Category Archives: Early Flight

Murder Mystery Virtual Tour of Bedfordshire no4 ~ The Shuttleworth Collection, Biggleswade

MNATTour4ShuttleworthAs we explore Bedfordshire together as part of my murder mystery virtual tour we will pause a while at The Shuttleworth Collection, a place that influenced my second novel ‘Ancasta – Guide me Swiftly Home’ and also features in my third novel ‘Murder, now and then.’ The museum is a comprehensive collection of aircraft including a few of the oldest airworthy crafts of their type. My interest has always been to imagine the places where these planes were built and the people who crafted them, as well as the live of those who originally flew them.

Diana with the Avro504K

Diana with the Avro504K

For example, on one visit an engineer pointed out the unique stitching on the wings of the Edwardian aircraft, often carried out by women during WW1.

I have spent many happy hours researching at the Shuttleworth archives under the guidance of John and Jim and I am indebted to their support. Research for an author can be a lonely business, but it is wonderful when people take a genuine interest and give of their time to ensure that the facts gleaned and expanded upon in a novel are authentic.

Shuttleworth is unique in that almost all the aircraft on display are airworthy. There are also exaples of ‘work in progress’ which you can visit in Hanger 1 including the long awaited Spitfire and the De Havilland Comet DH88 which has flown for the first time again since restoration this year and an excellent site it was too.

Here is an account I wrote back in 2012 of an airshow I enjoyed when the Blackburn Monoplane gave her centenary flight from Shuttleworth:

“Last Sunday (7th October 2012) there was a buzz at the Shuttleworth Air Day. Attendance to the show was high, the mood buoyant and we milled around with anticipation as we waited for the display to start.  I did a double take when several pipers, resplendent in their kilts, walked towards us but no, we were still in the heart of Bedfordshire and the Bedford Pipers were to perform for us. The sun shone and folks smiled.

The focus of the day was a Fast Jet Reunion and those watching were certainly not disappointed as the Folland Red Gnats did acrobats in the sky (Hey, I know where they were probably made…. we saw one outside Follands in Hamble near Southampton!) There were others including the Vampire Trainer (Can anyone tell me why it’s called a Vampire?)  and the Hawker Hunter. (1955) As well as the Jets there was the Hawker Demon, 1933, and the Hawker Hind, 1934. (My elderly 103 yr old friend Norman worked at Hawkers back in the 30’s so I felt a connection)

Then we arrived at the part of the show which truly interested me, the World War One planes. I have read about Tommy Sopwith and what a character he was, and then there was the SE5a which features in my novel ‘Ancasta.’ The sun was sinking fast but it was a still evening and so we were filled with hope that the old Edwardians would be able to fly. Our wait was rewarded with the Bristol Boxkite, (although I believe this is a replica) also featured in my novel and the Avro Triplane. I never tire of watching these priceless machines take to the skies.

The Blackburn Monoplane 1912 to 2012

The Blackburn Monoplane 1912 to 2012

For me though, the climax of the day was watching the Blackburn Type D Monoplane, (Impressed… I copied this carefully from the programme) the oldest British plane which can still fly, take off on its 100th birthday. It first flew in December 1912 and Richard Shuttleworth found it in a barn of hay in 1937, before he bought it and had it restored. Thus, on Sunday The Shuttleworth Collection yet again treated us to a precious celebration of history come to life before our eyes!

As we were walking back through the remaining cars to go home I remarked on a lovely e type Jaguar.

‘That’s scary,’ my husband said. ‘You are recognising cars now.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Do you know there are three things you’ve taught me since we’ve been together?’

‘What are those?’ he asked, puffing up proudly in a way only men can.

‘Cars, aeroplanes and how to swear!’ I replied.

Nevertheless it was another memorable flying day at Shuttleworth and as the announcer exclaimed at one point over the loud speaker,

‘We have to thank the RSPB for this unscheduled part of the show,’ as a flock of ducks flew in V formation overhead! “

Shuttleworth plays only a small part in ‘Murder, now and then’ but the museum is certainly a gem in the heart of Bedfordshire and watching an airshow for me is akin to discovering an antique diamond!

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Filed under Ancasta, Bedfordshire, Early Flight, Murder Now and Then, Research, The Shuttleworth Collection, Virtual Tour of Bedfordshire

November 1914 ~ Anthony realises his dream to learn to fly ~Almost!

The following extract from ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home‘ tells the story of Anthony who longs to learn to fly. Here he is sent initially to France as an Observer, taking photographs of the battle below.

