Royal Air Force Centenary: founded 1st April 1918

From the beginning of World War One, it was realised that “the war in the air” could be of great assistance to the ground troops.  The Royal Flying Corps, under the control of the British Army, had been in existence since April 1912.  The Navy had its own force, The Royal Naval Air Service, founded in July 1914 just before the outbreak of war.  Many of its recruits during the war had begun their service in infantry or cavalry brigades or on ships and applied for transfer as the war progressed.  On 1st April 1918 the R.F.C. and the R.N.A.S. were amalgamated and the Royal Air Force was born as an independent service.

Bedalians had been fascinated by aeronautics for years before the war.  In December 1907 a competition was held in the still only partially covered Quad.  Model ’planes were designed and made, usually by pairs of Bedalians, and then launched from the upper corridor of the Quad to see which could fly the furthest.  Three of the sixteen boys who took part in the competition would die in aeroplanes in the later years of the war.  There was a second competition in 1909; not all the names of the participants are recorded but Frank Best competed again; he was killed in 1917.

One of the competitors in the 1907 flight, H.M. Goode, gave Bedalians a thrill in May 1915.  As a pilot in the R.F.C. he was based at Gosport.  He managed to stage an engine failure which caused him to land on a Bedales playing field on Saturday 29th May.  There is a detailed account of it in Volume 8, Number 8 of The Bedales Chronicle (15th June). By late June, The Chronicle recorded him as, “Flight pilot in France”.  Volume 9, Number 1 of 17th October tells that he had been shot through the neck and was a prisoner in Germany.  Number 6 of that Volume (25th June 1916) explains that he had been sent to Switzerland with other wounded prisoners and I think he was repatriated sometime in 1917.  Bedalians of the day never forgot the event, recorded by the photograph at the head of this article.

Altogether 14 Bedalians lost their lives through flying, many of them in accidents before they had made it to the Front.  The first to die, Gilbert Mapplebeck, had spent only a short time at Bedales.  He had gained his Flying Certificate before the war, on 7th January 1913.  His history is recorded elsewhere on this site.  He had the distinction of being the first British pilot wounded in aerial combat in WW1.  He was the first Bedalian killed in an air accident, which occurred when he was testing a ’plane new to the RFC on 24th August 1915.

Three lost their lives in 1917, including the enormously admired and respected Paul Montague who was shot down on the Eastern front on 29th October.  By far the highest number of losses occurred in 1918; eight of the twelve remaining OBs I still have to commemorate this year were casualties in the air and, of those, five had not yet reached their twentieth birthday.

- Ruth Whiting, History teacher from 1963 - 2000