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My papers went in to transfer to the Royal Flying Corps – August 1916
We were always interested in aeroplanes and that as kids.
We used to send to Gamages for parts and make them Billy and I. When we broke a part we tried and made it up again from the old parts. We also got to making propellers out of pieces of rectangular wood.
(Jack’s kid brother, Flight Lieutenant William Nixon Wilson. A Bomber pilot at 18)
I reckoned I was an ideal person for the RFC being mechanically minded with aero engines and that a machine gunner. So I showed our C.O. Williams the letter.
“Well Wilson, why the hell didn’t you go straight into the Air Corps?”
“Well.” I told him. “I’d volunteered for Kitchener’s Army and there you are. No choice in the matter.”
I asked if he would put my papers through for a transfer.
“Certainly. We’ll put your papers through, by all means.”
I was sent for a few days later.
Apparently before an application as a fighter pilot could be accepted you had to be an officer so Williams immediately made me a Corporal and sent the form in again.
When we got up to Poelcapelle I had an interview with the Brigadier at Boesinge in a Nissan hut. There were two of us interviewed, a Sergeant Major and me.
Such a nice fellow, Brigadier Sandilands. He talked away. I told him I wanted to transfer. I remember him getting up and leaning across the table to shake hands and he wished me all the luck in the world.
I went back to the line again; It was murder there.
Obviously I was hoping my papers would come through. Eventually I had medicals, very strict.
I was sent to Cassel two miles away from the front line where they had all the big wigs, like Plumer and Haig. I was taken by Company car. I was there for an eye test. This man was an American.
I was taken again to another lot of specialists before I was allowed to transfer.
I passed all of those OK and I waited again in and out of the line. Two days in, two or three days out.
When Shotley Bridge was a thriving town – c 1905
Shotley Bridge and Benfieldside School
Shotley Bridge was a metropolitan, a proper town, a thriving place.
The War and the recession and the rest put paid to that; it’s never been the same. Never will be. Can’t be. Consett and Shotley Bridge drew in workers right up to the outbreak of the War in 1914 for the iron and steel works, the paper mill, saw mill, market gardens, mines of course and the manufactories. Then there were the railways, and shops and theatres of course. And the market every week that filled the town.
I remember taking Billy up to the infant school, Benfieldside School at Highgate and him crying.
Children started school aged six and stayed on until Standard VII. On our when 14th birthday we got a job. There was no staying on unless you had the money for the Grammar School. Lads from the big houses would be sent into Newcastle or they’d be away at boarding preparatory schools from the age of 7 or 8.
The school was divided into two, girls and boys
There was a separate block for infants with the schoolmaster’s house next door and a playground behind where I left him and went back for him. It was a mile walk. There was a two hour break for lunch as most children went home to eat. So back and forth we’d walk six miles a day. There were no buses and no bikes.
There was no gas or electricity either, just paraffin lamps.
The headmaster was Frank Allan; he was a little chap. He signed up, no need, he lied over age, said he was 37, in fact he was 43. He encouraged a lot of boys to lie about their age and got them killed, 14 year olds saying they were 19. Billy did that and joined the Royal Flying Corp when he was 15.
Frank was killed in the Great War.