As mentioned in the previous post, two airmen of 37 (HD) Squadron were killed in action against the enemy. Second Lieutenant John Edward Rostron Young and Air Mechanic Second Class Cyril Charles Taylor lost their lives when engaging a large force of Gotha bombers during a daylight raid on Saturday 7th July 1917. Both men died in the same aircraft, a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter 2-seater. Taylor was the observer and Young the pilot. This aircraft was one of many that were sent up from several aerodromes across Essex and Kent (nearly 100 machines were reported were reported as attempting to engage the enemy aircraft). Planes from all three sections of 37 (HD) Squadron (A Flight (Rochford), B Flight (Stow Maries) and C Flight (Goldhanger)) were airborne that morning. Young and Taylor's aircraft took of from Rochford on the fateful morning.
The raiders on that day consisted of 22 Gotha bombers, a huge force participating in a second attack on the capital.
The fate of the two young airmen's Sopwith is described in the following contemporary newspaper report that appeared in the 13th July 1917 edition of the Streatham News, Balham and Tooting News and Borough of Wandsworth Chronicle.
What rather surprised me about this account was the level of detail provided to the father of the pilot, John Young, that alluded to the fact that at the time that his strickened aircraft plummeted into the sea, poor John's body would have been 'riddled with bullets'. My guess is that these words, provided to grieving parents, in a letter from the young officer's Commanding Officer would have been intended to convey the fact that in the face of such overwhelming enemy fire power, John Young's death would have been quick, clean and painless. That a newspaper printed such detail is perhaps more surprising given the potential negative impact that such detailed reporting could have on the readership. Note also that the reporting journalist refers to the account being that of a 'thrilling story of a young Streatham airman’s attack...'. I'd like to think that after more than a century of warfare subsequent to The Great War, modern writers would steer clear of Victor comic book style reporting. But that is just my opinion.
It is with feelings of profound and justifiable pride, tempered unfortunately by keen and sincere regret that so noble and gallant an officer should have won renown at the expense of his life, that our readers will read the following thrilling story of a young Streatham airman’s attack on a whole squadron of enemy airmen.
The Spartan fortitude and unselfish patriotism with which the sorely bereaved father of so heroic a son has braced himself to pen a modest tribute to his boy, and at the same time a brave and inspiriting message of emulation, will, we are sure, make a strong appeal to the sympathy and respect of all who read his introductory letter as follows:-
SIR, - At a time like the present, when the feeling of insecurity and indignation regarding our foul enemy and his infernal methods runs strong in the City and elsewhere, the circumstances attending the death last Saturday, the 7th inst., of my dear son, 2nd Lieut. John E. R. Young, R.F.C., in the performance of his duty, will be read with interest and – speaking for myself at any rate – with profound gratitude. The enclosed letter I received today from the Commander of his squadron, entirely unsolicited, will serve to assure us all that our splendid boys, who from their point of view have the privilege, have also the will and the pluck to put up noble efforts for our protection and for the defeat of the vilest enemy in all history.
Many other equally brave boys have been taken from this district, and I should not intrude upon the public with a personal letter regarding my poor son were it not that I think that it will be appreciated and do good at this time. Believing, as I do, that we have lots of the same material, and that my son was just one of many willing to face certain death in order to help stamp out the enemies of civilization, the subjoined letter from my son’s commander may help to inspire confidence and the hope that our defences will soon be complete and the enemy’s atrocious methods frustrated. – Your, etc..
W. S. YOUNG
A Town in Essex
DEAR MR YOUNG,
It is with the deepest regret and sympathy that I have to write and inform you of your son’s death, which took place on Saturday during enemy aircraft attack on this country.
Your son, as you know, had only been in my squadron a short time, but quite long enough for me to realize what a very efficient and gallant officer he was, and what a tremendous loss he is to me. He had absolutely the heart of a lion, and he was a very good pilot.
- The Gothas were at a height of at least 14,000 feet and Young would not have attained this height until 10 to 15 minutes after the Gothas had crossed the coast (making a crash into the sea impossible).
- No 37 (HD) Squadron personnel reported a colleague going down.
- Young’s aircraft fell near the Maplin lightship and observers on the ship believed that it had been hit by an AA shell burst.
- A signal of “obscure origin” amongst the day’s reports mentioned a belief that a shell had shot down a defending aircraft.
- A 37 (HD) Squadron pilot reported that the AA fire had been a considerable hindrance.
- The Germans reported just one defending aircraft being shot down, presumably Salmon (the other British fatality in the raid). Second Lieutenant W.G. Salmon of No. 63 Training Squadron took off in a Sopwith Scout from Dartford Aerodrome.
- General Henderson reported to CIGS on 14 July that the RFC could not continue to take the risk of being shot down by our own guns while attacking the enemy.