Category Archives: Egypt

1 January 1918 – A New Year Tragedy

The year was only a few hours old when the first fatalities occurred in the air. Out in Egypt, Lieutenants Arthur Colwell Upham and Wesley Neal Spragg were killed when their Maurice Farman MF11 Shorthorn crashed after after their wing gave way.

Both men were instructors at the RFC training school in Heliopolis, Egypt. The previous day, they had attended a New Year’s Eve concert at the Aotea Convalescent Home and left early, according to a letter from the matron, Mary Early, to Spragg’s mother Annie.

“They always said they must have their ‘Beauty sleep’,” said Early, “so they left saying they would drop their New Year greeting as they were flying past the Home.”

The next morning they returned. Mary Early continues:

“Well, they came! While we were watching the two happy boys fly past, ‘something’ went wrong with the wing of the machine. It crumpled up and down came the aeroplane!”

“We had just waved to the two boys. Your son had waved back …”

Spragg jumped or was thrown out of the plane And died within minutes, having suffered a head injury. Upham was pinned under the plane, until it was lifted by 12 men, and he survived with concussion and a broken shoulder and nose.

The crashed aircraft in front on the convalescent home

Spragg had survived two earlier crashes since becoming a pilot in May 1916.

Photos and more detail from the New Zealand Herald.


30 December 1917 – HMS Aragon

The RFC suffered one of its largest losses of life in one day during the war today as 75 men were killed.

The loss was part of a larger disaster when the troopship HMT Aragon was sunk by a torpedo. The ship had arrived at Alexandria at daybreak on Sunday 30 December accompanied by the destroyer HMS Attack. On approach to the port the Attack zig-zagged ahead to search the channel for mines while Aragon waited in Alexandria Roads. At this point the armed trawler HMT Points Castle approached Aragon flying the international flag signal “Follow me”. The troop ship did so, until Attack returned and signalled “You have no right to take orders from a trawler”.

The destroyer intercepted Points Castle and then ordered Aragon to return to sea. The troop ship obeyed and turned back to sea. Later investigation was unable to make sense of this order. Explanations such a lack of space in the port or a concern for mines have never been proved conclusively.

Regardless, the decision proved costly as shortly afterwards the Aragon was hit by a torpedo from u-boat UC34. The torpedo caused extensive damage to the almost empty number 4 hold and the ship listed heavily starboard.

The Attack and the Points Castle immediately came to the rescue. Attack drew right alongside Aragon to take survivors aboard as quickly as possible. After about 20 minutes the Aragon went down.

The Attack was now crowded with 300 to 400 survivors. At this point a second torpedo hit the Attack blew the ship into two pieces, both of which sank rapidly, at the same time spilling tons of bunker fuel oil into the sea.

The Aragon’s surviving lifeboats now ferried hundreds of survivors to trawlers which had come out to assist.

20 crew members from the Aragon including the Captain were drowned along with 10 from the Attack. 610 of the troops on the Aragon were also killed. The 75 RFC men were as follows:

