Searching for the Sevenoaks airmen

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.

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Tom Silliss

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.

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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.

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Ernest Brooker

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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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Frederick Whyntie

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.

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Howard Reeder Daws

Sevenoaks airmen mentioned in the Chronicle
Capt Nevill Hudson
Lieut Halliday
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
George Dawson
Private Harrington
Lionel Hicks
Private W Hoadley
Private Charlie Martin
Corporal R Morris
Private Rich
T E Weller

Air Mechanic (First Class) E C House, RNAS
Bernard Sears RNAS
Arthur Smithurst RNAS
F W Weller, RNAS

 

 

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Buried in Sevenoaks – war graves at St Nicholas Church

The majority of men named on the Sevenoaks war memorial are buried or remembered abroad in the immacualately maintained cemeteries of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Some, however, are buried much closer to home, often because they were invalided back to England and were buried locally after dying of their wounds. There are CWGC graves at Greatness Cemetery and in local churches, in and around Sevenoaks where men such as Alfred Hope and Harry McCarthy are buried. Many of these men buried at home were given a funeral with full military honours, which was reported in the Sevenoaks Chronicle.

At St Nicholas, the parish church of Sevenoaks, there are several memorials to some of the Sevenoaks fallen inside the church; others are buried in the churchyard or remembered on family graves despite being buried elsewhere.

Inside the church are memorials to John Sherbrooke Richardson, Geoffrey Harrison, George Henry Heslop and William Guy Cronk. Cronk is also mentioned on the tombstone on his parents grave and was one of the earliest of the Sevenoaks casualties, being killed in 1914.

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imageMemorials to William Cronk inside St Nicholas as well on the family grave in the churchyard

Herbert Sears and his wife, who both died within a week of each other during the influenza pandemic of late 1918, leaving five young children are also buried in the churchyard. Herbert had run the Rectory Farm for the Rev John Rooker and, as a conscientious objector, had served with the Labour Corps.

imageThe grave of Herbert Sears and his wife, Rose

Others remembered on family graves include Frederick Harold Bourne who fought with the Australian Imperial Force, brothers Percy and Albert Hayward and Jack Baldwin.

imageFrederick Harold Bourne remembered on the grave of his parents

All of these men are remembered on the town war memorial and so I have recently been researching the graves of those men who are buried in the churchyard but not named at The Vine.

A Sudden Death

Frank Powell is one of these men. His grave is marked by the traditional headstone of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but, unusually, is surrounded by a family grave that names his wife, Edith Amy Blanche Bees (1882 – 1969) and daughter Winifred Frances Gwendoline Powell (1909 – 1984). A little research revealed that Frank, a Sergeant Major in the Army Service Corps, had died suddenly in 1916. The Sevenoaks Chronicle recorded that

Shortly after mid-day, the deceased walked up through the town and spoke to Mr Fulbrook about a game of billiards that was played the previous evening. He then appeared to be in his usual health and was in good spirits. Two or three minutes later however, he fell down in front of the side door of the Dorset Arms Hotel. A member of the R.A.M.C and several others rendered assistance but before medical aid could be summoned the unfortunate man had passed away.

Deceased who was about 38 years of age, was a popular non-commissioned officer, both among the corps and the townspeople to many of whom he had become known during his stay in Sevenoaks. A native of Gillingham, he had seen 18 years service in the army.

The funeral took place with full military honours …when the remains were interred in St Nicholas cemetery. The coffin, covered with the Union Jack, was conveyed to the church on a gun-carriage, supplied by a Home Counties Battery whilst the Middlesex Regiment provided a firing party and trumpeter who sounded the Last Post. The band of the Middlesex Regiment led the solemn procession which included a very large number of deceased’s friends from the various units stationed in the town.

imageFrank Powell’s unusual CWGC grave in St Nicholas churchyard

Frank appears to have been born in 1874 but lied when he enlisted in 1901, giving his age as twenty, meaning that his grave shows his age as thirty six and not forty two. Frank’s only daughter doesn’t appear to have had children who could shed further light on the story and I wonder how unusal this grave is? I’m aware of some CWGC graves where the names of other family members have been added but have not seen any others like this.

A Flying Ace

Others buried in the churchyard include Second Lieutenant Charles Nesfield Andrewes. Born in 1876 in Horsham, Sussex, Charles Andrewes attended Trinity College, Cambridge and joined the South Devon Yeomanry in 1902. He served during the war as a Lieutenant in the Labour Corps and died of influenza after the Armistice on 29 November 1918.

Perhaps the most famous combatant to be buried in the churchyard is Captain Bernard Paul Gascoigne Beanlands, a Canadian flying ace credited with several victories.

IMG_2088Captain (Bernard) Paul Gascoigne Beanlands MC

Beanlands was born in Canada in September 1897 to Canon A.J. Beanlands and his wife, Laura, later of Wickhurst Manor, Sevenoaks Weald. He was educated at Oundle before attending Sandhurst and joined the Hampshire Regiment in December 1914. Eventually serving as a Lieutenant and serving seven months in the trenches, he was transferred to 70 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corp in May 1916 (achieving most of his kills with 24 Squadron). His first victory came in that September when he killed German aces Hans Rosencrantz and Wilhelm Fahlbusch. Later that year he was promoted to Flight Commander, serving as temporary captain. He scored eight more victories and was awarded the Military Cross (gazetted 25 April 1915) according to the citation

‘He has brought down three enemy aeroplanes out of control and driven down several others over the enemy lines’

The Sevenoaks Chronicle reported in 1917 that he had been suffered gunshot wounds in both thighs, having previously been wounded once before. The paper noted

He is at present at Brighton and has been out on parade on a spinal chair. It will be a long, slow cure. Captain Beanlands has the honour of being known as a very clever Airman and has been responsible for the fall of numerous enemy aircraft.

