Humanity II

The previous post has made me look at the image of the footballers more closely.  For years I just accepted the information on the back of the photo – “Fred is seventh from the left on the back row”.  Enlarged for the first time on screen, I now have my doubts. This image is from the same event and Fred  is sat on the front row holding the ball – significantly with a centre parting, unlike in the earlier image.  This is the grandfather I immediately recognise whereas the other chap doesn’t look quite right.  Perhaps Fred was behind the lens in the earlier image after all.

I am amused by two of his team mates – guess which ones 🙂 – all humanity is here and this being Aboukir, Egypt in 1918, rather than the Western Front, I like to think they all made it safely home:

All Nations football team


This post is not really in the spirit of the photo challenge – I certainly wasn’t the photographer and neither was my maternal grandfather, Fred,  who is standing on the back row, seventh from the left.  I suppose it is just possible that it was his camera they used to take the photograph, the one he is holding in this post.

All human life is here, gathered to take part in the ‘All Nations’ football match, Royal Flying Corps Training School, Aboukir, 1918.

All Nations Fotball match

In the years that followed the Great War, Fred immersed himself in work and local good causes. He was responsible for what was claimed to be the first ever floodlit football match and was associated with the Andover Carnival from its inception, becoming overall chairman in 1955.  During World War II he was a full-time officer in the Andover Fire Brigade, having joined as a volunteer in 1925; he was called to help at the blitzes at Portsmouth and Southampton. Not many years after his return from RFC Egypt, he was also responsible for raising the money for his town’s first ambulance.

Humanity:  the quality of being human; kindness or mercy – I think my grandfather had it in spades.

Andover's first Ambulance

Castrol R

As we set off for the French Grand Prix at Clermont Ferrand in the July of 1972 one of our first lifts was in a Morris Oxford – my diary from the time records that it was from “a gentleman who was passionately reminiscing about the 1938 Donington Grand Prix, the Auto Unions and the Mercedes which smelled of boot polish and made your eyes water”. This olfactory signature came from the exotic fuel concoctions used to propel these fire-breathing pre-war monsters.  For me, as with most racing fans of a certain age, the smell that brings it all back home is inevitably Castrol R.  The name Castrol is derived from castor oil, one of the key additives to be found in Charles Wakefield’s original creation; indeed, it is the burning of castor oil that gives it and the race circuits of my memory their glorious and distinctive odour.  Castor oil has long been associated with performance machines and was a primary additive for aero-engines during the Great War; the silk scarves worn by pilots were not an affectation but were used to wipe excess engine oil from their goggles and also to prevent chafing of the neck caused by constantly looking over the shoulder for ‘enemy aircraft at one o’clock’.  Castor oil is also a very effective laxative which had dire consequences for the bowel movements of early fighter pilots.  I like to think that the smell of burning castor oil would have been as nostalgically familiar to my aero-engineer grandfather as it became to me.  Does this scene, with my grandfather stood third from the left in the foreground, have the unmistakable whiff of burnt castor oil?

AVro 504K

The above text is an extract from Golf in the Wild, due for publication in April 2014.  The aeroplane is an AVRO 504K which entered service in 1913 and was outclassed as a fighter soon after WWI started. Relegated to training duties, at which it excelled, it was in use until the 1930s. Before it ended its service career, the rotary engine was replaced with a radial, and it was re-designated the AVRO 504N.

Royal Flying Corps

This is a collage of my grandfather’s Royal Flying Corps memorabilia. As outlined in previous posts, Fred was stationed at the RFC Training School, Aboukir, Egypt from 1915 to 1918.  In this photograph he is dressed in a desert uniform for a postcard which is inscribed: “Best love to all [at] home”.  This is surrounded by two of his RFC badges, his stripes, his 1919 release papers from Fovant and some basic anti-personnel devices which were simply thrown over the side of the aircraft cockpit:


There were some requests from an earlier post to see more of the copying stand. The PZO UR 9711 is still resident on the dining room table only this time the mounted camera is connected by wifi to an iPad such that I can see the picture, focus and fire the shutter remotely (rather than climb on the wobbly pew to look through the viewfinder 🙂 ). All a bit over-engineered for the task but the real benefits of the wifi connection will arise when the camera is mounted on a six metre pole – it removes the need for guesswork:

UR 9711

Travel theme: Tilted in Egypt

As you might imagine, I am not the man behind the lens for this photograph but my maternal grandfather, Fred, certainly was – an earlier post shows him standing centre stage at the Sphinx his folding camera in hand. During the Great War he was a mechanic with the Royal Flying Corps training school at Aboukir in Egypt; if you click on “Fred” in the tag cloud, previous posts explain his story

The severely tilted aircraft is probably an Airco D.H.9.  A colleague from my IT days who writes on the subject of early flying provides this interesting insight:  This is unlikely to have been a crash from height – the aircraft is too intact for that.  It is more likely that a trainee pilot made a heavy landing, and by a mixture of throttle mismanagement and a lack of control, managed to bounce his way towards the hangar.

