Tag Archives: The Royal Flying Corps

The Solent and Beyond ~ Virtual Social History Tour Post no 2 ~ Fort Grange

Solent map googleFG

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.


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Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Research, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond

May 1912 The RFC was born ~ Another 100 Year Old Flying Fact!

In May 1912, one hundred years ago, The Royal Flying Corps was born, serving both the army and navy of the day. It took a while for the military to take these new air machines seriously, known as aeroplanes by that time. Up until then many in the military would not consider the potential of this relatively new, and still flimsy, mode of transport. They were looked upon as frivolous toys for the rich and famous, who had too much time and money on their hands to fritter away for pleasure and thrills. To put this in perspective, it was only nine years since the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight. Pretty amazing!

It became impossible to ignore the increasing skills of the pilots of the day, as exciting feats in aerial acrobatics hit the press. You can read in more detail on the following link, about the first pilot, a Frenchman called Adolphe Pegoud who, in 1912, performed a ‘loop the loop’ and also flew upside down, much to the astonishment of all who witnessed the act.

History of Aviation by James Watkins

A detailed history of the conception of the Royal Flying Corps can be found on many blogs and also Wikipedea , but what interests me is the affect it had on the area of my research; in Hampshire,  Southampton Water and the Solent.

Firstly, The Royal Flying Corps’ 1st squadron were based at Farnborough in Hampshire, originally famous for its Air Balloon factory.

Secondly, in my last blog I talked about The Naval Review in 1912 and the first flight off a moving ship. The annual Naval Review, a red letter event in the calender of Portsmouth and the surrounding area, would no longer be a time when the prowess of the naval fleet took all the limelight, since now the flying power of the navy began to steal the show. 

The first waterplane to take off in the UK was in November 1911 from Lake Windermere, Cumbria, and so it was not surprising that the Solent area was just a few months behind when in 1912 that the first “Waterplane“took off from Hamble, Hampshire, sponsored by the Daily Mail.

Aeroplane factories were springing up all over the country, especially with the endorsement of the military, and the shed, which was built in order to assemble and house the waterplane at Hamble Point, beside the Hamble River, where the aircraft made a successful test flight in early July 1912, was Luke and Co Ltd and Hamble Engineering.

The Solent area was certainly a key military location for the UK. It was on the coast for patrols and cross channel flights and was a significant strategic area for the  army, with the Victorian Palmerstone Fortresses guarding this part of the coastline. Then, of course, there was Portsmouth, the long established naval base.

This was truly an  exciting period in the history of this region, and more is yet to come.  

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Filed under Early Flight, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Southampton