Posts tagged ‘First World War’

February 28, 2018

“I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above” :Flying Scotsmen

 

 

 

Bertram Dickson 1

Bertram Dickson

Britain’s first military pilot and the first British winner of an aviation competition was Scotsman Bertram Dickson. He was also involved in the first collision of an aircraft; an incident which led to his early death.

Bertram Dickson was born in 1873 in Edinburgh and died and was buried at Achanalt* in the Highlands in 1913.

Bertram's gravestone

 

The plaque on his memorial stone states:

 

THIS STONE
MARKS
THE LAST RESTING PLACE
OF
BERTRAM DICKSON
CAPTAIN
HIS MAJESTY’S
ROYAL REGIMENT OF ARTILLERY

SOLDIER – AVIATOR – EXPLORER
BORN EDINBURGH 21.12.1873.
DIED AT LOCHROSQUE CASTLE 28.9.1913

No danger found him hesitant
No suffering found him feeble.

Edinburgh-born Bertram Dickson’s heroic feats were instrumental in the formation of the Royal Flying Corps, forerunner to the Royal Air Force.

Holdich

Thomas Holdich

 Before that in 1892 the young Bertram accompanied the geographer Thomas Holdich, one-time president of the Royal Geographical Society and definer of national borders, to Chile and Argentina to establish the frontier between the two countries along the Andes.

Andes frontier

Creating a frontier in the Andes

He underwent training at the Royal Military Academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in November 1894. By the turn of the century he was a captain and soon seconded to the Foreign Office undertaking duties in many parts of the world including British East Africa and Somaliland. His role as military attaché and vice consul found him in Turkey, in the troubled Ottoman Armenian city of Van but his enthusiasm for the embryonic pursuit of flight led to his enrolment at the Farman flying school in France in 1910 where he took the Aero-Club de France’s eighty-first pilot licence. Later that year he won £400 prize money for flying the greatest aggregate distance at the Lanark Aviation Club meeting and 18,000 French francs in prize money at the Aero Club de France at Tours.

Bertram was in his element as one of an elite body of early pilots who drew vast crowds as they took to the air carrying out daring manoeuvres in tiny open aircraft. He took up a post with  British & Colonial Aircraft Company which manufactured the Bristol Boxkite. This company went on to develop the Bristol Fighter plane for the Royal Flying Corps and later what became the Royal Air Force but by then Bertram Dickson was dead.

In September 1910 he took part in army manoeuvres over Salisbury Plain, on board one of two Bristol Boxkites and those trials convinced him of the potential of aircraft for reconnaissance in war and the importance that control of the skies would become in the future.

 

A month later Dickson was in Milan where he added that other, unfortunate, first – the first mid-air crash between two aeroplanes when his bi-plane collided with an Antoinette monoplane piloted by René Thomas** of France. Both men were injured but Dickson came off worst. As a consequence of his injuries that day he died, at Lochrosque House, near Achnasheen on 28 September 1913. He was buried nearby at Achanalt in Cnoc na Bhain graveyard.

Achanalt Strath Braan

Cnoc na Bhain

Achanalt near Achnasheen on the side of Strath Bran lies the Cnoc na Bhain graveyard.

It is said he died in Lochrosque Castle but appears to have an exaggerated claim for a lodge. At any rate he was there as guest of Sir Arthur Bignold, then a former Unionist MP for Wick – an Englishman who took a liking to the Highlands and decided to buy a bit of it- around 30,000 acres.

Bignold was doubtless an enthusiastic and staunch Tory which makes the following episode all the more incredible.

In September 1914 Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, happened to be passing through Ross and Cromarty on his way to inspect the fleet anchored in Loch Ewe when he spotted a light shining on the roof of Lochrosque Lodge. Taking his professional role ultra-seriously, or perhaps drink was involved, he became highly suspicious and doubtless laying the foundations for John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps the twitchy Winston Churchill assumed Bignold was a German spy signalling to his kameraden from Berlin. At any rate Churchill aided and abetted by a loyal protection officer burst into the house, made their way onto the roof and disabled the light – to the annoyance and probably astonishment of Bignold and his household.

Rene Thomas

René Thomas

*Rene Thomas became a motor racing champion as well as pioneer aviator. He won the Indianapolis 500 in 1914 but by then Bertram was dead and buried. Thomas died an old man in 1975.

The Royal Flying Corps was the air arm of the British Army before and during First World War. It merged with the Royal Naval Air Service in 1918 to form the Royal Air Force.

As a footnote for no other reason other than I came across his name while researching Bertram another of many young pioneering Scots pilots Reginald Archibald Cammell from Inverness died a couple of years before Bertram, in 1911.  

