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1. In the Beginning

03/01/2012

FDH Bremner about 1960

My grandparents lived only half an hour away, and we used to visit them very regularly. My brother and I used to listen to our Granddad’s stories about flying in the First World War, and although we didn’t understand them fully at the time, they must have caught our imaginations, because both I and my brother Rick became, and have remained, fascinated with aviation ever since.

There was the story, for example, of Granddad’s friend who went to visit a colleague in another squadron where they flew Sopwith Camels. In those days it was all very informal. People used to borrow an aircraft in order to fly home for the weekend, and in this case granddad’s friend was invited to go and take a Camel for a spin. He’d never flown one before, and of course the Camel was renowned as being one of the trickiest types to fly. But he managed okay, and got halfway through a loop when he realised he’d not fastened his seat belt correctly. He started to fall out of the aircraft, and let go of the controls in order to save himself. The Camel was very unstable flown normally, but it was pretty stable upside down, so granddad’s friend wasn’t in immediate danger; it was just that he couldn’t let go with either hand to grab the controls to sort himself out.

In the end, he managed to grab the stick at its base and pull it back, but did so very roughly. The Camel was very, very manoeuvrable, and turned the right way up in the blink of an eye. The friend was thrown back into the seat with such force that he started to force the seat through the bottom of the aircraft!

He had to fly all the way home with his feet braced against the rudder bar, and his head leaning back over the headrest in order to keep his bottom off the seat…

And there was the other one about the mad Serbian pilot.

Granddad flew with No. 2 Wing RNAS, and in the spring of 1916 they were stationed at Thasos, a Greek island off the coast of Bulgaria, who had recently joined the Axis powers.

The only way they could attack the Bulgarians was to try to bomb the crops – it was early summer, after all – and although the motley collection of aircraft hey had were largely unarmed, they lashed up homebuilt incendiary bombs and attached them to home made bomb racks on their aircraft.

This Serbian pilot HATED the Bulgarians, and he wanted to drop more bombs on the Bulgarians than anybody else. So in addition to bomb racks under the wings, he filled the front seat of his two seater aircraft with more bombs, and took an umbrella along with him. Then when he’d dropped all the bombs from his bomb racks under the wings, he would hook the extra bombs in the front cockpit out with his umbrella and hoick them over the side too.

Of course we asked Granddad what type of aircraft he flew, and he told us ‘the Bristol Bullet’. At that time, without the internet, our primitive research (probably in I-Spy books) didn’t turn up the Bullet, and I’m afraid we may have wondered how much of the rest of his stories were true. It was only later – much later – that we came across the Bristol Bullet as a nickname for the Bristol Scout, on account of its high speed when it was introduced.

In retrospect, it seems odd that Granddad didn’t regale us with much of his other memorabilia at the time; we were clearly very interested, and we now know that his recollection of the events of 1915/1916 were crystal clear. He’d kept in touch with the RNAS Association, went to regular reunions with his contemporaries, and in 1976 was interviewed by David Lance from the Imperial War Museum and shared much of his memorabilia between them and the FAA Museum at Yeovilton.

But we didn’t find out the details of his service until after he died in 1983.

And it was then, as we were clearing out his workshop after his death, that we came across three items that set us on the long, long trail which is shortly, we hope, coming to fruition.

They were the control stick, rudder bar, and magneto from his machine.

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2 Comments
  1. e. burrows permalink

    Some job you have there. I was hooked on WW1 flying via Biggles & co., and even now Play R.O.F. Wish you every success.

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