Bexhill’s Knight of the Air

Richard Verschoyle Walker was born in 1893. At the beginning of the First World War he was a teacher at Normanhurst School, Collington Avenue. He left in July 1915 to take a commission in the 6th Battalion of The Connaught Rangers as a Second Lieutenant.

By April 1916 he had transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and was serving as an Observer with 25 Squadron based at Auchel Aerodrome, France, flying FE2b aeroplanes. Their purpose was to protect reconnaissance aircraft and also to attack enemy aircraft seeking to enter British airspace.

In April 1916, flying with Second Lieutenant Lord Doune as pilot, he was airborne at 09:30 in FE2b 5209 to patrol the Hullach-Loos sector of the line. An hour and a half later a Fokker E.III was spotted two miles beyond the lines between Hullach and La Bassée at a height of 2,700 metres. The FE which was 300 metres higher dived toward the German aircraft and Richard Walker opened fire at a range of 80 meters without any apparent effect.

The German pilot made an attempt to get behind the tail of the British machine. A manoeuvre tried twice more but Lord Doune each time evaded the enemy’s fire. The aircraft then flew toward each other and both Lord Doune and Richard Walker brought their machine guns to bear. As the Fokker rose steeply to avoid a collision one of its wings suddenly crumpled up and it fell spinning to the ground behind British lines killing its pilot. Both Lord Doune and Richard Walker were awarded the Military Cross for this exploit.

The German aeroplane Fokker E.III 434/15 belonging to Feldflieger Abteilung 18 was flown by Unteroffizier Georg Wilhelm Freiherr von Saalfeld a young man the same age as Richard Walker, who had previously lost a leg in a riding accident. He was the son of the Prince of Saxe-Meiningen.

Aviation was a romantic element of The Great War. The perception being that those who flew did so in a clean wide open space free of the horrors of the trenches. Propaganda made use of ‘Aces’, those who had shot down 5 or more enemy aeroplanes. The reality was somewhat different. Aloft in the cold wind of the slipstream, with wood and fabric structures offering no protection against gunfire, a long fall to earth, with no parachute – and perhaps on fire – awaited those who were shot down.

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