Albert Edmonds, Air Mechanic 2nd Class, d. 20th August 1917
Albert Edmonds was born in 1887. He was an agricultural engineer and machinist and he lived at Laurel Villa, Coped Hall (where Travis Perkins stands today). After a short emigration to Canada he returned to the family business, which was based in workshops beside the house. Albert’s father Edwin was an engineer of good repute, a Methodist, teetotaller, and non-smoker. His mother was Fanny Mary nee Walker from Brinkworth. Edwin and Fanny had seven sons, Edwin of Rose Cottage, William James, known as Willie, Fred of 88 High Street, Albert, Nelson, Herbert, and Mervyn, and six daughters, Fanny Frances, Rhoda, Beatrice, Lizzie, Winifred, and Florence, known as Flo. Several of their sons, including Edwin, Fred, Albert, and Mervyn, were involved in the business.
Edwin made several applications to the tribunals, hoping to retain his sons and employees. There was some sympathy for his case, as agriculture was important to the war effort, and some of Edwin’s sons, Edwin, Willie and Herbert, were in less than perfect health.
Albert attested in Devizes on 24th February 1916. He was born in 1887 and was 5 feet 7.25 inches tall with a 37 inch chest. On his attestation papers is the note: “Prefers Royal Engineers”. He was placed in the reserve but was soon called up. His father attempted to get his spared from service. In April 1916 the North Wiltshire Herald reported Albert’s tribunal case:
Albert Edmonds, of Wootton Bassett, a mechanic engaged in the repair of agricultural implements, threshing machines etc. employed by his father, was, said his employer, the only man he had for this particular work. The local tribunal had decided that it was not necessary in the national interest that he should remain in his civil employment. Mr Edmonds had seven sons, it was stated, none of whom is in the Army. He also employed six or seven men. Mr Edmonds said two of his sons had been rejected for military service, and another was an invalid. The appeal was refused.
Albert was mobilized on July 11th 1916 and three days later he was posted to the 2nd/8th Batallion of the Durham Light Infantry (5313). He was transferred to the 4th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry on 16th October 1916.
Albert was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (65286) on the 6th of February 1917. This post was probably well suited to his mechanical skills. He served as an Air Mechanic 2nd Class, stationed at St Neots. He was later posted to the No. 75 Home Defence Squadron (49814).
No.75 Squadron had been formed at Goldington (Bedford) on 1st October 1916 and its stock included a number of BE2c and BE2e aircraft. The BE1 was the first aircraft especially designed by the Royal Aircraft Factory for military use, in 1912. The letters BE stood for Blériot Experimental. Several variants of the subsequent BE2 model were built, from BE2a to BE2g, each one with some improvements, but they never made it to the ranks of the truly great aircraft. Its stability made it valuable for photography and observation, but it was useless in air combat, as it was neither manoeuvrable nor well armed. It earned itself some ignominious nicknames including Stability Jane, the Quirk, and Bits of Everything, and as the German machines outranked it more with each month that passed, it was eventually, and most scathingly, known as Fokker Fodder. From 1917 onwards, the BE2s were mostly withdrawn from both the front line, and the remaining aircraft were relegated to submarine spotting and training craft for
the rest of the war.
On August 20th 1917 Albert was a passenger on a practice flight in a BE2e number B4451. The pilot was Lieutenant W J Pierce. There is some question hanging over whether, as a mechanic, Albert should have been in the plane at all. At 11am the BE2e was involved in a mid air collision over Godmanchester, near to Huntingdon and the base at Wyton Aerodrome. The other aircraft was also a BE2e, number A1316, from 20 Training Squadron. It was piloted by 21 year old Lieutenant Louis Purgold, second son of the late Emile Purgold and Mrs Purgold, of 3 Alexandra Drive, Sefton Park.
The two planes fell to the ground below, and Albert, 30 years old, and Louis, only 21 years old, died instantly. Miraculously, Lieutenant Pierce was injured in the accident, and survived. The Court Enquiry found that the accident was unavoidable owing to a cloud between the two machines which were approaching each other from opposite directions. The cloud prevented both pilots from seeing each other until it was too late to avoid a collision.
The Court did not consider that there was any carelessness on the part of either pilot, and under the circumstances, the case was not referred to Air Command.
Louis was educated at Stonyhurst College, and the “Stonyhurst War Record” tells the story of the crash:
He (Louis) was piloting a single-seater at a height of 2,000 feet, observing for the artillery, and sending wireless messages to the batteries, when a heavy two-seater machine collided with him, killing him instantly. The body was taken from Huntingdon to Aigburth, where the Requiem and funeral took place on August 24th, 1917. Father O’Connor, the Rector of Stonyhurst, represented the College at the service.
Of the accident, which occurred on August 20th, 1917, by which he lost his life, his Flight-Commander wrote to his mother :-
It is needless for me to tell you how sorry we all were at your son’s untimely death, as he was extremely popular with everyone in the squadron, was a thoroughly good officer, and promised to make a quite exceptionally fine pilot. He was flying a BE2E at the time of the accident, and was doing puff target artillery practice from the air. The accident was in no way his fault, and nothing that he could have done after the collision could have saved him. The accident occurred owing to your son’s machine and that which collided with him being concealed from each other by a cloud, which they must have got into from opposite sides. One can see no distance ahead when one is flying in clouds. It was dreadfully bad luck, and would not occur once in a million times.
Louis’s funeral took place on August 24th 1917. Over 170 miles away in Wootton Bassett, Albert’s family were also coming to terms with their sudden loss. They received two warm tributes from members of his squadron. The first was from his Squadron Commander:
Dear Sir, – On behalf of myself and the officers and men of this squadron, I wish to offer you and your family our deepest sympathy and condolences on the sad death of your son in a flying accident yesterday. During the period he served with this squadron he made himself deservedly popular, and always showed the utmost keenness at his work. He will be greatly missed by the whole squadron. He was killed by a collision in the air while flying with Lieutenant Pierce near Huntingdon. Again offering you our deepest sympathy, I am, yours sincerely, T F Rutledge.
The other was from Flight Commander Clifford Ross:
Dear Mr Edmonds, – I wish to take this opportunity of expressing my sincere sympathy in the sad loss of your son, who was one of my most promising mechanics and one whom I was looking forward to promote. Also he was exceedingly popular and was held in high esteem for his devotion to his work, under frequently very trying circumstances and long working hours, by his NCOs and comrades, who all wish me to convey their sympathy. I enclose herewith a snapshot which I have obtained from one of my officers of the machine just before leaving the ground, showing your son as passenger, and Lieutenant Pierce as pilot, on the fatal flight in which his death occurred. With my deepest sympathy, yours truly, Clifford Ross.
Albert’s funeral took place at Wootton Bassett cemetery on August 24th 1917. Reverend H W Perkins (the Wesleyan
minister) officiated at the graveside. The coffin was of polished elm with brass fittings, and bore the inscription: “Albert Edmonds died August 20th 1917 aged 30 years”. The bearers were four of Albert’s comrades. A detachment of men from Yatesbury were also present. Among the tributes on the wreaths was one which read, “With deepest sympathy from the officers and men of 75 Home Defence Squadron, Royal Flying Corps,” and another, “A token of respect and deepest sympathy from his comrades.”
His striking white marble memorial in the cemetery reads: In affectionate remembrance of Albert, the beloved son of Edwin Hugh and Fanny Mary Edmonds, killed while flying at Godmanchester, August 20th 1917, aged 30 years.
He is remembered on the Memorial Tablet and Roll of Honour in Wootton Bassett parish church.