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Newfoundland and WW I aviation


In 1915, Great Britain needed more aircraft in order to combat the menace of German aircraft that were bombing its cities. "Again it was the Kaiser, the man who launched sink-on-sight submarine warfare, who added another brutal innovation to the horrors of World War I: the systematic bombing of civilian centers. German aircraft made small raids on English cities throughout 1914, and at the start of 1915 big naval Zeppelins began bombing London. The Zeppelins were airships named after the German count who was a pioneer in lighter-than-air aviation. They were dirigibles - that is, huge sausage-shaped structures filled with gas to make them ride as buoyantly in the sky as ships upon the sea. They were driven by propellers controlled from a cabin slung beneath their bellies. They were terrifying in carrying out their mission of death and destruction.

Aviation -

In 1915, Great Britain needed more aircraft in order to combat the menace of German aircraft that were bombing its cities.

"Again it was the Kaiser, the man who launched sink-on-sight submarine warfare, who added another brutal innovation to the horrors of World War I: the systematic bombing of civilian centers. German aircraft made small raids on English cities throughout 1914, and at the start of 1915 big naval Zeppelins began bombing London. The Zeppelins were airships named after the German count who was a pioneer in lighter-than-air aviation. They were dirigibles - that is, huge sausage-shaped structures filled with gas to make them ride as buoyantly in the sky as ships upon the sea. They were driven by propellers controlled from a cabin slung beneath their bellies. They were terrifying in carrying out their mission of death and destruction.

"Gradually the British beat back the Zeppelin menace. Antiaircraft guns and high-powered searchlights were developed. Blackouts were introduced. And, even more importantly, fighter planes were sent aloft equipped with guns that could rip through the thin skins of the expensive and cumbrous monsters." (The Story of World War I by Robert Leckie, published by Random House, New York, 1965.)

That's where Newfoundland came into the story of the war in the air.

"Two London-based organizations, The Overseas Club, representing Britons throughout the empire, and the Patriotic League, representing Britons in foreign countries, approached the military authorities with an offer to collect donations from their members to finance the formation of an Imperial Air Flotilla. Newfoundland was one of the first members of the empire to respond to the fund drive." (Newfoundland Quarterly Volume 101, Number 3, Winter 2008/09)

It was July 13, 1915, when Newfoundland's governor, William Davidson, invited several prominent citizens to form the Aeroplane Committee, whose job it was to solicit funds in order to pay for the construction of aircraft to fight for the Allies. In less than a month the committee had raised £3,750, enough to pay for three aircraft, one of which was paid for completely by the Reid Brothers (Reid Newfoundland Railway) and was to be inscribed Reid-Newfoundland. It was announced by the officials of the Aeroplane Committee that the first three aircraft that Newfoundland paid for were formerly presented to the Royal Flying Corps on August 4, 1915. The aircraft were desperately needed and by the time of the formal presentation the aircraft had already been in service and seen action.

Newfoundland also sent airmen to fight on the side of the Allies. Lieut. Terrence O'Brien, grandson of former Governor Sir Terrence O'Brien, was the first Newfoundland-related air casualty of the First World War when he was killed in "airplane action in France" on March 2, 1915. Howard Reid, son of W. D. Reid, president of the Reid Newfoundland Company, was the youngest officer to serve in the Royal Navy Air Service. Capt. Ronald Ayre participated in 41 raids and was the first Newfoundland airman to be decorated in the First World War when he was awarded the Military Cross in October 1917. Capt. V.S. Bennett received the French Croix de Guerre with palms, and Capt. Roy Grandy (Grandy Avenue, Gander) also served in the Royal Flying Corps.

Newfoundland's contribution to the war in the air during the First World War through personnel and finance was indeed significant.

Reference: Newfoundland Quarterly Volume 101, Number 3, Winter 2008/09; The Story of World War I by Robert Leckie, published by Random House, New York, 1965.

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