Corporal Walter Achurch

2nd Class Air Mechanic James Armstrong

2nd Class Air Mechanic Frederick Attenborough

3rd Class Air Mechanic SH Bird

2nd Class Air Mechanic Bertie Bradley

1st Class Air Mechanic Jack Bretherton

2nd Class Air Mechanic Ernest Brooks

3rd Class Air Mechanic Richard Browne

2nd Class Air Mechanic Leonard Butterworth

3rd Class Air Mechanic David William Cartwright

2nd Class Air Mechanic George Clark

3rd Class Air Mechanic TH Clark

2nd Class Air Mechanic Henry James Covell

Lieutenant William Asheton Crawley

3rd Class Air Mechanic George William Daffern

3rd Class Air Mechanic Fred Dale

3rd Class Air Mechanic C Deller

2nd Class Air Mechanic Frederick Joseph Dilley

2nd Class Air Mechanic H Dobson

2nd Class Air Mechanic Charles John Driver

3rd Class Air Mechanic Alfred William Dudman

3rd Class Air Mechanic William Dunton

2nd Class Air Mechanic Christopher Edmund Rich

2nd Class Air Mechanic Frank Alexander Frank

3rd Class Air Mechanic Isaiah Gough

1st Class Air Mechanic Sidney T. Gray

3rd Class Air Mechanic Wilfred Walker Greaves

2nd Class Air Mechanic Harold Edwin Handscombe

2nd Class Air Mechanic William Cleland Hatton

2nd Class Air Mechanic Jeremiah Humphreys

3rd Class Air Mechanic JA Hunt

3rd Class Air Mechanic EW Jackson

3rd Class Air Mechanic John Hardy Jackson

2nd Class Air Mechanic William Jones

2nd Class Air Mechanic Fred Kendall

1st Class Air Mechanic James Henry Keyte

1st Class Air Mechanic William Albert Knight

1st Class Air Mechanic Harold Edward Ladd

3rd Class Air Mechanic John Henry Lane

2nd Class Air Mechanic Albert Joshua Laurens

3rd Class Air Mechanic Charles Lee

2nd Class Air Mechanic Herbert Henry Lucas

2nd Class Air Mechanic John Maccrimmon

2nd Class Air Mechanic Charles William Macey

2nd Class Air Mechanic GL Martin

2nd Class Air Mechanic John Matthews

3rd Class Air Mechanic Albert Mcguinness

2nd Class Air Mechanic Reginald Meade

2nd Class Air Mechanic Alfred Moore

2nd Class Air Mechanic Ernest Victor Morris

1st Class Air Mechanic George Murrell

Corporal Harold John Nicholls

2nd Lieutenant William Charles Perry

2nd Class Air Mechanic John Pilkington

2nd Class Air Mechanic Michael Power

2nd Class Air Mechanic John Rae

3rd Class Air Mechanic John Rees

Corporal Frederick John Richardson

3rd Class Air Mechanic Charles Ricketts

3rd Class Air Mechanic William Ernest Ridgewell

2nd Class Air Mechanic John William Shepherd

3rd Class Air Mechanic Thomas Sidebottom

2nd Class Air Mechanic Joseph Benjamin Standing

2nd Class Air Mechanic Austin Thomas Carroll

3rd Class Air Mechanic Ralph Bolton Toms

3rd Class Air Mechanic Frederick James Turner

2nd Class Air Mechanic Joseph Thomas Walker

2nd Class Air Mechanic Frederick John Waller

1st Class Air Mechanic Philip Courtenay Waud

3rd Class Air Mechanic Henry Charles Wiley

3rd Class Air Mechanic RJ Williams

2nd Class Air Mechanic James William Witchlow

3rd Class Air Mechanic Bertie Hugh Wolfe

3rd Class Air Mechanic Robert William Wyse

2nd Class Air Mechanic Sidney Thomas Young

5 October 1917 – 111 Strikes

Out in Egypt, 111 Squdron RFC had been formed back on 1 August 1917 from a nucleus of pilots from 14 Squdron RFC. Initially it had no aircraft but a variety of aircraft were soon provided by 14 Squadron and arrived from the aircraft park including Bristol MICs, DH2s, a Bristol Scout and Bristol Monoplane Fighters.

Another aircraft obtained was the Vickers FB19. This was a single-engine, single-bay, equal-span biplane, with a proportionally large engine fairing and tall fuselage, which gave it a relatively stubby appearance. It was armed with one synchronised 7.7mm Vickers machine gun, mounted unusually on the left-hand side of the fuselage, to facilitate the installation of the Vickers-Challenger synchroniser gear, also a Challenger design. The 100-hp Gnome Monosoupape engine gave a relatively slow speed, and the relatively low cockpit position, placed behind a wide rotary engine and between unstaggered wings, severely limited visibility for the pilot.

The design had been tested in France in late 1916 and found to be unsuitable for combat conditions there due to the slow speed and single gun. However, as was typical at the time, the aircraft were shipped off to “lesser” theatres for use in less trying conditions.


