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When the Chamber reached for the skies for the war effort

When the Chamber reached for the skies for the war effort

Bill Beattie with the brass mascot and the historic flag at the Chamber's offices.

AN Australian flag, and a plaque which recounts how the Chamber of Commerce donated an aeroplane called City of Hull to Australia in 1918 has hung on the wall in the Chief Executive’s office for many years, but little more was known about the historic event.

Brass plaque Sopwith CamelUntil March this year, that is, when a chap called Bill Beattie walked into the office unannounced with a brass mascot which was presented with the aircraft in May 1918. The mascot says “Heaven’s light our Guide” and “Advance Australia” and features an image of a kangaroo in the centre and the words “Imperial Air Fleet”, along with the date 25th May 1918.

Bill also brought a fascinating Pathe News Reel to our attention – which prompted a search through the archives to find out more about the aircraft – and what happened to it.

The biplane was a Sopwith Camel which cost £2,100 and was built at the Clayton and Shuttleworth factory in Lincoln. It was presented by the Chamber under the auspices of the Imperial Air Fleet, which, in 1918, was encouraging countries in the United Kingdom’s far-flung Empire to develop their own air power. The Royal Air Force had only been created weeks previously, in April 1918.

The Chamber has discovered that the hand-over ceremony, which included a fly-past by other aircraft, was held on the Grammar School Playing Field, and the archive footage shows Hull’s great and good out in force, dressed in their Sunday best.

The historic footage features numerous key Chamber members of the time, including the President GH Loveridge, the Vice President, TW Allen, and the Secretary, or Chief Executive today, Mr Alfred Whitehead, along with former president the Rt Hon Thomas R Ferens, after whom Hull’s Ferensway and Ferens Art Gallery are named. Hull’s Lord and Lady Mayoress Coun and Mrs Hubert Johnson and Australian MP JC Manifold representing the Australian government were also in attendance.

It shows the aircraft being “Christened”, by Mrs Loveridge, and Mrs JC Manifold holding the brass plaque against the aircraft. Other members of the Chamber Board, including Sir Henry Samman, also feature. You can also see the flag which now hangs in Dr Kelly’s office being presented in a wooden box, before being displayed to the crowd.

The big day also included a military honour guard by the East Yorkshire Regiment and featured Lord Desborough, Chair of the Air Fleet Committee.

Sadly, the Chamber’s aeroplane never made it to the Southern hemisphere. The Sopwith Camel was assigned to 210 Squadron RAF (formerly 10 Sqn RNAS) on the Western Front. Flown by a Canadian pilot, 2nd Lt WS Jenkins DFC, it crashed into the North Sea in fog while on an “offensive patrol” off the coast of Belgium, but fortunately Jenkins was fished out of the sea by a paddle steamer and went on to become a fighter ace claiming 12 “victories”.

The plane was replaced with another Sopwith Camel, this time built at the Ruston Aircraft Factory in Lincoln a few months later. It served with 65 Squadron and was flown by Capt MA Newnham who was another wartime fighter ace.

Amy Johnson working planeAlso present that day was one of Australia’s most senior flying officers, Lt Col WO Watt who commanded the First Wing of the Australian Flying Corp, and was therefore in charge of training Australian pilots in the UK. A decorated pilot himself, and having previously fought with the French Foreign Legion before transferring to the Australian forces in 1916. He thanked the Chamber for its gift of an aeroplane and raised a toast of the “Hull Incorporated Chamber of Commerce and Shipping”.

And there is another intriguing possibility... the archive footage shows several young Hull women enjoying the big event. It is just possible that the Chamber’s Sopwith Camel could have helped to inspire a certain 15-year-old Hull lass to follow her dream of reaching for the skies. Was Amy Johnson among the crowd that day? She could well have been!

If you can shed any more light on the Chamber’s aeroplane and its history, do please get in touch. Write to David Marritt at d.marritt@hull-humber-chamber.co.uk

The British Pathe Newsreel video of the presentation of the biplane can be viewed here: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/present-of-aeroplanes

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The City of Hull to Australia Sopwith Camel biplane pictured prior to its presentation in 1918.

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