There are five men who served with the Royal Flying Corps named on the Sevenoaks war memorial: Bernard Vernon Gordon, George Walford, Nimrod King, Thomas Sillis and George Walford.
Bernard Gordon’s brother, Cedric Foskett Gordon went on to serve with the RFC as an observer after losing a leg whilst serving with the North Staffordshire regiment. We know a lot about the Gordon family as their archive, especially Cedric’s letters of that period survive. Just over a week before Bernard’s death, Cedric wrote to his younger brother who was then in training:
9 December, letter to 2nd Lieut BV Gordon at the Aerodrome, Cramlington.
How are you getting on? I am glad you have got over your Preliminary part. I hope you still like flying. What sort of a pilot are you turning out to be? How long will it probably be before you get your wings? Life out here in the Winter is pretty dull. I have only been up twice in the last 3 weeks & there is nothing to do. They have just started quite a decent officers’ club here. I am going there for dinner tonight. We have been having dreadfully dud weather here. Not much chance of it clearing up ‘till about April. A Hun who was out on a night bombing raid lost his way & landed about 2 miles from here 3 nights ago. He only broke his prop. so he did pretty well. There was a great soccer match this afternoon. There is quite a lot of footer out here; I wish I could play & the fellows who can play don’t want to! We have got a very good aerodrome here. The Hun prisoners have made a good job of it. There have been one or two very good concert parties down this way lately & there is to be a boxing show on this week. You ought to try boxing one day, it’s quite good fun & very good exercise. Let me know if I can do anything for you. Who have you got as your Sqdn Commander & Flight Commanders? Nice people I hope. There are a lot of blighters in the Corps. Well, very best of luck. Cheerho.
Bernard Vernon Gordon
Bernard was killed, aged 18, in an aircraft crash near Newcastle on 14 December, his 13th Solo sortie.
The exploits of other local RFC men were often reported in the Sevenoaks Chronicle but I am very keen to hear from anyone who might be able to shed more light on our airmen and their stories.
Ernest Horncastle was one such man. A son of Walter Horncastle, a tailor based in the High Street (a family business which still operates today), Ernest was born in Sevenoaks in 1890. Aged twenty three and at 6’1 and in good health, he enlisted in August 1914 and soon received a temporary commission with the Royal Field Artillery, arriving in France that December. After a few months he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps Balloon Section. In August 1917 the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported that Ernest
…has seen some very stiff work and had some thrilling experiences.
By 1916, Ernest was suffering from shell shock and fever and spent a period of five weeks on leave at home. A Medical Board report concluded that his illness was due to active service and that he ‘is very neurotic and complaining of subjective symptoms’.
Ernest recovered well enough to return to service and continued until early 1918 when he was diagnosed with bronchitis and neurasthenia and was sent to hospital before returning home on leave to England. A Medical Board held in that March noted that his bronchitis had cleared but that he still suffered from muscular pains and other symptoms.
The medical officer’s opinion was that
He has done a good deal of active service. It is highly probable that his nerve for flying is failing or has done so. He is otherwise perfectly well.
In fact, by this time, Ernest had clocked up over 150 hours flying. The board concluded that Ernest should return to some duty, in order for his ‘mind to be distracted from himself’.
(he) leads an ordinary life of pleasure and enjoyment and takes plenty of exercise. He has greatly improved in every way since admission.
Ernest survived the war and lived until 1964.
Another Ernest, a brother of soldier Leonard Brooker who is remembered on the town war memorial, initially served with the Royal Engineers.
The Sevenoaks Chronicle reported in September 1917 that Ernest
is engaged in wireless telegraphy work. He has been in France eighteen months and finds his work pleasurable.
A chemist before the war, Ernest joined the RFC and survived the war but was tragically killed in a motor accident in 1929.
Horace Owen was born in 1890, he son of local councillor, Richard and his wife, Laura.
Initially joining the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Horace later transferred to be the Flying Corps, where he served as a Temporary Lieutenant.
Horace William Owen
The Chronicle reported in early 1917 that Horace had only recently left Sevenoaks to commence his duties in France as a member of the RFC and went missing after his first flight. After weeks of uncertainty, a letter from Horace arrived home informing his parents that he was now a prisoner of war and had been shot down while flying. Horace had been captured on 28th March 1917 and was repatriated on 14th January 1919. He lived on until 1969.
Ivan Hart Davies
Ivan Hart Davies (1878-1917), had been a schoolmaster at the Beacon School in Sevenoaks and counted Siegfried Sassoon amongst his pupils. Himself the son of a vicar, he also taught the sons of the Rector of St Nicholas and the Rev. Thompson of St Mary, Kippington. Hart Davies had left the school by the time of his death, which was reported in The Times
Lieutenant Ivan Beauclerk Hart-Davies, RFC, who was killed in an aeroplane accident in England was the son of the late Rev John Hart-Davies of Southam Rectory, Warwickshire and was 39 years of age. He was educated at a school at Maidenhead and at King’s School, Canterbury, and began life as a schoolmaster at New Beacon, Sevenoaks. Afterwards, however, he worked up a wide life insurance and motor insurance business in the Midlands. He held the “end-to-end” “record” for motor cycles and light cars, and in 1913, with three other motorcyclists, won the Murren Cup, though none of the four had done any bobsleighing before. He took to flying before the war as an amateur, but last year he obtained a commission in the RFC and was on the eve of going to the front. A brother officer writes ‘A gallant fellow who we all liked immensely, and are deeply grieved that he should have been fatally injured when he so much wished to go to France, where doubtless he would have won honours’.
Harry Watson Durtnell
Harry Watson Durtnell was a scion of the Durtnell family of Brasted, builders since the reign of Elizabeth I. Harry was a cousin of Richard Neville Durtnell who was killed in action in 1917. Initially serving with the Welch regiment, Harry later transferred to serve with the RFC. He survived the war, living until 1971.
Fred Whyntie was the brother of Jack Whyntie, whom I recently wrote about. Like his brother, Fred survived the war but died in 1937 aged 48. His grandson, Adrian Whyntie, told me that the family believed his health had suffered by his job of ‘applying aircraft dope to the fabric. This damaged his lungs badly, which resulted in his early death’.
Many other local men served with the RFC at all levels in the new service. John Potter had worked with his father for five years in the Blacksmiths Forge at Knole and had joined the army in November 1916 aged 19. Putting his training to good use, the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported that he had been selected for ‘flying machines repair work’ and was employed in the Royal Naval Flying Corps workshops.
Little is known about Howard Reeder Daws (1898-1969) beyond this excellent photo of him and I’d be very pleased to hear from relatives of any of these men and those listed below whose service is mentioned only briefly in local papers.
Howard Reeder Daws
Sevenoaks airmen mentioned in the Chronicle
Capt Nevill Hudson
Lieut A Sargent
Air Mechanic Charlie Bassett
Air Mechanic George Dawson
Air Mechanic A Diamond
Air Mechanic Anthony Holmden
Air Mechanic Charlie Martin
Air Mechanic Arthur Terrry
Air Mechanic Frank Thorogood
First Class Air Mechanic B Frank Townsend
Second Air Mechanic Gordon A Waters
Private S Brazier
Private W Hoadley
Private Charlie Martin
Corporal R Morris
T E Weller
Air Mechanic (First Class) E C House, RNAS
Bernard Sears RNAS
Arthur Smithurst RNAS
F W Weller, RNAS