Edmund Gabriel Rice, commonly known as Gabriel, was just 18 years old when he was killed in a flying accident near Redcar, Yorkshire on the 3rd May 1918. At the time of his death he is believed to have been instructing another pilot, 2nd Lt Lionel Thacker King, in an Avro 504 B4314, when the aircraft spun into the ground. Both men were killed.
Gabriel was the son of Charles Emmanuel Rice and Elsie Garret Rice. Charles had joined the staff of Bedales right at the start, in 1893. Elsie, Amy Garrett Badley’s younger sister, was also involved with her sister and brother-in-law’s new venture, teaching art. Elsie and Charles married in 1898, and Charles took the post of Headmaster at the newly-established King Alfred’s School in Hampstead. The 1901 census shows Charles and Elsie, both recorded as teachers, living in Fitzjohn Avenue, Hampstead with their toddler Gabriel and baby Rosemary. The Rices returned to work at Bedales, now in Steep, in 1908, and the 1911 census shows the family living at Steepcote (now spelt Steepcot), which was built for them adjacent to Steephurst where Elsie was housemistress. Before teaching, Elsie had studied art at the Slade School of Art, and in later life - by now estranged from her husband - she would move to South Africa and continue with her painting. Gabriel and Rosemary are listed as scholars on the 1911 census and there was a housekeeper and servant also present at the address when the census was taken. The Bedales Record notes that Elsie was ill in 1911, and unable to continue with her duties as housemistress. Charles and Elsie moved on again, and the children left Bedales, though they returned for a short period in 1916 – the dates in the school sources are somewhat confused. Charles eventually left teaching to train as a doctor.
Gabriel was still only fifteen years old when Britain went to war in August 1914. He enlisted as a temporary flight officer with the Royal Naval Air Service on the 8th July 1917 and subsequently trained at Crystal Palace, Manston flying school (Kent) and Cranwell (Lincolnshire). By December 1917, and now a flight sub-lieutenant, he was flying over Dunkirk.
All appears to have gone well until the 20th March 1918 when the fleet surgeon at Dunkirk noted on Gabriel's RNAS record*, "While flying over lines fainted when at an altitude of 18000 feet, recovering at 4000. Examined very carefully; no trace of organic disease, suffering from psychasthenia, i.e. loss of self-confidence. Should not fly at present, recommend 21 days sick leave. Should be re-surveyed as to fitness to resume the duties of pilot." A survey six days later reported, "Unfit for active service, to be left unemployed one month." Then, on the 26th April 1918, "Fit to fly at low altitudes only, should be surveyed at the Air Ministry in one month's time as to his fitness for high altitude flying." Exactly one week later, and by now based at the Redcar Instructor's School**, Gabriel was killed.
The Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps had merged on the 1st April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force and so Gabriel's death is recorded as an RAF casualty. He was buried at Coventry's London Road cemetery on the 8th May 1918, the event covered by the Midland Daily Telegraph:
"The funeral took place at Coventry Cemetery this morning of Lieut Edmund Gabriel Rice of the Royal Air Force, only son of Dr Charles Emmanuel Rice of 28 Much Park Street. The deceased officer, whose age was just under 19, was killed in a flying fatality in Yorkshire. The body was brought to Coventry on Monday and 50 of the Royal Air Force attended the internment. The funeral was with full military honours, and was conducted by the Rev. Canon Robinson. The chief mourners were Dr and Mrs Garrett Rice, Miss Rosemary Rice (sister), Mr George Rice (cousin), Dr and Mrs Bradley,
Mrs Waite (Wolverhampton) and Miss Leonard. Lieut Rice had been at the front since Christmas, where he acted as an aerial scout, and at the time of the accident was engaged on the duties of an instructor in the North."
The obituary published by Bedales in the 1917/18 edition of the Record reads:
“G. E. RICE was at Bedales in 1910 and 1911, while his parents were here, and when they took over a school at Wolverhampton joined them there. Later he returned to Bedales for a short time, leaving at the end of 1916 to go into works. As soon as he was old enough he joined the Naval Air Service, and during the latter half of 1917 was completing his training by patrolling off the Belgian coast. Early this year he returned to England for a period of service at home. On May 3rd he was flying in Yorkshire with another officer, practising looping and diving, when the machine was seen to be taking a spinning nose-dive arid getting dangerously near the ground. When just beginning to come out of the spin, it struck the ground, and both pilots were killed instantly.” Poignantly, the obituary does not mention that Gabriel was Mrs Badley’s nephew.
By Paul Nixon, with additional material by Jane Kirby
*ADM 273/17 is held at the National Archives but has been digitised and is available online.
**Recorded as the No 2 School of Instruction, (Redcar) by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission