Tag Archives: RFC

James Hope WALKER, RFC, 1896 – 1917

With the centenary, tomorrow, of his death in a flying accident during WW1, I want to post something about this Great-Uncle, James Hope WALKER.

James Hope WALKER was born on 3rd July 1896, at Kilpunt, Kirkliston, West Lothian, the second child (first son) of Thomas George WALKER, and Helen Black WALKER (nee CADZOW). His middle-name, “Hope”, is almost certainly a nod to the family’s landlord at Kilpunt; Lord HOPE, the Earl of Hopetoun.james-hope-walker_birth-cert-merged

In 1898 the WALKER family moved south to farm in Hertfordshire; first to Hyde Hall, Buntingford (here is Hyde Hall Farm’s current website and Facebook page), and then in 1904 to Symonds Hyde, Hatfield.

James Hope WALKER joined the 14th London Regiment (the London Scottish) as a Private (Pte.). Regimental.No.4335. The photos of him wearing a kilt (below) appear to be his London Scottish regimental uniform. His medal card shows that he first entered the “Theatre of War”, in France on 4th July 1915.

This letter, dated 24th May 1916, contains an order from the War Office to J.H.Walker’s commanding officer in the London Scottish Regiment, for him to report for training with an Officer Cadet Unit, on 29th May at Whittington Barracks, Litchfield.scan0014-scaled

Transcription;

COPY
List 2. Litchfield (T.F.3)
War Office, London, S.W.
24th May 1916.
Sir,
I am directed to inform you that 4335. Pte. J.H.Walker.
of the unit under your Command, has been selected to undergo a course
of instruction in an Officer Cadet Unit, with a view to his subsequent
appointment to a commission in the Territorial Force.
I am therefore to request that you will order him to report
himself to the Commandant No 8 Officers Cadet Battn, Whittington Barracks, Litchfield.
on the 29th May 1916 not later than 4 p.m.. He should be provided
with a railway warrant for the journey, and should be in possession
of a complete kit. xxxxxxxxxxxx
It must be distinctly understood that in the event of his
failure to pass the required tests on the termination of the course
or it in any other respect he is found to be unsuitable for appoint-
-ment to a commission, he will be returned to your unit for duty in
the ranks, or otherwise disposed of as directed by the Army Council.
An acknowledgment of the receipt of this letter is not
required, but if for any reason the candidate is unable to join, a
telegram should be sent to the War Office as early as practicable,
Followed by a letter stating the circumstances.
I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant,
(Sgd) W.D. Bird.
Director of Staff Duties.
The Officer Commanding
xx 14th (Res) Bn.London Regt.
(London Scottish)
Mortlake.

On (or about) the 25th September 1916, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. The London Gazette records this in a list published on 20th October 1916 (his name is about a third of the way down on the right-hand side).

One photo among WALKER family papers labels James Hope WALKER, standing on an airfield alongside 3 other (unidentified) servicemen.

James Hope WALKER was killed in a “Flying accident” on 16th March 1917, when the Bristol F.2a fighter biplane (number A3311), which he was flying, had a “loss of flying speed near ground”, at Rendcomb airfield (north of Cirencester, Gloucestershire). The “Casualty Card” from the accident is available from the RAF Museum Story Vault. It records the following;

“The court is of opinion that accident was caused by loss of flying speed owing to the fact that the pilot had switched off in order to effect a slower landing. The throttle being open seems to indicate that the pilot attempted to make use of his engine forgetting he had previously switched off.”

A group of photos among family papers, show an airfield; presumably RAF Rendcomb. Three images show Bristol F.2a fighter biplanes lined up; among them are numbers A3314 and A3329. Another 3 photos show servicemen standing around a crashed plane. This is presumably the crash which killed James Hope WALKER on 16th March 1917. But the images don’t show the plane’s number, so I can’t say for sure!

The following two cards were presumably sent to the WALKER family by the officers of the RFC at Rendcombe following his death.

James Hope WALKER is recorded on several monuments. These include the Hatfield War Memorial. Among family papers are two cards inviting his parents to the dedication of the Hatfield War Memorial on Sunday 12th June (1921) (see below). He is also recorded on a memorial at St Albans School, where he was a pupil (see the Great War Forum for details).

His gravestone, in St Luke’s Churchyard, Hatfield, also mentions one of his sisters, Beatrice Margaret. The FindAGrave website accurately connects this grave to a 1911 census record, and to the gravestones of other WALKER family members, buried at All Saints, Radwell, where there is also an inscription to him,  on the back of his parents gravestone (see; BillionGraves.com).

The portrait (below) of James Hope WALKER appears to have been painted after his death. It is signed ‘E. L. HAWES, 1919′, and “EVA L. HAWES, 24 WINDSOR RD, CHURCH END FINCHLEY” is written on the back. I have no other information about the artist. The portrait is in an envelope, addressed in pencil to James’ mother, “Mrs Walker, Radwell Bury, Baldock, Herts” (an address which his parents moved to in about 1935).

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WALKER family gathering – Jan 2014

We had a good time in the Cotswolds at the weekend. On Saturday we had a party with about 35 relatives from the WALKER and ELLIOTT families – the biggest gathering that I can think of, on that side of my family, in quite some time – both in size and breadth.

Gathering of the extended WALKER and ELLIOTT family, in the Cotswolds in January 2014.
Gathering of the extended WALKER and ELLIOTT family, in the Cotswolds in January 2014.
Family looking through old WALKER family documents, photos, etc.
Family looking through old WALKER family documents, photos, etc.

I spent a lot of time looking through family documents, after my aunt handed me an old wooden box stuffed full of old papers, including the ones I mentioned in an earlier post, that I previously had transcriptions of. I’ve brought that box home to have the time to really go through it, and I hope to be posting images and transcriptions of many interesting family documents from that box onto this site in due course.

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The wooden box from my aunt, full of WALKER family papers. The green book on top contains writings by members of the FRY family (also from my aunt).
IMG_7620-ed
WALKER family papers, inside the box.

Discussing family history with others in the WALKER family, it was clear that there is a great deal of interest in a couple of particular individuals in the WALKER family tree.

  • James Hope WALKER (my great-uncle) was a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), no. 38 (Reserve) Squadron, who died in a flying accident at Rendcomb airfield, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire, aboard a Bristol Fighter – F2A A3311, on 16th March 1917.
  • John Johnston WALKER (one generation further back) went out to New Zealand in 1869 where he was manager of a large sheep station at Edendale, near the southern tip of South Island. In 1877 he decided to start on his own and took up a virgin block on the Otamakapua Block, North Island. In 1891 he went to Feilding for treatment of a severe attack of fever, and died at Feilding, on 19th November 1891.

So these might be the subjects of some future blog posts here, either by me, or by other family members. We certainly have quite a few photos of James Hope WALKER, and of what appears to be his crashed plane, which I plan to scan and add to this site.