Roll of Honour - Recollections and Memories

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David Richard Pickles, HMS Daedalus May. 1992 - Jan. 1993

Lee on Solent Personalities from around the Commonwealth

PHOTO OF SAILOR - This photograph was taken in January 1993 on completion of my training as an Aircraft Engineering Mechanic at HMS Daedalus, Lee On Solent (reference: Pickles website).

HMS Daedalus Aircraft Engineering Mechanic. "Following the pace required at Collingwood, I found Daedalus a breeze. I thought it quite odd that upon passing the course I was recommended for transfer back to Artificer. I obviously had the ability, I had just lacked the motivation. Weapon engineering isn't the most thrilling of subjects at the best of times. Aeroplanes, on the  other hand, are a completely different matter. (see his website)
Australian Personalities at Lee on Solent

Lawrence Percival Coombes

The records of L.P. Coombes were deposited with the La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria, in 1993. Probationary Flight Officer (RNAS) of Ship President from 22 July 1917; PFO of Air Station Chingford from 24 August 1917; PFO of Air Station Cranwell from 6 October 1917; Temporary Flight Sub-Lieutenant of Ship, Daedalus from 28 November 1917; Flight Sub- Lieutenant of Air station Dunkirk from 11 January 1918. 1917 - 1918, 2mm. letter of demobilisation, 30 April 1919. DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS DOCUMENTATION Listing of Army Orders for awards; actual certificate of DFC award. 23 July 1918, cuttings on fellow-officers (R. Collishaw, C.W. Payton, H.T. Mellings, Hinchcliffe. typewritten copy of extracts from the log-book of Capt. W.G.R. Hinchcliffe mentioning LPC. extract from article on Sopwith Camel from squadron of LPC.
British Personalities at Lee on Solent

George  Stainforth  29/9/1931

Flight Lieutenant G H Stainforth of the High Speed Flight established a new World speed record at 407.49mph in the Supermarine S6B at Lee-on-Solent.

Immediately after the Schneider Cup competition, September 16, 1931, the British airman Flt Lt Stainforth with a Supermarine SB-6 acrruied out speed trials. His aircraft was equiped with a 2300 CV engine specially designed for speed records, using a unique fuel mixture of petrol, methanol and ethyl. Starting the engine was uneasy and there was considerable danger of engine explosion. Stainforth took off from the water after a very long run up, required as his aircraft had no flaps. At 400m height he established a new record at 655 km/h.

Later Wing Commander George Stainforth, along with Roland Robert Stanford Tuck the Battle of Britain ace, was posted to Farnborough in south central England in June 1940. His task was to take part in comparison trials of a captured Me-109E and a Spitfire Mark II. The tests began with Stainforth flying the Me-109 and Tuck flying the Spitfire in level flight, dives and turns, and at various speeds at different altitudes.

Halfway through the trials the pilots switched aircraft. Tuck reported that the Me-109 was "without a doubt a most delightful little airplane--not as maneuverable as the Spit...but certainly it was slightly faster, and altogether it had a wonderful performance." The one thing Tuck got out of the Farnborough trials was the ability to put himself inside the enemy's cockpit.

The Stainforth Trophy is in honour of Wing Commander George Stainforth, Officer Commanding 89 Squadron, who died whilst in action in the Middle East in 1942.  - The Stainforth Trophy is awarded to the Station for their operational excellence and contribution to the Royal Air Force as a whole (reference: Stainforth Trophy).

Mike Saunders - BEM - Business Coordinator, Royal Navy Historic Flight

From 1966 to 1971 Mike completed Mechanicians Course at RNAS Arbroath and a trade conversion at RNAS Lee-on-Solent emerging as an Electrical Mechanician 1st Class (Chief Petty Officer).

