CWG: Air Mechanic Hedley Chinn

Air Mechanic Hedley Chinn

Hedley Walter Chinn was born in April 1900, one of six children to Walter and Kate Chinn. Walter was the butcher in the Somerset village of Middlezoy, and this is where the family had made their home.

There is little information on Hedley’s pre-war life, beyond the two census records of 1901 and 1911. With war breaking out and his older sister Lilian dying while nursing the troops (see below), it seems that Hedley was eager to do his duty.

Within months of Lilian’s death in 1917 – and basically as soon as his age allowed – Hedley enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service as a mechanic. He carried out his initial training on the land-based ships President II, Impregnable and Cranwell, before officially joining the newly-formed Royal Air Force in May 1918.

Air Mechanic Chinn continued his service at Calshott, where he worked as a wireless operator for the flying boats guarding the Solent around Southampton. He continued in the role for the remainder of the war and beyond.

Hedley was eventually transferred to the RAF Reserve in February 1920, when, presumably, he returned to the family home in Somerset.

Little further is evident of Hedley’s life; but he passed away less than a year after being demobbed. There is nothing to confirm the cause of his death; given he died more than two years after the war, it is likely that it was as a result of an illness, although this is a presumption on my part. Either way, he died on 2nd January 1921, aged just 29 years old.

Hedley Walter Chinn lies at rest in the peaceful graveyard of Holy Cross Church in Middlezoy, Somerset.

It is worth noting that Hedley’s sister Lilian also served – and perished as a result of the Great War. Click here to learn more.

When I was researching Hedley’s life, I ran through the contemporary newspapers to trace his name. Nothing evident came up, although Hedley’s father, Walter’s name did appear.

In 1910, he declared himself bankrupt after being unable to pay for meat for his shop, that he had bought at auction. It appears that he had run up debts of over £300 (approximately £23,500 in today’s money) over a number of years; he put these debts down to a number of factors – “illness of my children, bad debts, having to maintain my mother for 14 years; and loss on sale of Middlezoy House, Middlezoy, three years ago, which realised £200 less than the amount I gave for it, and the amount expended on improvements”.

Walter’s debts were finally cleared in 1928 and the bankruptcy annulled.

The gravestone in Holy Cross Churchyard is a haunting memorial to the tragic lives of the Chinn family.

Walter and Kat had six children, and would outlive every one of them. The stone confirms that each of their children lies in the grave:

  • Clarence Joseph (born 1891, died 1907)
  • Myrtle Amy (born 1892, died 1893)
  • Lilian Ella (born 1893, died 1917)
  • Hilda Kate (born 1895, died 1896)
  • Hedley Walter (born 1900, died 1921)
  • Hilda Godfrey (born 1903, died 1904)

The grave’s epitaph – God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform – sounds cruelly hollow to 21st century ears. The only comfort to take, I guess, is that the whole family was destined to be together again: both Kate (who died in 1927) and Walter (who died in 1933) are also buried in the family grave.

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