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Which regiment? (Captain Downer, CFS Upavon 1913)


Moonraker
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These two fine-looking men feature in a postcard captioned in ink "Taken just after Capt Downers funeral parade. Killed in an aeroplane accident at Uphaven. Salisbury Plain March 1914".

They probably would have come from Bulford or Tidworth barracks to form a guard of honour.

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There were frequent accidents to pilots flying from CFS Upavon at this time. Captain C P Downer allegedly pulled out too quickly after a steep dive, tearing off his B.E.2's wings, though John W R Taylor in C.F.S. Birthplace of Air Power suggests that the elevators had jammed down.

Interesting that the annotation refers to "Uphaven" - perhaps a reflection on the way (I understand) that haitches were sometimes dropped a century ago, with the writer assuming that "Upavon" had one.

Moonraker

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Captain Cyril Percy Downer, born 1877, was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant Northamptonshire Regiment 1899 and served during the South African War 1899-1901; employed with the Mounted Infantry he took part in the advance on Kimberley, the actions at Belmont, Enslin, Modder River and Magersfontein including those at Venterskroon, Lindley and the Rhenoster River in the Transvaal and in the Orange River Colony

Captain Downer was granted his Royal Aero Club certificate 29 August 1913, one of the first R.F.C. pilots - he was killed while flying a B.E.2 tractor biplane from the Central Flying School, Upavon 10 March 1914. From a height of 2,000 feet his machine descended in an almost vertical rotating dive until some 500 feet from the ground, when the right hand pair of wings collapsed and the wreckage dived into the earth. (The History of British Aviation page 101 refers).

His medals - A South African Pair, Q.S.A. four clasps, Belmont, Modd. Riv., O.F.S., Trans. (Lieut. 2/North'n Rgt.); K.S.A., two clasps, S.A.01 and S.A.02, very fine and better, sold for £209.

Report on the Fatal Accident to Capt Cyril Percy Downer on 10 March 1914

Capt C P Downer was flying a BE Biplane, No 453, fitted with a 70 hp Renault engine, at the Central Flying School, Upavon, on Tuesday, March 10th, 1914, at about 9.15 am. It was the intention of the pilot to practise spiral descents, and he had reached a height of about 2,000 ft. From that height the aircraft was observed to descend in a steep spiral, the angle of descent being nearly vertical. After descending some 1,500 ft, and still about 500 ft above the ground, the right wing collapsed upwards and a portion of the lower plane was observed to leave the aircraft. The aircraft then fell to the ground after making several turns and was completely wrecked. The pilot was killed...

In the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for War was asked if he would give an explanation as to why so many accidents had occured with the BE biplanes belonging to the Army; why the rudder has no stays to strengthen it, and why the main spars of the machine have such large bolt-holes drilled throgut them... Mr Baker, who replied, said that if the number of accidents in conection with BEs appeared to be large, that was because there was a large number of them in use and because they are continuously in the air. The details of construction are based on most careful and long-continued calculation, and the strength of these machines is in every way satisfactory...

Footnote: There were by modern standards an astonishing number of fatal flying accidents on Salisbury Plain at that time. A visit to the churchyards at Figheldean (adjacent to Netheravon) and Upavon reveals quite a number of accidentally killed airmen's graves, which I saw whilst based nearby the former. There are also some landmark monuments on the actual site of crashes in that area, the most famous perhaps being 'Airman's Cross' near Larkhill and Stonehenge.

The Officer's Mess at Airfield Camp, Netheravon, is a listed building and still as it was when built in 1913, complete with RFC wings over the main entrance. Captain Downer, however, is buried in the Deepcut Military Cemetery in Surrey.

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Thanks for that, both of you. The Times covered many of the early flying accidents but apparently not Downer's. Nor could I find details of his inquest among those for South Wiltshire for this period.

Moonraker

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This is Cyril Downer from his Royal Aero Club licence:

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Steve.

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Frogsmile, thanks. You've answered the question I was going to ask, where is Downer buried. And I was pleased to see the pic of the Officers' Mess at Netheravon.

Airmen's Cross is being moved - or has been - as part of the plans to enhance the Stonehenge landscape and establish a visitors' centre nearby.

There are contemporary postcards showing many of the pre-WWI aircraft crashes and subsequent funerals, not least those in Upavon village. Others relate to Captain Loraine and Staff Sergeant Wilson, the first members of the RFC to die - they're the Airmen commemorated by the Cross. Indeed there's one of Loraine's funeral being offered on eBay now.

Moonraker

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He is also comemmorated on a brass plaque in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Sheep Street, Northampton.

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Ah! A penny has just dropped! Downer was commissioned into the Northamptonshire Regiment and presumably still belonged to it at the time of his death, hence the two soldiers in my photograph also being members of the regiment. So my assumption that they had come from Bulford or Tidworth Barracks was almost certainly wrong. Which leads me to ask, what sort of representation would there be from a deceased officer's regiment based some distance away: an officer and half-a-dozen men, perhaps? I have other cards of Wiltshire aviation funerals of this period showing a very sizeable escort, plus band, which presumably WERE found from local barracks.

OK, not quite the Great War,as Downer died in March 1914, but I'm prepared for any discussion to extend to a relatively junior officer who died in Britain during the war itself - would it have been customary for a regiment to have spared a detail to attend the funeral?

Moonraker

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Ah! A penny has just dropped! Downer was commissioned into the Northamptonshire Regiment and presumably still belonged to it at the time of his death, hence the two soldiers in my photograph also being members of the regiment. So my assumption that they had come from Bulford or Tidworth Barracks was almost certainly wrong. Which leads me to ask, what sort of representation would there be from a deceased officer's regiment based some distance away: an officer and half-a-dozen men, perhaps? I have other cards of Wiltshire aviation funerals of this period showing a very sizeable escort, plus band, which presumably WERE found from local barracks.

OK, not quite the Great War,as Downer died in March 1914, but I'm prepared for any discussion to extend to a relatively junior officer who died in Britain during the war itself - would it have been customary for a regiment to have spared a detail to attend the funeral?

Moonraker

Procedures were laid down according to whether a full, or partial military funeral was requested by the deceased officer's family. A full military funeral attracted the greatest regimental effort and the detail was laid down by regulation. You would need to see contemporary instructions to know what this was at that time. Ordinarily men from the company of the 2nd Battalion that he last served with were most likely to be those who attended. However, in 1914 the 2nd Battalion were in Egypt and the 1st Battalion were at Aldershot and it seems likely that men from the 1st Battalion plus some from the depot in Northampton itself would have provided a marching contingent and bugler (for last post to be sounded) providing that is what was requested by the family.

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I sort of recognise the first officer shown, but cannot put a name on the face at the moment!

Second officer may be William George Alexander Coldwell:

Lt  William George Alexander Coldwell

Steve.

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The only fly in the ointment is that Coldwell's photo is from 1913 with 2nd Battalion on Malta, so he may not have been in the country. He did have a brother in the Regiment though...

Steve.

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