June 7th 1918

Lieut. St. John Backhouse (RAF)

Another loss – as recorded 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.