February 11th 1919

 

Yesterday’s edition of the Times listed numerous flying honours being conferred by the King. From this we have learnt that the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) has been awarded to Lieut. Donald Hardman (RAF).

Donald joined 19th Squadron at Baillieu, flying a Sopwith Dolphin, just in time for the German Spring Offensive of last year. In the final eight months of the war, Donald shot down nine enemy aircraft, which makes him the second OPS flying ‘ace’ – the other being Capt. Jim MacLean (RAF).

Two of Donald’s total were achieved on the flight for which he was cited for the DFC:

“A bold and courageous officer who has shown most praiseworthy devotion to duty, both in the March retreat and during the more recent operations. On 30th October, while escorting a bombing raid, he, with his flight, encountered some 40 enemy machines. In the combat that ensued he shot down two, and it was mainly due to his cool judgment and skill in leading that the flight inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, destroying five machines and driving down another out of control. In all, this officer has seven hostile aircraft to his credit – destroyed or driven down out of control.”

Donald left the OPS in 1913 to attend Malvern College, at which he spent only three years before leaving to join the Artists’ Rifles in 1916. He transferred to the RFC in early 1917, but his young age prevented him being posted to France until the following year.

At the time of the Armistice, Donald was taken ill with flying sickness and was admitted into hospital in Boulogne before being transferred to a London hospital to complete his recovery.

We hope to see him back at the School before too long, fit and well.

 

January 4th 1919

Capt. William Leefe Robinson VC

His funeral, which was held yesterday, was the occasion of an impressive display of respect and made the front page of the ‘Daily Sketch‘ and was also featured in the ‘Times’:

“Shortly before the procession left Lavender Cottage, the residence of Major Clifton – in which Capt. Robinson was staying as a guest when he died – a large wreath of laurel leaves, a tribute from the General Officer Commanding and the other officers of the 6th Brigade of the RAF, was dropped in front of the dwelling from an aeroplane. A flight of aeroplanes circled above the house and over the heads of the crowd who lined the roadway along which the coffin, covered by the Union Jack, was borne upon a RAF aeroplane trolley drawn by a RAF motor-van to the place of interment, a distance of nearly a mile…

The procession was headed by the Band of the RAF playing a funeral march, and detachments of the Force followed and formed a guard of honour within the churchyard…

Two of Capt. Robinson’s favourite hymns, ‘Fight the Good Fight’ and ‘For All the Saints who from their Labours Rest’ were sung and the Psalm, ‘God is our Refuge’ was chanted by the choir…”

This is the second war-related death in the Robinson family, William’s brother, 2nd Lieut. Harold Leefe Robinson (Indian Army), having been killed near Kut in 1916.

* * * * * *

19 Old Dragons laid down their lives for their country in 1918. The full Roll of Honour now stands at 77 (with Edmund Gay and John Dowson still unaccounted for). We continue to raise money for a War Memorial in their honour.

January 1st 1919

Capt. William Leefe Robinson VC (RAF)

Having heard only a couple of weeks ago that he had returned in good health, it is a shock to read of the death of William Leefe Robinson, which occurred yesterday.

It is clear now that the information was wrong – he was in a weakened state as a result of the treatment he received at the hands of the Germans whilst in captivity (which included time in solitary confinement following his attempts to escape).

The cause of his death, however, was influenza, which we learn he had been battling for over a week at the home of friends in Stanmore near Harrow.

* * * * * *

Also in today’s newspaper is news of the safe return from captivity of Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RAF) and Lieut. Peter Warren (RAF).

December 16th 1918

Daily Telegraph, 16/12/1918

Today’s paper brings the good news that Capt. William Leefe Robinson VC (RAF) has been repatriated and is in good health.

2nd Lieut. William Dyson (Devon) and 2nd Lieut. Adrian Raleigh (Leics), who both were captured in the German Spring Offensive earlier this year, were reported to have returned on December 8th.

Lieut. Blake Budden (Middlesex), who was interned in Holland, has also now returned.

We await news of two other Old Dragon fliers who have been in captivity, Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RAF) and 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren (RAF).

