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66 Squadron, RFC & RAF, 1916 to 1919


Capon, Robert Stanley

Introduction

Robert Stanley Capon (known as Stanley) was the son of a dentist Robert Maw Capon and Agnes Jane (nee Cheshire) and was born on 24t February, 1886 at 44 Oxford Street, Liverpool, but soon after his family moved to 49A Rodney Street where his father had his dental practice. He was educated at Liverpool College and entered Liverpool University to study medicine but gave this up and went to the Berlin Musikhochschule to study music and the piano. After a year he abandoned music and entered St Johns College Oxford University. He was there from 1909-14 and studied mathematical physics in which he gained a First Class in both disciplines in the honours school. He became a Senior University Mathematical scholar, a Casberd scholar and had two papers published in the Journal of the Royal Society. While at Oxford he became interested in astronomy and took the elementary astronomy within the course for finals students. Capon was one of three students to study at the Oxford University Observatory (Radcliffe Observatory) under the guidance of Professor Herbert H Turner. Capon left in June 1914. On the 8 July he departed Liverpool docks on the “Tunisian” (Allan Line) bound for Quebec and then travelled to California to study at the Mount Wilson Observatory, California.

World War One

When the First World War broke out in August 1914 he continued with his studies in the U.S.A. But late in 1914 Capon decided to return home and returned to Liverpool on the White Star Line’s “Arabic” from New York arriving on 16 January 1915. On the 23 February he enlisted in the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps, 7 Bn Artist Rifles (28 London Regt.), as a Private s/n 3384. After training at High Beech, Essex. On the 8 March 1915 he was sent to France via Southampton, joining the Battalion on the 15 May. Two days later suffering from an appendicitis he was admitted to No 10 Stationary Hospital, St Omer for treatment. On 26 May he was sent to Boulogne embarking the next day for England on the ex ferry ship H.M.H.S. St Patrick. Capon applied for a commission in the Kings Liverpool Regt on 19 August 1915 and he was gazetted 2/Lt. on 8 November 1915, and returned to France as an Assistant Equipment Officer on the 7 November 1915. His two periods of service in 1915 entitled him to the 1915 Star. He must have been unhappy with his service with the regiment and applied for a position in the Royal Flying Corps. This was approved on 20 December 1915 and gazetted on 14 March 1916. Capon returned to Home Establishment and was seconded to the RFC Military Wing on 23 December 1915 and posted to the Central Flying School at Upavon as Assistant E.O. 3 for “Scientific purposes”? Capon was not content with this appointment and applied for flying training and still found the time to marry. On the 6 March 1916 whilst on leave he married voluntary worker Maude Irene Bulcock from Talacre in north west Wales at Liverpool Registry office, they possibly met whilst he was being rehabilitated in Cheshire following the treatment for the appendicitis.
In response to an memorandum from 6 Brigade R.F.C. dated 11 March a letter from the Deputy Director of Military Aeronautics dated 17 March 1916 noted that Capon wished to be relived of his appointment as an Assistant Equipment Officer with a view to becoming a Flying Officer. Major W. W. Warner noted that this application was being sanctioned as a special case. And further that as an Assistant Equipment Officer, “he (Capon) would not receive half flying pay, and that he would not receive half flying pay as an Observer for any ascents he made whilst under instruction”. He also went on to say that as “Assistant Equipment Officers are purely for ground duties” that Capon “should not be given opportunities of learning to fly”, Warner then goes on to say that his office should be informed when he (Capon) commences his instruction in aviation.

The same day Warner wrote to the O.C. Administrative Wing, Farnborough, that on the recommendation the O.C. 6th Brigade, Capon could undergo flying instruction and was to be relived of his appointment with the Kings Liverpool Regt as an Assistant Equipment Officer.

