Barely 4 years after the very first aeroplane landed on the Isle of Wight in 1910 at Freshwater, men were up in the air fighting the enemy over the trenches in the Western Front.
The Royal Air Force did not even exist at that time and aviation was still in its infancy, yet men from the Isle of Wight were distinguishing themselves flying with the Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps, spurred on by the heroics of Albert Ball VC, Billy Bishop VC and Mick Mannock VC. Those taking to the skies included such well known Island names as Attrill, Chiverton, Jolliffe, Mew, Russell and Urry.
Over 400 men who called the Isle of Wight home and served in the air forces during the First World War have been identified by Wight Aviation Museum. Isle of Wight casualties ranged in from age 18 through to 47-years-old, coming from all Island communities. Names of almost 100 airmen who lost their lives are being researched by the museum.
The following is a short summary of just 3 of those brave men who sacrificed all…
Stanley Winther Caws – 36: The very first island aviator to die in the Great War. Born in St. Helens in 1879. After serving in the Boer war he served as a trooper in Paget’s Horse, and later as a prospector in Canada from whence he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force coming to England. Caws transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in February 1915 and on training as a combat Pilot at the unusually old age of 36,was posted to No 10 Squadron, one of the first Royal Flying Corp squadron to be created.
With his Observer, Lt W H Sugden-Wilson, 2Lt Caws was out on a reconnaissance sortie in a 2-seater Bleriot Experimental 2c on the morning of 21 September 1915 when they were attacked by Fokker aircraft and shot down by German Air Ace Lieutenant Max Immelmann. Caws crashed and was killed near Vimy Ridge. He was buried by the Germans but his grave since lost. He is remembered by a small family brass plaque inside St Helens Church.
James Dacre Belgrave – 21: James was from Braemar in Sandown and was a Captain in 60 Squadron and an 18 victories air ace. Only one month after his squadron colleague Captain W. A. “Billy” Bishop received the Victoria Cross, on 18 July 1917 Belgrave was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads: “Lieutenant James Dacres Belgrave, Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and Royal Flying Corps. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On at least five occasions he successfully engaged and shot down hostile aeroplanes and has consistently shown great courage and determination to get to the closest range; an invaluable example in a fighting squadron”.
In April 1918 his squadron joined the newly formed Royal Air Force, and he was killed in the Somme flying an S.E.5 fighter east of Albert only months later aged 21 years old on 13 June 1918. He is buried at Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte, northern France. He is not listed on the Sandown War Memorial and appears to not yet be commemorated at all on the Isle of Wight.
Keith Ingleby MacKenzie – 18. Born 1898 in Ryde, 2/Lt Mackenzie served with 16th Squadron RFC and was on a photographic sortie flying a Bristol BE.2G aircraft with Lt Guy Everingham as his observer, when he was shot down and killed west of Vimy-de-Bonval. The shooting was claimed by the German ace-of-aces, the Red Baron, Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen – his 39th victory. MacKenzie is buried at Bois-Carre British Cemetery, Thelus. His name appears on the Ryde Borough War Memorial.
The very last Isle of Wight related aviator to die in the First World War died on 29th October 1918. Captain Goodwin Howard Thomas Barnes aged 21 was from Islington in London. He had served with 42 Squadron and 207 squadron with distinction and had been mentioned in dispatches for attacking a German submarine off the Isle of Wight. He was posted to the seaplane base at Bembridge from October 1917. He died of pneumonia at the Castle Red Cross Hospital on the Esplanade at Ryde after contracting influenza. He is buried at Ryde Borough cemetery.