101 years later, peace at last for RFC aviators

 

101 years later, peace at last for RFC aviators

Author: 

Charlie Haines

In a moving ceremony near The Somme in France, the final resting place of two Royal Flying Corps (RFC) aviators has finally been marked exactly 101 years after their deaths, following painstaking research by a retired Royal Canadian Navy Officer.

The graves of Lieutenant Leonard Cameron Kidd MC and Second Lieutenant Fenton Ellis Stanley Phillips MC were rededicated with full military honours in a service today [Thursday, 12 October 2017] at the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery in France. The graves of Lieutenant Kidd (Pilot) and Second Lieutenant Phillips (Observer) were previously marked as ‘A British Airman of the Great War’.

Lieutenant Kidd and Second Lieutenant Phillips were killed on 12 October 1916. They were members of 3 Squadron RFC, and had flown out of the RFC Aerodrome at La Houssoye at around 13:50 in a Morane Parasol reconnaissance aircraft. The pair did not return and were believed to have been shot down by anti-aircraft fire between Gueudecourt and Eaucourt L’Abbaye.

For a century their whereabouts remained unknown and the pair were commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Arras Flying Services Memorial. However, thorough research by Lieutenant Commander Steve St Amant, a retired Royal Canadian Navy Officer, has revealed that the two plots at the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery do indeed belong to Lieutenant Kidd and Second Lieutenant Phillips (see Notes to Editors).

The service, organised by the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) was attended by personnel from the current 3 (Fighter) Squadron Royal Air Force, based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. The service was conducted by Rev Fr Flight Lieutenant James Mealy, the RAF Coningsby Station Chaplain and Padre of 3 (Fighter) Squadron.

Also present was Lieutenant Commander St Amant alongside other representatives from the Royal Canadian Navy, the UK Embassy in Paris, Standard Bearers from the Royal British Legion, local dignitaries, and the Head Teacher and pupils from Bromsgrove School in Worcestershire, which was attended by Lieutenant Kidd. 

Rev Fr Flight Lieutenant James Mealy said: “It is truly an honour and privilege to be part of this rededication service for Lieutenant Kidd and Second Lieutenant Philips. They are remarkable and brave young officers who gave their everything so we can enjoy our today.

“Also, as the 3 (Fighter) Squadron Padre, it is especially meaningful to me, to finally give these two men the honour and blessing that they deserve and give praise and thanksgiving to God for the sacrifice they gave for us. Their names will continue to live on.”    

Simon Bergg, Second Lieutenant Phillips’ great nephew who attended the ceremony, said: “We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to pay our respects to our great uncle at this Rededication Ceremony. It means a great deal to us that he no longer rests in an unmarked grave.

“We are also very thankful for the time and effort that Steve St Amant invested to unearth the history that has enabled this ceremony to take place.

“Through all of this we have learned so much about our Great Uncle and how he brought pleasure and joy to those around him during his short life, even during times of conflict.”

Tracey Bowers, who works for the JCCC, said: “It is only right and fitting that these two exceptionally brave men now have a named grave. It is humbling that so many people have travelled from so far away to attend today’s ceremony”

ENDS    

NOTES TO EDITORS

How were the graves identified?

The identity of the graves was discovered by Lieutenant Commander Steve St Amant, serving as a Liaison Officer between the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command and the UK MOD. Lieutenant Commander St Amant came upon the two graves, which were marked as ‘A British Airman (Observer) of The Great War’ and ‘A British Airman (Pilot) of The Great War’.

It was common practice for aircrews to be buried together where possible, and St Amant therefore concluded that there should be some means by which these two aviators could be identified.

St Amant found that the individuals buried in these plots had been recovered from the same location, in an area within which Lieutenant Kidd and Second Lieutenant Phillips were operating. He also found that both casualties were wearing RFC uniforms, and both wore the ribbon of the Military Cross, which the two individuals had both been awarded in 1916.   

In a report which was submitted to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in July 2015, and subsequently supported by the RAF’s Air Historical Branch, Lieutenant Commander St Amant presented his very detailed dossier showing how he had identified the two aircrew. The case was then passed to the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre for final adjudication, after which arrangements began for a rededication ceremony.

Lieutenant Commander Steve St-Amant said: “I was ecstatic when I first got the news that their graves were to be rededicated. I also felt my research had been validated.

“Despite the fact these two young men lost their lives 101 years ago, they have been the catalyst for something wonderful. I will continue to do this research where I can simply because I want to see unknowns come out of the cold. We owe it to them and their families, regardless of the passage of time.”

Lieutenant Kidd’s second cousin Julian Ironside, a former RAF Pilot himself, said: “My response was real happiness that Steve was able to carry out such research to enable this all to come to fruition and finally have this aviator’s last resting place be recognised.

“I was an RAF Pilot as was my father before me so I do have personal empathy and the relationship, albeit relatively distant, brought it all the more closer.”

Lieutenant Leonard Cameron Kidd MC

Lieutenant Leonard Cameron Kidd MC was born in 1893 in the Bromsgrove area. He was educated at Bromsgrove School and at the outbreak of war was tea planting in Ceylon. Already a qualified pilot, he enlisted into the Royal Flying Corps and was sent to France in February 1916.

Operating over the Somme area, shortly before his death Leonard received notification that he had been awarded the Military Cross. An entry in the London Gazette of 14 November 1916 records that his Military Cross was awarded ‘for conspicuous skill and gallantry on contact patrol work. On one occasion he carried out three contact patrol flights, each 1,000 feet, and obtained valuable information under heavy fire. He also attacked enemy reinforcements with a machine gun from a height of 500 feet’.

In addition to the Military Cross Leonard was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Leonard was 23 at the time of his death.

Second Lieutenant Fenton Ellis Stanley Phillips MC

Second Lieutenant Fenton Ellis Stanley Phillips MC was born in 1895 and was the younger son of the Rector of Bow, Devon. At the outbreak of war he enlisted into the Artists Rifles as a Private, later being gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the Devonshire Regiment. He was sent to France in May 1915 and in May 1916 joined the Royal Flying Corps.

In September 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross, which was recorded in the London Gazette of 23 October 1916. The citation reads ‘for conspicuous gallantry and skill. He has done fine contact patrol work. On one occasion he came down to a low altitude while making a report, and his machine was much damaged by rifle and machine gun fire, but he carried on and successfully put our artillery on to the enemy, who were massing for a counterattack’.

In addition to the Military Cross, Fenton was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Fenton was just 21 at the time of his death.

About the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre

  1. Following the discovery of the remains of British Service personnel from historic conflicts, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) attempts to identify any living relatives so that they can be involved in the subsequent re-interment and memorial service.
  2. Where clear and convincing evidence can be provided to prove the identity of a previously “unknown” grave, a new, named headstone will be provided and the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) will attempt to trace the family and arrange a rededication service held with military honours at the graveside.
  3. The JCCC is part of MOD’s Defence Business Services (DBS) organisation. It provides a focal point for casualty administration, notification and requests for overseas compassionate travel for members of the British Armed Forces. JCCC also answers enquiries relating to individual historic military fatalities and co-ordinates investigations following the discovery of human remains of British service personnel killed in World War I and World War II.
  4. Historical aspects relating to casualties from all Services can range from tracing relatives of aircrew who were lost in battle in the war years where remains have been discovered, to answering queries about entries in books of remembrance. Interment or memorial services as appropriate are arranged by the Section, in collaboration with UK military units and/or British Embassies.
  5. For more information on JCCC services please visit gov.uk/JCCC
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