Flying Training

Capon RAeC Cert photoHis first flight was in a Maurice Farman Long Horn No 8863 of 12 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron on the 23 March 1916. 12 RAS had been based at Thetford since its move from Dover in November 1915. The Commanding Officer was Captain Reginald D G Small (who later command 66 Squadron when a Training Squadron in the autumn of 1916). This short ten minute flight with his instructor, 2/Lt E G Laindon was to give him his first experience of flight. They reached an altitude of 300ft. As might be expected he quickly learnt the basic skills and on 31 March 1916 after some 99 minutes of duel instruction he went solo in a Maurice Farman Long Horn s/n 6685. His landing was not perfect; he flattened out too soon and made a bad landing. He took his Royal Aero Club “Ticket” on 8 April 1916 in a M.F. Short Horn 5901 making two landings, 13 and 17 yards short of the “T”. Nevertheless he was awarded RAeC number 2762, on 29 May 1916 along with his C.F.S “A” certificate. His promotion to Flying Officer was gazetted on 29 June 1916. Whilst at 12 RAS he accumulated a total of 9.10 hours duel and 1.55 hrs solo flying time.

For advanced training he moved in April 1916 to 35 Sqn which was part of 7 Wing and based at Thetford. His first flight was in a Vickers F.B. 5 2341 with passenger, Capt. Smythies they practiced three landings. The next day he went solo in the same aeroplane doing a five minute flight around the aerodrome.

Most flights up to now were of short duration in the vicinity of the aerodrome mainly practising landings. On 10 May he flew solo across country for the first time. This was from Thetford to Bury St. Edmunds and back in a Vickers 5649. This showed a higher confidence level since apart from the need to navigate there was also the possibility of a forced landing due to engine failure. Capon flew with 35 squadron for some time and was retained as a Flying Instructor. He flew Vickers FB5, Royal Aircraft Factory designed F.E. and R.E. machines, H.F.20 and Armstrong Whitworth FK8’s. On the 3 August 1916 he had accumulated a total flying time of 77 hrs 15 minutes. He was posted away to 10 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron (part of 6 Wing) at Joyce Green? His first flight with 10 RAS was on 5 August 1916 when he took Vickers 5662 for a 10 minute flight. Capon accumulated another 9 hours over 27 flights in the Vickers F.B.5 & 9, D.H.5, H.F.20 and F.E.8 which he test flew a number of times.

For advanced training he moved in April 1916 to 35 Sqn which was part of 7 Wing and based at Thetford. His first flight was in a Vickers F.B. 5 2341 with passenger, Capt. Smythies they practiced three landings. The next day he went solo in the same aeroplane doing a five minute flight around the aerodrome.

Most flights up to now were of short duration in the vicinity of the aerodrome mainly practising landings. On 10 May he flew solo across country for the first time. This was from Thetford to Bury St. Edmunds and back in a Vickers 5649. This showed a higher confidence level since apart from the need to navigate there was also the possibility of a forced landing due to engine failure. Capon flew with 35 squadron for some time and was retained as a Flying Instructor. He flew Vickers FB5, Royal Aircraft Factory designed F.E. and R.E. machines, H.F.20 and Armstrong Whitworth FK8’s. On the 3 August 1916 he had accumulated a total flying time of 77 hrs 15 minutes. He was posted away to 10 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron (part of 6 Wing) at Joyce Green? His first flight with 10 RAS was on 5 August 1916 when he took Vickers 5662 for a 10 minute flight. Capon accumulated another 9 hours over 27 flights in the Vickers F.B.5 & 9, D.H.5, H.F.20 and F.E.8 which he test flew a number of times.

Return to France - 24 Squadron

In August 1916 2/Lt Capon was sent to France for the second time. His first service squadron was number 24 who based at Bertangles as part of 14 Wing and was equipped with the Airco D.H. 2 Scout. Major Lanoe G. Hawker VC. DSO commanded the Squadron. 2/Lt Capon was posted to “A” flight commanded by Captain John O Andrews whom he would meet again when they were both posted to 66 squadron in 1917.

On the 1 July 1916 the British Army launched an offensive operation in the Somme valley. 24 Squadron had received reinforcements on the 18 June in the shape of Morane N pilots 2/Lt Frank E. Goodrich (K.I.A. 60 squadron 12/09/1916), 2/Lt Tone’ H.P. Bayetto (K.I.F.A. 29 T.D.S 28/07/18) (for more details about Bayetto see write up on web page), and Bristol Scout pilots 2/Lt T. B. Prothero, 2/Lt Christopher H. Jenkins (D.O.W 23/05/17) and 2/Lt Thomas Lawrence Purdon. All apart from Bayetto (another 66 squadron pilot) had returned to their own squadrons by 30 July, Bayetto left on 30 August. 24 Squadron were tasked with protecting the fronts of the Third and Fourth armies, the squadrons patrol line was between Peronne–Pys–Gommecourt.

