As the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI approaches, Wight Aviation Museum has traced the story of one of the Island’s little known aviation heroes, 23-year-old navigator 2nd Lt Clifford John Tolman.
In partnership with Graham Drucker’s Commonwealth Family History Research, Wight Aviation Museum’s John Kenyon has uncovered the amazing history of 22 Squadron Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and its famous Aces – key players in the efforts to stem the German advances in the air during WW1, at the very dawn of the RAF itself.
After extensive investigation across UK, North America and South Africa the partnership has managed to trace surviving members of an Island family connected to this illustrious WW1 squadron and discovered the untold history of an Isle of Wight Aviator lost in action, exactly 100 years ago.
Clifford John Tolman of 22 RAF Squadron was a gallant and fearless young officer from Alverstone Manor Farm, Whippingham and was lost in action over the trenches on the Western Front on 27th September 1918, just 45 days before the war ended.
The first ever memorial service for Clifford John Tolman was held at St Mildred’s, Whippingham on Thursday 27th September. Family members, the British Legion, representatives from the Royal Air Force Association and Air Cadets, members of Wight Aviation Museum and school children from nearby Priory School were in attendance. The service was conducted by the Rev Susan Paterson vicar of St Mildred’s and Rev Tony Richards the Royal British Legion Padre, assisted by Parade Marshall Terry Clarkson and his Standard Bearers. A spitfire flew over the church as the service concluded.
The ambition of Wight Aviation Museum (WAM) to remember Lt. Tolman on the Island came out of the blue to Tolman’s nephew and niece, Peter Tolman-Warren and Ann Tolman-Cook only late this summer, when rediscovered by Graham Drucker of the Island-based Commonwealth Family History Research company. They expressed their appreciation to WAM for taking the initiative to uncover and share their uncle’s sacrifice and this important part of the Island’s aviation history.
The Tolman’s married into the Island family, the Grace’s, who still live on the island, and worshipped at St Mildred’s, Whippingham. The names of Clifford Tolman and his step-brother Joseph Grace, who was also killed in WW1, are locally remembered. The family are still grieving 100 years later and were appreciative of returning to the Island with the help of WAM in order to finally accept the loss so long after his death.
Born 5th November 1896 Clifford John Tolman and his sister went to school in Whippingham. He later served as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, Hampshire Yeomanry Regiment No1351, of which the Isle of Wight Rifles is part. He was awarded the Military Medal for an act of bravery in the field and devotion to duty whilst under fire. Doubtless this was why he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in March 1918. He was soon in action over the trenches on the Western Front flying with his pilot in Bristol fighter biplanes. He went on to become a WW1 air ACE having destroyed 8 enemy aircraft in the air.
Clifford John Tolman was only 21 that fateful day when he flew with Flight Commander Captain Samuel Fredrick Thompson, UK’s leading Bristol fighter air ace with 30 victories, and set off on their final mission in a Bristol F2b Fighter from whence they never returned. Shot down we understand by Oberleutnant Otto Schmidt of German Jasta 5 squadron. Having no known grave, they are commemorated at the Arras Flying Services Memorial along with 1000 airmen others who lost their lives in WW1 on the Western Front.
In the near future the Wight Aviation Museum will open to the public a full display on the history of Lt. Clifford John Tolman and other Island aviation heroes. The museum is currently researching the first ever Isle of Wight Aviation Roll of Honour of all those aviators lost from 1910 till today.