Monday, 19 March 2018

Killed by a propeller: Sad accident to Air Mechanic

Lorraine has found a reference to an air mechanic, not on our Roll of Honour (air men who died at or around Croydon aerodrome during the war). Although the article does not detail that the accident took place at Croydon / Beddington, the location of the Crescent War Hospital in Thornton Heath makes it unlikely to be elsewhere. From the Croydon Advertiser and Surrey County Reporter, Sat. 29 March 1918:

A keen air mechanic, Henry Colin Lane, aged 29, met with his death through his keenness to ascertain if the engine of an aeroplane which he had just set in motion was running properly.

Ground crew at Beddington / Croydon in 1918.
H M Martin Photograph.
The story was told to the Croydon Coroner and jury at an inquest at the Union Offices on Tuesday afternoon, when Jack Liennewiel, a fitter in the RFC, described what occurred.  Deceased was assisting another air mechanic to start the propeller of a machine. There was another machine with the engine working about fifteen feet away.  After assisting to start the propeller deceased walked sideways into the propeller of the other machine, his attention being entirely devoted to the machine he had just started.  The propeller struck him on the head, knocking him down.  The engines were at once stopped and he was removed to the medical officer and then sent in an ambulance to the Crescent War Hospital.  Witness thought deceased did not realise that the other machine was in action, as he could not hear it owing to the noise of the machine he had just started. 

Flight Sergt. Alexander Vaile gave a similar description of the accident.

Capt. Edgar Willett RAMC, attached to the Crescent War Hospital, said that when deceased was brought to the Hospital he was able to tell him his name.  Witness had him at once taken to the operating theatre and there found that he had a large scalp wound and four smaller one, and his arm was also injured.  Witness could not find at the time any fracture of the skull. The wounds were cleaned and dressed and he was got to bed.  He was in a serious condition, and more serious at eleven o’clock, but witness did not think he had any injury he could not recover from.  About a quarter of and hour later, however, he suddenly collapsed and died.  A post-mortem examination the next day showed that there was no injury to his head from which he could not have recovered, but the liver was ruptured, and from this he could not possibly have recovered.  The propeller had also struck his side and broken some of his ribs and also caused a small rupture of one lung.

Sister Florence Lyal Wilson, the night superintendent at the Crescent War Hospital, said that deceased was never left.  He was seen by Capt. Selby, RAMC, at ten o’clock and again by Capt. Willett, at ten to eleven.

The jury found that death was the result of an accident.

(died 22nd March 1918)

Monday, 12 March 2018

Air Raid Warning Systems in Croydon: From non-existence to technical wizardry

Records in the Museum of Croydon record the gradual implementation of an air raid defence system and even - though not until summer 1917 - public air raid warnings. Our project volunteer Norman has recorded the growth of these defences, which consisted of Observation Posts, Special Constables, the airfield itself and a growth in the use of light and sound technology to track and monitor aircraft.

Observation Posts in Croydon
View from the Town Hall Croydon in 1938.
  • Town Hall Tower
  • Water Tower
  • Gillett & Johnston's Tower
  • Nottingham Road
Observer duties included observing and reporting on hostile flying machines, exposed lights, fires etc. Reported by telephone to Observation Room, Croydon; Metropolitan Observation Service, Horseguards (forerunner of Observer (later Royal) Corps); Regular Police and Fire Service.

Special Constabulary station and posts
Police Station, Fell Road; Trojan Works, Vicarage Road, Waddon; Christ Church Schools, Clyde Road; Addiscombe Railway Station; Wesleyan Hall, Bartlett Street, South Croydon.

The Special Constabulary were appointed at start of war, they carried out normal policing duties (traffic accidents, carts without lights, drunken soldiers, small boys stealing bicycle) but their principal activities were war-related.

They also manned Observation Posts, reporting hostile aircraft (Zeppelins and Gothas) and breaches of blackout (mostly careless or false alarm by nervous citizens) but always alert to “spies” signalling to Zeppelins.  They guarded key installations though there are no records of their being armed.  They also assisted in rescuing or recovering bombing victims. Specials also controlled mobile first aid parties including St John and Red Cross, Voluntary Aid Detachment (nurses) and a Motor Branch.
When raids were believed to be imminent, Specials were summoned by telephone, personal visit or boards in cinemas and clubs. During the Great War, Croydon Specials paraded for air raid duties on 63 occasions and were on stand-by a further 15 times. An average parade for air raids would comprise 250-300 men (only men).

Air Raid Warnings
by Walter Bayes. Imperial War Museum. Art.IWM ART 935
From June 1917 the police gave raid warnings by firing maroons. Boy Scouts played Morse G-C on bugles for all clear. A red light displayed from Town Hall clock tower during Alert and white for All Clear. In addition the Town Hall basement was sand-bagged as air raid shelter.