Capon arrived on or before the 17 August when he flew D.H. 2 5925 for a 20 minute flight Bertangles-Allonville-Bertangles. This was the first of four practice flights. The next day in a DH 2 5967 he had some Lewis gun practice with 2/Lt Aubrey E. Glew (7864) and 2/Lt Alfred E. McKay (7885, K.I.A 20/12/17 23 squadron). He also experienced some engine problems.

His first combat patrol was on 20 August when he flew D.H. 2 5967 on an evening Defensive Patrol. The next day he encountered the enemy for the first time. The patrol was led by 2/Lt Glew (7864) with 2/Lt Capon (5967) and 2/Lt. Sidney E. Cowan MC** (5964, Irishman Cowan was killed on 17 November 1916 whilst serving with 29 Squadron in D.H. 2 A2555). According to the squadron record book they saw ten H.A. in the vicinity of the Bapaume – Peronne road at different times and when they turned towards the H.A. they declined combat and dived away east.

On the 21st August 1916 2/Lt’s Cowan and Capon departed the aerodrome at 16.20 and 16.25 respectively to start a Defensive Patrol. They saw three H.A. over Gombles at 3000 ft , Cowan dived and fired half a drum at the German flight, which promptly retired east across the Bapaume – Peronne road. Later they encountered five hostiles North of Bapaume, 2/Lt Cowan and an unidentified Nieuport type dived to attack but the H.A. were lost in the cloud. Another flight of three H.A. was seen over Achiet but declined combat. Cowan was running short of fuel and landed at 3 Squadrons aerodrome at Lahoussoye for a top up, he returned at 19.30.

The 22nd was quite a busy day with an uneventful early morning Offensive Patrol led by 2/Lt’s Capon (5967), Glew (7864) and William Roche-Kelly (6000). Later he was part of a Defensive Patrol led by 2/Lt Robert H.M.S. Saundby MC (5925), and 2/Lt’s Roche-Kelly (6000 & 7864), Capon (5967). Shortly after take off Kelly returned to the aerodrome with engine trouble, he later rejoined the patrol in 7864. They saw six H.A. patrolling the Bapaume-Peronne road. Saundby approached them and found two Rumplers about 1000 ft above them. They climbed up to the H.A. which immediately turned and went off east. The patrol returned after 2.25 hrs with Capon’s engine missing, in his log book he remarks that he saw no E.A. This was not unusual for new pilots who had to get used to scanning the skies and recognising aeroplanes at some distance.

2/Lt’s Roche-Kelly (6000) and Capon (7864) flew a Defensive Patrol on 23 August 1916 from 10.00. Early in the patrol Capon had engine trouble and landed at the French aerodrome at Bazieux for a change of plugs, Roche-Kelly continued and later saw two H.A. over Flers heading east but was unable to make contact with them. Roche-Kelly returned to the aerodrome at 12.20, and Capon made the 20 minute return flight from Morlencourt arriving Bertangles at 12.10. Later the same day 2/Lt Edward Ronald Yates (5967) led Glew (7864) and Capon (5925) on a Defensive Patrol. They saw four H.A. low west of Bapaume–Peronne road. They attacked three times but lost them in the clouds. Later they saw four more H.A. coming from Albert in the east at 12000 ft but the De Havilland’s were unable to climb fast enough to attack and the Germans went away to the east. Capon landed at Baizieux home of 4 Squadron with plug problems at 4.45. After some attention he departed the aerodrome at 5.00pm and continued his patrol arriving back at his home base at 5.40.

On the 25 August 1916 Cowan (5964) led the second Offensive patrol of the day with a 7.00 am start. The other pilots were Andrews (5998), Saundby (5925), Capon (6000), Yates (5967) and Glew (7864), Cowan and Yates were forced to land at Baizieux at 0800 and 0810, Yates was away again by 0820 and continued his patrol.

