Monday, 19 February 2018

People and Crashes at Beddington

Herbert Montgomery Martin records many crashes.  The aerodrome was home to Training Squadrons from May 1916 until the end and beyond of the war; No. 17 Training Squadron in May 1916, then No. 40 Training Squadron from 1 June 1916 until 14 December 1918. A great example is this one of Lt. Neisding, showing a Sopwith Camel in trees, in Beddington in January 1918. You can see the ladder in place to rescue the pilot.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Herbert Montgomery Martin

H M Martin in uniform with cane. 
The photographs of Croydon by Herbert Montgomery Martin illustrate many of the activities, crashes and people working on Beddington / Croydon Aerodrome in the last year of the First World War. There are several images of Montgomery Martin himself, who joined the army on 20 July 1916 (the Royal Flying Corp was then part of army). It is not clear from his service record if he joined the Flying Corp immediately, but it notes his transfer to the RAF on its formation on 1 April 1918.

Martin was an ‘Observer’, which meant he primarily worked as aircrew on reconnaissance observing and / or taking photographs of enemy positions. The photographs preserved by Cross and Cockade, which HCAT have copies of, make sense of this. The next blog explores some of the people Martin photographed.

Elizabeth Mary Byers

The service record tells us that he married Elizabeth Mary Byers, who was in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. She enlisted on 6 May 1918 (G2042) and worked as a waitress (according to

They married at St Saviour’s Church in West Croydon on 2 August 1919, by which time Martin had transferred to RAF reserve in February the same year 1919 and is wearing the badge of an ‘Observer’ in the photograph below.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Tragedy at Croydon's Tank Day 1918

On a previous post giving some glimpses of Croydon in 1918 through Herbert Montgomery Martin's photographs, I mentioned that there was a tragic crash during the Tank Day. On 16 March people were invited to subscribe to the Victory Loan - basically contributions to the war effort - and the presence of a tank, a new war machine, encouraged these investments. The day was overshadowed by the death of a young pilot at Croydon.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Gosport System: Robert Smith-Barry and Pilot Training

The Avro Biplane - pictured at Gosport - was Barry-Smith's preferred aircraft
for instruction as it was easy to fly so the pilots could concentrate on
learning tactics. This is from Landowne Album 3.
Training pilots to fly planes - at first for reconnaissance and then for fighting - was a dangerous and haphazard affair; of the 14166 pilots killed, over half died in training. By mid 1916 there was a dangerous shortage of pilots. The Royal Flying Corp (RFC) training programme taught pilots to fly but not to fly in battle or attack. Major Robert Smith-Barry constantly asked General Trenchard (head of the RFC in France) to let him try a new, more rigorous training programme.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Gosport Photographs: Keith le Geyt Lansdowne 1897 - 1984

Keith le Gent Lansdowne aged 17 in 1914 from album 3
Historic Croydon Airport Trust is extraordinarily fortunate to have 3 albums of original photographs taken (mainly) at Gosport 1916-18. They are among the Trust's archival 'crown jewels'. We  knew very little about them before now but can add some information about Keith Lansdowne, who donated them. They have been digitised due to funding given to  this Fighting for Air project from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The photographs appear to have been (mostly) taken by Keith le Geyt Lansdowne, who was born 1897 and served in the Royal Flying Corp then Royal Air Force as an electrician and mechanic. It is likely that he was transferred within the army from his original regiment, where he'd seen action in Belgium, due to the need for electricians in the enlarging RFC.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Pre-War Literature and Attitudes Toward Aerial Bombardment

In the decades preceding the First World War, future war fiction brought the concept of war in the air to the forefront of public imagination. The stories focused on the possibilities of weaponised flying machines, and the danger of failing to acknowledge their potential.

Top of an Australian poster. A German Zeppelin is caught in the
beams of two searchlights © IWM (Art.IWM PST 12259).
The art of posters around the war in the air often drew upon the
images depicted - in word and in image -in the pre-war novels.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Women and Work in the First World War - The War in the Air

The merging of the RFC and the RNAS to form the Royal Air Force (RAF) raised fears about losing their specialised female workforce. The WRAF was formed on 1st April 1918 to create a separate women's air service. Their work was divided into clerks and store women, household, technical and non technical. They were not trained at first and recruited according to their existing skills.