Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 162,842 pages of information and 245,375 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Frederick George Dunn

From Graces Guide

Frederick George Dunn (1894-1919), Early aviator

1918. Capt. Frederick George Dunn awarded the Air Force Cross.

Extract from The Melody of God and Other Papers by Desmond Mountjoy.
Chapter IV: Dusty. An English Flying Boy

Occasionally men are born who are so happy in their parentage and in all the surroundings of their lives that its every circumstance seems specially adapted to fit them for their destiny: Dusty was one of these.

The only son of a Northumbrian father and a French mother, he was from his cradle in love with the machinery of movement and the idea of speed or flight. Born at Wylam-on-Tyne in October 1894, he was but two months short of twenty when war broke out and found him - one of the very few civilians - completely equipped and ready for his life work.

The many thousands of men, then over thirty, who had to spend weary months or even years learning their job in England, might well have cried with envy at this happy boy: not only was he in the perfection of his beautiful young mental and physical strength, but, already, he was a daring and experienced pilot.

In 1913 his parents had reluctantly granted his prayer to be allowed to learn to fly, which he did at the Bleriot School at Hendon.

It is difficult to realise now, so rapidly has flying developed in the intervening period that for a civilian to take it up seriously was in those days looked upon as a rapid and certain method of committing suicide.

Immediately war was declared Frederick George Dunn, or Dusty, as he came to be known in the Air Service, volunteered for work in the air, was accepted, and Thursday, August 13, 1914, found him flying a Bleriot machine at Gosforth Aerodrome and his picture in the illustrated papers, together with that of Graham-White and Robert Lorraine, as amongst the earliest few trained pilots who had volunteered and been accepted for immediate active service as Aerial Scouts.

During August and September he was flying daily at Gosforth and at Farnborough, and his uncanny knowledge of and love for the machinery of flight won him the responsibility of testing all available types of machines then used by the Royal Air Force, and so laid the foundations of the varied and extensive experience which was later to prove of such immense value to the Service and which determined the lines on which he should afterwards specialise.

Having just completed forty hours' flying in England, he was, some seven weeks after war was declared, posted to A Flight, No. 3 Squadron, 1st Wing in France, with the rank of Sergeant Pilot.

He left Farnborough on the 2nd of October on an 80-H.P. Bleriot, without a passenger, but with luggage. Travelling by Guildford, Redhill and Ashford to Dover, very thick weather forced him to spend the night there: it was so bad that after Redhill he had to proceed by compass! On the 7th he reported to No. 3 Squadron in France, then commanded by Major J. M. Salmond (later Air Vice-Marshal Sir John Maitland Salmond, K.C.B., C.M.G., C.V.O., D.S.O. ) and attached to the 4th Corps.

During his early flying career at Hendon in England and in France, Dusty came in contact with most of the men who were amongst the earliest enthusiasts of aviation, including those in what was then known as the Military Wing of the Royal Flying Corps. Amongst them were Captain A. G. Board of the South Wales Borderers, Major H. R. M. Brooke-Popham (later Air Commodore H. R. M. Brooke-Popham, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., A.F.C.) of the Oxford and Bucks L.I., Lord George Wellesley of the Grenadier Guards, Captain A. G. Fox of the Royal Engineers, Captain G. W. P. Davies of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, F. G. Small of the Connaught Rangers, A. R. Shekleton of the Munster Fusiliers, Captain H. C. T. Dowding of the R.G.A., D. L. Allen of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, G. S. Creed of the South African Defence Forces, W. Lawrence of the Essex Regiment, A. Hartree of the Royal Artillery, Captain R. Cholmondeley of the Rifle Brigade, G. W. P. Dawes of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, P. B. Joubert de la Ferte of the Royal Artillery, G. de Haviland of the R.F.C., and many more.

In his own Squadron in France he served with men like Robert Lorraine, L. E. O. Charlton and E. L. Conran, while James M'Cudden, who was afterwards to become world famous, was then, and for long afterwards, mechanic in charge of Conran's machine.

