top of page
  • Admin

British Airmen - Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension

Bailleul was an important centre of communication and was located far enough behind the front line to be beyond only the long range German artillery. This changed in April 1918 when the town was taken by the Germans in their spring offensive.

RFC Aerodromes Bailleul. Ypres Salient. Flanders
RFC Aerodromes, Bailleul

The area had a large number of training camps, rest camps, and Casualty Clearing Stations. There were also three aerodromes the Asylum, Town Ground and East Aerodrome. These aerodromes had a major importance in supporting the Second Army. Town Ground was in use since from 1915 by 6 Squadron and then by 42, 53 Squadrons and 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. It had a large flying field to the east of the town centre with several hangars and wooden barracks to house staff and pilots. The squadrons took part in the Second and Third Battles of Ypres providing fighter, attack, and reconnaissance missions. At Third Ypres the RE8’s of 42 Squadron supported the II (ANZAC) Corps, and the RE8’s of 53 Squadron supported the artillery of IX Corps. East Aerodrome was built to the northeast of the town, east of the local asylum. Its location led to much protest from the Director of the Asylum, who was concerned that the patients would be disturbed by the noise and the potential for the airfields to become a target German bombings and long-range shelling. His fears were not unfounded, because in 1915 a shell aimed at the airfields led to the death of 4 nurses and causing damage to the Asylum. There was also a German air raid in 1916 that caused damage to the airfields and caused panic among the Asylum patients. The airfield infrastructure consisted of, light sheds, canvas hangars along the road for maintenance and accommodation, a tent camp, truck parking and a loading ramp for trains. Asylum Aerodrome was built in early November 1914, when the first British troops arrived in the town. The aerodrome was built to the north of the Asylum with the Asylum Director protesting. However, the Asylum did benefit financially from the British as the troops had their laundry done at the Asylum.

Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension

Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension. Ypres Salient. Flanders
Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension. Authors image

Grave F.5 Captain Walter Lawrence. He was Mentioned in Despatches. 7th Battalion Essex Regiment attached 6 Squadron RFC. Commander ‘C’ Flight. Pilot. Age 22. Killed while flying 2.1.15. Killed when he crashed his Bleriot XI in a test flight. He was the first flying casualty suffered b y 6 Squadron. He was also one of the earliest fliers in the UK having obtained his royal Aero club certificate in 1911. He joined the RFC in December 1912 and was promoted to Flight Commander and temporary Captain in August 1914 and went to France with the original RFC.

Grave III.A.126 1396 Serjeant Thomas Mottershead VC, DCM. Pilot. 20 Squadron RFC. Age 27. DoW 12.1.17. Son of Thomas and Lucy Mottershead, of Widnes. Husband of Lilian Medlicott Mottershead, 31 Lilac Avenue, Widnes, Lancs. They had a son Sidney Thomas. He was the only non-commissioned officer in the RFC to receive a Victoria Cross. An extract from "The London Gazette," No. 29937, dated 9th Feb. 1917, records the following:- "For most conspicuous bravery, endurance and skill, when attacked at an altitude of 9,000 feet; the petrol tank was pierced and the machine set on fire. Enveloped in flames, which his Observer, Lt. Gower was unable to subdue, this very gallant soldier succeeded in bringing his aeroplane back to our lines, and though he made a successful landing, the machine collapsed on touching the ground, pinning him beneath wreckage from which he was subsequently rescued. Though suffering extreme torture from burns, Serjt. Mottershead showed the most conspicuous presence of mind in the careful selection of a landing place, and his wonderful endurance and fortitude undoubtedly saved the life of his Observer. He has since succumbed to his injuries."

On 7 January 1917, he was flying in an FE2d, A39, with Lieutenant W E Gower as the observer, on an operational patrol when they were shot down by Leutnant Walter Gottsch of Jasta 8. They were shot up; the fuel tank was hit at 9000 feet and the aircraft was seen to spin down out of control and forced to land in flames and it crashed. Gower, who was awarded an MC, was wounded and Mottershead died of horrific burns on 12 January.

Leutnant Walter Gottsch Jasta 8. Ypres Salient. Flanders
Leutnant Walter Gottsch Jasta 8

Leutnant Walter Gottsch – 20 Squadron seems to have suffered at the hands of Walter Gottsch with seven of his victories in the first half of 1917 being aircraft from that Squadron. He saw active service with FA33 in Flanders in 1916 as a Vizefeldwebel, and then following single-seat training was posted to Jasta 8 on 10 September 1916. He scored six victories and was wounded on 3 February 1917 in combat with an aircraft from 20 Squadron. He had been awarded the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class and on 23 August the Knights Cross with Swords of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order, which followed his twelfth victory. Following his seventeenth victory on 25 September he was wounded again on the same day in combat with an aircraft from 20 Squadron. He returned to Jasta 8 in January 1918 and on 14 February he was given command of Jasta 19. He flew a Fokker DRI marked with a yellow ‘2’ on the fuselage and had two more victories. On the 10 April 1918 his luck ran out. He was in combat, flying a DRI marked with a white swastika on the fuselage, when he scored his twentieth victory when he attacked and shot down an RE8 which force landed. However, in doing this his aircraft was hit by fire from the rear gunner and he crashed near Gontelles and was killed. On gaining his all important twentieth victory he qualified for the coveted Blue Max however, his death precluded him from receiving the award.

Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension. Ypres Salient. Flanders
Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension. Authors image

Grave III.C.263 Captain Donald Charles Cunnell. Pilot. 5th Battalion Hampshire Regiment attached 20 Squadron RFC. KIA 12.7.17. He was flying in an FE2d, B1863, with observer Lieutenant AG Bill, on a line patrol, when they were hit by anti-aircraft fire near Menin. Bill manged to land the aircraft as Cunnell had been killed.

Bailleul Communal Cemetery and  Extension. Ypres Salient. Flanders
Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension. Authors image.

Grave III.D.181 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Littler. Pilot. 1 Squadron RFC. Age 19. KIA 3.7.17. Son of John and Clothilde Sybil Littler, of "Marlais," New Road., Brixham, Devon. He was killed in a friendly fire accident. He was flying a Nieuport 23, B3486, when he was chased and shot down in a spin over 42 Squadron Town Ground aerodrome by a Sopwith Pup flying a tail streamer denoting a Deputy Flight Commander from 46 Squadron which headed away afterwards. The subsequent enquiry identified a Canadian pilot Lloyd Fleming as the offender. He was posted to 111 Squadron in Palestine were he won an MC.

Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension. Ypres Salient. Flanders
Bailleul Communal Cemetery and Extension. Authors image.

Grave II.E.28 6061 Air Mechanic 1st Class George Phillip Tompkins. 7 Squadron RFC. Driver with ‘B’ Flight. Age 24. Committed suicide. He was posted as missing on 25 June 1916 and his body was found three weeks later in a corn field next to the airfield. The body was in such a state of decomposition that it could only be identified from papers found on it and from the serial number of the revolver.

9 views0 comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page