RFC Aboukir

Click on the image to enlarge and there is surprising detail and untold stories in the photograph – the canvas is torn back on the lower wing to reveal its delicate construction; why is the character in the hat sat on the ground and what is that upturned canvas covered object next to him; look closely and there are actually two aircraft in the background and what is the man with the pole about to do!

Without doubt, these are young men from another time where risk is a daily part of their lives.

Royal Flying Corps – Aboukir

In an earlier post I made reference to my maternal grandfather, Fred, being amongst young men in their prime having the time of their lives, securely distant from the horror of the trenches.  Whilst there must be an element of truth in this, life at the Royal Flying Corps Training School at Aboukir, Egypt was always close to the edge.  On the ground or in the air, this picture taken by Fred soon after the incident, conveys the ever present dangers of life at No3 SoMA (School of Military Aviation).

Historic aviation writer David Bruce ( describes this incident as follows:  An aircraft (looks like a D.H.9) ends up nose deep in the roof of a hangar. This is unlikely to have been a crash from height – the aircraft is too intact for that. It is more likely that a trainee pilot made a heavy landing, and by a mixture of throttle mismanagement and a lack of control managed to bounce his way towards the hangar.

Fred survived the war but as we know, his brother William did not.  His local release form from Aboukir is dated 19th January 1919 with a destination of Railway Station nearest home: Andover.  The sea journey back home would take him to No.1 Dispersal Unit Fovant where he was finally authorised to travel to Andover on 18th February 1919.  Did he know that William was gone or did that tragic news await him as he stepped down from the railway carriage that bleak winter’s Tuesday.

Life goes on.  On 21st October 1921 he would marry the pretty Florence May who would eventually turn into ‘Mrs Kipper’, my fearsome grandmother.  It is disconcerting how people can change both physically and mentally as life grinds them down from day to day.

In his obituary the Andover Advertiser newspaper describes Fred as a skilled fitter who was keen on motor-cycle and motor trials and with Mr Macklin built a car which was used for racing.  I am inclined to think this happened between 1919 and that fateful day in 1921 as I am not convinced Florence May would have countenanced such magnificent activity by men in their machines.  Not for the first time, I could be wrong about Mrs Kipper.  The family story is that the car, a Lea-Francis bolted together from two crashed halves, was raced at Brooklands so now I am in touch with their archive to see if this can be confirmed.  I am longing for this to be true.

Fred – my maternal grandfather

In an earlier post (May 21st – tribute to my Mum) I mentioned my maternal grandfather, Fred, whose life read like a Michael Palin Ripping Yarn.

Fred acquired his first driving licence in 1906 later becoming a local bus driver.  A member of the ‘Terriers’ he went to Gallipoli in 1914 and then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps training school at Aboukir, Egypt, where he rose to the rank of Chief Mechanic.  A collection of photographs from the time show Fred with a variety of wrecked aircraft, taking part in local ‘Inter-Nation’ football matches and posing in front of the Sphinx whose inscrutable smile is much more in evidence than in the 21st Century.  There must have been hardship but the overwhelming impression is of young men in their prime having the time of their lives, securely distant from the horror of the trenches.

Fred stands proud and hatless in the centre with a folding roll film camera in his left hand, his pith helmet in his right and a centre parting kept in place with a touch of pomade.

Their guide takes centre stage whilst a white horse enters stage left and a caged chicken exits stage right.  In the wings a herd of camel riders is gathering by a distant pyramid whilst the airmen stand patiently posing in the dry desert heat.  The science fiction world obsesses about time travel but windows into earlier lives can be found in most attics, filed in boxes waiting for the light.  This and our sense of smell can resurrect people and places we thought had gone forever.  When I knew my grandfather he was a tapestry of reassuring odours, predominantly Brylcreem, Three Nuns tobacco and probably alcohol.