A century on

On April 1 this year the RAF turned one hundred years old. That’s not to say there weren’t pilots flying prior to April 1, 1918, it’s just that some of them flew for the Army and some of them flew for the Navy.

I remember when I was researching at the Science Museum uncovering the Fleet Air Arm, something I had no idea ever existed. Now I discover that there was also the Royal Flying Corps which was part of the Army. Then, during the final days of the Great War, someone decided that Britain needed a third defence force and the RAF was born.

The reason I’m writing about this is because today I researched a guy called Edgar Baigent who, after extensive training, joined the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) as a mechanic.

Edgar was an exceptional young boy. He attended the East Street School in Farnham, where he held the record for never being late and also never missing a single day of school. For this achievement he was presented with a silver watch from the Reverend TG Gardiner (from the school board) and a book about the Life of General Gordon from the headmaster Mr CJ Walker.

His father was a prominent local builder and, for a while Edgar worked for him as a labourer. He then moved to the firm of Messrs Crosby and Co, another building firm before heading to Cranwell College in Lincolnshire where he undertook his training. RAF Cranwell still exists and is the starting point for new recruits moving into the air force but back in 1917 it was just starting up.

(In fact RAF Cranwell was established as an Air Force College after April 1918 because it was a naval base before the amalgamation date. The RNAS established the training facility at Cranwell on April 1, 1916 and that’s where Edgar trained.)

Following his successful training, Edgar was stationed at HMS Daedalus, an onshore base for seaplanes. Then, in early 1918, he was transferred overseas, to Dunkirk. And that’s where he died.

On the night of June 4, 1918, a German aerial attack on the airbase at Dunkirk mortally wounded Air Mechanic 1st Class Edgar Baigent. He died the next day from his wounds.

The morning of June 4 he wrote to his wife saying he was ‘quite well.’ The next day she received the dreaded telegram.

Just so there’s no confusion, the grave stone in the above photo is NOT Edgar’s. He was buried in France, along with so many other British service personnel during the Great War. The grave stone above is in the churchyard at St Andrews, Farnham and I just thought it was a nice way to end this post.

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