Canadian Personalities at Lee on Solent

First World War Honours and Wards to Canadian in British Flying Services

Captain Thomas Grove GORDON

Mention in Despatches - awarded as per London Gazette dated 11 December 1917. Born in UK and next-of-kin in Dorset. Railway surveyor in Canada before the war. Joined 31st Regiment, British Columbia. Horse (Headquarters in Merritt, British Columbia), 15 August 1914; to Lord Strathcona Horse, while at Valcartier; sailed overseas, 7 October 1914; to France, May 1915; wounded 6 August 1915; appointed 2nd Lieutenant, RFC, 2 February 1916; to UK, 16 November 1916; served in No.10 Squadron, 1 June 1916 to 7 November 1917; to No.6 AA Park, 7 November 1917 (Equipment Officer). In 1922 was a Squadron Leader in RAF at Lee-on-Solent. GORDON, Captain Thomas Grove - Member, Order of the British Empire - awarded as per London Gazette dated 3 June 1919. For services with Independent Fore. AIR 1/1155/204/5/2441 (MG.40 D.1 Volume 20) has a recommendation (undated) describing him as Equipment Officer, Headquarters, 9th Wing; this might be for either the MiD or MBE:

For conspicuous keenness and devotion to duty. He has fully realized that the success of the squadrons in the Wing is largely dependant on the efficient supply of equipment material, and has spared himself nothing in his endeavours to satisfy their wants. No hours are too long for him and he is always ready to assist in any difficulties.

Captain James Steel MAITLAND

Air Force Cross - awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 January 1919. Born 27 August 1887 in Scotland; to Canada about 1910 (architect in Montreal); attended Thomas Morse School, Ithaca, but no certificate; appointed Probationary Flight Sub-Lieutenant in Ottawa, 16 December 1915; sailed on Philadelphia, 18 December 1915; at Calshot, 18 September 1916 throughout the war (detached to Lee-on-Solent from about 18 September 1918 onwards); Flight Sub-Lieutenant, 18 December 1916, Acting Flight Lieutenant, 8 March 1918; Flight Lieutenant, 1 October 1917.

Captain Percival WICKENS

Air Force Cross - awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 January 1919. Born in England, 4 January 1891 and educated there; came to Canada in 1913; master at St.Alban's School, Brockville. Attended Curtiss School, Toronto and attained Royal Aero Club certificate No.4046, 21 November 1916; appointed Probationary Flight Sub-Lieutenant, RNAS, Ottawa, 22 November 1916; to Cranwell, 18 June 1918; to Calshot (for instruction), 18 September 1917; to Lee-on-Solent Seaplane School (not under training), 18 December 1917; at Calshot (patrol duties, Lee-on-Solent area), 18 September and 18 December 1918).

Inter-war and Second World War Canadian personalities

Lt Cdr Roy S Baker-Falkner DSC DSC RN

Honours and Awards: DSC (1942), DSO (1944), MID, Battle of Britain.Missing:18.7.1944
Grew up in the Prairie provinces and Saanich, British Colombia. Served at the Fleet Air Arm squadron pool 1937/1938 at Lee-On-Solent. Involved in Dunkirk evacuation 1940, took part in the Battle of Britain 1940, was Fairey Barracuda test pilot at A&AEE Boscombe Down (1942-1943) during which time he was involved in demonstrating the new dive bomber Fairey Barracuda, to theAdmiralty and Politicians at Le on Solent, and subsequently train new squadrons on this type of aircraft at Lee. Subsequently took up command as first Wing Leader 8th Naval TBR Wing, and led the FAA attack on German Battleship Tirpitz, Operation Tungsten, 3.4.1944

Robert Hampton "Hammy" Gray, VC, DSC, RCNVR

Hampton "Hammy" Gray Robert Hampton Gray was born on 2 November, 1916
at Trail, B.C., Canada. In July, 1940 Hammy enlisted at the naval reserve unit (later HMCS Tecumseh). In 1940 he joined the Fleet Air Arm, and about two dozen of the Canadians transferred to HMS St Vincent at Gosport for basic training. He reported to HMS Daedalus, Lee-on-Solent, and in June was posted to 748 squadron.

On August 9, Hammy led his wing into the attack on Japanese destroyers at Onagawa Bay.
At 09:20, Hammy led the flight into the attack from 10,000 feet, and came in low over the hills and levelled out over the water at about 50 feet. He aimed for the Amakusa but was hit by fire. One bomb was shot off and the airplane caught fire. Hammy released the second bomb which hit the Amakusa below the No. 2 gun platform and penetrated into the engine room before exploding. As Hammy's plane flew away from the ship, it suddenly burst into flame, rolled to the right and crashed into the ocean. The Amakusa quickly flooded, and listed to starboard. The bugle sounded "abandon ship" and survivors jumped into the water. The ship went down quickly, taking 71 crew with it.