Cammell

Reginald Cammell

Cammell was killed at Hendon in England while trialling a Valkyrie monoplane. He had won his brevet (a military commission conferred for outstanding service) on a Bristol bi-plane at the Salisbury Plain school at the end of 1910 but his first flight in the Bleriot monoplane would be his last. Before taking off there had been trouble with the engine and it was suspected engineers passed it as okay despite continuing problems. At the inquest into the crash the coroner found death by misadventure.

brevet

 

His final flight began well with him completing a circuit of the airfield and rising to 100 feet but when he attempted a spiral turn something went wrong – some say he lost control and others that the engine seized; whatever the cause the plane crashed. Cammell was thrown clear and survived a short time but was dead before arriving at hospital. Only 25 years old he was described as one of the cleverest pilots of the British Air Battalion.

Cammell gravestone

Cammell’s memorial stone

Cammell was buried in England with full military honours.

The important role of aircraft in war developed apace since those first faltering days not only in reconnaissance but in devastating bombing of populations. In this light the exploitation of the skies by men and women in machines has been a mixed blessing but none of that detracts from the courage of the first airmen and airwomen. 

* Achanalt for many of us is a stop on the railway running between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh. It was once part of the Dingwall and Skye Railway operated by Highland Railway; one of many small British lines. During the First World War this line was a vital link between the south and Scapa Flow where the British Navy had a base, serviced from Scrabster near Thurso. Each day the Jellicoe Express ran between London and Thurso – a journey of around 22 hours.

images.duckduckgo

Achanalt halt

 

I am obliged to Ruadh Watson for pointing me in the direction of another impressive early airman, from Dundee – here’s the link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preston_Watson

August 10, 2017

Scottish World War Poetry #5 From the Line

       

          From the Line

a34e76c1f3d05cbf3de1155c51f04530--war-photography-vintage-photography

Have you seen men come from the Line,

Tottering, doddering, as if bad wine

Had drugged their very souls;

Their garments rent with holes

And caked with mud

And streaked with blood

Of others, or their own;

Haggard, weary-limbed and chilled to the bone,

Trudging aimless, hopeless, on

With listless eyes and faces drawn

Taut with woe?

 

Have you seen them aimless go

Bowed down with muddy pack

And muddy rifle slung on back,

And soaking overcoat,

Staring on with eyes that note

Nothing but the mire

Quenched of every fire?

 

Have you seen men when they come

From shell-holes filled with scum

Of mud and blood and flesh,

Where there’s nothing fresh

Like grass, or trees, or flowers,

And the numbing year-like hours

Lag on – drag on,

And the hopeless dawn

Brings naught but death, and rain – 

The rain a fiend of pain

That scourges without end,

And Death, a smiling friend?

 

Have you seen men when they come from hell?

If not, – ah, well

Speak not with easy eloquence

That seems like sense

Of ‘War and its Necessity’!

And do not rant, I pray,

On ‘War’s Magnificent Nobility’!

 

If you’ve seen men come from the Line

You’ll know it’s Peace that is divine !

If you’ve not seen the things I’ve sung – 

Let silence bind your tongue,

But, make all wars to cease,

And work, and work for Everlasting Peace !

Roderick Watson Kerr

August 3, 2017

Scottish World War I Poetry #4 A Sough o’ War

A Sough o’ War  (A Sigh of War)

DSC02249.JPG

The corn was turnin’, hairst was near,
But lang afore the scythes could start
A sough o’ war gaed through the land
An’ stirred it to its benmost heart.
Nae ours the blame, but when it came
We couldna pass the challenge by,
For credit o’ our honest name
There could be but one reply.
An’ buirdly men, fae strath an’ glen
An’ shepherds fae the bucht an’ hill,
Will show them a’, whate’er befa’,
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

Half-mast the castle banner droops,
The Laird’s lament was played yestreen,
An’ mony a widowed cottar wife
Is greetin’ at her shank aleen.
In Freedom’s cause, for ane that fa’s,
We’ll glean the glens an’ send them three
To clip the reivin’ eagle’s claws,
An’ drook his feathers i’ the sea.
For gallant loons, in brochs an’ toons,
Are leavin’ shop an’ yard an’ mill,
A’ keen to show baith friend an’ foe
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

The grim, grey fathers, bent wi’ years,
Come stridin’ through the muirland mist,
Wi’ beardless lads scarce by wi’ school
But eager as the lave to list.
We’ve fleshed o’ yore the braid claymore
On mony a bloody field afar,
But ne’er did skirlin’ pipes afore
Cry on sae urgently tae war.
Gin danger’s there, we’ll thole our share,
Gie’s but the weapons, we’ve the will,
Ayont the main, to prove again
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

Charles Murray (Alford, Aberdeenshire)

August 1, 2017

Scottish World War I poetry # 2 In No Man’s Land

 In No Man’s Land


p

The hedge on the left, and the trench on the right,
And the whispering, rustling wood between,
And who knows where in the wood to-night,
Death or capture may lurk unseen,
The open field and the figures lying
Under the shade of the apple trees —
Is it the wind in the branches sighing
Or a German trying to stop a sneeze.

