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Remembered Today:

20 Squadron RFC January- April 1916


Bennett
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Would greatly appreciate if someone could provide details on location of 20 Squadron (FE2bs) in these months and any action details March 15-20, 1916. Thanks very much Ralph

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Hi Ralph,

20 Squadron was located at Clairmarais in March 1916, which is a few miles SW of Ypres.

Not a lot of action 15-20 March 1916: I have been researching 20 Squadron for several years for a book, and all I have on these dates is one fight. This came 18th March when a "formation of five F.E.'s was carrying out a reconnaissance over Tourcoing. Six Fokker monoplanes and four two-seaters took up station above and behind the Fees, but held off from attacking immediately; while for their part the British formation also “kept their powder dry”, since their primary mission was a successful reconnaissance and any unnecessary air fighting might jeopardise its success. The Germans, however, were merely awaiting their chance; and it came as the British crews concentrated on a formation turn over Courtrai. Two Fokkers swept down on McNaughton’s machine, ‘A6332’, and the British pilot immediately fired off a red flare and turned his machine to fly straight at the nearest enemy, while his gunner, 2/A.M. Talbot, opened fire and forced it to swerve away. Having seen the flare, the other ‘Fees’ also turned to the attack, and the Germans now backed off until the formation was over Menin before attacking again as the F.E.'s followed the road from Menin to Gheluvelt and the British lines. Captain James and his Mancunian gunner Cpl James Stringer, flying ‘A5206’ had just sent one Fokker down with smoke streaming from its engine when they noticed ‘A6328’ very low down gliding towards the lines, closely pursued by a Fokker. They and another F.E. immediately dived to the rescue, and after driving the German away climbed back up to rejoin the formation; but there was nothing more they could do for Anderson and Forbes in the evidently stricken ‘A6328’ except to circle around protectively in the hope that their colleagues might somehow gain some height and join up with them again. Anderson’s machine did not come back up though; and eventually the leader fired a white flare to signal the others to follow him home. (1) By the time they had all landed safely at Clairmarais they had no doubt given up Anderson and Forbes as lost; but such thoughts were premature. For Anderson was not the type to give up easily, and somehow managed to coax his damaged aeroplane back across the lines before coming down on the British side of the lines in some fields south of Ypres, missing two trees by a hairsbreadth as he landed."

The above is quoted from my forthcoming book, and I'd be grateful if it was not published elsewhere in the meantime. Hope that helps.

Bob

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Hi Bob,

Your excellent information is very useful. Thanks very much!

Could I ask you further, do you hold any information on Pilot Officer Lt Ralph I Kirton and his observer Billinge during that action or any other info on Kirton?

Thanks again and best wishes on your future book. I have not been able to find much information or sources for this highly decorated squadron. Ralph

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Kirton & Billinge were both ‘founder’ members of 20 Squadron when it went to France in January 1916. 2/Lt Kirton had previously served in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and 2/Lt. Frank Billinge, an observer, was the son of Manchester grocers William and Amy Billinge, and gave his occupation as that of a “Clerk in Holy Orders” at St Mary’s Rectory in Manchester when enlisting just after the outbreak of war. Commissioned into the 3rd Manchester Regiment, he transferred to the R.F.C. in September 1915.

Billinge’s first victory (pilot Lt. Reid) was on 7th February for a Fokker monoplane seen to fall out of control issuing smoke after a fight near Roulers. His first combat with Kirton as observer came on 13th February when they sent down a twin-engine two-seater pusher to crash near just west of Mouscron. This was probably a German AGO type.

Billinge’s next fight came on 12th March (pilot Captain Howett) when he was wounded in his eye by splinters, and his next was the one I described earlier on 18th March. As for Kirton: he disappears from 20 squadron records at this time, and I have not been able to trace what became of him. Frank Billinge continued to serve with the squadron until August 1916, when he was sent back to England for pilot training; going on to become a pilot ace with 32 and 56 squadrons.

That pretty much sums it up, and the above is all I have on them.

Bob

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Thanks again . If you goggle search Kings School Canterbury for Lt Ralph Ismay Kirton, their Roll of Honor entry will give a pretty fair description of his service.

Determined to be unfit for aerial combat due to wounds received March 18, 1916, he served out the rest of the war as a test pilot at Farnborough and DOW November 22, 1918, from an air accident while flying a Sopwith Dolphin, then serving with the 1 Southern Aircraft Repair Depot, Farnborough. Best Wishes Ralph

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Ralph,

Many thanks for the Kings School link; I see why you were interested in 18 March now. Unfortunately, most of 20 Squadron's records for 1916, including the Squadron Record Book, have not survived the years. I could only go by those that have survived - some combat reports and some Wing and Brigade war diaries. Also there is nothing in Henshaw's usually very complete casualty listing "The Sky Their Battlefield". I assume King's School got the details from the family, so it is very interesting. Thanks again.

Best wishes

Bob

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Bob,

Your welcome and best wishes for your book to be. To extend this thread a bit with a request for guidance from you or others?, any advice on where I might obtain a crash report for Lt R Kirton for November 18, 1918 at Farnborough, Southern Aircraft Repair Depot? I imagine newspapers might be a possibility and I have the RAF casualty cards concerning the accident. Thanks Ralph

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Bob,

Does not answer your question but the following may be of interest if not already seen by you:

Lieut. RALPH IMRAY KIRTON, R.A.F. ("Peggy," "Curley"), who died on November 22nd at the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot, as the result of a flying accident, aged 23, was the

elder son of Dr. and Mrs. Charles Imray Kirton, Ashville,Honor Oak, S.E.

