Rigger in RFC/RAF

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Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby snoopysue » Mon Sep 02, 2013 3:31 pm

I'm researching a distant cousin, who was a rigger during WW1. He was in the Royal Flying Corps, and later the RAF. He eventually rose to the rank of F/Sgt (which I'm guessing is flight seargeant).
What I'd like to know is what a rigger was - I doubt it has anything to do with parachutes, as these were non existent to our airmen of the time.
According to his grandaughter he was also a pilot, and ended up in Denmark (of all places) after the war to help set up the Danish National Airline. He was also involved in the first flights made on Iceland.
His census record in Denmark has him as a "Grand Engineer" - I suspect he wrote this himself, as the writing differs from the other entries and is in English.
Can any one help - can't seem to find any info online!
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby SRD » Tue Sep 03, 2013 7:01 am

The airplanes in WWI weren't known as Kites for nothing. There was a lot of tensioned wiring holding the whole thing together so presumably riggers were needed to maintain this. This photo http://www.britainatwar.com/central/images/articles/6612.jpg shows them at work.

Parachutes were used but mainly by stationary balloon born observers.
http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=2503 wrote:The answer is that they were issued to pilots in the German Airforce, French Army Airforce and the United States Air Service but not the British Royal Flying Corps. The official reason given was that parachutes were not 100% safe, it was too bulky to be stored by the pilot and its weight would affect the performance of the aeroplane. Unofficially the reason was given in a report that was not published at the time: "It is the opinion of the board that the presence of such an apparatus might impair the fighting spirit of pilots and cause them to abandon machines which might otherwise be capable of returning to base for repair.

R. E. Calthrop, a retired British engineer, had in fact developed the Guardian Angel, a parachute for aircraft pilots, before the war. Pressure was applied on Calthrop to keep quiet about his invention.

With growing numbers of pilots dying as a result of their aircraft being hit by enemy fire, Calthorp rebelled and in 1917 advertised his Guardian Angel parachute in several aeronautical journals. Calthorp revealed details of the tests that had been carried out by the Royal Flying Corps pointed out that British pilots were willing to buy their own parachutes but were being denied the right to use them.

Major Mick Mannock, Britain’s leading war ace in the war (73 victories) led the campaign for parachutes in the RFC (he had been active in the socialist movement before the war). The campaign failed and Mannock was killed on 26th July, 1918. If he had been wearing a parachute he would probably have survived.

Instead of carrying parachutes, RFC pilots carried revolvers instead. As Mannock explained, unable to carry a parachute, he had a revolver "to finish myself as soon as I see the first signs of flames." His body was so badly burnt it is not known if he was able to shoot himself before dying in the way he most feared.

After his death, Mick Mannock was awarded the Victoria Cross for: "an outstanding example of fearless courage, remarkable skill, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice which has never been surpassed". The Mannock family was so poor that soon afterwards Mick’s medals were sold by his father for £5"
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby gardener » Tue Sep 03, 2013 11:07 am

snoopysue wrote:I'm researching a distant cousin, who was a rigger during WW1. He was in the Royal Flying Corps, and later the RAF. He eventually rose to the rank of F/Sgt (which I'm guessing is flight seargeant).
What I'd like to know is what a rigger was - I doubt it has anything to do with parachutes, as these were non existent to our airmen of the time.
According to his grandaughter he was also a pilot, and ended up in Denmark (of all places) after the war to help set up the Danish National Airline. He was also involved in the first flights made on Iceland.
His census record in Denmark has him as a "Grand Engineer" - I suspect he wrote this himself, as the writing differs from the other entries and is in English.
Can any one help - can't seem to find any info online!


What was his name? There is a very good newspaper site here so I could see if he was mentioned in the papers if you like.
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby snoopysue » Tue Sep 03, 2013 4:00 pm

gardener wrote:What was his name? There is a very good newspaper site here so I could see if he was mentioned in the papers if you like.


If you could that'd be great! :P

His name was William Clarke, I think he was probably in Iceland in the summer/ early autumn of 1919, together with a Captain Cecil Faber, a Danish/English pilot who was in WW1. The plane, an AVRO 504 was shipped to Iceland on the 20th July, and there were 156 flights during August and September. I don't think his main function on this trip was as pilot, more likely he was on the maintenance side - there were certainly mechanics etc. in Iceland. We have no direct evidence that he was in Iceland, only anecdotal evidence, and a photo!

