Bedales 1904, Lieut. King’s Own (Liverpool) Regiment; Captain R. F. C.

Gilbert Mapplebeck and his younger brother Thomas spent two terms only at Bedales in 1904; I haven’t been able to establish why they arrived nor why they left.  In some ways Gilbert’s wartime experience was the most dramatic of any OB.

On 26th August 1892 Gilbert was born in Liverpool, the eldest son of Yorkshire-born William Mapplebeck and his Lancastrian wife Sara Helena (Ellen) Quinn.  Thomas was born on 2nd August 1894.  There is no trace of the parents in the 1901 census but Gilbert, aged 8, was a boarding pupil at Denstone School.  Six year old Thomas was at home, without his parents, at 34 Rodney Street, Liverpool in the care of a Cook and two other servants.

Before census day 1911 Gilbert must have joined the army as his mother recorded him as “2nd Lieutenant, Infantry”; he had joined a Territorial Branch (Special Reserve) of the 4th King’s Own (Liverpool) Regiment.  He participated in Annual Training camps in 1911 and 1912 and had completed his probationary period by 22nd July 1912.  On 12th November 1912 Gilbert began his attempt to gain a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps.  The Officer Commanding Number 3 District forwarded the application, with supporting evidence of his engineering knowledge and map-reading skills, on November 22nd.  The application was speedily processed.  He was required to gain a Flying Certificate and if he did so, it was recorded on 3rd December that “Mapplebeck will be selected for RFC on probation”, provided he also passed a medical examination and had a satisfactory report from a course at the Central Flying School.

On 7th January 1913 Gilbert obtained his Royal Aero Club’s Flying Certificate on a Deperdussin Monoplane (the day our photograph was taken) and was passed medically fit on January 14th.  In May 1913, having been transferred to a regular Regiment in the 4th King’s Own, he was posted to the Central Flying School at Upavon to undergo flying training.  There on 9th June he was seriously injured, being thrown from an aeroplane on landing and “sustaining a fracture at the base of his skull”.  Several Medical Boards reported on his fragile condition (“thin and below par in general health ... excessive(ly) tired and some back pain”) and it was 7th October before he was passed fit and returned to General Service.

With the B. E. F. Gilbert was in France by 13th August 1914; on 22nd September he was the first British pilot to be injured in aerial combat.  He was shot with a rifle fired by an Observer in a German plane.  His mother received a series of distressing telegrams indicating the seriousness of his injury, several operations and slow convalescence.  A Medical Board stated “a rifle bullet entered on the outer side of the right thigh above the middle, passed out on the inner side of the thigh on its upper part grazed the root of the penis and traversed the abdominal wall above Pauparts Ligament on left side.”  It was 1st March 1915 before Gilbert rejoined No. 4 Squadron for duty; by this time he had been awarded the D. S. O.

Ten days later his mother received a telegram stating that Gilbert was missing in action.  In fact he had been forced to crash-land his plane near Lille; he burned it and avoided capture. Thanks to his fluent French and, with help from civilians, (three of whom were later executed by the Germans) he made his way back to the British lines and was back in England by early April.  He was ordered to report to Farnborough on 12th April “with a view to flying a machine over to the Expeditionary Force.”

Gilbert remained based in England and in August 1915 was at Joyce Green near Dartford, Kent and was testing a Morane Saulinier Type N “Bullet”.  There are slightly differing accounts of the accident in which he was killed but all agree the aircraft banked and made a sharp right-hand turn then nose-dived to the group.  Gilbert was killed on impact.  Gilbert was buried in the cemetery at Streatham and has a C.W.G.C. gravestone

At the inquiry one witness claimed the engine had been switched off for two seconds but others denied that and the verdict of the Board of Inquiry on 25th August was “that the accident was due to the machine ‘spinning’ on a heavily banked turn, the pilot not having sufficient height to regain control before hitting the earth.”

Because Gilbert died based in England the list of his possessions to be returned to his mother and brother runs to four A4 pages, very different from the scanty lists for those who died at the Front.  The file at Kew also contains an extensive correspondence about Gilbert’s gramaphone and a car, which was to be returned to Vickers for repair and maintenance, before being passed to his brother Thomas, at that time recovering from his injuries in a Military Hospital in Cambridge.

The following year when Gilbert’s estranged father, a successful Surgeon Dentist, applied for letters of Administration for his son’s small estate he declared he had no knowledge of the whereabouts of his wife or remaining two sons.  Nonetheless, a reflection of the times he was granted Probate, although Sara seems to have been accepted by the Army & R F. C as Gilbert’s registered next of kin.

Meagre information about Gilbert’s background was gained chiefly through Ancestry.co.uk.  The details of his Army and RFC careers were found through research in The National Archives at Kew, chiefly from WO/339/8743 and AIR/76/333.