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“And like no other sculpture in the history of art, the dead engine and dead airframe come to life at the touch of a human hand, and join their life with the pilot's own.”

356. Salonika Stork

Recently posted on a Facebook page dedicated to the Salonika front is this remarkable picture published in ‘The Sphere’ magazine of January 1917.

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The aircraft in question is an extremely grubby Bristol Scout  – probably a late type C, with a Lewis gun that appears to be mounted obliquely, firing outside the propeller arc. It’s possible this was the factory mount, fitted to the cabane struts, and designed so that the barrel could be swung inwards to get the butt out of the way while the pilot got on or out.

There are a number of oddities about it. There are no front flying wires on the port wing, one incidence wire (running between the interplane struts) is missing, and the two cables running forward from the top aileron horn don’t seem to make sense. Even the wing struts appear to be an odd shape.

It seems obvious it wasn’t airworthy at the time of the picture, and the filth (bird mess?) on the rear fuselage seems to indicate that it hadn’t been for some time.

It’s likely to be an RFC machine, judging by the lacing on the rear fuselage, and since the article about bird life in Salonika, it would seem to have been based on the mainland. A quick Google brought up this listing which indicates that 17 Squadron had one or more Bristol Scouts from July to Sep 1916, but if anyone has any more details I’d be very interested to know more.

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355. Port Meadow, Oxford

The ENORMOUS flat area of grass at Port Meadow has been an ancient grazing area for centuries, and even today there are cows on it.

It’s no surprise that it was adopted as an airfield in 1911 and adopted as a training ground by the RFC on the outbreak of war.

Access is via the delightful village of Wolvercote, and yesterday saw the official unveiling of a memorial to the 17 airmen who died there. The date was picked as the centenary of the death of one particular airman, Capt Thompson, DSO, MC, who was a veteran of the Western Front with 21 victories to his name. He took off from here in a Sopwith Camel which caught fire and he crashed in flames, aged only 21.

We were asked to be present for the official unveiling by the Lord Lieutenant, and is was a privilege and pleasure to be there on such a historic occasion in glorious sunshine.

Threading the trailer through Wolvercote village and the car park onto the Meadow itself was something of a challenge, but we managed it okay, and we were rigged in record time.

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A class of children from the local primary school arrived, and we told them the basics and showed them inside the cockpit.

Then we shepherded them and the visitors who’d arrived to the far side of the fence so that we could start the engine, which they all enjoyed very much.

The ceremony started at 1400, and it was an honour to be apart of it. It was covered by BBC and ITV Meridian (to be broadcast tonight) and the Oxford Mail and on a local history website20180523_140126 (800x600).jpg

After it was over, everyone came for a closer look and we were requested to start the engine again, and it obliged again.

A great day, and thank you to Peter Smith for organising it.

354. Transport Trust

A couple of years ago, in the midst of ‘the most exciting week of my life‘, we received the Preservationist of the Year award from the Transport Trust, thanks to the recommendation of Bryan Heatley, a previous chairman.

This weekend, we were invited to their AGM as guest speakers, and it was a great chance to meet up with them and catch up.

Their AGM is a three-day affair, with trips out to venues relevant to their aim of preserving vintage and historic means of transport. We joined them on the Saturday afternoon at the Leighton Buzzard narrow gauge railway, where they had a variety of machinery in the engine shed, and a steam loco pulling a train of carriages specially for us waiting to go up the line.

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Sue got to blow the whistle!

It was glorious sunshine, and the line itself went through a suburban landscape of parks, back gardens, local roads and fields. Originally built to service a local sandpit, it finishes at the pit itself which now makes enormous quantities of roof tiles. there is a yard there with lots of interesting artefacts; I particularly connected with the fact that we were travelling in carriages that were built to service the front line in WWI.

After a delicious cream tea, we headed back to the hotel to check the sound system for our after dinner presentation.

The dinner was great and I was sat next to Liz Walker, a descendant of the Short Brothers, and who has put together a  mass of original research into this extraordinarily talented family who created the first aeroplane factory in Britain, and whose contribution to aviation history is too poorly recognised. She has a great website and a self-published book which I’m looking forward to reading.

We both enjoyed our presentation enormously, and no-one fell asleep!

The following morning the ‘AGM’ was taken by coach to the Shuttleworth Collection where we were on hand to answer questions about 1264

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before packing her up and trailering her home to Ludlow ready for her next public appearance at Port Meadow, Oxford as part of the inauguration ceremony for a memorial to those who served at the Port Meadow airfield in WWI.