 

 

November 6th 1918

 

The Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)

Just two months after his death, the London Gazette of November 2nd has confirmed Capt. Geoffrey Buck (RAF) has been awarded the DFC for a mission into Germany he undertook in his Handley-Page bomber.

“Capt. Buck, with 2nd Lieut. Barter as Observer, was Pilot of one of two machines detailed to bomb an important railway junction. Owing to most unfavourable weather conditions the other machine returned, but Capt. Buck persevered, reached the objective, and made a most successful attack in face of intense anti-aircraft fire with numerous searchlights. On the return journey they were were much hampered by a severe thunderstorm, which lasted for three-quarters of an hour, the machine being out of control owing to the lightning. In this critical situation Capt. Buck remained cool and collected, and, displaying marked skill and judgement, succeeded in landing his machine safely. The success of this raid was largely due to the skill and efficiency displayed by 2nd Lieut. Barter, who most ably co-operated with Capt. Buck. During the past month these officers have carried out sixteen night bombing raids in a manner reflecting the greatest credit on them both.”

Within a week of these heroic deeds, Geoff Buck was killed, when returning home from another night raid into Germany on September 3rd. He is the first of our airmen to win this new award, the DFC.

 

In addition to the above news, Mr Bell, Geoff’s Winchester housemaster, has most kindly favoured us with a most perceptive appreciation of Geoff’s time there:

“He stood out as something very different from the ordinary boy. In the first place he always knew his mind; he knew where he was moving to and what he wanted. Whether by reading in books, thinking for himself, or talking with his friends, he had formed an idea of what life should mean for him and how he should train himself for it.

He never accepted conventional standards or ideas because they were conventional; yet, unlike many who have tastes and interests of their own, he never shirked the ordinary routine of work or neglected his Latin and Greek for excursions into other fields… None who knew him could be blind to the strong stamp of his individuality…”

I would like to think that his years at the OPS played their part too.

 

 

September 12th 1918

Capt. Geoffrey Buck (RAF)

Geoff Buck has been killed returning from a night raid on September 3rd. He was with No. 215 Squadron, flying Handley-Page bombers capable of long flights into Germany. As Flight Commandant he was responsible for five aircraft and crew.

He crashed his plane into a high petrol tank building in the black darkness, and that was the end. He once said that very few people knew how hard it was to keep every nerve strained and the brain working its utmost for five hours on end.

In August 1917 Geoff was awarded a richly deserved Military Cross:

“He has taken part in many offensive patrols and had led seventeen, frequently attacking hostile troops on the ground. He has also successfully attacked and destroyed hostile aircraft on several occasions, setting a fine example of dash and determination.” (London Gazette, August 1917).

He has recently been awarded the DFC, although the citation has yet to be published.

Geoff Buck had joined the Royal Fusiliers in 1914, aged 17, and served in the trenches. In 1916 he transferred to the RFC, writing us some interesting letters about his training and early experiences as a pilot.

He had no fear of death; he wrote from France earlier this year saying that “Life has been so topping that I don’t mind how short life is.”

 

Geoff was a great reader, mostly of philosophy, psychology, history and good novels (both modern and standard), and had keen artistic perception. In fact, there was no good thing that he came across in his short life which he did not appreciate and enjoy.

 

 

 

July 24th 1918

On the last day of term, during the sports events, there was one curious incident worthy of mention.

We were all rather startled during the High Jump to see an aeroplane circling lower and lower over our heads, only to discover later in the day that it was Capt. Jim MacLean (RE/RAF), who had flown from Chester to look us up. It was a treat to see him again at Prize-giving (having landed on Port Meadow).

We were able to congratulate him on his recent award of a Bar to the Military Cross:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While leading a patrol he attacked and drove down an enemy two-seater machine and destroyed an enemy scout. He showed the greatest determination in leading patrols and splendid coolness and courage, most of his work being done under very difficult weather conditions.”

Jim joined up as a Royal Engineer and won the MC in 1915. He then trained as a pilot, and since June 1917 he has been with 41st Squadron. He has, we understand, been accredited with five aerial victories, which qualifies him as a ‘flying ace.’

July 9th 1918

Lieut. Raymond Burch (RAF)

We are very sorry to hear that Raymond Burch was killed on June 28th – the  third of our airmen to die this year.