The following is extracted from a combat report written up by Andrews and Capon. “About 0800 am, 2 H.A., which with seven others had been patrolling the Bapaume – Peronne road attempted to come west between Achiet and Bapaume, flying at 9000 ft. Lt Capon dived from 13000 ft at one of these machines but the H.A. at once dived east and got out of range. Lt Capon then attacked the other machine firing a drum, but this also dived away in a spiral. Later Capt Andrews, with a Nieuport attacked two small fast H.A. over Bois – des – Vaux. He followed down to 4000 ft, firing half a drum at 100 yards range. Owing to engine trouble he was forced to break away. When his engine had picked up later Capt Andrews returned, but the H.A. had disappeared.” The report was signed off by Major Hawker.

Thursday the 31 of August 1916 was to be Capon’s last patrol with 24 Squadron when Capt Alan Machin Wilkinson D.S.O*. (7880) and Capon (7873) climbed into the air at 0910 am Defensive patrol. The patrol appears to have had a quiet start, but at about 1100 am, according to the combat report

“About 11 H.A. were observed attacking three F.E’s and some B.E. 12’s near Grevillers, but the deH’s were underneath. Climbing, Capt Wilkinson attacked the nearest, a Roland, which was engaged with a F.E. He fired 50 rounds at about 60 yards and the H.A., leaving the F.E, dived E(ast) under the deH. Capt Wilkinson followed but was attacked from behind by another Roland; this he succeeded in outmanoeuvring by spiralling upwards finally getting on the H.A.’s tail, firing 40 rounds at about 80 yards. The H.A. dived almost vertically, and was afterwards seen on the ground near Villers at 07b24 (Albert Com Sheet.)

Lt Capon, diving at a Roland, was shot through the leg below the knee; he finished his drum at close range and returning, landed successfully at Chipilly. 3 more Rolands approached to attack, but Capt Wilkinson climbed and they made off E as soon as he reached their height. Later Capt Wilkinson saw an L.V.G. approaching High Wood. He dived, keeping to a flank, and when within 70 yards, turned on to the H.A.’s tail. At this moment, Capt Wilkinson was fired on from behind, but he continued his attack on the L.V.G. under heavy fire from 4 Rolands, firing 50 rounds at about 20 yards range. The L.V.G dived vertically under the deH, and probably crashed, but Capt Wilkinson had to turn to meet the attack from behind. The four Roland’s were just above and manoeuvred to take advantage of the deH’s fixed gun, but Capt Wilkinson raised the mounting and engaged 3 of them with short burst. Apparently taken by surprise, the H.A. immediately retired E(ast), one going down steeply but apparently under control. Capt Wilkinson then retired owing to shortage of petrol, his emergency tank having been shot through. Also, two struts were damaged, two main spars pierced and six wires cut through.”

Capon returned to the aerodrome and was probably treated for his injuries by the medical officer who probably sent him to a casualty clearing station. He was struck off squadron strength the same day. On 2 September he was admitted to 2 Stationary Hospital, Abbeville for further treatment and then sent to Le Havre on 31 August and departed on the HMHS Asturias on the 2 September for Southampton. He was then transferred to 3 Western General Hospital, Fazakerly on the 4 September 1916. He appeared for a medical board at 1 Western General Hospital on 22 September and was assessed as unfit for any service for one month and given one months leave. On 23 October he attended another Medical Board in Chester and was graded as unfit for General Service for one month although fit Home Service, and return to his unit. On sixth December he was passed fit for General Service. Capon had accumulated exactly 101 hours of flying time.

Return to Joyce Green

After his leave Capon was posted back to Joyce Green and 10 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron under the command of Major Rainsford Balcombe Brown as a Flying Instructor. On 21 November 1916 he flew a Vickers FB 9 5286 and passenger Lt. Cox for a ten minute flight and duel landing. Later the same day he had a further three solo 10 minute flights. His last flight was on 14 January 1917 when he flew F.E. 6404 on a cross country flight from Joyce Green to Orfordness and return.