353. Irish Ayes

We’ve taken a week’s break in Ireland before the season really starts, but even here we can’t get away from No. 2 Wing RNAS.

P1120576.jpgThe week started at Newport House, Newport, Co. Mayo in the north west. The house is the traditional home of the O’Donnells, and Grace Kelly (the late Princess Grace to you) claimed a connection to the family and the place and visited once.

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If this looks slightly odd, try turning it upside down!

She was greeted by Catherine Flynn, who went to school with Sue. The two hadn’t met up for 36 years, so it was a wonderful chance to catch up in wonderful surroundings and simply glorious weather. We explored the north, including Achill Island and Downpatrick Head, which still has a  WWII watchpost and EIRE 64 written in huge stone letters on the top as an aid to navigation for WWI pilots.

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On our way south through more simply stunning scenery, we stopped for coffee at Clifden where we accidentally discovered that the spot where Alcock and Brown landed after their 1919 transatlantic flight in a Vickers Vimy was just round the corner. Well, we just had to call in, since Alcock served with No. 2 Wing about the same time as Grandad. The actual spot is on Derrigimlagh bog, where Marconi had built an enormous installation to try and transmit radio waves across the Atlantic ten years before. It’s a fascinating place with good access, based on the light railway that serviced the HUGE (350ft long, 3 storey) condenser building and separate power station. The story is well told, with pictures mounted so that you can see exactly where everything stood, and the flat area of bog they landed in is just the same.

P1120591.jpgYou can see exactly how Alcock and Brown, after 16.5 hours of the most terrifying flight, emerged from the night and cloud to see this large industrial installation ahead of them and decided that although they had sufficient fuel to carry on to London, they’d put down as they must have been absolutely exhausted. The photograph ties in with the present skyline and you can see how they lined up into wind for their landing.

From there we headed south, where the weather finally returned to Irish standards and steady rain all day. But we ended up with one of the best days of the holiday so far, because we met up with Alan and Gloria Peacock. And get this. Alan’s father serviced 1264 at Imbros, and probably Thassos as well…

Alan’s Dad had confided almost nothing of his WWI service to his family during his lifetime, despite continuing with the RAF as an engineer for the rest of his working life, and despite Alan’s keen interest in all things aviation from the earliest age.

P1120599.jpgWhat he’s left with is about three photo albums, one of which covers his service with the RNAS, and Alan’s having to dig up whatever else he can. Amazingly, one of the photos from his collection is of Grandad’s accident when he tipped 1264 on her nose!

Alan and Gloria will be visiting Kavala shortly where they’ll be meeting with Paschalis Palavouzis and we hope to see him at the Shuttleworth Collection some time this summer.

Alan also floated the idea of trying to put together a reunion of descendants of those who served in No. 2 Wing RNAS, which seemed an altogether good idea – particularly if it involved a trip to Imbros, Mudros and Thassos. Any takers?

 

352. Shooting the breeze

Today was the day we finally got to shoot holes in our propeller blade.

We set off to the home of Patrick Faulkner and his son Paul, firearms enthusiasts with an encyclopedic knowledge of the development of firearms.

In his farmyard we clamped our very beautiful propeller blade on a bench and stood back while Patrick took aim with a genuine 1918 Lee Enfield rifle. The first round was actual 1918 vintage, and we were very privileged that Patrick allowed us to use such a valuable artefact.

Fired into the propeller in the middle of the fabric bandage, the damage was, frankly, minimal. The hole was much smaller than we’d imagined, and there was minimal splintering round the exit hole and none at all on the entry.

After that we reverted to modern rounds, the chief difference being the copper cladding instead of nickel. The damage from this was identical, and so we fired a third round into the wood clear of the bandage to see if there was any damage.

There wasn’t a lot, though it’s possible the exit hole was slightly more splintered (it’s difficult to know for sure without removing the bandage).

The whole exercise was very instructive. the main things we learned were:

  1. The damage is surprisingly small – we thought that even with four or five holes we’d be pretty confident of getting home, and the RNAS apparently condemned propellers with more than three holes in a blade.
  2. The damage looks repairable. By carefully drilling a hole and gluing a press-fit wooden plug in, a repaired propeller would be nearly as good as new.
  3. The reason the damage is so limited is because the muzzle is so close to the propeller. A slower-moving bullet has more time to do damage, apparently.

