Tag Archives: Air Mechanic

CWG: Private George Knight

Private George Knight

George Albert Knight was born in Dover, Kent, on 27th September 1888, the second of seven children to Thomas and Frances Knight. Thomas was a railway porter from Hampshire, and the family lived in a small terraced house a few minutes’ walk from his workplace, Dover Priory Station.

By the turn of the century, the family had moved to Faversham: Thomas was working a signalman, and two of George’s brothers also worked for the railway – one as a clerk, the other as a number taker. George, meanwhile, was working as a butcher.

In the summer of 1916, George married Alice Smith, who was working as a domestic servant for an government inspector in Willesborough, Kent. George was still working as a butcher at this point, and continued to do so up until the spring of 1918, when he was eventually called up.

Private Knight enlisted in March 1918, joining the Royal Naval Air Service shortly before it merged with the Royal Flying Corps to become the fledgling Royal Air Force. He was based in Cornwall, and his role included mechanic work.

On the evening of 21st September 1918, George collapsed and, despite being rushed to hospital in Truro, he passed away the following morning. It appears that he had not been unwell before, and his death came as a shock. He was just short of his 30th birthday.

George Albert Knight was brought back to Kent for burial. He was laid to rest in Faversham Borough Cemetery, not far from where his widow and family were living.

CWG: Air Mechanic 3rd Class Gilbert Jennings

Air Mechanic 3rd Class Gilbert Jennings

Gilbert William Jennings was born on 4th January 1901, and was the third of four children to William and Lily Jennings. Both were born in Chard, Somerset, and this is where they raise their young family. William was a foreman in one of the town’s lace factories and when he finished school Gilbert followed his father into the industry.

War broke out across Europe in 1914 and, while Gilbert was too young to enlist at the start of the conflict, it is evident that he wanted to play his part as soon as he was able to.

On 6th September 1918 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force: his experience with factory machinery led him to the role of Air Mechanic 3rd Class. His service records confirmed that he was 5ft 7ins (1.70m) tall, had brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion.

Air Mechanic Jennings was sent to Buckinghamshire for training, but his time there was to be tragically short. Within a matter of weeks he was admitted to the Central Military Hospital in Aylesbury with pneumonia. The condition was to prove too much for his body: he passed away on 28th October 1918. He had been in the Royal Air Force for just 52 days and was a victim of his desire to get involved in the war before it was too late to do so. He was 17 years of age.

Gilbert William Jennings’ body was brought back to Somerset for burial: he was laid to rest in the cemetery of his home town, Chard.

CWG Air Mechanic Walter Naish

Air Mechanic Walter Naish

Walter Matthias Naish was born in the autumn of 1896, and was one of of five children to agricultural labourer Matthias Naish and his wife, Sarah Ann. Born in Lovington, near Castle Cary, Somerset, this is where the family is recorded as living for the 1901 and 1911 censuses.

When he left school, Walter found work as a cabinet maker; war was on the horizon, however, and he enlisted on 28th February 1916. He was immediately put on reserve, however, and was only mobilised in January 1917, when he was assigned to the Royal Flying Corps as an Air Mechanic.

Tragically, Walter’s military career was not to be a long one. He was admitted to the Connaught Hospital in Aldershot with conditions unknown, and passed away on 3rd March 1917, just 51 days after leaving home. He was just 20 years old.

Walter Matthias Naish’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He lies at rest in the Castle Cary Cemetery, not far from his home.

CWG: Air Mechanic 2nd Class Edward McIntosh

Air Mechanic 2nd Class Edward McIntosh

Edward James McIntosh was born in January 1899, the youngest of four children to Henry and Caroline McIntosh from Gillingham in Kent. Henry and Caroline ran a greengrocer’s and their eldest son, Harry, followed them into the business when he left school. One of Edward’s sisters Beatrice became a dressmaker, while the other, Gertrude, became a servant for the secretary to an engineering company.

Sadly, little else remains of young Edward’s life. He enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps when war broke out; given his age, it is unlikely that he signed up before 1917, although there is no record to confirm this.

Edward achieved the rank of Air Mechanic 2nd Class (although his gravestone gives his rank as Second Airman), but there is little more documentation to flesh out his military service.