In January 1917 he was sent to Hythe for a course in the Vickers and Lewis guns, and some time after 14 January 1917 he was posted to 43 Reserve Squadron at Ternhill after 14 January 1917. According to his log book he knew in early February that he was posted to 66 squadron at Filton (there is no mention of this in his service record?) and then seconded to 43 RS. On the 3 February he took Avro 504A A522 for 20 minute flight. Unfortunately on landing he broke a longeron but was soon back in the air practising landings, side-slips and turns. On the 25 February 1917 he went solo in Bristol Scout 7037 and two more flights in the Bristol prepared him for his first flight in a Sopwith Scout, when later in the day he flew Scout A656 for 23 minutes. The next day he flew Sopwith Scout A651 twice, but whilst landing at the end of the second flight across-wind he crashed. The aeroplane was badly damaged (Later took part in an anti-Gotha patrol whilst serving with 37 Home Defence Squadron at Stow Maries). Later the same day in Scout A656 he became lost in a mist and after flying for 1hour 20 minutes he landed in a field near Eaton to ask where he was, he was certainly not the first or last pilot to do this!

France Again - 66 Squadron

On 2 March 2/Lt R. S. Capon reported for duty with 66 Squadron at Filton, near Bristol. On the 14 March 1917 he flew Sopwith Scout A665 from Filton to Basingstoke and then on to Dorking where he was forced to land owing to a broken oil pump. The machine was dismantled on site and removed to Farnborough for repair. This aeroplane had been allocated to 66 Squadron on 31 January 1917, and he may have been ferrying it to the squadron who by now were in France. (The aeroplane eventually made it to France serving with 46 Squadron). Capon made the trip to France by sea on 27 March 1917 and on 30 March 1917 he collected Scout A6162 from 1 Aircraft Depot at Candas, and on the 6 April he flew the same aeroplane on his first 66 Squadron Offensive Patrol. During the patrol he suffered a gun jam and the next day when flying 7301 he had another gun stoppage on his return to base. The last flight he recorded with 66 Squadron in his log book was on 13 April when he flew A3701 to Candas. On the 24 April, 66 squadron were detailed to provide an escort thought to be a 34 Squadron flight of R.A.F. R.E. 8’s on a bombing mission. 2/Lt Geoffrey W Robarts (A7324), Lt. Albert J Lucas (A6155), 2/Lt Angus Bell-Irving (A7303), 2/Lt Charles F Smith (A7323) and 2/Lt Robert S Capon (A6175) were due to meet their ward at 6.15 a.m. at 11000 ft, and fly the route Lens-Leforest-Roucourt-Cavrelle. They were continually harassed by four Albatros scout’s who dived down on them and climbed away. The patrol was only able to get off short bursts at the enemy. No H.A. was observed to go down but one Sopwith Scout went down in a spin and was not observed to land. Capon became the first squadron combat loss. In December 1918 after his return as a p.o.w. he reported to the newly created Royal Air Force that he had been attacked by four E.A. One of his cylinders had been hit and he lost contact with the formation. He was again attacked and was wounded in the hand. His throttle lever jammed, rendered immovable in banking and he was forced to land on the German side of the lines. Capon later wrote a very short account of the circumstances. “I was shot down about three weeks later (after the death of Lt. Sidney Stretton in flying accident) over Cambrai, escorting a squadron of bombers. A well grouped burst of shots through the instrument board terminated my active participation in the Great War. A bullet, evidently fired from behind the aircraft, passed through my hand, but otherwise I was not hit; yet the engine had evidently been hit, for it gave no sign of life beyond an occasional loud explosion, and in the small single seat seater aircraft I was flying it is difficult to see how the instrument board and the engine could be hit by the same volley and yet the pilot escape”. He landed in a field and was captured by the Germans and taken to the German headquarters where his damaged hand was dressed. He was visited by a jubilant German officer possibly Oberleutnant Heinrich Lorenze the commanding officer of Jasta 33 who were based at Villers-au-Tertre a few Kilometres South of Douai and north of Cambrai.

Prisoner of War

After capture Capon was taken under guard via Cambrai railway station to an unidentified village which was serving as a collection point for captured Officers possibly Le Cateau and from there he and his fellow prisoners were entrained for Karlsruhe Camp. Capon notes that whilst on the train he and his companions for the first time discussed escaping. . At the station the ten prisoners were greeted by a gloating crowd asking their nationalities; to which one of the group replied “Americana” with favourable results.

