Regular maintenance of aircraft was essential for the smooth running of operations and maximizing the safety of pilots and observers; the flying missions could not have been carried out without the hard work and support of ground crew. One of the men from Radcliffe who served in this capacity in England was Lewis Scrimshaw. He enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps in January 1915 as a twenty year old motor engineer. Two years later he was promoted to sergeant and then transferred to the RAF in April 1918 as a sergeant mechanic. By October he was a chief miechanic and classified as an engine fitter. He became a flight sergeant and finished his war service at 95 Squadron, a coastal command station at Shotwick near Chester. He was discharged in 1923 after eight years of service and returned to Radcliffe on Trent and civilian employment as a mechanical engineer and draughtsman. In his retirement he built a functioning model LNER Green Arrow express goods engine which was six feet long and capable of carrying ten passengers.
Royal Naval Air Service
The Royal Naval Air Service had 93 aircraft, six airships, two balloons and 727 personnel at the outbreak of WWI and twelve airship stations around the coast of Britain. By 1915 the service not only had seaplanes and carrier-borne aircraft, it also maintained several fighter squadrons on the Western Front. Its stations in the UK were involved in home defence; the principal missions were patrol duties to protect nearby ports and to repel Zeppelin attacks. In Radcliffe on Trent three brothers, Fred, John (always known as Jack) and Tom Pike, left their father’s building and joinery business in 1917 to serve in the RNAS; their older brother Charles was with the Royal Garrison Artillery in France. They were all trained for two or three months at HMS President II, a ship moored near Tower Bridge in London, before being transferred to RNAS stations.
Tom and Jack Pike were sent to RNAS Killingholme on the Humber estuary, which was one of the leading seaplane bases in the UK where 900 servicemen were stationed. Killingholme was an operational station set up to protect local oil installations, ports, repel Zeppelin attacks and was also a seaplane pilot training centre. The Pike brothers were able to put their skills acquired in the building trade to good use. Tom was an air mechanic and joiner repairing the aircraft and Jack was classified as a rigger (responsible for all maintenance work on aircraft excluding engines). It was while at Killingholme they received the news that Charles had been killed at Passchendaele.
When the RAF was founded in 1918, it took over running Killingholme and redeployed many of the servicemen. Tom was transferred to Seaton Carew, Hartlepool in July 1918 as acting air mechanic I. The Seaton Carew base was a detachment of No. 36 Home Defence Squadron of the RFC (and then the RAF), located at RFC Station Cramlington, Northumberland. There was an airstrip at Seaton Carew and seaplanes were kept in Seaton Channel. Jack was transferred to an instruction school (location unconfirmed) where he worked as an air mechanic until 1919. Their older brother Fred went from training on HMS President II first to Chingford aerodrome for three months and then to Eastbourne, where he remained with his wife and children until 1919. He worked at the Eastbourne Aviation Company, which was a RNAS training centre for pilots and a seaplane factory situated between Eastbourne and Pevensey Bay. Around 120 men learned to fly there during the war and around 250 Maurice Farman biplanes were built at the factory (source: www.eastbournehistory.org.uk). One daughter (born 1913) is still alive at the age of 104 and remembers their “digs” and the many aircraft flying overhead. After the war the three brothers returned to Radcliffe on Trent and continued working in their father’s business.
Royal Air Force: continuity and change
The First World War saw the birth of the Royal Air Force and the expansion of the air service from the relatively small Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service to the largest flying organisation in the world in just four years. The RAF inherited over 100 training squadrons and 30 specialist schools. By the time of the Armistice pilots were undertaking an eleven month training course, receiving instruction in all aspects of air fighting and completing an average of 50 hours solo flying. There were six men from the Radcliffe area who were still in training on November 11th 1918. They included Norman Saward’s brother, John Augustus, born 1900, who enlisted as a flight cadet in May 1918. He qualified as a pilot in July 1919 and was listed as an emergency services air force officer in 1939. Gerald Robotham from Radcliffe was appointed a flight cadet in June 1918 and was still in training when he was demobilised in March 1919. Francis Osborne, known as Ralph and born 1902, lied about his age when he enlisted in the RAF in August 1918 (he was fifteen at the time). His older brother Samuel was killed in France the following month. Ralph trained to be a rigger, extended his service in August 1919 and continued with the RAF until 1931. He was employed again by the RAF in WWII and served with them until 1946. He was with 74 Wing in 1939 at RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, the home of two Bomber Command squadrons.
Henry Marshall from Radcliffe on Trent had a different role in the RAF. He was a Chaplain to the Forces (an all officers corps) in the British Army from 1912 to 1918. He was a member of the British peace keeping force in Montenegro in 1913 and awarded a silver medal for bravery by the government. He was stationed for two years on Malta and was attached to the 58th Division when they arrived on the island in February 1915. Henry was promoted to Chaplain to the Forces, 3rd Class, a rank equivalent to Major, and transferred to France in June 1916. He was mentioned in despatches twice: once for actions in Malta and once in France. On 8th November 1918 he received a letter from the Royal Army Chaplains Department informing him that the Chaplain in Chief had applied for his services and the appointment would be notified in the London Gazette (letter held at the National Archives). The appointment appears on the Royal Air Force Chaplains Department List, dated 21st November 1918. Henry Marshall was promoted to Chaplain to the Forces, 2nd Class, a rank equivalent to Squadron Leader, and stayed with the RAF until 1922 when he retired with ill health at the age of thirty-eight.
The above account shows how some local servicemen continued their links with the RAF after the war was over. In other cases the sons of WWI servicemen either joined the RAF or enlisted with them after the outbreak of war in 1939. John Nicholas Haworth, CB, DSO, DFC and Bar (1912-1974), was born in Buenos Aires. His father, Lieutenant Walter Whitworth, spent part of his life in Argentina but was domiciled in Radcliffe during WWI with his family at the home of his wife’s sister. He lost his life in 1918 fighting with the 1/7th Lancashire Fusiliers. Both his sons joined the forces as adults. John had a long career in the RAF which he joined in 1930 at the age of eighteen, rising to the position of Air Commodore. In 1943 he was station commander at RAF Scampton, the operational base for 617 Squadron and Operation Chastise. He was technical adviser for the 1950s film The Dam Busters and was portrayed by Derek Farr. After the war he remained in Lincolnshire at RAF Swinderby (1951-1953) then later became Chief of Staff of the Ghana Air Force (1961-1962).
Although aircraft and safety standards had improved significantly in the RAF by 1939, WWII saw tremendous casualties in the service numbering around 70,000 personnel (about eight times as many as in WWI) with a concentration of deaths in Bomber Command. One of those to lose his life while serving with the RAF was Samuel Edward Pike, born 1920 and known as Ted, son of Fred Pike who served with the RNAS.