Most Australians are aware of the contribution of the Australian Army and Navy in WW1 but few are aware that in the Great War Australia pulled well above its weight in the air war too.
During the First World War Australia was the only member of the British Commonwealth to raise its own independent Flying Corps – The Australian Flying Corps (AFC). The AFC contributed 4 operational Squadrons to the War effort. No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC) served in Palestine and Numbers 2, 3 and 4 Squadrons AFC flew on the Western Front in France.
Warbirds Online has been very fortunate to have acquired an unnamed WW1 AFC veteran’s photo collection about 40 years ago taken while he was training at both Minchinhampton and Leighterton UK. The photos are taken with a typical rudimentary camera of the day and the image quality is not that good, however they represent a priceless archive of Australian service men and women in the Great War.
In this year the 100th Anniversary year of Gallipoli we thought it would be worthwhile to present these images to our readers.
Such was the depth of the AFC commitment that Australia also had 4 training Squadrons based in the United Kingdom (UK) in Gloucestershire, Numbers 5 and 6 Training Squadrons AFC, at Minchinhampton and Numbers 7 and 8 Training Squadrons AFC at Leighterton. Those four AFC squadrons formed the 1st Training Wing AFC with its headquarters and AFC hospital in Tetbury. All 3 villages are only a few miles apart in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside.
The image (left) shows AFC Barracks block either Minchinhampton or Leigherton Gloucestershire UK. The image (right) shows AFC personnel at Tetbury railway Gloucestershire UK headquarters of No. 1 Training Wing AFC.
Minchinhampton was by all accounts a less attractive air field featuring canvas hangers whilst in the later stages of the war Leighterton featured permanent brick, metal and wood hangers although not much remains today except for a few buildings.
The AFC hospital at Tetbury also treated many AFC personnel and victims of the inevitable training accidents at the two close by airfields.
The image (left) shows a 130 hp Clerget 9B Rotary engine from a Sopwith Camel undergoing work at No 1 Training Wing AFC base Leighterton Gloucestershire UK. The image(right) shows Avro 504K and Sopwith Snipe aircraft at AFC No.1 Training wing base at Minchinhampton Gloucestershire UK, possibly post war as they are dismantled
To this day the Australian Embassy in the UK sends the Australian air attaché to the Leighterton Church cemetery every Armistice, to pay tribute to the young Australians buried there who died in training. Twenty four Flying Corps members are buried in Leighterton cemetery. The Cemetery is worthy of a visit should you be visiting the UK.
The image (left) shows E1804 504J K Built as one of a batch of 300 Avro 504J K aircraft by A V Roe Co and served with No.5 Sqn AFC at AFC No.1 training wing base Minchinhampton Gloucestershire UK. The image (right) shows Sopwith Pups A6249 and D4159 built by Whitehead Aircraft UK this aircraft Served with 5 and 6 Sqn’s AFC at the AFC 1 Training wing base at Minchinhampton Gloucestershire UK.
Aircraft featured in use as training machines include Sopwith Pups , Se5A, Avro 504K,Sopwith 1 and a half strutters, HP400, Sopwith Camel, Bristol Fighter and Sopwith Snipe. Also of great interest in the photos of daily life are photos of the Australians at the Tetbury Railway station, the base accommodation Barracks at Leighterton and a photo of the AFC personnel and nurses gathered at AFC Leighterton.
The image (left) shows Sopwith Snipe 7F.1 E7378 One of 500 Snipes built to contract 35A433C301 by Ruston Proctor Lincoln Served with 5 Sqn at 1 Training Wing at Minchinhampton Gloucestershire UK. The image (right) shows Captain (Capt) G. F. Malley MC, Officer Commanding (OC) C Flight, No. 5 (Training) Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC), at Minchinhampton AFC standing next to an all-white Sopwith Camel 1.F.1 E7259.
With training of pilots inevitably comes accidents and the photos also reveal some of the incidents which befell the trainee pilots including a rather spectacular intrusion by one machine into a huge canvas hanger.
We hope you will enjoy this very rare slice of WW1 Australian Aviation History. Not a lot of photos survive of these men and women, their bases and their service to Australia.
We will be posting the remaining AFC photographs form this collection in our AFC image gallery.
© John Parker 2015