In his memoir “Escape Fever” Lt Geoffrey Parker Harding and pilot Lt Gerald Sidney French of 25 Squadron were shot down on 1 May 1917 whilst flying FE2b A815. Harding describes his first impressions of Karlsruhe (town) as “favourable with broad well kept streets leading from the station were the finest he had seen in a provincial continental town.”

On arrival at the town the prisoners were confined to single rooms which in peacetime had been a hotel. Harding gives further details. On arrival at a converted hotel which was used for the reception of prisoners Harding was confined to a small room with three other prisoners, the room overlooked the back yards of some villas. The room was clean but cramped and the food was rather scanty, varied from day to day, and was served by a Russian prisoner. Soon after arrival they were issued with forms in English requesting information about his name, rank, d.o.b. and n.o.k., unit, army, corps, division, brigade, flying officers, group, wing and squadron. If the prisoner did not fill in all the required information he was visited by his captors who tried to cajole him into giving the missing information. The prisoners were given a bath and had their clothes fumigated whilst bathing, their room was searched thoroughly and personnel items confiscated. Later some were returned but not all. Harding was then given 48 hours solitary confinement and interrogated further by the prison staff. After some 10 days the prisoners were marched through the town to the main camp proper. The site was on the grounds of the Karlsruhe Fair. Accommodation consisted wooden huts which he describes as clean and reasonably comfortable, whilst the commissariat left much to de desired. He described the subsistent food provision as a 1 inch slice of bread. For Breakfast a cup of imitation coffee, lunch a place of soup (know as “aquarium water” from the fact that the only evidence of anything which might be thought to contain nutriment was some green leaves not dissimilar from pond weed), about two square inches of meat, two or three small potatoes and a small piece of cream cheese. For supper yet more soup and a small piece of cheese. Like Harding (Harding escaped from Ströhen reaching Holland on 5/6 October 1917.) after some six weeks along with about fifty others Capon’s next camp was to be Ströhen. The journey from Karlsruhe to Ströhen was made by train along the Rhine Valley to Hanover. The camp was situated on a moor north of the road between the villages of Ströhen and Wagenfeld. The camp accommodation was in wooden huts and had previously housed Russian and Serbian p.o.w.’s. At Ströhen the food was very poor and many of the prisoners were badly undernourished. The camp had its own group of thespians; one review they put on began with the words “Come to sunny Ströhen with its golden sands and its beautiful blue lagoons”. Capon describes the camp as a detestable spot. The golden sands were a mess of dirty earth; the “blue lagoons” were two of three muddy ponds intended to drain off the all too plentiful water from the peat bog in which the camp was situated. The camp huts were not very clean and the mattresses were stuffed with paper. At the end of the first six weeks one of the lumps was a ginger beer bottle! Despite all this he notes it was the pleasantest camp he visited, it was within easy reach of the Dutch boarded which was some 40 miles away across the moorland was the Ems river, once across it was a few miles border. He notes “The whole camp was escape mad” every two or three weeks they were heartened with the news of another successful escapee reaching England. Capon joined a group of men who were tunnelling. The tunnel ran from a point beneath the floor of a hut situated about 20 ft from the boundary of the camp. As there was no cover outside the camp at the point selected under whose shelter they could emerge, they decided on the following scheme. When they were sure they had arrived at a point a yard or two outside the barbed wire boundary fence they would work towards the surface, supporting the earth with props until only a few inches of earth remained. They intended to allow this to fall in by removing the props at the moment when the sentry was at the end of his beat furthest removed from the tunnel and bolt for it. A dark night was to be chosen and the party would consist of six men. The first job was to calculate the distance required, and then they removed several floor boards which were fitted with dummy nails. Tunnelling began through the soft earth, very soft, after a few feet of tunnelling the roof fell in, fortunately before they emerged from under the hut. After observing that the boards used to support tier beds were hard and not very springy they and it was decided to use them in an inverted V structure, the beds were duly partially stripped of boards as needed with the unfortunate next donor being distracted by a visit to the canteen whist the boards were removed. The next problem to overcome was the foul air and the need to provide fresh air to the worker at the face. This was overcome buy the construction of a centrifugal pump using a cigarbox and pasteboard but they were delayed by the construction of a pipe for sometime. This was resolved by wrapping cloth on a broom handle, then coating with adhesive purchased in the canteen and then removing the handle. Work continued under the constant fear of being found out. Capon never got to see the tunnel finished. He attempted to escape from the camp bathroom. This had been used by a chap called Knight to make the first successful escape. Capon and an accomplice devised a plan to remain in the room following a bathing parade. There was a barred window at the side of the bathroom facing away from the camp and a short distance away a boiler on wheels with an opening at one end provided with a swinging door. The boiler did not appear to be used and he thought how pleasant it would be to be ensconced in it waiting for nightfall. The one problem was the bars on the window which were of iron about 1 inch wide and 1 ½ inches thick. Mentioning this to a friend he was informed that a table knife could be used to cut metal that was not too hard by striking the edges of two knives together so as to make a saw. They immediately brought some knives from the canteen, prepared them and tried them on a metal bar of a window in their hut. To their surprise they found that rapid progress could be made; the knife became ineffective after a few minutes but with a supply of newly prepared knives they calculated that if the material of the bars of the bath room window was not harder than that which they used in their experiment they could cut through a bar in about twenty minutes. The friend went with the first bathing party and cut through the bar as far as he could. Capon was to follow in the next parade and finish the job and hide in the boiler. A distraction was arranged to fool the guard counting the party that all was correct. The plan went as expected, the bar was cut, Capon was having smuggled in a haversack with food, compass and a map, removed the severed bar and stepped through the window – and as he did a German solider with a rifle stepped out of the door adjoining the window. Capon was sentenced to a month solitary confinement in the camp, which he describes at “the pleasantest period I spent as a prisoner of war”. The routine was not too harsh and by bribing the guards small comforts could be obtained. Exercise was taken in pairs on the quadrangle, and improvised game of squash and tennis could be played against a wall. Chess was played by shouting the moves to your opponent although confusion could arise if several games were in progress at the same time. There was no close supervision in the evenings and the men took full advantage visiting each others rooms and arranged gramophone and bridge parties. During his four month stay at Ströhen some 20 odd men are thought to have escaped. As was the custom following an escape attempt Capon was transferred to Holzminden sometime in the late autumn of 1917.