His Colonel has written a detailed letter to his parents:

“He went off on Friday morning (June 28th) early to assist the infantry in the attack they were making. About 6.30 a.m. we had a report to the effect that his machine had been hit by a shell and had crashed to the ground a total wreck, and that both pilot and observer were killed. 

Later on, we heard that the infantry, near which the machine fell, had taken the bodies to the cemetery at Borre, a village near Hazebrouck, and that their padre had buried them there.

Apparently the shell burst directly on the machine, and they must have been killed instantly, so I hope and pray that they felt nothing and were spared the agony of falling out of control…”

Raymond graduated as a pilot in May 1917 and was deployed to 4 Squadron in France in April this year. He had been flying the Royal Aircraft Factory  RE 8, which is used for reconnaissance and as a light bomber.

RE 8 aircraft.

His Colonel also writes warmly of Raymond, both as a pilot and a person.

“He was an excellent pilot, very conscientious and painstaking, and perfectly forgetful of self in the execution of his duty. The Squadron has lost one of her best sons and his death leaves a gap which it will be hard to fill.”

 

Raymond was a rather delicate, quiet, self-dependent boy. Though his bent was always scientific, he was not without literary and artistic taste and capacity.

He was married in 1916 and leaves his wife with a son, who was born last year.

June 7th 1918

Lieut. St. John Backhouse (RAF)

Another loss – as published in yesterday’s edition of the Times –  has to be recorded from the springtime fighting, this time in Salonica. Jack Backhouse was apparently declared missing, but probably killed (although I saw no notice in the newspapers to that effect).

The details supplied by Jack’s commanding officer made it clear that it was unlikely he would have survived being shot down:

“Lieut. Backhouse was doing an army reconnaissance about sixty miles beyond the lines… and was attacked by three hostile Scouts. One of these three dived on the tail of Lieut. Backhouse’s machine and shot him through the neck. The machine fell from 8,000 to 10,000 ft.”

However, we have to thank the chivalry of German airmen for confirmation of his death. This note was dropped from one of their planes recently:

“On 3rd April at 3pm one of your two-seaters was brought down… after a brave fight in the air. The pilot, Lieut. Backhouse, was killed by a bullet through the head, the Observer, Lieut. Still, was killed by the fall. The burial was carried out with full military honours. Signed June 1st. The German Airmen.”

Having first joined the First Sportsman Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers, as a Private and then in 1916 taking up a commission in the East Lancashire Regiment, Jack transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in September 1917.

 

April 16th 1918

Lieut. Ronald Stonehouse (RAF)

After a considerable period of painful waiting, the casualty lists in the papers of those lost in the battles of the end of March are now revealing the scale of our losses – over 1000 notified on the Roll of Honour of officers killed, wounded or missing in the last two days.

Our fliers have also been actively engaged and we have now been informed that one of their casualties was Ronald Stonehouse, on April 1st.

Ronald flew as an observer and his pilot has written to the family to explain the most unfortunate circumstances which led to his death: “He and I were great friends and had been together ever since he joined the Squadron, and had done many trips together over the lines, lived in the same hut or billet and had many pleasant times together…

On the night of March 31st, he and I had made two trips together over the lines.  Just as daylight was breaking, we had landed and were walking together to report to the Major. He turned back to get something he had forgotten. Half a minute later 6 or 7 bombs fell on the aerodrome, and we found him lying under the machine. He was killed instantaneously.”

Ronald took off on the evening of March 31st as a member of the RFC, but landed in the early hours of April 1st a member of the newly formed RAF – becoming, quite possibly, the RAF’s first casualty  (the RFC and the RNAS having been combined to form the RAF on April 1st).

Ronald had first joined the Army Service Corps, as he had injured one of his ankles in his early training and could not march. In August 1917 he joined the RFC and, after his training in aerial gunnery and as an observer, went out to France where he was working on a night-bombing aeroplane with 101st Squadron.

During the short time he was with us at the OPS, his manly, independent nature and his sense of humour endeared him to us all. ‘Public opinion’ meant nothing to him. His was of a most affectionate nature, and he never forgot old friends.

Neither shall we forget him.