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66 Squadron, RFC & RAF, 1916 to 1919

Bailes, Wilfrid George Robinson

Introduction

Wilfrid G R Bailes was born on 8 August 1893 to his mother Alice and father John G R Bailes a Schoolmaster at 111 Salcot Road, Battersea South London. Very little is know about his early days, the family were of Scottish decent although his father and grandfather were born in or around the Battersea area and prior to that the family were known to be living in Stockton on Tees from at least 1750. It is thought that at one time he studied music at Guildhall School of Music.

Part Time Soldier

WGR Bailes“Robin” as he was known to his fellow soldiers enlisted in the 14 Bn. County of London Regt. as a Private on 18 September 1911 s/n 1514. The 14th was a Territorial unit and part of the London Scottish. Robin enlisted for four years, possibly as a bugler. As a part time soldier he would have continued with his employment as a bank clerk with the London County & Westminster Bank and later the Bank of Montreal. The Territorial Army was raised to relieve the regular Army of their duties in the United Kingdom and originally the T.A. as it became known was not required to serve overseas, although this would change soon after the First World War broke out and when the surprisingly small regular British Army would need as many reinforcements as possible. Following the embodiment of the T.A. with the regular army, on 12 September 1914 Robin signed Army Form E.624; the agreement to serve in any place outside the United Kingdom in the event of National emergency. He did not have long to wait and on the 15 September the first Bn. boarded the S.S. Winifredian for France arriving the next day and qualifying him for the 1914 Star.

The Battle of Messines

On the 31 October 1914 the 1st London Scottish became the first Territorial Regiment to engage the enemy during WW1. The regiment was moved from St Omer to Messines by a fleet of thirty four London buses on the 30 October and took up a position along the Wytschaete – Messines ridge the following day in support of the 4th Cavalry Brigade. The Regiments were heavily shelled by the Germans and later in the evening and through the night the fighting was very heavy with the two sides engaged on occasions in hand to hand combat. The London Scottish position was on a ridge near a windmill, the mill is near to where the Regimental Memorial now stands, the official casualty list figures say that 31 were KIA, 9 DOW, 22 POW, 52 MIA and 132 wounded. Robin is thought to have served with H Coy under the command of Capt. G. C. K. Cloves (later Lt.Col. OBE, DSO, TD. Died 23/08/41) and possibly later in B Coy.

Conditions in the trenches were not very good in the winter of 1914 and Robin became an early casualty of trench foot, he was sent back down the lines to a field ambulance station on 18 November and evacuated in the hospital ship H.S. St. Andrew to Home Establishment on 25 November. During treatment and recuperation Robin made an application on 2 March 1915 for a Temporary Commission and transfer to 14 Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. He attended the Military Hospital Milbank for a Medical Board on 23 March 1915 and was duly transferred to the Argylls on 31 March 1915. His health must have improved during 1915 as it is noted in his RAF records that he attended a Lewis Machine Gun course at Hayling Island in 1915, in 1916 a Vickers gun course at Grantham, an Adjutants course at Chelsea and a Transport course with the ASC in Leith. At some time he was posted to the 4th Bn Argylls and it may have been that he was bored or just wanted to see some action and decided to apply for a transfer to the RFC.

He successfully attended an interview with Col Trench at Adastral House on 12 October and by the 17 November 1916 the Argylls were aware that Robin had requested a transfer. On 3 December 1916 The Commandant of the School of Military Aeronautics, Reading requested that 2/Lt WGR Bailes if available should join at Reading on 14 December and to take his camp kit with him.

The Royal Flying Corps

Unfortunately there is no log book to see which aeroplanes he flew and how many hours he logged whilst training, his Robin’s training programme was quite standard for the time.

DATE UNIT LOCATION
14/12/16 1 SoMA Reading. Induction, theory and ground school.
19/02/17 47 RS Based at Waddington: basic flying training
14/03/17 45 RS Based at South Carton Lincolnshire.
22/04/17 34 RS Based at Ternhill and Market Drayton, Shropshire.
06/07/17 34 TS New designation for 34 R.S.
00/00/17 1 SoAF&G Aerial fighting and gunnery school Ayr & Turnberry.

When serving with 34 R.S. he was taken ill and whilst on sick leave probably at his home at 25 Schubert Road, East Putney, London. He was admitted to 3 London General Hospital, Wandsworth on 15 May 1917 with Urticaria, a painful skin complaint, and declared unfit for duty for three weeks. He appeared before a Medical Board at the Prince of Wales Hospital on 14 June and was found to be better following an inoculation and was granted three weeks leave.

The next day he received a letter written from the Military Aeronautics Directorate who informed him to appear before another Board on the 22 June.

66 Squadron France & Italy 1917

On 17 October Robin joined 66 Squadron at Estree Blanche France. The squadron was still flying the Sopwith Pup and was in the process of returning these to 1 Aircraft Depot at St. Omer and collecting replacement Sopwith Camels, once the squadron had re-equipped his first practice flight took place on 21 October when Robin flew Camel B5175 for a 1½ hour practice flight. This was the first of twelve practice, test and non-combat flights accumulating around 12.25 hrs of flying time. Not all these flights were without some excitement. On the 28 October in Camel B6237 Robin crashed taking off and later in the day crashed on landing B4604 after a 40 minute test flight. After arrival in Italy the aeroplanes were re-assembled and rigged and on 29 November he flew a B4604 on a 75 minute cross country flight from Milan to Verona along with Hunter, Ryan, Boysen and May. Another transit flight took place on 4 December when he flew B4607 as part of the second group of eight Camels to fly from Verona to Grossa, one of which, B5172, (flown by 2/Lt T. R. Whitehead) developed a problem and landed at a French aerodrome after some 40 minutes.