A mobile A.A. Based at White Hill Caterham comprising 2 lorries each with 2 machine-guns; one lorry with 24” acetylene searchlight; service wagon for cooking, sleeping and stores

Air defence: Tram with searchlight installed upper deck
Searchlights seen flashing as signal to recall night fighters

Fire Alarms were installed on on street corners before advent of home and street telephone call boxes.

Each Observation Post was eventually equipped with a telescope with illuminated sights and the base was marked with compass degrees. A sighting would be reported by telephone (or runner) to the Chief Inspector of the Regular Police. His station was equipped with a large-scale map and by receiving bearings from two or more Observation Posts, the location of any incident could be plotted with cords on the map by triangulation [see exhibit in Control Tower]. An example of this was when an incendiary bomb caused a fire on railway truck four miles away, the location of which was plotted by central control within four minutes. Also Zeppelin crashes to north of London observed and accurately plotted. Sighting reports were forwarded to London Air Defence Area headquarters in Horseguards.

Nottingham Road Observation Post was also fitted with “sound detectors” (giant horns) to track enemy aircraft.

Water Tower Observation Post had automatic equipment to record bearing and azimuth of targets and weather reports.

Norman Brice

Air Raid Defences in and around Croydon: Timeline

4 August 1914: Britain declares war on Germany

24 August 1914: Special Constables start guarding “vulnerable points” including water, gas and electricity works; telephone exchange; railway bridges (later gradually reduced to release manpower for air raid duties)

19 January 1915: first time Special Constabulary alerted for air raid

13 October 1915: raid by Zeppelin L14 Kapitanleutnant Bocher. Bombed Croydon. 9 killed, 15 injured

Monday, 5 March 2018

Public Reaction in Croydon to the Zeppelin Raids of October 1915

Norman, one of our volunteers on the Fighting for Air project, discovered a very interesting and important item in the Museum of Croydon. A handbill for a public meeting only a week after the devastating raid of 13/14 October. Norman writes:

Bomb damage at 69-73 Stretton Rd Croydon, at which 3
people were killed: Eliza Walter (52), Daisy Walter (23) and
Sidney Walter (15). Photograph Home Office October 1915.
© IWM (HO 29)
The actual number of casualties and material damage caused by the first Zeppelin raid were totally insignificant in terms of military losses on the Western Front and elsewhere. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records the deaths of 1,074,612 service personnel between 4 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 – an average of 689 for every single day of the Great War. And as the Prime Minister pointed out in a debate in the House of Commons on “Home Defence”, more Londoners died from traffic accidents in the blackout than from enemy action.

But the public did not see it that way. These were innocent and defenceless women and children, slaughtered in their beds as they slept.  Anti-German feeling ran high. These were “Baby Killers” and anybody with a Germanic-sounding name was a potential spy. Shops owned by these people were ransacked whilst the British Bobby stood passively by.

Croydon reacted by calling a public meeting, chaired by the Mayor, on 22 October 1915. Two motions were passed:

Mr William Joynson-Hicks M.P. proposed and Lord Willoughby de Broke seconded called for reprisal raids by British aircraft against German cities as the only effective means of defence against Zeppelin attacks.

The second motion was proposed by the Editor of the Globe, Mr Charles Parker, calling for an independent air arm to replace the separate Royal Flying Corps (Army) and the Royal Naval Air Service. In this, he was two years ahead of the official report to the Government of 1917 by General Smuts which, when accepted, led to the creation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Capt. L. M. Barlow: The ‘Gadget King’ and Local Hero

Captain Leonard Monteagle Barlow, who lived in Onslow Gardens Wellington  was brought
to our attention by Lorraine (one of the project volunteers) as he was local to the airport, had achieved an enormous amount but tragically died when at only 19 years old. Barlow was awarded MC three times. He was nick-named the Gadget King designed and had installed mechanism for firing both guns together with one trigger. He also flew from Beddington (Croydon) airfield on occasions.

More information was then provided about him by his nephew Ian Leonard Stimson who, coincidentally to this project, came to the February Open day at Airport House. Fortunately he got chatting to our volunteer co-ordinator Karen and then emailed details of his uncle afterwards. Ian Leonard Stimson – his middle name is after his heroic uncle – has researched this young pilot for his family history and sent links to more information about him in the squadron history.