Conran, then a Lieutenant and afterwards a Colonel and a D.S.O. and M.C., was one of the first Cavalry officers to join the R.F.C. He was a daring, brilliant and most accomplished pilot, and M'Cudden tells in his book how this officer's magnificent reconnaissance work, in conjunction with that of Captain L. E. O. Charlton, D.S.O., of the Lancashire Fusiliers, in spotting in time the great German attempt to outflank us, made the Mons retreat possible and thus saved the British Army from disaster.

On November 21 Dusty's diary records that he was flying Patrol to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, with Lieutenant Robert Lorraine as his observer. His work was extremely varied, and he seems to have had Lorraine and Conran as his observers almost daily. He was occupied testing, observing artillery fire, instructing, patrolling, doing reconnaissance work, photography, bomb-dropping, and so on. Everything seemed to combine to develop his marvellous versatility.

He was extremely lucky — or was it skilful ? — and only reports one accident of any importance, when on December 11 he ran into a fog and smashed his machine in landing on top of a hill while he was on his way back from Amiens to Villiers Visconte.

On December 24 he handed Captain Conran a new M.G. Parasol Bleriot to replace the machine James M'Cudden tells us, in his Five Tears in the Royal Air Force, that he had been told off to look after upon his arrival in France; and which, after doing one hundred and sixty hours' flying, was to be sent home for repair and instructional purposes.

On the 27th of April 19 15 Dusty was gazetted to a Commission for distinguished services at the same time as L. W. F. Turner, E. R. Scholefield, and his friend R. H. Carr, a most brilliant pilot who was at Hendon with him in the pre-war days.

During the first week in April he returned to England, having been two hundred and ninety hours in the air since his first flight at Gosforth on August 13, and having flown some seventeen thousand five hundred miles on every available make of machine in every sort of condition and stage of repair.

About this time the Authorities in England began to realise the vital importance of work in the air, and the immense necessity there was to send out to France without delay large numbers of machines that had been carefully tried and thoroughly tested at home. Dusty, having by now become well known for his skill, his almost superhuman understanding of flying machinery, and his perfect readiness to go up in anything, new or old, captured or British, that could be induced to leave the ground, was kept hard at testing work in various parts of England for many months.

Thereafter Dusty's career in England and in France was but a variation of his earlier experiences in the Royal Flying Corps. Although he did comparatively little fighting in the air, it was recognised that the smiling indifference with which he would take up a captured Hun machine for testing purposes was really courage of a very high and unusual order. It was all done in cold blood behind the lines and without any of the excitement and stimulus of the firing-line and the hand-to-hand encounter. The fact was that his temperament was perfectly fitted for such a task. The cool, calculating, competent judgement of the Northumbrian allied to French dash, imagination and logic, made him almost ideal for this peculiar kind of work. Behind all this there was his passionate and innate love for engineering machinery, swift flight and personal adventure, and his almost uncanny understanding of any sort of machine. He loved and understood an engine as many men love and understand a horse.

It is interesting that all his life he was an individualist, working, experimenting, studying, and even playing, by preference alone. It was not till he joined the Air Force that he learned to play in company, and although he did it, as he did all things, splendidly and enjoyed it thoroughly, he was in spite of his great popularity extremely reserved.

The outside Dusty, vivid, gay, laughing, loving dancing, music and fun, covered a serious, sensitive, reserved and affectionate soul.

It is noteworthy that one of James M'Cudden's grandmothers was French, and, temperamentally, there always seems to be something Gallic, or at any rate Celtic or Latin, in the make-up of the successful flying man. That is why they were such intoxicatingly good company during the war. Some of the happiest hours one had were spent amongst the men of the R.F.C. and the R.A.F. It is difiicult to account for the attraction flying and flying men have for a person who, like myself, has no technical knowledge or skill, nor any desire to possess them.