On August 31, 1945, Lt. Hampton Gray was officially awarded the Distinguished
Service Cross, and on November 13, he was further awarded the Victoria Cross.
Irish Personalities at Lee on Solent

Lieutenant-Commander E. Esmonde, VC

825 Squadron—Lt. Cdr. Eugene Esmonde, at Lee-on-Solent, 6 Swordfish, transferred to Manston at Admiral Ramsay’s request on or about 6th February: Admiral Bertram Ramsay thought that a daylight break-out would be attempted, and that the RAF and RN forces lacked the necessary torpedo bombers to stop the German Squadron.  He therefore requested and received the redeployment of 825 Squadron from Lee-on-Solent to Manston.  All of Coastal command’s other torpedo bomber squadrons were in the Mediterranean. In 1939, June.  Commanding Officer  of No.754 Squadron Fleet Air Arm  HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent, flying the Walrus, Magister, Mentor, Sea Fox and Swordfish, . Comissioned as CO of 825 sqdn in 1942 at Lee, Lieutenant-Commander E. Esmonde, later awarded a posthumous VC for operations in the English channel against the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen.

Reference:  Read the story of the Channel Dash operation.
New Zealand Personalities at Lee on Solent


Francis Bentinck (Ben) Heffer was born on November 10th 1919 in Otaki New Zealand at a small hospital. He grew up in Waikanae a small town close by and played on the School Rugby team. Though New Zealand was not officially at war with anyone, its status a commonwealth nation of the British Empire and with the national psyche being so linked to England as the mother country, it was natural that the New Zealanders were the first of the Dominions to show their allegiance.A friend told him about the Fleet Air Arm and how he was getting in much earlier. Ben took the trip down to Wellington to stand before the Naval Selection Board, all the medical tests were repeated and strangely, they asked him if he played golf. Bens Reply: "Yes and my response was not strictly a lie when I said yes, but hitting golf balls around the sand hills and swamps was not exactly playing golf.Ben enters the service in 1942 at age 22.Ben and 30 others were transferred to Lee on Solent to await transport to the USA. There he was given guard duty. Ben memories of this duty are as follows: I recall the first night there doing guard duty around the airfield with a rifle with (1) one round of ammo! The threat of German parachutists was still hanging over the country at the time. I had a fixed bayonet so after firing my one round I could have held the rifle upright on the ground and hoped the enemy would fall on it!!" Long delays kept Ben assigned to the airfield with little to do. One day when assigned to do some chore Ben and his friend Geoff sneaked off to find a sunny place to relax behind the barracks. A Walrus amphibian had just taken off from the airfield and was in trouble.

Photo of Lt (A) Ben Hefer DSC RNZNVR

Suddenly it turned right toward Ben and Geoff, descending rapidly to crash into
the barracks near where they had been taking their break. All three of the crew were killed.

July 21 1944 Ben and his group are ordered to fly to the HMS Victorious and prepare for an operation against Sabang off the northern tip of Sumatra. Ben was part of the stand-by CAP (combat air patrol) sitting in the F4U of another squadron on the Victorious.

(Ref: Ben Heffer - 1833 Squadron FAA (Fleet Air Arm) F4U Corsair pilot HMS Illustrious 1944-45 Pacific)
South African Air Aces of World War II

Squadron Leader A.G. Lewis, DFC and Bar

Albert Gerald Lewis, born in Kimberley on 10th April, 1918, joined the Royal Air Force when he was 20, on a four-year Short Service Commission, being gazetted as an Acting Pilot Officer with effect from 29th October, 1938. At No.5 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School, Hanwell, he flew the Blackburn B-2, and in November, 1938, he was posted to No. 3 FTS at South Cerney in Gloucestershire, near the Wiltshire border, flying the Hawker Hart, Audax and Fury. Awarded his
flying badge on 14th March, 1939, he was transferred to an advanced training squadron and completed his course on 8th June. On the 15th he was posted to No.754 Squadron Fleet Air Arm and was Staff Pilot, HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent, flying the Walrus, Magister, Mentor, Sea Fox and Swordfish, his Commanding Officer being Lieutenant-Commander E. Esmonde, later awarded a posthumous VC for operations in the English channel against the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen. On 20th June, 1939, he crashed a Walrus, the machine being a complete write-off. Discharged from Haslar Naval Hospital on 12th August, he reported back for duty, and continued his training for alighting on the sea on the Walrus. The outbreak of war on 3rd September found him as Sea Duty Pilot and he received the signal for the Commanding Officer of the unit which directed: "Commence hostilities against Germany at once".