Monday, 19 February 2018

People and Crashes at Beddington

Herbert Montgomery Martin records many crashes.  The aerodrome was home to Training Squadrons from May 1916 until the end and beyond of the war; No. 17 Training Squadron in May 1916, then No. 40 Training Squadron from 1 June 1916 until 14 December 1918. A great example is this one of Lt. Neisding, showing a Sopwith Camel in trees, in Beddington in January 1918. You can see the ladder in place to rescue the pilot.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Herbert Montgomery Martin

H M Martin in uniform with cane. 
The photographs of Croydon by Herbert Montgomery Martin illustrate many of the activities, crashes and people working on Beddington / Croydon Aerodrome in the last year of the First World War. There are several images of Montgomery Martin himself, who joined the army on 20 July 1916 (the Royal Flying Corp was then part of army). It is not clear from his service record if he joined the Flying Corp immediately, but it notes his transfer to the RAF on its formation on 1 April 1918.

Martin was an ‘Observer’, which meant he primarily worked as aircrew on reconnaissance observing and / or taking photographs of enemy positions. The photographs preserved by Cross and Cockade, which HCAT have copies of, make sense of this. The next blog explores some of the people Martin photographed.

Elizabeth Mary Byers

The service record tells us that he married Elizabeth Mary Byers, who was in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. She enlisted on 6 May 1918 (G2042) and worked as a waitress (according to

They married at St Saviour’s Church in West Croydon on 2 August 1919, by which time Martin had transferred to RAF reserve in February the same year 1919 and is wearing the badge of an ‘Observer’ in the photograph below.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Tragedy at Croydon's Tank Day 1918

On a previous post giving some glimpses of Croydon in 1918 through Herbert Montgomery Martin's photographs, I mentioned that there was a tragic crash during the Tank Day. On 16 March people were invited to subscribe to the Victory Loan - basically contributions to the war effort - and the presence of a tank, a new war machine, encouraged these investments. The day was overshadowed by the death of a young pilot at Croydon.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Gosport System: Robert Smith-Barry and Pilot Training

The Avro Biplane - pictured at Gosport - was Barry-Smith's preferred aircraft
for instruction as it was easy to fly so the pilots could concentrate on
learning tactics. This is from Landowne Album 3.
Training pilots to fly planes - at first for reconnaissance and then for fighting - was a dangerous and haphazard affair; of the 14166 pilots killed, over half died in training. By mid 1916 there was a dangerous shortage of pilots. The Royal Flying Corp (RFC) training programme taught pilots to fly but not to fly in battle or attack. Major Robert Smith-Barry constantly asked General Trenchard (head of the RFC in France) to let him try a new, more rigorous training programme.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Gosport Photographs: Keith le Geyt Lansdowne 1897 - 1984

Keith le Gent Lansdowne aged 17 in 1914 from album 3
Historic Croydon Airport Trust is extraordinarily fortunate to have 3 albums of original photographs taken (mainly) at Gosport 1916-18. They are among the Trust's archival 'crown jewels'. We  knew very little about them before now but can add some information about Keith Lansdowne, who donated them. They have been digitised due to funding given to  this Fighting for Air project from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The photographs appear to have been (mostly) taken by Keith le Geyt Lansdowne, who was born 1897 and served in the Royal Flying Corp then Royal Air Force as an electrician and mechanic. It is likely that he was transferred within the army from his original regiment, where he'd seen action in Belgium, due to the need for electricians in the enlarging RFC.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Pre-War Literature and Attitudes Toward Aerial Bombardment

In the decades preceding the First World War, future war fiction brought the concept of war in the air to the forefront of public imagination. The stories focused on the possibilities of weaponised flying machines, and the danger of failing to acknowledge their potential.

Top of an Australian poster. A German Zeppelin is caught in the
beams of two searchlights © IWM (Art.IWM PST 12259).
The art of posters around the war in the air often drew upon the
images depicted - in word and in image -in the pre-war novels.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Women and Work in the First World War - The War in the Air

The merging of the RFC and the RNAS to form the Royal Air Force (RAF) raised fears about losing their specialised female workforce. The WRAF was formed on 1st April 1918 to create a separate women's air service. Their work was divided into clerks and store women, household, technical and non technical. They were not trained at first and recruited according to their existing skills. 

The Role of Women and Work in World War One - General Background

From the late eighteenth century the Industrial Revolution used the labour of women, both single and married. Most women still worked in domestic service,  though many worked in textile production and even in coal mines. They often worked in poor conditions and treated unfairly, arguably like the plight of women in countries described as ‘Third World’ today. 

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Some of Henry Montgomery Martin’s 1918 Photographs of Croydon

Aerial view of Croydon, 1918
A series of photographs that HCAT has copies of - not the originals - gives a great visual glimpse of Croydon / Beddington aerodrome during the war and occasionally leisure activities in Croydon itself. As we have progressed through the project, we've found some information that assist with some context for those photographs. the photographs belonged to and were probably taken Herbert Montgomery Martin, who appears to have been one of the ground crew based at Croydon / Beddington during the war.