I've borrowed a book from our library on the Danish Airline (DDL) and it mentions a contract with Flugfjelag (Icelandic Airline). http://www.flugsafn.is/index.php?option ... d=&lang=en
Strangely the dates don't match, but the book I've read was written by a director for DDL.
The Picture on the next site is identical to the one William's grandaughter has!
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: ... celand.jpg

This site also says that the RAF owned the planes first, but DDL says that they were delivered straight from the factory - they do have the British livery though. Two other planes were delivered to Denmark and ended up at Avedøre Airfield, almost next door to where William was living in Brøndby Strand.
All this was before his official discharge from the RAF (as it had become by then), his papers state that he already had moved to a foreign country - these are dated November 1919, the same day as his mother recieved her Danish visa (she kept house for her bachelor son), and two days before she arrived through the port of Esbjerg (I don't fancy that trip on an old steamer in November!!!).
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby gardener » Tue Sep 03, 2013 11:12 pm

Hi! This was fun to look at. There are dozens of newspaper reports about the plane, but as far as I can see none mention William Clarke by name.
Here is the gist of the story:
http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... il%20Faber
July 27th 1919
Cecil Faber is here - the pilot has arrived and the first chapter of Flugfélag Íslands begun. He arrived without a plane because she was left in Leith where they had forgotten to book a berth for her with the "'Island". Other than that he is ready for the first air show because he has with him a mechanic and he has been practicing.
Goes on to say that they met Faber onboard Ísland the previous night. Faber said he was used to being busy during the war and was not looking forward to waiting for the plane. Faber had been in the British airforce for 4 years, young, about twenty, small man. Had shot down 5 German planes and been injured twice but could always land his plane. He expected to be in Iceland 6 weeks, depending on if the plane arrived with "Gullfoss" or not. Said he thought Iceland probably needed boatplanes so they could land on the water rather than ground. Plane is Avro type, 110 hp Le Rhone motor. he bought it from British authorities for about halfprice, 700 pounds sterling. Absolutely new, never been flown. Hopes to take two passengers and have enough fuel for 3 hours. Doesn't want to talk about the war, says he is not going to be taking the post (as Danish papers have said) just to demonstrate flying.

http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... is&q=Faber
August 1st
The plane will not come on Gullfoss, instead on Villemoes mid-month. Plane was too big for Gullfoss, no space.

http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... is&q=Faber
August 30th
Plane builders and Faber are busy putting plane together in the hanger. The body is in one piece but the wings have been taken off and the steering wires all disconnected so a lot of work to do.
The motor is very interesting. All other motors in Iceland have fixed armature and rotating centre, and so are motors in many planes but this one rotates around the central line. (More technical stuff)
It will cost 2-3 kr to get watch from close-up, 25-30 kr to go up in plane. Most will want an "normal" flight but acrobatic ones are available for those who trust their stomachs.
http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... is&q=Faber
September 4th
The plane was seen in the air the previous day, for the first time. Expected to go up /:30 in the evening but was seen at after 5 when Faber was trying it for the first time. Took many rings and rolled over, then landed. Garðar Gíslason gave a speech, the plane took off again. More flights planned next evening.
http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... is&q=Faber
September 4
Longer description of the event the previous day. After the speech it says "Then Captain Faber sat at the helm and the mechanic turned the propeller. Soon the motor started and it was windy for those behind. After a short time the blocks were taken away from the wheels and the plane moved, first slowly then very fast over the field." Goes on to describe the flight, engine cutting and plane diving etc etc.

http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... is&q=Faber
September 5th
Show should have started at 7:30 but was almost 8 when plane took off. "In the plane were Captain Faber and the British mechanic and they enjoyed themselves for a few minutes in the still evening." Faber flew low in the first flight, landed and took off alone, flying high and cutting the engine etc. In the third trip Ólafur Daviðsson (fishing ship owner) was passenger. Then next it was Garður Gíslason, head of Flugfélagið.
http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... il%20Faber
September 27th
Flying is over. English plane builders have been taking the plane to bits. Not known when it will fly again. Then a lot about Faber's career. Says he is Danish origins but born in England. Lived in Denmark for a while in the spring, and will go straight there to work for the newly formed Danish Airline. Will teach flying and supervise purchasing planes in Britain etc. "It was luck that Iceland got him to the country. Axel Tulinius, high court judge, and Consul P.A. Ólafsson, who are on board of Flugfélag, were in Denmark in the spring, looking for advice at the Danish Airline. Faber was able to help them and come. The plane arrived later, after Faber and his engineer Mr Kenyon, had arrived, because of too little space on ships arriving from England. Captain Faber has flown 146 short and longer flights ..." goes on the say where, how far etc.
http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... is&q=Faber
October 1st
"Ísland" left last night with many passengers, including Captain Faber...
(Listed is also is N. P. Kirk a harbour engineer, he died in Copenhagen on October 18th so the Ísland must have arrived before then at least)

http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... er%20Faber
October 14th
The plane has been taken to bits and returned to its crate, and will be stored over the winter. Captain Faber and his two mechanics left on Ísland.



I looked for "Kenyon" and he is mentioned a few times, once as Joe Kenyon.
http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?is ... il%20Faber
August 27th
Mr Kenyon, mechanic, who had a bad foot the other day is now up and about and almost fully fit. He is a specialist in the sort of plane engine which we have here. A second mechanic is expected with the "Villemoes". He is a specialist in building the plane body itself. It is important that not only the engine is alright, but also that the body is reliably constructed and that all steering apparatus is perfect."

