Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

British Army and aviation before 1914

Guest AndrewW

Recommended Posts

I'm looking into the use of aircraft in British Army manoeuvres and training exercises immediately before the First World War. For example, there was a well known occasion in the 1912 manoeuvres when Gen. Grierson used aerial reconaissance to "beat" Haig. Does anyone know of any useful sources? Thanks. Andrew

Link to comment
Share on other sites


You could look for:

The War in the Air Volume I by Sir Walter Raleigh;

The Royal Flying Corps in World War I by Ralph Barker;

A Contemptible Little Flying Corps by McInnes and Webb;

The RFC/RNAS Handbook by Peter Cooksley;

British Aviation - The Pioneer Years and British Aviation - The Great War and Armistice by Harald Penrose.

For a first hand account of life in the RFC ranks, there's always James McCudden's Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps.



Link to comment
Share on other sites


You will find some interesting information about this in TS Crawford's fascinating book "Wiltshire and the Great War" ISBN 0 9535 100 0 X.

Terry Reeves

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Andrew,

Cross & Cockade covered the RFC Manoeuvres of 1912

It is Volume 23, No.4 of 1992.

I think you may have to subscribe to obtain a copy, but there are some excellent photos in the ten pages alloted to this event.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dear all,

Thank you for all your ideas. As it happens, I have already looked at all the books mentioned so far, but thanks for your help anyway. Any further suggestions welcomed!

Best wishes,


Link to comment
Share on other sites


Not a suggestion but from a Post Card My Uncle sent from the 8th Royal Scots Annual Camp at Riccarton,outside Kilmarnock,Scotland on 27 July 1911.

"saw two Aeroplanes pass to day over Camp"

No indication if they were Civilian or Military.

A Forum Colleague has an undated Post Card but taken around the same period where the Battalion's Machine-Guns are fixed to a railway waggon facing skywards.Early rudimentary anti-aircraft training?


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

How nice! I registered only this morning and have just come across Terry Reeves' plug above for my book, "Wiltshire and the Great War". Let me hasten to add that I'm not bidding to boost sales because it's out of print. It was a short-run self-published job in 1999, and the sales exceeded my modest expectations. Sadly a reprint was not financially viable (and I would only have wanted to have covered my costs), but most Wiltshire and some Hampshire libraries have copies that can be obtained via one's local library. All I've got are two good copies and one duff one. I do have many more notes (and my policy is to make my info readily available). Sadly they're in WordPerfect 6 format on a dedicated word processor and don't transfer well to a real PC (basic text with some strange hieroglyphics). I'm also new to a PC of my own and have very little time at present because of my elderly father's illness. When I have more time I'll try to sort out the extra info.

From the local perspective, N D G James' much-admired "Plain Soldiering" (Hobnob Press 1987) has a chapter, "Wings over the Plain". It too is out of print ,and is much sought after.

Briefly Salisbury Plain can claim to be the birthplace of powered military information, and two or three private planes did feature in the 1910 manoeuvres there. They didn't make much impact, and one was captured when it landed so the pilot could relay some info.

In 1912 the Military Aeroplane Competion was held at Larkhill, in which various designs, some of them crazy, took a series of tests, one of which related to how easy a plane could be dismantled for transport; no consideration was given to armaments. Contemporary postcards showing the entrants sell for £20 or so a time and are reproduced in many early aviation histories.

Netheravon and Upavon airfields were built before WWI, and during the war several training depots were created, including Boscombe Down and, incredibly, one 600 yards from Stonehenge - this wasn't demolished until the late 1920s.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

A few more references to try ...

Driver, Hugh. The Birth of Military Aviation: Britain, 1903-1914. Woodbridge and Rochester: Boydell Press, 1997.

Gollin, Alfred. No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers, 1902-1909. London: William Heinemann, 1984.

Gollin, Alfred. The Impact of Air Power on the British People and their Government, 1909-14. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988.

Paris, Michael. Winged Warfare: The Literature and Theory of Aerial Warfare in Britain, 1859-1917. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1992.

Although none of these discusses the 1912 manoeuvres in much detail (if at all).

Also, I have a scan of a photo of 13 or so assorted RFC machines lined up on the ground, supposedly at Hendon in September 1912. Presumably it's an exercise of some kind, as behind them there are some horse-drawn artillery pieces. It's about 1 Mb so I can't post it but PM me if you'd like to see it. The source is Almond, Peter, Aviation: The Early Years (Köln: Könemann, 1997).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

I initially added to this thread as a brand-new recruit, promising further info in due course. Sadly my "training" continues to be disrupted by my parents' health problems, but I've cobbled together the following from my notes on "military Wiltshire":

“Flight“ magazine for February 6,1909 reports that the War Office had notified the Aero Club that it was prepared to give it facilities on Salisbury Plain and other Military Grounds as Aerodromes. By April 17 a site for "private experiments" had been allotted off Packway Road, Larkhill, with the first aviator to avail himself of the facilities being "a member of the Aero Club". By May 29 two sets of buildings, the largest for the Navy (?), were being built not far from Knighton Down.

