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Robo Copter contributes to First World War Royal Flying Corps story


Five years ago I put a series of photographs from 1905 to 1919 online. I knew one of the characters – my grandfather age 8 in 1905 and 21 in later pictures. He served in the Machine Gun Corps in 1916/1917 then trained as a fighter pilot as a Flight Cadet in th RFC/RAF in 1918. I wanted to write a piece that followed his journey from Office Boy in a brewery in Consett, co.Durham in 1915 to MCG training on the Vicker’s Machine Gun at Grantham then on to Arras, the Somme and Passchendaele before ‘aeronautics’ training with the RFC. Who were the officers in the photograhs he was given when he left the trenches on Christmas Day 1917? Where were these photographs taken when he joined the RAF, and who are some of these people, fellow flight cadets, pilots, observers and instructors next to Bristol Fighters during flight training. Courtesy of the Internet a specialist on uniforms helped narrow down some of these people, pointing out that one of them was my grandfather’s younger brother who had joined the RFC in 1916 and was by then a Flight Sergeant flying bombers – fascinating as he died in a plane crash long after the war had ended in the summer of 1919. Then the places in the photographs – today I stood infront of the Queens Appartments Hastings which was The Queens Hotel, then RFC and subsequently RAF Hastings – barracks for flight cadets and then I found their favorite watering hole – my only clue was Howard House, but a lady who collates old images of Hastings did some detective work and I took pictures of a Georgian terraced house that has barely changed in 95 years. All this thanks to the connectedness of the Internet. This is a work in progess to produce a 20-30 minute video. Gaps are filled by likeminds, or people who enjoy the detective work who can contribute which now inlcudes conacts who offer insights or go out and do the detective work – which includes someone who lives in Poelcappelle, this lady in Hastings, another in Grantham for the MCG camp, yet another near what was an RAF aerodrome at RAF Crail, this Dutch specialist on the uniforms and in Benfieldside where my grandfather grew up the local history society found a clipping from a 1911 newspaper and the local primary school has been in touch. I’ve found this sense of joint effort before in student theatre, volunteer clubs like swimming and when making ‘no budget’ films – engagment, satisfying an interest, solving a problem, helping bring a vision to life. It is altruistic too, there isn’t an obligation to reciprocate, rather people enjoy it. When I see things I can contribute to I do and often do so. Some are likeminds, others simply have the answer. I believe that through the Internet, not just through archive collections, but from people’s own family albums I will fill the gaps in the story I want to tell which will either stimulate or start a similar interst in others. Just today speaking to someone at the local museum I learn there is film of the RAF Cadets marching along the seafront so I’ll get to see that and learn from this contact how to apply for heritage lottery funding.

The piece is called ‘That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendaele’, a remark my grandather made when watching news of the First Gulf War. He lived long into his nineties! The goal isn’t only to have the linear narrative but to create 30 or so one minute pieces and to make this ‘rich media’ freely available as an OER. Here are a couple of challenges I put to the Internet: who was the German soldier my grandfather took in eary November 1917? In February 1918 as he travelled to RAF training a ‘flu epidemic had him stuck in Grantham for a few weeks. For want of something to do he took on marching a guard duty down to the Ammo Dump and every day was given a slap up breakfast by a lady who lived in the house on the corner – is the house stil there? Whose great-grandmother was it?!

And why the robo copter or UFO camera in the photoraph above?

This is Steve the cameraman who shot an interview I took part in for BBC South on my grandfather’s experiences in Hastings during the First World War. It goes out on Wednesday 16th October. My hope is that as a result some of the questions I put above can be answered? Who were the two girls who came down to visit him from the ‘counting house’ in London? One was called ‘Mabel’ and knew Jack Wilson from Consett. Where can I look through photographs taken by the long defunct local paper that showed cadets marching through Hastings? I’ve seen one which I fancy is my grandfather leading the squadron down the seafront.


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