It looks as though William Clarke could have been this second engineer. You might get lucky if you can track down the passenger list for either voyage.

If you go here http://ljosmyndasafn.reykjavik.is/fotoweb/grid.fwx and search for MAÓ 978 , MAÓ 979 and MAÓ 980 there are 3 photos, one you have seen. One shows a guy swinging the prop, don't know which of the mechanics that might be - or neither perhaps. One of the papers said that the daughter of this photographer went up in the plane, and her father is suppsoed to have taken the first aerial photograph of Iceland so perhaps he went too.

Think that is all. Hope it helps.
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby gardener » Tue Sep 03, 2013 11:14 pm

snoopysue wrote:His census record in Denmark has him as a "Grand Engineer" - I suspect he wrote this himself, as the writing differs from the other entries and is in English.
Can any one help - can't seem to find any info online!


Wonder if that is Ground Engineer?
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby snoopysue » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:00 pm

That's great Gardener - it certainly helps to know people in the right places!

The book I've read on the Danish Airline (DDL), mentions the problems at Leith, without going into details, and the director of DDL went over to sort it out. The book says that DDL had a contract with the Icelandic Airline and it was due to this that they sent Faber and his team to Iceland.
William Clark's granddaughter says that flights from Denmark to Iceland weren't practical at the time due to the difficult terrain - this ties in with Captain Faber saying that boat planes were the answer. I suspect you're right that William was a ground engineer. As for Joe Faber, he was living in the same house as William in Denmark in 1921, together with his wife and Danish born son. Joe was described as an engine fitter.
I'm happy that William Clarke was part of the team that went with Faber to Iceland, even if he wasn't mentioned. I suspect that the job of rigger had something to do with all the cables etc on such a biplane - but I will dig som more on that.

Thanks again, I'll pass this info on to William's granddaughter - I know she'll be pleased as punch to read your translations. :P :P
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby gardener » Fri Sep 06, 2013 8:24 pm

Glad if I could help at all - not often that Icelandic comes in handy! It was a very rough translation!
It was interesting to see that the plane used about the same place as as was chosen for the airport later. The British army made an airstrip in WW2 and it is still the local airport used for internal flights. There is a big row brewing now as the local council has plans to close the airport and use the land for building. That would mean that medical flights would have to land miles away and also that "country" people could not just fly in to town for a meeting the way they do now. Plans are afoot to make the airport planning a national matter rather than a local matter but taht is going to cause a lot of trouble!
Our house is right by the airport so we are in a small area of 200 houses with no through access. It would change things a lot for us if the airport went, we are in a triangle bounded by two runways and the sea.
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby snoopysue » Sat Sep 07, 2013 9:10 am

Thanks again, I had found some sites in icelandic, but it would have been impossible without your help. Just a shame William wasn't mentioned, although I don't doubt he was there.
I can understand that there are many that have conflicting views about the location of the airport, and it is probably more a national matter than a local one, due to the number of people that will be affected, whatever the decision. If the airport was located out of the town then surely there will be an improvement in the infrastruture involved, so transport to and from the airport is quick and easy. Of course Iceland must have challenges as far as infrastructure due to the climate.
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby gardener » Sat Sep 07, 2013 9:55 am

I think Iceland mostly has challenges because of too few people and too little money. The population is just a bit less than Cardiff's! And at least 4 airports cleared for International flights if needed, plus heaps of smaller ones with single strips.
One option is to move the airport just out of town but the geography has not changed since 1919 and now the only available land is much higher above sea level so it would be closed due to weather more often than the present one. The main international airport is only about 45 minutes away from the hospital but the flight doctors have weighed in now and say that the critical time is the last bit of the flight as it means longer without full medical aid. A slightly crackers option is to build it out in the sea - there is a very shallow bay here but honestly the salty winds would scupper that idea. And still these three possibilities are being discussed over and over again!
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Re: Rigger in RFC/RAF

Postby snoopysue » Fri Sep 20, 2013 8:50 am

An update on our research for William Clarke:

A letter has come to light from the Danish Airline (DDL), instructing William to take the SS Willemoes to Iceland, on arrival he is to ask for Captain Faber in Reykjavik. The letter is quite short and to the point, and indicates that other correspondence must have taken place previously.

A couple of points - William's address on the letter is incorrect, it has West Bromwich instead of Dudley, I can only assume the envelope was correctly addressed as it did find William! The other thing is that William isn't told where to find Cecil Faber, only that he is to ask for him on arrival in Iceland. The letter is dated the 12th August, so Faber had arrived in Iceland at this time. It shows that it must have been a huge thing in Iceland, this is supported by the press coverage that Gardener so kindly translated for me.
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