Paul Beanlands recovered and was wounded again three days after his final victory in March 1918 and did not return to combat. However, he survived the war only to die in a flying accident at RAF Northolt on 8 May 1919. He was buried next to his father in the churchyard at St Nicholas.

imageThe grave of Paul Beanlands and his father, Canon Beanlands

With the passage of time some of these graves have fallen into disrepair while others are still legible and bear witness to the men who fought. As usual, I’d be very pleased to hear from anyone who has a connection to any of these men.

Cedric Gordon, An Undaunted Hero

Of the five Gordon brothers who fought in the First World War, two are remembered on the Sevenoaks War memorial. Donald Jervis Gordon was the first to be killed, dying on the third day of the battle of the Somme in 1916. Donald was a Lieutenant in the Border Regiment.

Captain Donald Jervis GordonDonald Jervis Gordon

His younger brother, Bernard Vernon, was killed later that year in December 1916, in a flying accident in Northumberland whilst serving with the Royal Flying Corps.

Second Lieutenant Bernard Vernon GordonBernard Vernon Gordon

The remaining brothers who fought were Thomas Milford – a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, Edward Basil and Cedric Foskett Gordon. During the course of my research for the book, a family friend of Cedric, David Lambourne, contacted me with information about him, including Cedric’s obituary and recently one of Cedric’s nephews, Martin Gordon, wrote to me from Australia, having been pleased to find the photograph of his uncle that David had sent me and which is now displayed on my ancestry page for Sevenoaks as well as in the War Memorial Gallery on this site.

Cedric lived to the ripe old age of  89, dying in Sevenoaks in 1979. Like his brothers Donald and Edward he was educated at Lancing College, were he excelled in sports. In 1910, he was commissioned into the North Staffordshire Regiment. He was sent to France on the outbreak of war and was wounded twice. In 1915 he was awarded the Military Cross for leading an attack on a village.

imageCedric Gordon (on right)

His second injury was the most serious and resulted in his losing a leg. You might be forgiven for thinking that this would be the end of his war service but Cedric joined the Royal Flying Corps and continued his wartime service as an observer and air gunner on the Western Front. He was subsequently awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1917, was mentioned in dispatches four times and awarded the military class of the OBE in 1919.

According to another nephew,  quoted in his obituary, Cedric was shot at during one flight with the bullet shattering his wooden leg. On landing, he was said to have found the stray bullet in his pocket and was confined to bed until the camp carpenter had made him a new leg.

imageCedric, on left, having lost his right leg

After the war, and having gained his pilot’s licence despite his wooden leg, Cedric was sent to Russia with British forces to aid the White Russians in the Crimea in their fight against the Bolsheviks. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and received the Order of St Ann and the Order of St Stanislas from the Russians. After leaving Russia, he flew in Palestine, where during one flight for reconnaissance work, he was forced to land in the desert and was, according to his obituary ‘picked up by a band of friendly Arabs’.

Cedric later worked for British intelligence in mainland China, before returning to England and taking command of the RAF Bloom Centre. During the Second World War, he was eventually put in charge of the South East Air Training Corps and was also a member of the Home Guard.

On his retirement, he returned to Lancing College, where his brother Edward was a Master, to become Bursar. Later in life he became well known in Sevenoaks for his involvement in the local scouting movement.

imageCedric Foskett Gordon

Cedric’s nephew, Martin Gordon, wrote to me with his memories of his uncle:

He lived in a big house with grounds in Sevenoaks. He had big vegetable gardens, a large pig, called Mr Pig, and even a little wood on a hill. He had a little MG which he used to drive my sister and I into town with – we stood up in the boot. He never married and lived with his sister Kathleen. She affectionately called him “Beast” and he had a similarly uncomplimentary name for her, which I can no longer remember. He was a wonderful man- we lived near London, but we drove over to visit about once a year when I was a child, and it was always one of my favourite days of the year.

To my shame, I never quizzed him about his life. All I can remember is that he was a pilot in World War I and he lost a leg. He still had the trench coat he was wearing when he was wounded, with a hole burned in it – he showed it to me. He said he also fought in Russia after the war for the RAF. One of the things he told me was that when he was in Russia, he was shot down and had to walk through the snow back to base. I have recently been able to check the facts, and this is what actually happened:

On 23 December 1919 the plane he was in was hit and they had to make a forced landing behind enemy lines. He and the pilot burned the plane and set off walking through the winter snow. You can imagine how cold it was, Christmas time in Russia! And they didn’t get back to base until the next day. I can’t imagine how he did that with one leg.

Martin Gordon is investigating his uncle’s service in Russia and I am continuing to research the service of all of the brothers who fought during the war and who gave so much to their country.