(Flight, 12 Dec 18)

Errol

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Congrats in advance on your book Bob: I'll certainly be looking for a copy, as I'm trying to put together a better picture of JJ Cowell as both an observer and a (short-lived) pilot.

Ralph, there are some minor fragments available from Kew as a digitised file. It's not a proper Squadron ORB per se (and was clearly written in 1919 on RAF India paper forms) but it names a few people and places, which are useful signposts to pilots' memoirs and other equally unreliable material. It's in the AIR 27 file series, available for £3 or so.

post-88270-0-03128600-1417384446_thumb.j

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Alas the squadron 'game bag' listing was badly copied and quite useless unless you're already familiar with the RFC/RAF Communiqués, (in which case the need for sight of this document would probably be obviated).

post-88270-0-59585000-1417384602_thumb.j

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Hi All,

Ralph, I would think newspaper archives might be your best source for the accident, or try a range of keywords at the nationalarchives.gov.uk to see if they have anything useful on air accidents.

Errol: thanks for the Flight magazine connection. I'll dig into that.

Airshipped: thanks for pointing this out. I've already seen both documents in their paper form at Kew: the first one being from "A Brief History Of 20 Squadron" and the second from another document called "History of 20 Squadron". The former one is very brief; and the second, though lengthy, is a series of typewritten notes and lists put together by Lt. J Hone and Fl.Sgt Grevett, two former members of the squadron, as part of an unfulfilled effort to put together a formal history many years ago. It's been very useful to me. Is there anything else in the download? As for the book: "forthcoming" can be loosely (hopefully) translated as "if the publisher concerned says Yes, and doesn't take too long about it." So it may be may take a while yet! JJ Cowell - interesting chap, from Limerick if I recall, and 16 victories overall.

Bob

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Thanks to all much appreciated Ralph

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  • 6 months later...

Bob,

Am currently researching Frank Billinge and your info above adds a few snippets. One puzzle I have is that Frank got the 1915 Star, yet 20th Squadron didn't go to France until Jan 1916. Might Frank have gone early, do you think (possibly in December when the squadron moved to Filton)?

The only other idea I had was that he briefly went over with the Manchesters at some point in 1915 - he was seconded to teach the mathematics of gun laying, so maybe did this in theatre...

Any progress on a publisher for 'the book' ?

James

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  • 3 weeks later...

redbarchetta,

Sorry I didn't see this earlier.

I would think that your "went over with the Manchesters" idea is probably correct, as I am not sure if Filton would count as a Theatre of War.

And re the book: turned down apparently because there are now "too many books on WW1" because of the centenary. I'll not give up though - Amazon Kindle and Create Space "print on demand" are possibilities.

Best wishes

Bob

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  • 6 months later...

Yes...don't give up...and they say it's never to late so here are two wonderful photos of 20 Squadron in France November 13, 1918. The links are to a dropbox account are safe. When the photo opens click on it to enlarge. Has anyone seen these before?

Cheers!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/imt2cowf791futx/20%20Squadron%2003%20Officers%20of%20the%2020%20Squadron%20R.A.F.%20near%20San%20Quentin%20Nov%2013%201918.jpg?dl=0

https://www.dropbox.com/s/knuhynkig76zk3d/20%20Squadron%2004%20RAF%20near%20San%20Quentin%20Nov%2013%201918.jpg?dl=0

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PaleRider,

I believe both are held with UK MOD copyright at the RAF Museum at Hendon. Good photo's though.

Bob

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That's good to know Bob...I thought the signed one might be unique.

In all my years of interest, these two accompanying photos are my 'great historical discovery'. I'm pretty sure nobody knew they existed...unless you did!

Please correct me if I'm wrong but I believe these two photos are of Great War ace Captain Horace Percy Lale and Lieutenant W.H. Welsh in their Bristol F.2b (E2407) during November of 1918....taken the same time the group shots were taken. I compared the face with the seemingly only known photo of Lale. I love the second photo...a great shot of Lale in his flying coat. I can just picture these two airmen calling the group photographer over and saying..."Here, can you take one of us with our plane?"...

https://www.dropbox.com/s/wa2i2ygop88xera/20%20Squadron%2001%20Captain%20H.P.%20Lale%20and%20Lieutenant%20W.H.%20Welsh%20E-2407%20%20near%20San%20Quentin%201918.jpg?dl=0

https://www.dropbox.com/s/4gygs9oecqaz80d/20%20Squadron%2002%20Captain%20H.P.%20Lale%20and%20Lieutenant%20W.H.%20Welsh%20E-2407%20%20near%20San%20Quentin%201918.jpg?dl=0

(You can zoom in quite close to the faces in all 4 photos by using your mouse wheel or keyboard(Ctrl +)...click on photo first)

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PaleRider,

I did not know of their existence. The pilot certainly resembles Lale, comparing it to the picture in ATT, but the observer could possibly be H.L. Edwards? The moustache is right for him, though I've never seen a photo of Welsh for comparison. Excellent photo's, and I am really jealous!

Bob

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Bob...I haven't seen a photo of H.L. Edwards but I'm thinking it's W.H. Welsh only because the photos came from his estate in the 1930's. Apparently there were notes attached(names?) with the photos.

Cheers...Luc

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Hi Luc,

Then that appears to settle it. When you say they came from his estate in the 1930's: is that when he died? If you have any more info on him could I include it in the book, with all due acknowledgements of course?

Cheers

Bob

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