Louder the voices of night come thronging,
But over them all the sound is clear,
Taking me back to the place of my longing
And the cultured sneezes I used to hear,
Lecture-time and my tutor’s ‘hanker’
Stopping his period’s rounded close,
Like the frozen hand of a German ranker
Down in a ditch with a cold in his nose.

I’m cold, too, and a stealthy shuffle
From the man with a pistol covering me,
And the Bosche moving off with a snap and a shuffle
Break the windows of memory —
I can’t make sure till the moon gets lighter —
Anyway shooting is over bold,
Oh, damn you, get back to your trench, you blighter,
I really can’t shoot a man with a cold.

E. Alan Mackintosh

May 18, 2017

Fraternising with the enemy: Scots and Germans

Gordon_Highlanders_(1914)

The Great War front line Christmas truce of 1914 is well known, specially that game of football. Truth is there were several similar episodes and one involving troops of the Gordon Highlanders was recounted by two men who took part when they were invalided to Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow.

Privates Garden McIntosh and W. Kiloh from Banff near Aberdeen were serving at the front with the 6th Gordon Highlanders on Christmas morning in 1914 when they were startled to see several German soldiers emerge from their trenches and approach them with their hands held up. Speaking in perfect English the Germans wished the young Scottish troops a Merry Christmas.

Once over their surprise the kilted Gordons happily joined in the good wishes and soon Scots and Germans, who were from Bavaria, were exchanging gifts; long German rolls for bully beef and other rations although the dark German bread rolls were not much appreciated by the Scots.

Present too was the regiment’s padre, Aberdonian Rev. J. Esslemont Adams, who addressed men from both sides with a message in keeping with Christmas and in return he received a generous gift of a beautiful melodeon. It struck the two Gordons this was a considerable sacrifice for playing music was one of the few means of keeping up spirits so far from home and in the midst of the horrors of war and tense frustrating stalemates.

This truce lasted for several days before it came to the notice of German officers -goodness knows where they were all this time but when they became aware of the fraternisation between the two sides they moved their men away to a different position. Until then an occasional German voice would call out in the middle of the night to one of the Scots, addressing him as sergeant —-, and inviting him to “come and have your rum.” The sergeant always resisted the offer to ‘stand treat.”

These particular Scots and Bavarians got on well and it emerged that several of the Germans had worked in Scotland as hotel employees before the war and their hearts were not in fighting but soon that was what they were all ordered to do.

***

At the same time as reading about the 6th Gordons and their Bavarian foe I came across this poignant tale relating to the death of a twenty-one year old soon after he arrived in France from the northeast of Scotland.

In October 1915 Mr and Mrs Merson of 17 Mount St in Aberdeen received word that their son Lawrence, a lance corporal with D Coy., 13 Platoon of the 1/4th Gordon Highlanders, had been killed in action in France.

Lawrence was fourteen when he began work with the post office in Aberdeen and before joining up for war service he was postie at Blairs outside the city. At the age of 21 years he volunteered for the Great War.

A young German soldier came across his corpse in a front line trench and went through Lawrence’s pockets removing his identification disc, papers and letters, including his paybook and sent them all to his (the German’s) sister in Frankfurt asking that she send them on to the Highlander’s family. The sister was happy to oblige and wrote an accompanying letter and forwarded the lot to her uncle in Switzerland that he might send them to Mr and Mrs Merson in Aberdeen. This is her letter.

Frankfort-on-Maine

  It is a very sad matter I am writing you. My brother sent home a letter from the front and begged me to write you.

  He stands in the West, and it was in his first letter since the hard fights there. My eldest brother was killed last year at Ypres, so that I know how glad we were to hear any details of his death.  I think you have already heard that Lawrence B. Merson, whom I believe to be your son, did not come back from the last fight. We were enemies, but pain and mourning are uniting us. So thought my brother, too, for he wrote everything about your son he could find out. I just will translate it to you –

  “We led the way to our position, and found there a dead Highlander, who had a deep wound above the right eye, probably by a thrust of the bayonet. We found the following objects: – Book of payments, mark of distinction, a small sketch, and an instrument against the gases. The dead Englishman had his gun with the bayonet at it (and there were spots of blood on it) on his right side. He was a Highlander with a kilt, and bare knees.”

  My brother sent these photos. I am sure my brother and his comrades did all honour to their enemy who died in their tracks.

The young Germans’ uncle in Geneva also wrote a letter to Lawrence’s parents expressing his feelings:

“My brother is a clergyman for French Protestants in Frankfort, and his son is in the German army, although we are of old Swiss origin, and he sent the intimation to his sister in Frankfort. Your son did his duty for his country, and he will find his reward. God help you in these dark days.”

This was in October of 1915 and Lawrence died in the February that year so it is likely that the Mersons already knew of their son’s death but it is also likely the most affectionate communication wasn’t that of the army but from the ‘enemy’.