Flight enthusiast Harold Butterworth
'A glorious feeling of freedom'
There is no feeling of fear like one seems to expect, but just a feeling of joy & exhilaration. When the engine is started you go shooting over the bumpy ground at about 50 miles an hour...It is beautiful going at such a speed through the pure air, seeing all nature laid out below & having such a glorious feeling of freedom" - Harold Winstone Butterworth describing his first flight which he took in England on 12 June 1915 with Felix Ruffy of Hendon’s Ruffy-Baumann Flying School.
Harold’s passion for flight was ignited back in Auckland, New Zealand, long before the war. At the end of each workday on a building site, young Harold (b 1896) rushed off to assist Billy Miller and Esk Sanford in the repairs and improvements of the famous biplane formerly known as the "Manurewa" at Avondale racecourse. Harold placed ‘his natural bent for mechanical work’ at Billy and Esk’s disposal.
In 1915 Harold travelled to England, determined to train as a military pilot and serve with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Competition for entry into the RFC was intense but within a short time Harold was accepted for flying training and joined the No. 2 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron at Brooklands, on the outskirts of London.
On the 9th of July 2015, Harold made his first solo flight.
An ‘eye in the sky’
When the First World War began, military aviation was in its infancy. At the time, aircraft were primarily used to scout out the position and movement of men and arms. Only observers in aeroplanes and tethered balloons could effectively see and record what was happening on the ground. As artillery range increased, so did the need for aerial reconnaissance, with the aeroplane becoming the Army’s eyes to direct its artillery.
Reconnaissance involved both the pilot and an observer, the latter who in early times recorded the happenings via sketching, which was later replaced by cameras. Harold learnt how to simultaneously fly and photograph - ‘It is fairly hard to pilot a machine and change the plates in a camera at the same time,’ he wrote in his diary, ‘but one soon gets used to it.’
Artillery spotting involved observing where shells fell then assisting artillery to calibrate their fire. Through the course of his RFC training, Harold studied Morse code so that he could operate a wireless transmitter while in flight ‘to communicate target coordinates’ to the gunners on the ground ‘who then directed their fire accordingly.’
Flying over the Somme
From 1 July through till 18 November 1916, on either side of the River Somme in northern France, the Allies fought the Central Powers in one of the largest, deadliest battles the world had ever known. By the battle’s end, more than 1,000,000 men had been wounded or killed.
The 27 squadrons of the RFC played a crucial role in this battle. Pilots undertook photographic reconnaissance missions over and behind the lines to locate the positions of enemy forces then used wireless to assist artillery to direct their fire on enemy targets. Harold, appointed as a second lieutenant back in July 1915, was at this time serving with the RFC’s No. 18 Squadron, and was heavily involved in the preparations for and during the battle itself.
Link to: September on the Somme
By mid-July the RFC had lost 24 aircraft, and 39 members of its aircrew were killed or reported missing. Harold was one of them. The Chief Clerk for the Director of Base Records wrote to Harold's father in December that a reliable source saw his aircraft shot down by infantry on the night of 15 or 16 July 1916.
Harold had stopped writing in his diary from January - a full transcript can be viewed in his Online Cenotaph record.
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