An FB19

A few of these found their way to Egypt, and it was in number A5223 that Charles Robert Davidson, who was was one of the pilots transferred from 14 Squadron, claimed to have driven down out of control an Albatross DIII near Huj-Beit-Hanun. This was Davidson’s second claim.

Some sources suggest that this victory was obtained in a Bristol F2b but this seems unlikely at this time.


13 July 1917 – “All dear sports”

The folly of sending out reconnaissance missions without escort was confirmed again today for 1 Squadron AFC out in Egypt.

Two BE2e’s went out this morning on a photography mission over the Beersheba area. Unfortunaltely the escort that was to be provided by 14 Squadron RFC failed
to appear at the meeting place and the BE2s continued without it.

Almost immediately they were attacked by an enemy scout. Lieutenants Archibald Henry Searle and Gerald Lewis Paget were shot down and crashed behind the enemy lines. Searle had been shot through the head and both men were found dead in the wreckage.

2nd Lieutenants Reginald Francis Baillieu and Adrien Espinasson Barbe managed to escape with their machine shot up but landed safely in the British lines.

The next day, the German airman Oberleutnant Georg Felmy appeared over the aerodrome and dropped a message bag containing news of the airmen and those previously lost and a letter for Commander Captain Murray Jones.

“All dear sports,

I beg this letter not to send in a newspaper. Please send the photo with X to the Parents of Mr Vautin.

My joy was very tall to receive your many letters. Tomorrow Vautin comes to take all the things and all the letters (with 1 photo), which were dropped. He is such well educated and genteel boy that we do with pleasure all what is pleasant for him. But if you write for us, you must write more distinctly because our English is not so perfectly , that we can read all. The most legible writing has firstly your writing machine, secondly Murray Jones. Vautin has me talked very much of him. I hope to fight with this sport more oftener. I thank him for his kind letters – I thank also for the decoration of the “Rising Sun” from Mr Lex Macaulopolus (?). Perhaps I can see the sun later in Australia.

Too very best thanks for the photo of Mr Brown and for the kind letter and many photos of R F Baillieu.

In order to answer your questions: 1) 2nd Lt Steeleis unfortunately dea. He expired 24/04/17soon after his imprisonment. He was shot down by our archies.
2) Mr Heathcote is in captivity and well, I think in the same place as Messrs Palmer and Floyer. Muray Jones is a very courageous man , we have feeled it in flying and when he came to drop the things for XXX so down (perhaps 100 ft). I would like to have his address in Australia to visit him. And a photo of him and the others, but – I beg – a little more bigger the photos because I could scarcely perceive your sport = eyesights!Ramadan is not practical for a visite at you, on must fast all the day. For souvenir I have exchanged my watch with Vautin and we have engraved our names. Where can I disperse more an aquaduct! Hoping our good condition is continuing long time – with best wishes for all who have written for us. With sportly respects G Femly F300. “

A copy of the original letter is shown in the Australian Official History.

11 July 1917 – Heat Stroke

Back on 8 July, the Turkish advanced positions at Dhibban in Egypt were captured by British forces.

Today an attempt to capture the Ramadi lines failed, mainly because of abnormal heat and a blinding dust storm.

Four aeroplanes from 30 Squadron RFC co-operated in the Ramadi operations during the early morning to assist he artillery.

Three more set off to bomb Turkish positions at 0430 but were forced to return as the heat caused all the water in their engines to boil away and the pilots were sick with the excessive heat.

19 April 1917 – Sabotage

The German air service made an audacious attempt to cut off the British water supply to the offensive in Gaza by attacking the pipeline across Sinai.

A two-seater aeroplane, carrying two officers who had for some time kept a careful watch on the progress of the pipe-line, landed alongside the line about ninety miles inside the British area. The officers laid a charge of explosive and were successful in blowing up a few feet of the pipe, a piece of which they carried away as a souvenir. Unfortunately for them the damage was only minor and it was repaired the same day.