Recollections of Lee on Solent in WW1
Recollections of RNAS at Lee-on-Solent in 1917 by the 102 year old Philip Bristow in 2001

I can remember in the early years, about 1907 to 8, being interested in news as it came in from other parts of the world and the news that came from the United States that two men called Wright, the Wright brothers, had made an aeroplane which they  had been able to get aloft, get it properly airborne with a small motor driving propellers. This happened in 1903 in Kittyhawk in the United States. 

At the start of the Great War you volunteered for the Navy and you had to go for an interview in London?

That's right yes. Then I became 17 or 17 ½ and my parents were naturally concerned about it. I said I wanted to join the Royal Naval Air Service. So enquiries were made and we found out what it was necessary I had to have. An application form which we sent for - filled it in, then they required further answers as to my education and were there some sponsors who could speak for me independently as to my character and having done all that they eventually said well we want to see you and I think it was in July that I was summoned to go to a selection board at the HQ of the RNAS which at that time was on one the floors of the Hotel Cecil in the Strand, London. 

So when the time came when I was nearly 18 I got my things together. I acquired a uniform, I had a list of what was required, I had to provide all that myself and have that put in my trunk with my other gear and off I went to London and eventually got out to Greenwich where I presented myself on a Sunday afternoon with a number of other rookies like myself arriving to join up. 

Most of the people who came on that week's intake seemed to me to be Canadians. There were roughly I suppose half of us English and half of us Canadian and that was the squad that I joined when I got to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich and the time came to go to learn to fly and the Royal Navy had a number of flying schools in various parts of the country, but they had one in France and I was told to go to Vendome, La Rochelle, France to learn to fly. 

Reporting at Lee on Solent

When I got back to England I reported at Lee on Solent. Here was a seaplane base on the low cliffs above the Solent. They had chosen that place because further away at Calshot was a seaplane base also, a very large one, where they had float planes and flying boats, but this one at Lee on Solent was chosen because it was most suitable for a quick take off and get back onto the beach. The seaplanes were kept on the cliffs and were lowered onto the beach every morning with a crane and brought back at night time. So here were these low cliffs, 20 or 30 feet, not very high, and this gravely beach. The seaplanes and the small flying boats were floated there and were tethered to the beach and had to have a rating to look after each one because of the ebb and flow of the tide, and they had to be kept just grounded, no more. 

So when the time came to fly the engine was started, after the pilot and observer or instructor had got into the aeroplane, and the thing would be pushed out. You did exactly the same thing on the water as you did on land. You went out some distance and looked to see which way the wind was blowing and obviously you took off into the wind. I seem to remember that when I was there we had very good flying conditions. It was late spring I suppose, March or April, the weather was very nice anyway gradually getting warm, and the weather conditions were very good. We had gentle breezes coming from the East so we’d take off in that direction. 

Lee on Solent had a small pier and in my time they even had a concert party performing on the pier for the summer season which was rather a joke in a way but the great thing was if you had to push yourself out from the beach and get out sufficiently for take off, you had to get far enough out to avoid hitting the pier on take off. That I remember very well. 

Short 184 in the Solent

I started off with an instructor with dual controls, the same as on the other aircraft, and when the instructor was satisfied that you, the pupil behind, were sufficiently skilful in controlling the thing you were sent off solo. You had to fly so many  hours, I think it was a Short 150 the smaller one that we learnt on and after that we went on to a bigger one a Short 225. This had a Renault Mercedes engine, a very big engine - 12 cylinders, water cooled with a much bigger propeller, and we had to learn to fly that. Although the controls were similar the feel was different, the aircraft was much bigger and so on, and these sort of things have to be practiced frequently. Taking off and landing, so you can become quite skilful in these different types. 