There is, of course, the fascination of speed and unimpeded movement through the air allied to a deep and instinctive admiration for skill, daring, and that abundant resilience which invariably ac- companies the true flying temperament. Moreover, your successful pilot must have something of the temperament of the artist: in other words, he must be born rather than made. I think it was that gallant pilot Gordon Bell who once told me that two qualities most essential to success in flying were daring and 'hands.' Now, every hunting man knows 'hands ' cannot be acquired — you have them, or you have not.

One of the most attractive things about Leonardo da Vinci, who, after Christ, is perhaps the most alluring figure in history, was his intense devotion to the idea of flying and the manner in which his whole personality was obsessed by the fascination of flight.

Dusty was, then, in his way an artist. His alert, vivid, constructive, rhythmic intelligence held enormous potentialities. His good luck was extraordinary: he passed the last eighteen months of the war in France testing captured Hun machines, during which time he spent over three thousand hours in the air on some hundred and fifty different types of aeroplane.

When the Armistice was signed the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough was engaged in building the ill-fated Tarrant Triplane for the purpose of bombing Berlin. This being considered no longer necessary, it was decided to alter its design, turn it into a gigantic machine which was to be used for civilian purposes, and, possibly, to be entered for the flight across the Atlantic.

By an unlucky accident Dusty became associated with the enterprise, was chosen as its chief pilot, and his transfer into the R.A.F. Reserve was hastened by the Authorities in order that he might be free to devote himself entirely to the gigantic experimental machine.

While he was at Farnborough during this period we naturally saw a good deal of him at the Cottage. He would come over, invariably bareheaded, in an enormous racing car and liven us all up. I remember a Sunday afternoon in the garden after tea when he amused himself by 'flying' the lawn roller. ' Now she loops; now she spins; what a splendid landing! ' and so on, while we all tried to keep out of his way .

Another Sunday he, Jimmie King, a Wiltshire friend, who served with me in the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, and I went for a walk. Inside a gate in Elvetham woods we saw a big log of wood, and I said (coal being scarce, owing to the railway strike), *’How the Mater would love that log! ' Dusty said nothing, but after tea insisted on taking Jim and I in the car to retrieve it. We did so with some difficulty, and our theft was enviously applauded by a group of New Zealand soldiers out for their Sunday walk, who obviously wished they had thought of stealing it first.

Depositing it in the garden, we brought my mother out to admire it, and she feigned being shocked, saying, ' Oh, Dusty! to steal wood, and on Sunday too! ' Afterwards the log was cut into two pieces, which were christened Dusty and Jim, and used as garden seats in the woods in what afterwards came to be known as ' Dusty's Corner.' On my mother taking him down to see them some time afterwards, he said, ' Which am I ? Anyhow, I'm not the scabby one! ' We have those two logs now. I have never yet confessed to my kind friends, Mr. and Mrs. Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, that I was once a party to stealing their wood!

At that time every one was talking about flying the Atlantic. It was generally supposed that the Tarrant Triplane would be entered for the event. I used to talk to Dusty about it; he would never say much. It was a ' hush-hush ' machine, and he did not feel free to talk, but he always laughingly said that if he crossed the Atlantic in her he would be quite content to return by ship and, after that, no more stunts for him.

The last picture of all is Saturday, May 24, 1919. It was a most lovely day. Chaos (Major H. D. Kay, O.B.E. ) and Purd (Lieutenant Frederick Lloyd Purdy, U.S. Army.) lunched at the Cottage. I can see my mother now under the soft green of the pine trees at the gate, her white hair like molten silver. Waving us good-bye, she remonstrated because Purd could not have stayed longer, and sent her love and luck to Dusty.

We walked to Farnborough through Minley and the Empress's woods, and arriving at our destination found Dusty entertaining a number of people to tea on the lawn, including Jacko (Captain A. R. Jackson, The Buffs), Lane (Captain Herbert Beaufoy Lane, The London Regiment.), and M'Laughlin (Captain M'Laughlin, R.N., D.S.C.).

