FREDERICK WILLIAM POLEHAMPTON

Lieutenant, No.8 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps
Killed in Action, 26 April 1915, near Ypres, Belgium, aged 41.
Buried in Longuenesse (Saint-Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France:
Grave I. A. 89
 

Frederick William Polehampton

Lieutenant Frederick William Polehampton, No.8 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, was born in Hartfield on 14 June 1873. He lived at The Rectory, Hartfield and was the son of the Reverend Edward Thomas William and Mrs. Helena Cecilia Polehampton (née Reilly). At the time of the 1881 census he had one sister and two brothers. He was educated at Lancing College where he was in School House from September 1886 to July 1891.

On 9 October 1899, at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, British Columbia, he married Kate Eunice Polehampton (née Davie) (1878-1963) of Victoria, later of 10 Dorset Square, Marylebone in London. They returned to the UK from New York on the SS Oceanic landing at Liverpool on 20 November 1901. They do not appear to have had any children.

He had various pre-war occupations. For a time he was in partnership with John Lindsay Scott in the motor car dealership of Scott and Polehampton at 161 Piccadilly, London (now Caviar House and Prunier), but the business was wound up on 31 August 1912.

He had many sporting interests. He competed in twelve hour cycling races at Herne Hill Velodrome for Annerly and London Cycling Club and played football for teams in both Sussex and Surrey with reports indicating that he was a 'hard tackling defender'. By 1896 he owned a string of race horses, among them 'Miss Clifden II', who ran in the Grand National of 1902 ridden by Mr H M Ripley, and was living as a gentleman on his own means at Heyford Grange, Nether Heyford, Northamptonshire.

Just after the outbreak of war he was given the temporary rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the 15th Hussars, part of the 14th Cavalry Reserve. Having taken flying lessons in a Grahame-White Biplane at Grahame-White School, Hendon, he received his Aviators' Certificate No.914 on 27 September 1914 from the Royal Aero Club. He was confirmed in the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, appointed as a Flying Officer, and seconded to the Royal Flying Corps on 1 January 1915. He was posted to No.8 Squadron, which was formed at Brooklands, Surrey, on 1 April. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 24 April 1915, two days before he was killed.

Frederick Polehampton — Ready for Flight

The squadron was fully assembled at Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais, northern France, by 25 April 1915, being the first squadron fully equipped with the BE2c aircraft. But the day after the squadron arrived in France, Frederick Polehampton was killed in an accident at Saint-Omer while flying a BE2c (registration 1758); he was the squadron's first casualty. He was aged 41, and is buried in Longuenesse (Saint-Omer) Souvenir Cemetery: Grave I. A. 89.

Frederick William Polehampton is listed on the war memorials in Hartfield and at Walton near Wellesbourne, Stratford-upon-Avon. He was also commemorated in the Illustrated London News, 29 May 1915 (below).

Dead on the Field of Honour: Officers Killed in Action.
F.W. Polehampton is in the bottom right hand corner.
(Source: Illustrated London News, 29 May 1915)

Notes on the origins of the Royal Flying Corps and No.8 Squadron

At the commencement of the First World War Britain had some 113 aircraft in military service, the French Aviation Service 160 and the German Air Service 246. By the end of the war each side was deploying thousands of aircraft.

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was formed in April 1912 as the military (army and navy) began to recognise the potential for aircraft as observation platforms. It was in this role that the RFC went to war in 1914 to undertake reconnaissance and artillery observation. As well as aircraft the RFC had a balloon section which deployed along the eventual front lines to provide static observation of the enemy defences. Shortly before the war a separate Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) was established, splitting off from the RFC, though they retained a combined central flying school.

A BE2c of No 2 Squadron prepares to start off on a reconnaissance mission, Summer 1915, Hesdigneul, France. (Source: http://www.airwar1.org.uk)

The RFC had experimented before the war with the arming of aircraft but the means of doing so remained awkward because of the need to avoid the propeller arc and other obstructions such as wings and struts. In the early part of the war the risk of injury to aircrew was therefore largely through accidents. As air armament developed the dangers to aircrew increased markedly and by the end of the war the loss rate was 1 in 4 killed, a similar proportion to the infantry losses in the trenches.

For much of the war RFC pilots faced an enemy with superior aircraft, particularly in terms of speed and operating ceiling, and a better flying training system. The weather was also a significant factor on the Western Front with the prevailing westerly wind favouring the Germans. These disadvantages were made up for by determined and aggressive flying, albeit at the price of heavy losses, and the deployment of a larger proportion of high-performance aircraft. The statistics bear witness to this with the ratio of British losses to German at around 4 to 1.

When the RFC deployed to France in 1914 it sent four squadrons (Nos 2,3,4 and 5) with 12 aircraft each, which together with aircraft in depots, gave a total strength of 63 aircraft supported by 900 men. By September 1915 and the Battle of Loos, the RFC strength had increased to 12 squadrons and 161 aircraft.

The circumstances surrounding the formation of No.8 Squadron are of interest. When the Royal Flying Corps was formed in May 1912, provision was made for eight squadrons, of which seven were either in being or in the process of formation at the outbreak of war. On mobilisation however, practically the whole strength of the RFC was concentrated into four squadrons, Nos 2, 3, 4, and 5 — the vanguard of the British air force to go overseas. Next, No 6 Squadron was completed, followed by Nos 1 and 7. Approval to proceed with No.8 Squadron was given on 14 October 1914, and although formed in time of war the birth of the squadron at Brooklands, Surrey, on 1 April 1915 completed the peace establishment of the Royal Flying Corps.

No.8 Squadron's first commander was Major LEO Charlton, DSO. This officer had already seen service in France having served as a flight commander in No.3 Squadron and carried out valuable reconnaissance work during the retreat from Mons. He commanded No 8 Squadron until succeeded by Major ACH MacLean in August 1915.

On 6 April 1915, the squadron moved to Fort Grange, Gosport, Hampshire, where nine days later with the nucleus of No.13 Squadron under training it came under the newly formed 5th Wing. This wing Major Charlton also commanded until proceeding to France with his squadron.

No.8 Squadron Moves to France

The first BE2c's with which the squadron was equipped were allocated towards the end of January and on reaching its establishment of twelve aircraft the squadron was ordered overseas to bring the wings abroad up to a strength of three squadrons each. On 15 April 1915 eight machines arrived safely at Saint-Omer. Of the remaining four, one was wrecked at Gosport, two crashed at Folkestone, and one, which developed engine trouble, came down at Dover for repairs. Transport and personnel left a few days later, and by 25 April the whole squadron was assembled at Saint-Omer and came under the orders of OC 3rd Wing on the following day. No.8 was the first squadron to arrive overseas wholly equipped with BE2c's.

No 8 Squadron Arrives.
BE2c crash lands en route to Saint-Omer, northern France, April 1915
(Source: Squadron archive)

Early Operations

No.8 Squadron was engaged in the perilous work of strategic reconnaissance and special GHQ missions. There were casualties in an early raid with 20 pound bombs, aimed at disrupting rail communications between Ghent and the Ypres salient. Some of the planes, says the official history, "either lost their way or else their bombs failed to leave the improvised racks". Within a fortnight of arrival in France, the six remaining BE2c's were transferred to Abeele to make up the strength of the 2nd Wing, with 5 and 6 squadrons.

No.8 squadron continued to serve on the Western Front throughout the remainder of the Great War.

Carol O'Driscoll

 

Acknowledgements
Frederick William Polehampton, by Grev Hudson, Dene Valley U3A, 2016