Edward was admitted to the Military Hospital in Aldershot in January 1918, suffering from meningitis. Sadly this was to take his life, and he passed away on 10th January 1918, having just turned 18 years old.

Edward James McIntosh lies at rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in his home town of Gillingham, Kent.

CWG: Air Mechanic William Manning

Air Mechanic William Manning

William Charles Manning – known as Willie – was born in Bridgwater in 1890, one of ten children to Samuel and Emily Manning. Samuel was a cabinet maker, and at least of three of his sons, Willie included, went into the family business.

There is little information available on Willie’s life, but he married Nellie Dodden, also from Bridgwater, in November 1915. Sadly, this was around the time that Nellie’s father passed away; tragedy for Nellie was still close by.

Willie’s military records are minimal, although details of his passing can be determined from the subsequent newspaper report.

He had enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps around October 1915, certainly around the time he and Nellie married. He was an air mechanic, something his woodworking skills probably drew him to and was based at Manston Airfield in Kent.

On 8th July 1916, Willie was a passenger in a flight piloted by Lieutenant Bidie. It seems that Bidie was turning the plane while at low altitude, while attempting to land. The plane crashed, and both Bidie and Willie were killed. Air Mechanic Manning was just 25 years old.

William Charles Manning lies at rest in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater, Somerset.

CWG: Air Mechanic Eustace Bourne

Air Mechanic Eustace Bourne

Eustace Lionel Bourne was born in 1897, one of six children to Robert and Eve, from Westonzoyland, Somerset. Robert was a wheelwright and carpenter and, after leaving school, Eustace followed in a similar vein, becoming an apprentice to an ironmonger.

When war broke out, Eustace’s interest in engineering led him to join the Royal Flying Corps, where he was appointed as an Air Mechanic. His enlistment papers – dated November 1915 – give his trade or calling as “motor cyclist”, so it is obviously a passion that he had.

Air Mechanic Bourne was assigned to Milton Airfield near Abingdon, Oxfordshire and it was there that he served for nearly eighteen months. He seems to have enjoyed his time off as much as his time working, and boating on the Thames nearby was a hobby. Sadly, it was also to be his undoing.

On 2nd May 1917, he was out on the river at Culham Reach; the local newspaper account picked up the story.

Accidentally drowned was the verdict returned at the inquest last Saturday on Eustace Lionel Bourne, 21 [sic], attached to the mechanical department of the RFC, stationed at Milton.

It appeared that while sculling with a colleague in Culham Reach on May 2nd, he lost a scull. His companion, who had dropped a rudder-line, was turning round at the time. Deceased, in leaning over to pick up the scull, fell into the river and disappeared. It was twilight at the time, and a search was unavailing.

The other man, who could neither swim nor scull, was left in the boat, which was half filled with water.

The body was discovered on Friday morning near Sutton Weirs.

Reading Mercury: Saturday 19th May 1917

Eustace Lionel Bourne was just 20 years old when he drowned. He lies at rest in the cemetery of Westonzoyland, his home village.

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.

CWG: Air Mechanic Reuben Hadlow

Air Mechanic Reuben Hadlow

Reuben Victor Stanley Hadlow was born in the spring of 1898. He was one of thirteen children to John Charles Tarpe Hadlow and his wife Gertrude, publicans at the Star pub in Whitstable, Kent.

When war broke out, Reuben was working as a blacksmith; he enlisted in the army in the summer of 1914, serving on the home front.

In February 1916 Private Hadlow transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a Air Mechanic 2nd Class, and was assigned to the 65 Training Squadron in Croydon. He was promoted to Air Mechanic 1st Class six months later.

When the RFC became the Royal Air Force, Air Mechanic Hadlow moved across to the new institution. He moved to support 156 Squadron in November 1918, then the 35 Training Depot Station shortly after.

Air Mechanic Hadlow contracted phthisis (tuberculosis) towards the end of that year, which led to his being discharged from the RAF on 22nd January 1919.

Reuben’s health did not recover after returning home – his parents were running the King’s Arms pub in Boxley near Maidstone by this point. He passed away on 17th September 1919, aged twenty-one.

He lies at rest in the churchyard of St Mary and All Saints, in his parent’s village.

Poignantly, his gravestone is not a traditional war grave. Instead it states that he died “after a painful illness and serving his country 4 1/2 years”.