Dusty was full of his usual life and go. Purd and I were going up to town for the week-end and therefore remained to dinner with him. After dinner we sat on the lawn and Dusty came and lay on a rug at my feet for about an hour, talking little. This was unlike him. I had wanted all the afternoon and evening to get a quiet chat with him, but such things are difficult to arrange when a number of people are about. How often afterwards have I deeply regretted the missed opportunity!

We now knew the trial was to take place on Sunday or Monday; he would not admit which, nor did he tell his parents anything about it. However, he was most cheerful, but could not see us off at Farnborough Station, because just as we were leaving a telephone call came through. He sent his love and promised to pass over the Cottage during Ms first flight.

The trial took place in the early morning of Monday, May 26. The machine nose-dived before or immediately after leaving the ground. Captain P. Townley Rawlings, D.S.C., the splendid and intrepid pilot who had bombed the Goeben in Constantinople harbour, was killed instantly; Dusty was fatally injured, and died on Wednesday evening at six o'clock at Cambridge Hospital without having recovered consciousness.

This is not the place to apportion blame or responsibility, but Dusty's life and that of Rawlings were flung away. For some reason or other the whole thing was hushed up. One resented it more because it was all so unnecessary. There were no reasons for haste. The war was over: tests should have been exhaustive and cumulative. To an amateur critic even, to attempt to fly an enormous machine of a novel type with six engines without first making several trials taxiing it over the ground, seemed madness. Moreover, the design was altered in part again and again, and as far as could be discovered no attempt was made to assess the total effect of these manifold alterations!

Considerable quantities of lead having been put in the nose, the machine was tail-light and nose- dived. For some reason or reasons unknown the Consulting Engineers to the contractors were not asked for an opinion as to the fitness of the Triplane for its trial flight. It came out afterwards that had they been asked to sanction it they would have refused! However, the experts of the Air Ministry did approve, and the trial was made on their report that the machine was fit to fly.

At the inquest the Ministry claimed privilege for the report of their Board of Inquiry! Major-General Seely defended their action in the House of Commons, saying it was not in the interests of the public service for the results of the technical investigations into the cause of the accident to be published. Possibly: that is a matter of opinion. The jury did not think so, because the foreman said ' they unanimously felt that something should have come out that did not come out. Something was kept in the background that they should have known. Two brave men met their deaths, and the reason why should be known! '

Mr. H. Massac Buist, one of the most distinguished living authorities on aviation, expressed amazement in an article in the Morning Post that Parliament should be so indifferent to the importance of the progress of aviation to the country as to accept the mere opinion of a Government Department that the knowledge gained from the inquiry should be deliberately concealed instead of being placed at the disposal of all.

It looked as if the Air Board, recognising that in sanctioning the flight one of its departments — presumably the Technical Department — had made a blunder, resolved to use every bit of political machinery possible to prevent the truth becoming public.

To this day, no outsider knows why the accident happened. The matter might not be worth recalling in detail were it not that an altogether discreditable attempt was made to forestall criticism by telling the Press within a few minutes of the accident that it was caused by the pilot starting the top engines too quickly. The opinion was either that of an ignorant amateur or was deliberately intended to mislead. Not one single expert supported this view, and to propagate it at the expense of two of the bravest of the brave who were no longer able to speak for themselves was little less than contemptible.

During the war, day and night, Dusty's parents, like so many thousands of others, kept watch for their only boy. Mrs. Dunn could hardly be induced to leave the house lest he should come home unexpectedly on leave. She suffered more than most inasmuch as not only her only boy but her two countries — France and England — were in grave peril.

Dusty used to please her by telling in his letters how well he was getting on at French and how much he liked the French. ' France is really fine,' he would write. He had, naturally, a great number of French friends, but all his life it was a little peculiarity of his laughingly to protest that he was ‘entirely an English boy.' He disliked French exuberance of expression and dreaded being taken for anything but a stolid Britisher. It was an amiable weakness, and easy to pardon in one who was such a boy in many ways — and such an efficient and self-reliant man in others.

