Historic Aviation

It gives me great pleasure to mix business with a long term interest, Historic Aviation, particularly during the Great War of 1914 – 1918.

Royal Flying Corps Pilots

It gives me great pleasure to mix business with a long term interest, Historic Aviation, particularly during the Great War of 1914 – 1918.

How can Lincoln College have any connections with flying, I hear you say? Well far from the mud and trenches of the Western Front, men needed to be trained for war, especially those men and Officers of the Royal Flying Corps, which was our fledgling Air Force. Merely a few years after man had actually ‘flown’ for the first time, in flimsy awkward looking bi planes within 10 years new fighter or ‘scout’ aircraft as they were known were being built in the hundreds armed with machine guns and able to carry bombs.

It was these aircraft that had not only to be flown, but more importantly the pilots had to wage battle with the enemy, dropping bombs and using machine guns.

And so it was these Brave Officers who in the majority volunteered to become Pilots, many seconded from the regular regiments, many with several months of fighting in the mud of the Western Front who found themselves under training here in Oxford at the No2 School of Military Aeronautics during a period from mid 1916 until the War's end in November 1918.

Eight of Oxfords Colleges were requisitioned by the War Office to billet these Officers for the duration of their 12 week course. Ground instruction was  undertaken at the University Museum, where they learnt the mechanics of an aeroplane, fighting tactics, and then regularly off to Port Meadow Aerodrome for flying instruction.

Sadly the life expectancy of these brave young men of between 19 and 23 was in the most part 14 days. 'Trained' pilots were arriving in France for duty with as little as 6 hours solo flying experience. 

So this is the brief background into why life changed at Lincoln during the Great War.  It is hard to imagine that these young men, who fighting for King and Country and desperately wanting to do their duty, really knew the casualties would be so high. Despite the dangers, I imagine there was still thrill and adventure to be had in the air. 

Through my personal  interest and research I have found some lovely photographs of these brave Officers here at Lincoln, they were here, full of bravado, young and carefree, and looking forward to the great adventure fighting the Hun. Men such as Captain Albert Ball VC were here at Oxford, and Captain William Leefe Robinson VC who shot down the Zeppelin over Cuffley regularly stayed at the Mitre Inn in 1917, now of course our student rooms.

I find it fascinating that very few, if any features have changed in one hundred years and humbling to be able to step in their footsteps and see what they saw for a very brief period of their young lives.     

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