.
It was a regular occurrence, this morning, the engine started quicker than usual, as it spun round, it caught the crew man's hands and forearms, shredding his arms up to the elbows.
The man bled to death before the medical staff could get to him. The crew man was just 18, and had been posted to them less than a month before. The young man, was buried alongside the other casualties.
New replacements were sent out. One new man was trained to replace the ground crewman that had been killed, one morning, he was assigned to remove the large chocks that stopped the plane from moving, he approached the plane from the wrong side and after removing the chocks, turned the wrong way, and walked into the spinning propeller and was killed instantly.
He had been in France for 4 days. One morning, just after dawn, German planes raided the airfield, they machined as many planes as they could and dropped small bombs on the runway. Luckily, nobody was injured or killed.
That morning was spent filling in holes on the runway, and trying to repair as many planes as possible, some planes were damaged beyond repair and these were cannibalized to provide spares to keep other planes flying.
The C.O. made some phone calls, and located new planes, fresh from the factory, He sent Stanley and 5 others back to the U.K. to collect them and fly them to France.
When Stanley and the others, flew the new planes onto the airfield, they were surprised to see anti-aircraft guns guarding the airfield. There was a platoon of gunners and a supply of anti-aircraft shells.
The air battles for superiority in the air went on, hardly a week went by without at least one plane being shot down. The funeral services were becoming a regular occurrence.
Allister Smyth, was chased back to the airfield by two German planes. The anti-aircraft crew, thought that the airfield was under attack, and started firing their anti-aircraft guns.
They didn't hit any German planes, but hit Allister Smyth's plane twice, killing him outright. Allister was buried in the church yard, and the gun crew were sent on a plane recognition course.
They were sent new pilots, one of which was Taff Jones, he used to fly for a flying circus before the war, He sat and studied the maps of the local area, and found that there was a low bridge over the river, Taff borrowed the C.O.s car and drove out to the village, to look at the bridge.
He talked to the other's about flying his plane under the bridge, they tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was made up. On the Friday, after flying his sortie over German lines, he flew to the village, lined his plane up with the bridge, at flew towards it at low level, but he judged it wrong.
He tried to pull up, but hit the parapet of the bridge, his plane dropped like a stone, into the river, Taff, was trapped in the cockpit of the plane and drowned before he could be rescued.
He joined the others in the little Church yard. Stanley, was assigned a co-pilot, young Daniel Jenkins, he was just 18, he was not used to flying, and every time they flew together, Daniel, would be sick in the back seat of the plane.
At first, the ground crew would clean up the plane, but then Stanley thought that was a bit unfair, So Daniel had to clean up his own mess, the ground crews thought that Stanley was the best for doing that, over time Daniel, didn't get airsick.
When they weren't flying, Daniel was learning to use a new army Camera, and took marksman lessons from the gunners, Daniel had passed all the tests with the camera, and his marksmanship was up to scratch.
The orders were changed to recognisance, they would fly the length of the German lines, while Stanley was flying level and steady, Daniel would be filming the German lines. And if any German planes came close, Daniel would fire at them.
In the run up to 1st July 1916, they were flying all day and every day, in the week before the battle of the Somme, the allied guns were firing 24 hrs a day, to soften up the German defences, the bombardment was supposed to destroy the German trenches and take out the barbed wire.
So that the Allies could just walk over and take over the German positions, but the German positions were dug out 30ft below ground, If the allies had run over to the German positions, the outcome would have been different.
The barbed wire was still intact. The allied soldiers got caught in it, like rat's in a trap. On the morning of the 31st August 1916, Stanley and Daniel took off, to overfly the German lines, the flew heading in to the rising sun, as they flew over the British lines.
A trigger-happy gunner, got their plane confused with a German plane, and opened fire, within seconds, loads of British guns had followed suite.
One shell came to close to Stanley and Daniels plane, and the shockwave detonated the box of shell's between Daniel's knees, these blew up and their plane blew apart in mid-air.
Stanley and Daniel were laid to rest in the little churchyard, alongside some many of their brothers in arms.