Horatio Barber designed the ASL aeroplane, one of the first machines to fly from Larkhill. He is reckoned to have flown on the Plain by March 1909, apparently preceding the Aero Club member mentioned above. An ASL crashed near Stonehenge in the summer of 1910.

On May 14, 1910 “Flight“ reported that:“Larkhill camp promises to become a flying colony similar to that at Mourmelon. It is practically certain that it will be the training ground of our military aviators when they get to work, while others who have applied for sites there are the British & Colonial Aeroplane Co and the Blair Atholl Aeroplane".

The massive 1910 manouevres were held in Wiltshire and adjoining counties: On September 21, Captain Bertram Dickson, a former Gunner employed by the British & Colonial Aircraft Company, used a Bristol Boxkite to observe a mock battle. Attached to Red Force, he found Blue Force between Amesbury and Salisbury; he reported its position to headquarters, took off, spotted Blue Force again, landed, telephoned his headquarters ì and had his plane captured by Corporal Arthur Edwards of Blue Force! Next day Robert Loraine, a well-known actor and keen aviator, is reputed to have driven to Salisbury and offered to fly for Blue Force. Some reports say he flew the captured plane, others that he piloted another Boxkite. That week Loraine is also said to have made the first wireless transmission from an aeroplane to the ground; this was close to Stonehenge, associating England's most ancient monument with modern progress. Piloting his plane with one hand and operating a Morse key with the other, he transmitted a message over a quarter of a mile to a temporary receiving station rigged up in a Bristol hangar at Larkhill; then on September 29 he transmitted in excess of one mile. Morse had been first sent and received by an aircraft in the United States on August 27, 1910, but Loraine's transmission was claimed as the first over a mile.

The "Daily Telegraph“ mentions a Captain Hope, as well as Dickson and Gibbs, being present "at aeroplane sheds at Sunhill [probably an error for Larkhill]" for the manoeuvres. Its correspondent with the Blue Army reported that when Dickson was flying at 6.10am, Red Army officers shouted up at him for information; he landed, only for all to be captured by Blue Army troops comprising men of the 4th Dragoon Guards and 11th Hussars. Umpires eventually released Dickson but declared his craft neutral. However, he made two more flights that same day, apparently in the same plane, which was captured a second time (presumably by Corporal Edwards). The correspondent with the Red Army correspondent said that what was presumably Dickson's first landing was prompted by the cold and that the umpires refused to recognise him as a combatant. (The “Telegraph“ said that Dickson and Gibbs' participation in the manoeuvres cost them £1,000-2,000.) The “Daily Mail“ reporter mentioned conflicting rumours about Dickson's landing: "some said the aeroplane had been captured, some said it had not", and concluded: "let us each speak of that which he sees and thus shall we arrive at the truth". Given that a pressman could be in only one place at once and with the manoeuvres covering a wide area, the often lengthy newspaper reports would have to rely on second-hand information.

Sir Charles Callwell, who during a spell as a colonel on half-pay wrote on military matters, noted of the aircraft at the 1910 manoeuvres: "one or two aeroplanes that had nominally shared in the proceedings had played no practical part in the campaign, either strategically or tactically. Alike by the forces engaged and by the spectators, they had been regarded as interesting curiosities."

In 1914 Sir Douglas Haig told officers: "I hope none of you young gentlemen is so foolish as to think that aeroplanes will be able to be usefully employed for reconnaissance purposes in war". (Some historians feel that RFC reconnaissance saved the BEF in the first two months of the war.)

On February 14, 1912, Lieutenant Basil Barrington-Kennett (a Grenadier Guard and one of the first officers appointed to the new Air Battalion) won the Mortimer Singer prize of £500 offered to the British army pilot who flew the greatest distance before March 31, 1912. Carrying a passenger, he flew 249.5 miles in a Nieuport monoplane over Salisbury Plain.

Captain Ignio Gilbert de Winckel of the Italian army was badly injured on February 17, 1912. An experienced airman, he was testing a Bristol monoplane for the Italian Government. When flying near Fargo Camp (close to Stonehenge" he attempted to descend too quickly, failed to switch off the engine and struck the ground hard. Both his legs were fractured, and there were grave injuries to his body. After surgical treatment he was taken to the George Hotel, Amesbury, "where he lies in a critical condition", reported “The Times“, February 19, 1912 p8c.

Captain Yamaji, Lieutenant Kono and Ordnance Lieutenant Commander Tanaka of the Imperial Japanese Navy were due to visit Netheravon from September 2 to 5, 1913 (TNA: AIR 1/786/204/4/567).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...