We also had at Lee on Solent a small flying boat called an SBA. This was a small plywood boat tapering off at the back to a tail where there was a tail plane and a rudder. Of biplane construction. The two occupants of the flying boat sat side by side in the front with the biplane wings behind and the propulsion was by a small rotary engine behind the wings. That is to say it was a pusher and therefore the weight of the engine and the propulsion unit had to do a sort of balancing act.  When you took off you opened the engine up fully and skidded along the top, the surface of the water and then became airborne, just like that, and very pleasant it was indeed because here you are in an open boat with all the world in front of you, you couldn’t see the wings or the engine, they were behind and many a time I can look back to flying over the Solent and the Isle of Wight and those areas, particularly in the early morning, in one of these things and seeing the dawn come and the sun rise and the beautiful view below me, but the thing was to get this thing down on the water. 

Now this is where the trick came in. As you headed for the point you wanted to alight at a certain height and a certain distance away as usual and this time you had to remember you had to come down in a much steeper glide that in the other aircraft. All the other aircraft I had flown had the engine in front so therefore they were nose heavy and would naturally get into a dive. This on the contrary had the weight behind, the engine behind, and furthermore once you lost the power the tendency was for the tail to sink so as soon as you throttled back the engine you had to at the same time push forward the controls and put it into a fairly steep glide heading now for the water and as you approach the water you naturally levelled out and touched down without having to splash in or without having to hit it too hard. Just to glide onto the surface, and having done that you opened up the engine again and taxied back to the beach. 

The rotary engine was a development …..? 

This was a remarkable engine that had been developed. I said earlier on that the whole problem was weight, power to weight ratio. We were using flying seaplanes with large V shaped engines with water jackets, water cooled radiators, all the impedimenta associated with that kind of engine. They gave us very great power but they were very heavy too. So, if greater power could be acquired without all this necessary apparatus so much the better, so the rotary engine was invented. Instead of the engine being fixed and the crank shaft turning the propeller the crank shaft was fixed, the propeller was attached to the rotary engine which was, it had to be on odd numbers of cylinders, 7 or 9. I won't go into details of the intricacies of that, it all had to do with the balance of the engine and the fact that induction and exhaust had to be very carefully controlled. So here we had an air cooled engine with the propeller attached to it and the crank shaft fixed to the aircraft and this is what the rotary engine did. As you opened it up the cylinders whirred round at anything up to 1200 rpm I think, it was very considerable but the swift motion of the cylinders through the air kept it cool. 

Do you remember who made them?

There was one called the Gnome. I don't know who made it, they were made in this country. Another one called a Clerget,  I think that was a French one - that was about 130 hp. I think the Gnome was about 110 hp.

How did the people of Lee on Solent take to being invaded by intrepid Young men in flying machines and boats? 

They took it in their stride. There was a war on. It was a desperate war. We commandeered their lovely houses on the front. I had a lovely room in a beautiful house on the cliff top etc. They took a lot of land inland and it became an airfield and land based affair for the RAF that I believe it is now.

Did you fly operationally from either Calshot or Lee on Solent?

No. Westgate on Sea. That's where I did my operational flying, over the North Sea. Most of my flying was done there. What I'm telling you is only a little bit. I did a great many hours after that in that thing - a Short 184 with a 230lb bomb and about 700 rounds of ammunition and about 80 gallons of petrol, enough to keep you airborne for about 4 - 5 hours. After my tuition at Lee on Solent and finally at Calshot where I was taken up and dropped dummy bombs on targets on Fawley Marshes and where we engaged in aerial combat with another seaplane, firing at each other with camera guns on which was recorded the accuracy of our aim. That only took about a week or two anyway, and after that I was detailed on an operational station, a seaplane station at Westgate on Sea near Margate at the extreme end of Kent. This was the nearest part of our operations to the enemy who were not so very far away across that corner of the North Sea in Belgium.

Extracts from a TV interview: HTV Wales Wings over Wales - WELSH FLYING ACES INTERVIEWED. ‘Wings Over Wales’ is a Raw Charm production for HTV (2001).

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