The attack was rather pointless on it own. By now there were nearly a million gallons of water stored in reservoirs at El Mazar and El Arish, and there was, also a good water supply in wells forward of the railhead at Rafah. The pipe-line, although still vital, no longer had quite the same importance as when the advance across the waterless Sinai desert was being made. An attack on this pipe-line during that period, combined with successful bombing attacks aimed at bursting the reservoirs, would have had the effect of stopping the British advance

8 March 1917 – Turkish retreat

Out in Palestine, the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force under SIr Archibald Murray   have completed preparations to attack the main Turkish positions at Shellal as a preliminary to the main assault on Gaza. However, cavalry patrols on the night of 4 March discovered that the Turks were evacuating the whole of their elaborate defences.


The RFC was ordered at once to hamper the withdrawal as much as possible by bombing. So, at dawn on 5 March, 6 machines from 14 Squadron RFC and 1 Squadron AFC (67 (Australian) Squadron RFC) bombed the station at Tel el Sheria. The anti-aircraft fire was heavy. Lieutenant Adrian Trevor Cole from 67 Squadron had his petrol tank shot through and was forced to land on his way home, but he escaped unhurt.

richard williams

Richard Williams

His colleague Captain Richard Williams, too, was nearly lost mainly though his own error. He recounts the tale:

“When I arrived at Sheria, I throttled down to lose height and bomb the railway station. I was just getting ready and was about 2,000 feet up when I got archies’ all round me-by Jove they did stick, too! I went in and dropped my two 112-lb. bombs and the engine stopped. I am for Constantinople now, all right, I thought. I thought an archie had got my engine, for they were going off all round me the whole time. I tried all the petrol taps and could get no result; then undid my belt and stood up to see if anything was wrong in front, but saw nothing. During all this time I was being peppered with archies and I said to myself, ‘ Well, you might see I am coming down. I dropped two smoke balls as distress signals to our other machines, but they seemed an awful way off and a long way above me. By this time I was nearly on the ground and was picking out a spot to land on, when I looked at my switch on the outside of the machine. It was off. I switched on and, thank Heaven! the engine started firing. She choked a bit at first, so I throttled back and then gradually opened up. The engine picked up and I was going again. By this time I was under 500 feet and was making for the Turks. They must have opened fully six or eight machine-guns at me, so I turned to get out of that.”


Ernest Ayscoghe Floyer

14 Squadron were not so lucky. Lieutenants Ernest Ayscoghe Floyer and Clement Victor Palmer were shot down by anti-aircraft fire in their DH1A (4608) and captured.

A similar raid on 6 March was carried out without losses, but on 7 March, the aircraft of Lieutenant John Vincent Tunbridge from 1 Squadron AFC was hit by AA fire and he was forced to land at Rafa. He set off on foot and was eventually rescued by Lieutenants Percy William Snell and Joseph Anthony Morgan who spotted him while on patrol and and landed to pick him up. An evening raid on 7 march passed without losses.

The following day six aircraft attacked Junction Station, north of Arak el Menshiye. However there was more excitement when a Fokker appeared over the El Arish aerodrome. Two aircraft scrambled to attack, but only a message bag was dropped and in any case the aircraft flew off before it could be attacked.

The message-bag contained letters from Floyer and Palmer and and one addressed to a German prisoner with the British. 14 Squadron promptly sent off two machines to Beersheba with a reply message, thanking the Germans for the letters, and apologising for sending up two machines to attack the message-carrier.

Attacks were also made by day and night, on Beersheba, the junction of the Beersheba railway with the Jerusalem-Jaffa line, and on enemy cavalry and infantry camps. In all, 21 tons of bombs was dropped over the 4 days. Whilst the attacks caused some casualties and damage, in the end they achieved no strategic results, as the Turkish forces withdrew in good order and have now settled in new positions at Gaza and Tel el Sheria, fourteen miles north and north-east of Shellal. The Turks are now out of reach until the railway can be extended at least as far as Rafah.