I have used various techniques including letters, story telling, conversation and the arrival of Harry Harper, the air correspondent of The Daily Mail, to describe the changing lives of each of the Newton family.  Here I have used letters and good old fashioned descriptive story telling:

“12th November, 1914

My dear Sarah and little Timothy,

I hope that you are comfortable in your mother’s new guest house and that Timothy, you are being good for Mummy and Grandma. I have missed you these last few months and it’s been so quiet without you.

I have some exciting news for you. I have been transferred to Fort Grange and I am going to learn to fly in an aeroplane. It is a dream come true for me and I know that you will be so proud of your daddy.

I start my training tomorrow, but it may be many weeks before I get into the air. I need to learn all about aeroplanes first and as soon as I have more news for you I will write again.

Yours as ever,

Anthony

 

The next morning, Anthony began his training in the makeshift classroom at Fort Grange. Initially he sat fighting off the irritation of irrational impatience, much like the other naive young men in the room. His experienced trainer had such a businesslike manner, but it was tinged with a down to earth sense of humour, which was in fact the best combination for a military instructor. Soon he had Anthony at his ease and had instilled in him a vitality and enthusiasm to excel.

The weeks passed quickly and Anthony passed his examinations, progressing on to the more practical part of his training: that of understanding and maintaining his aircraft. He found this more of a challenge but was surprised how quickly be began to understand the workings of the engine and to recognise irregular noises, suggesting a plausible diagnosis. The instruments inside the cockpit were still an irresistible mystery to him and he longed for the moment when he would one day take control.

The next part of his training was back in the classroom, poring over numerous maps and photographs, for initially Anthony was to be trained as an Observer, to sit behind the pilot on reconnaissance missions. So far Anthony had been at the Grange for several weeks and still he had not been up in an aeroplane but the day when he passed his last examinations was a cause for great celebration in the mess.

The following day he sat behind the pilot, nervously waiting for takeoff. The mechanic stood at the ready for the signal. As soon as contact was confirmed, the mechanic spun the propeller and the engine burst into song. It was certainly a tune familiar to Anthony’s ears by now and it filled him with anticipation in the depths of his stomach. Almost as soon as the chocks were taken away from under her wheels by the attendees, the aircraft started to taxi over the bumpy ground. The vibration of the engine in front of him was as startling as its deafening noise. The throttle was opened and they sped off across the turf. There was no time to take a breath because within seconds they had lifted into the air. He felt exhilarated and was almost distracted from his mission by the amazing sights around him. As they flew over Portsmouth Harbour he tore his gaze from the coastline. As they banked to the left, he began to note key features such as ships off the coast and sea planes readying themselves for takeoff on Haslar Beach and he was proud of himself when he sighted a ‘friendly’ submarine, just submerged below the surface of the water.

After a few more weeks of training, when he suppressed his enthusiasm to be master of the controls rather than seated as an observer in the front cockpit, he was relieved to pass all the tests and achieve a reasonable level of accuracy in target practice. He was given three days’ leave to visit family and caught the train to Woolston. It was an emotional reunion and he spent the precious few days with Sarah and Timothy, jealous of the times they shared with her family in the now overcrowded household. Keeping three rooms for Harriet’s fee paying guests left one room for Sarah and Timothy to share, and another for her sister-in-law Hannah and her child Phyllis. On the following Sunday afternoon, Ernest kindly agreed to take them to Hythe by horse and trap, borrowed from the drayman in Itchen Ferry village, where Anthony felt less claustrophobic and there they were able to spend a civilised few hours taking tea in his parent’s large garden. His mother was so proud of his single wing sign on his uniform with an ‘O’ which signified that he was now a trained Observer, although it was clear that she was unsure as to why her son was not yet a pilot.

All too soon it was time to leave for Southampton, where he would meet up with his new unit before crossing to France. Sarah was overcome as they had one last embrace before he caught the Floating Bridge and it was all she could do to hold Timothy to restrain him from running after his father. This time there was no hiding from this little man that his father was off to war and even in his young intelligent mind he had observed the tears from neighbours as men folk had not returned. Sarah held him firmly by the hand and encouraged him to wave as Anthony disappeared from view on the farthest shore of the River Itchen.

Anthony walked amongst strangers along the busy streets to the docks.  He was drawn towards the Bargate where shoppers were lining the streets to cheer regiment after regiment of infantry, some who had walked all the way from Winchester and were marching proudly to the docks. He also watched some Avro 504s being loaded on to a waiting ship. He was struck by the greyness of the multitude of vessels which was a bleak contrast to the usual colourful sight of ferries and liners in the port.

It was a smooth crossing and they disembarked at Le Havre, where they faced a long journey by train to the airfield at Amiens. He settled in to his makeshift world of Nissen huts, taking time to sort out his few personal belongings with the utmost care, in order to dispel the unease he felt at being near the Western Front at last.