Anyway, here’s the video.

We’d like to thank Hercules propeller for making our target, and Patrick and Paul Faulkner who brought such amazing expertise to the experiment and conducted the whole thing with great professionalism.

 

351. The Ludlow Connection

Some of you know that we live in Ludlow, and I knew that there was a connection with the town but couldn’t remember how.

Anyway, I’ve been rescued by my eminence grise, Bryan Heatley, who lives locally and in fact nominated us for the Transport Trust Preservationist of the Year trophy which we subsequently won in 2016. We’ve been awarded all sorts of very prestigious awards, but this one we value most highly, and we miss the trophy very much indeed.

Bryan has reminded me that the connection is through Flt Sub Lt Harold Mellings who was born in August 1899 at Bromfield just down the road, to local farmer Thomas Mellings and went to Ludlow Grammar school (now the College).

He lied about his age – claiming he was born in 1897 – in order to join up aged only 16 and gained his pilot’s wings at Hendon in November 1915, more or less simultaneously with Grandad.

From Hendon he went to Redcar – presumably for additional training – where, in August 1916 he wrote off Bristol Scout no. 3038 in a landing accident.

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This photo, taken in July 1916 at Redcar shows Scout 3038 in the background.

He was posted to No. C Flight, No. 2 Wing RNAS at Imbros in late summer 1916 and on 30 September shot down an LVG observation plane in a Bristol Scout. I can’t find the serial number of this machine but it’s entirely possible it’s one Grandad flew, and presumably had a similar unsynchronised Lewis gun fitment.

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Harold Mellings, Flt Lt RNAS, DSC and Bar, DSO.

From there he transferred to Sopwith Triplane N5431 on which he scored four more victories in the autumn of 1917.

From there he transferred to no. 10 squadron on the western Front, flying a Sopwith Camel, in which he scored six more victories in early 1918 before being injured.

Returning to active service in July, he scored three more victories before being shot down and killed on 22 July 1918 – 17 days before his 19th birthday. He won a DSC and Bar, the DSO, and the Greek Silver War Medal.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could commemorate him in some way?

 

350. Grandad becomes a Captain

Today is the day the RFC and the RNAS merged to become the Royal Air Force.

I don’t know if Grandad bothered to buy new uniform; most people didn’t and continued to wear their old ones with pride.

Of more personal relevance was that his illness, contracted on Thassos and never clearly diagnosed, was finally retreating.

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In early September 1916 on return from Thassos he was unfit due to dysentery.

His service record shows that he was regarded with a good deal of enthusiasm; on leaving Thassos his CO said: ‘Keen Armament Officer. Requires more Service Experience.’

He was admitted to the RN hospital at Haslar with heart strain at the end of that month, but discharged. In November he was seen again and was no better, so was discharged.

1917.

This wasn’t good enough for Grandad, so he got expert opinions from specialists in Harley street, and in February 1917 he was found fit for ground duties at home station.

He went to the Royal Naval Air Station at Redcar in Yorkshire, where he was appointed First Lieutenant, and was told to be checked for flying duties again in August.

ON 1 April His CO said he was ‘An excellent officer, a very good pilot capable of command.’

On 25 May he was recommended for promotion, and on 1 July He was ‘A V. G. Executive Officer. On 30 September he was rated a ‘V. G. Officer. G. powers of command.’, and on 14 September he was recommended for promotion, which was not approved, though no reason was given.

In November he was required to go undergo special treatment at an RFC hospital in Hampstead for trench fever, and at the end of that month his commission was terminated as physically unfit, though this was crossed through with the words ‘Reinstated.’

1918.

On 1 January his CO said ‘did not fly while with station being medically unfit. V.G. ability to command.’

But by 23 March 1918 he was found unfit for General Service, and was appointed an Experimental Officer at RNAS Orfordness, where they conducted experiments on anything to do with the air service apart from the aircraft themselves which were tested at the nearby Martlesham Heath, and would have become an officer in the RAF a week later.

On 18 April he was promoted to Flight Commander and on 21 April no action was taken with regard to flying pay. On 15 May he was found fit for Ground Duties and permanently unfit as pilot or observer.

So it’s a little mysterious to know how he managed to get hold of his third logbook, in which he records  several local flight from 4 April until 16 May. They were clearly sanctioned, and some of them were solo flights in a ‘Rather tired’ Bristol Scout.

But this was the last time Grandad flew.P1120100 (533x800).jpg