He flew two combat patrols in France; a line patrol occurred on the 27 October when C flight commander Capt. T .V. (Sticky) Hunter (B5173) led Robin (A6237), 2/Lt’s W. A Pritt (B4604), C. C. Robinson (B4503), H. K. Boysen (B2363), and R. W. Ryan (5407), no enemy activity was seen and all returned safely to base and again on 8 November when he returned to the aerodrome with a broken wire after some seventy five minutes in the air.

WGR Bailes RFCThe next patrol took place in Italy on 5 December; the second of two Practice flights, along the British Front was led by Capt. Hunter departed at 2.05 pm. The patrol consisted of Capt. Hunter (B5173), Ryan (B5407), Boysen (B2363), Bailes (B4604), May (B6425) and Robinson (B5403), some 55 minutes later Hunter commenced a turn and collided with Ryan at about 10,000ft, both crashing at Carmignunodi. Ryan survived but sadly Hunter died. Ryan wrote about the event in his book “From Boxkite To Boardroom” (see Ryan write up). This was 66 squadron’s first fatality in Italy and must have been a severe shock to Robin and other squadron members. On the death of Hunter, John Maxwell Warnock was given command of C flight which he relinquished in April 1918 to W G Barker. The war went on. Robin’s next patrol was on 7 December and led by Boysen, with May, Robinson; and H. B. Bell. The patrol’s highlight was the sighting of three enemy aeroplanes although neither patrols made any attempted to engage. On 9 December a patrol led by C. C Morley and consisting of S. Stanger, Robin, W. C Hilborn, and P.F. Paton. The patrol came upon five E.A. who put their noses down towards the north east when fired on. On their return Paton crashed just outside the aerodrome in Camel B2445. Warnock led the second patrol of the day on 13 December consisting of May, Boysen, ffrench and Bailes. The patrol was detailed to patrol along the British XIV Corp’s front. ffrench left the patrol with engine trouble and landed at Istrana. Robin on take off at 10.10 am returned to base after developing engine trouble after ten minutes, he then departed at 10.30 am in Camel B5172 returning to the aerodrome fifteen minutes before the remaining members of the patrol returned. Their only comments about the patrol were that Anti Aircraft fire was normal and accurate. John Warnock led the Offensive Patrol No 3 on 15 December along with Robinson, May, Boysen and Bailes. They came across an Albatros C type; Warnock shot the aeroplane down which crashed in an orchard near St. Lucia di Piave. Warnock followed the stricken aeroplane down to 20 ft and the rest of the patrol following down to 100ft. The next day on the first O.P. of the day the same men departed at 8.35 am to patrol the British Front. An Albatros D111 was seen to be attacking some R.E.8’s over Barco. Warnock attacked the D111 chasing him down to 1,000 ft firing some 250 rounds, alas both guns stopped. Then ran out of ammunition in the left gun and had a number 4 stoppage in the right. The E.A. was last seen diving vertically at 1,000ft. It may have been that Robin did not witness this combat as he at some time landed at Istrana with engine trouble and Warnock dropped in to Istrana to see if Robin was o.k. before returning to base.

ErskineOn 26 December Lt. Ralph Erskine commanded the second patrol of the day. The other members were 2/Lt’s. A. F. Bartlett, A.B. Reade and Robin in Camel B5407, they departed at 10.00 am but Robin crashed on take-off and according to the squadron record book he sustained severe facial injuries and a broken leg. Robins flew 10 combat patrols and accumulated another 26.06 hrs flying time. Robins war was over and a new fight was to commence to regain his health.

The Long Fight

He was sent to Genoa hospital and when able to travel he returned to London and was eventually admitted to Kings Hospital. Unfortunately for Robin the wounds were much more severe. Writing a letter to the Canadian Gazette in February 1918 he lists his wounds as a compound fracture in each leg, that he had lost his right eye and sustained other wounds to his head and arm. On a brighter note he says “otherwise I am quite all right, and am getting on splendidly”. What he did not say was that his lower left leg was amputated due to gangrene and he was later fitted with a new lower limb. His obituary published in The London Scottish Gazette notes that he lay unconscious for 11 days and was hospitalized on his back for three and half years, and operated on twenty six times. He was to continue with hospital treatment until 1926 when he returned to work as a Clerk for the Bank of Montreal. In 1929 Robin married Jean Richardson and they had two children; Ian and Fiona. Robin learnt to drive a car and took up rifle shooting and competed at Bisley, where on one day he scored 15 consecutive bulls. His interest in the London Scottish never waned; he was the Regimental Football Team Secretary for many years. Later he became H Coy Association Hon Secretary and in 1939 Treasurer of The Gazette and editor in 1949 until 1951 when ill health forced his retirement. In the 1940’s he became a Mason and in 1951 he became the Master of the London Scottish Rifles Lodge.

Wilfrid “Robin” George Robinson Bailes died on 4 July 1952.

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