After a fitful night he had no time to dwell on the danger of his position as he was scheduled to make his first sortie over enemy lines that very evening. He and his pilot were encouraged to make several flights that morning in order to regain their confidence in flying, to get to know each other and also to get their bearings so that they would be more familiar with landmarks pointing back to base. It was a bitterly cold November day. The wind was blustery, making flying difficult and the rain was piercing. Despite the inhospitable weather, Anthony was relieved to be back in the air again and the two men soon became an inseparable team, treating each sortie as an adventure, though they cursed the rain as an inconvenience.

It was late one afternoon, when they were sent on their first mission to cross enemy lines and report back the up to date positions of the Hun, that it really struck Anthony psychologically, almost as hard as a real bullet might have hit him physically. At first hand he witnessed the British troops in the muddy trenches below and the close proximity of the enemy. When he realised that a strange heap of muddy rubbish littering the sodden ground beneath him was in truth the remains of bodies, left where they had fallen, he almost vomited out of the cockpit, his instructions forgotten.

It was only the short sharp orders from his pilot which brought Anthony to his senses and he resumed his important task of recording what he had seen. His training came into its own at that moment and he concentrated wholeheartedly on his task, so that when they eventually returned to base, his Commanding Officer was pleased with what he had to report.

It was only late that night, when he longed for the oblivion of sleep in order to erase the vivid pictures still flickering through his mind, that he realised how wise it had been to test his resilience as an observer initially, rather than to waste time training him as a pilot in the first instance. As the idea closed on him like the shutter on his camera, he hardened his resolve and sank into a deep dreamless sleep.”

Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home is Diana Jackson’s second novel, set between 1910 and 1920 telling the stories of members of the Newton family as they embark on their own role on The Great War.

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Filed under Early Flight, The Great War, Woolston, WW1

Diana Jackson’s World War One @Home Series ~ Industry of Woolston in WW1

In recognition of the BBC World War One at Home Series and in parallel to it, I aim to write posts of significant places and themes related to my writing and their impact on local people. These will include:

Industry of Woolston Southampton in WW1

Flying Boat Stations of the UK in WW1

The Hampshire Regiment

The Channel Islands and WW1

INDUSTRY OF WOOLSTON, SOUTHAMPTON DURING WORLD WAR ONE

There were two main employers in Woolston during both world wars, Thornycroft and Company, later to become Thosper Thornycroft and also Supermarine.

The Thornycroft shipbuilders occupied a large site on the banks of the River Itchen for 100 years from 1904 to 2004, when Thosper Thornycroft relocated to Portsmouth. This left a gaping hole in the heart of the area both in terms of employment but also in the scar on the landscape, which has only recently been reclaimed and redeveloped.

The first ship to be built and launched from the Woolston site was HMS Tartar in 1907 which served in the English Channel and the North Sea during World War One. For one hundred years generations of Southampton families worked there, called by the siren to herald the start of the day. I still remember hearing this during my visits to grandparents as a child.

I cannot better the tribute written by Keith Hamilton on February 2009 to Vosper Thornycroft telling of the importance of company for the well being and lives of Southampton’s and especially Woolston’s people, stressing the pride in their work to  serve the nation:

The End of an Era for Thornycroft by Keith Hamilton

The second major industry in Woolston since before World War One was Supermarine, of which I have written numerous posts, since it features in my novel

‘Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home.’

Just a little up the River Itchen, the other side of The Floating Bridge on Hazel Road, White’s boat builders was taken over by Pemberton Billing and began to develop flying boats in 1913. Although registered with the telegraphic name of Supermarine from its conception, Supermarine was the official name of the company in 1916, during the war.

Initially the skills of the boat builders would have been put to good use as the company diversified into developing flying boats, until the latter became their major focus. These must have been exciting times for local people in the early days of flight, not only to be involved in working at Supermarine but for families and friends to witness the unusual craft being launched on to the River Itchen and taking off and landing on Southampton Water. Like Vosper Thornycroft, Supermarine was a business of families, where many generations worked there, including the women during both WW1 and WW2. Both companies contributed to the prosperity of the local area of Woolston and its businesses and would have provided reserved occupations for workers in their contribution to the war effort.

Although better known later for The Schneider Trophy wins in the 1920’s and 1930’s and then the development of the Spitfire in the mid 1930’s I believe the seed for success was sown during World War One when a young, nineteen year old designer, RJ Mitchell joined the firm. My opinion is that it was Mitchell’s vision which turned the company into an international success story of which Southampton is understandably very proud.

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Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Southampton, Supermarine, The Great War, Woolston, WW1