For my second post in this series we are going to travel a short distance along Stokes Bay and follow the route of main road, until we pass Fort Grange, the second in a row of five Palmerstone fortresses. Four of these forts are still within the grounds HMS Sultan Naval Base, Gosport.
The Aero club were given permission to use the base as far back as 1909 and when my characters moved to Gilkicker in 1910, flights over their heads would have been exciting, but relatively frequent. In 1914 the forward thinking members of the military at the War Department authorised the use of Fort Grange and neighbouring Rowner, to accommodate squadrons from the Royal Flying Corps, formed in May 1912, but what stands out as the significance of the base at Fort Grange was one of its pilots, a Lt. Col. Robert Smith-Barry. On his arrival he was extremely critical of the standard of flying and in particular the training of these poor souls, who were all too quickly sent to France to meet their fate. I quote here from ‘Wings Over Gosport’ compiled by Lesley Burton who describes the training techniques he observed:
“It involved the trainee pilot sitting in the observer’s seat watching points until he transferred to the pilot’s seat and it was his turn to see if he had absorbed the instruction given by his instructor. Directions were conveyed to him by hand signals, loud bawling and by flag waving signals from the ground!”
It was not until 1917 though, that Smith-Barry introduced what became known as the Gosport Tube, a mouth piece which linked the instructor to an early ear piece on the trainee pilot by a tube.
In fact, the Grange became well known for its excellent training and both novices and experiences pilots benefited from time spent there. As you can imagine, in the early days of flight, people learnt by trial and error, much as they did riding a bicycle, and so a more methodical approach was vital if these young men were going to play an effective role in World War One, and impress the more sceptical elements of the War Office, who saw aeroplanes more as frivolous toys for the rich, who wanted a thrill greater than the motor car.
The location of Fort Grange, not far from the newly refurbished married persons barracks at Fort Gilkicker, made this an exciting location for my newly married couple, where the regular flights overhead inspired Anthony, my young officer, to dream of being able to learn to fly.
If you would like to know more about The Grange, I can recommend ‘Wings Over Gosport’ which is a Gosport Society Publication.