Is that you Billy … ?

I thought I would take brief respite from the Norwegian ‘expedition’.  I have been in the attic again, this time searching for my dad’s photographic album of our 1963 holiday near Bergen.

There are boxes of photographs, negatives, postcards and documents dating back two generations up there and one day I must sort it out.  In the meantime I can still do some random poking about and come up with unexpected treasures.

The exploits of my maternal grandfather, Fred, have featured in a number of posts on this blog and in this book.  He was a Chief Mechanic with the Royal Flying Corps stationed in Egypt during the Great War and at first sight I assumed this postcard was another from his collection. However, not only is he not in the photograph but the hangar and their uniforms don’t look right for Aboukir in Egypt. The penny then dropped – this is not about Fred but Billy who was stationed in the UK. I have now convinced myself that he is standing on the back row, second from the right.  This guesswork is based on his only other image which can be found on the post Great Uncle Billy where the uniform is identical. Nobody else looks vaguely like him, the hairline, ears and dark eyes seem to match and why else was the image kept.

Great Uncle Billy ...
(click on the image to enlarge)

As it states in the earlier post, his funeral was marked with military honours at Andover Cemetery in the presence of his mother, father, ‘chums and superior officers’ and his fiancée, Miss Coombes.  Were some these heads bowed at his graveside on 11th November 1918.

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

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.