He came through the war without a serious scratch, his extraordinary good luck never once deserting him. His personality, his vast and varied experience, his youth, were of incalculable value to his country, and they were all flung heedlessly away. Loss, great loss, in war one can accept, but wanton waste arouses resentment and despair. His last Sunday — his last day on earth — was spent as usual cheerfully; but not amongst his nearest and dearest, because that would have been to expose himself to too great a strain and so unfit him for his mighty task.

I think he had his doubts. He always said: ' If it flies at all. If . . .! '

He got up early that Monday morning and went out to his stupendous risk-filled task as smilingly and cheerfully as if he were going to his bath.

After all, he had taken up hundreds of captured enemy machines about which no one knew anything: his luck had been marvellous and might hold . . . when it was over he would ring up his mother . . . meanwhile she must be spared all anxiety. He had no near or dear friends with him that fatal, lovely May morning. Why did he take that precaution. Why was his last Sunday spent in public amongst acquaintances ?

To the last fraction of a second he was master of himself, because he remembered and somehow found time to turn off the petrol, thus averting what, on that dry heath and surrounded by those inflammable sheds, might easily have been a terrible disaster involving the loss of many lives. Every one praised him and his work.

The Empress Eugenie, who was interested in him, sent a lady-in-waiting to convey personally to his mother her deep sympathy with a sister French-woman, who, like herself, had tragically lost an only son. Princess Napoleon, who, although he had never been presented to her, knew of him through me and admired him as my friend, wrote graciously and sympathetically to Mrs. Dunn with her own hand.

General Brooke-Popham, who as a major was in command of No. 3 Squadron before the war, who knew Dusty well, and who, at the time of the accident, was Director of Research at the Ministry of Munitions, wrote to his father as follows:

‘He was undoubtedly the best all-round pilot I have ever seen, and was equally at home on every type of machine, whether large or small, British or foreign. His death is a distinct loss to British aviation. . . . He sleeps at Farnborough, where he had done his earliest war flying, where he had one way or another spent much time, where he went hence on that warm English spring morn in lovely May. Gorse flamed for miles, reflecting back the more pallid gold of the sun, and the perfume of the pines was intoxicatingly sweet. The bright argent sheen of the silver birch strove with the shrill young green of the larch for supremacy of pride. All Nature was still and quietly triumphant as Dusty, Nature's own son, went big-hearted to his appointed task. . . .

One who had served under and with him wrote: ‘He had no fear and was the finest pilot I have ever met.' Another: ' Bright and cheery, as ever, when he passed me in the machine a minute before the catastrophe. . . .'

And yet another — best tribute of all: ‘I have learnt a lot of goodness from Dusty's example, and if only I could live as he did, I should be happy to leave this world to- morrow. I feel sure he had no fear of death, such a noble nature did he possess.'

Often in life it is the little things that wound most. One would have expected that even the Air Force Authorities would have heard of the terrible accident to the Tarrant Triplane and its tragic results! However, evidently not. At any rate, two months after the boy's death he was summoned to Buckingham Palace to receive from His Majesty his Air Force Cross. It was, of course, not the fault of the Lord Chamberlain's Department, but of the Air Force Administration who allowed the matter to go forward.

Two years after his death they addressed to him personally his commission as a Captain in the R.A.F. (He had, of course, received his original commission in the, presumably very much inferior, R.F.C.!) Moreover, it was incorrectly dated! The R.A.F. Administration was always extraordinarily bad, and does not seem to have improved. One would have thought the higher authorities would make some endeavour to be worthy of the immense and well-won reputation earned by the fighting branch. We can only hope they will have discovered what happened in May 1919 in sufficient time to avoid calling Dusty up for mobilisation when the next war breaks out.

Anyhow, they had his youth, his brains, his skill, his bravery, and, at the end, his life. We have that which they could not take away and which is indeed imperishable: his memory; the reflected radiance of his blithe presence; the consolation of his love and affection . . . the everlasting inspiration of his dauntless courage and high example.

Knaith Cottage, February 1922.

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