Nostalgia: Magnificent Hornchurch men in their flying machines

William Leefe-Robinson was a First World War fighter ace

William Leefe-Robinson was a First World War fighter ace - Credit: Archant

Thanks to its Suttons Farm air station (later RAF Hornchurch), Havering is linked to the pioneer pilots of the First World War through the famous flying aces, Leefe Robinson, Sowrey and Tempest, who defended London against Zeppelin attacks.

William Leefe-Robinson in the aircraft in which he was shot down in and captured

William Leefe-Robinson in the aircraft in which he was shot down in and captured - Credit: Archant

But Hornchurch also produced 1914-18 airmen who fought in France and Italy.

Prof Ged Martin

Prof Ged Martin - Credit: Archant

Flying was dangerous even without people shooting at you. Pilots generally had a short life span.

Zeppelins wrecked havoc over Britain during the First World War

Zeppelins wrecked havoc over Britain during the First World War - Credit: Archant

Young men from smart backgrounds were preferred.

They were likely to be able to drive a car, still a luxury item, and so find it easier to manage a plane.

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If they had attended elite schools, it was snobbishly assumed that they had “character” and would defy danger.

All credit to them, they volunteered to fly when most could have had a safer war.

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Leslie Powell, from Devonshire Road, was below the official enrolment age when he went to France to serve on the Western Front in 1914.

Then he opted to become a pilot. On March 4 1917, he got into a dogfight with a group of German fighters. The British planes were outnumbered, “but he played the game with his comrades and stood by them in their hour of trouble.”

They beat off the enemy, but Powell was shot in his cockpit. “He flew on for another 15 minutes, till he got back to our side of the line.”

We can smile at the flowery language (“played the game”!) but two days later the 21-year-old died of his wounds.

Harold Pailthorpe, from Carter (now Maybush) Road, Emerson Park, started the War in the Navy but arrived in France as a pilot on March 17 1917.

On patrol on May 23, he was attacked by seven German planes and killed. Aged 27, he had once been a chorister at St Andrew’s Anglican church.

Walter Fox, from Harrow Drive, served in the trenches as a signaller, before training as an Observer with the Royal Flying Corps (later the RAF) in November 1917. While the pilot flew the two-seater aircraft low and straight over enemy trenches, the Observer leaned out and took photographs. They were easy targets.

Fox arrived in France in May 1918, survived a crash soon after and was then hit in the face by shrapnel. He refused to go to hospital, but died of machine gun wounds in an early morning low-level swoop on August 22nd.

Praised for his “cheerful willingness,” he was 22.

Frederick Kendall had been born in India and, with his parents overseas, lived with an uncle in Ernest Road, Emerson Park.

In August 1918, he was sent to Taranto in southern Italy - away from the fighting and safe enough, it seemed.

In terrible weather, he took part in an air raid on the Austro-Hungarian naval base across the Adriatic at Cattaro (now Kotor in Montenegro) on August 30.

He managed to guide his plane home over the mountains of the Heel of Italy but, exhausted, he crash landed and died. He was 19.

Whatever we think of the First World War, there were brave men - little more than boys - and we should not forget them.

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