On arriving at Holzminden he was met the brother of his last camp Kommandant Karl Niemeyer. Niemeyer lectured on the excellence of the anti-escape measures he had taken and the hopelessness of any attempt to circumvent them.

A memorable phrase lived in Capons memory “you think I know nothing but I know damned all”. Within a few days of Capons arrival, a morning parade disclosed that twenty one prisoners were missing by entering the German quarters and disguised as a German working party had passed the sentry. Capon and a friend devised a plan to cross no mans land between the building and the wire by constructing a bridge. Unfortunately his memoir finishes at this point.

Thwarted escape from Clausthal Camp

Capon's MiDAfter his spell in Holzminden he was sent to Clausthal. Hamilton E. Hervey in his book “Cage-Birds” he mentions Capon’s part in a tunnel escape attempt in late July 1918. Apparently Capon’s was one of the original 15 men who comprised the tunnelling party. The team included 2/Lt’s Hamilton E. Hervey, Brian.G. Horrocks (later of Arnham fame), John S. Heagerty, Robert Trattles, Ralph R. MacIntosh, Arthur A Baerlin, Robert S. Capon, Lt. Joseph H. Honeysett M.C.(Honeysett was shot whilst attempting to escape from Strohen Camp in October 1917), Henry T. Hammond, Davis and six other unknown men, two of which were Australians. Capon’s major contribution was to play the piano for hours and try to hide the sound of the men under ground digging away. If he changed the tune to “The Campbells are coming” this warned the men that the sentries were approaching, and he would change the tune to “Onward Christian Soldiers” sounded the all clear. The tunnel was discovered following a search of the Camp on 24 July 1918. Despite the disappointment over the discovery of the tunnel a few days later the camp heard about the escape from Holzminden where 29 men had got away. Capon was eventually repatriated to England eventually arriving at Kingston upon Hull on 30 December 1918. He was given eight weeks leave. On 22 August he was gazetted Lt P Flying Officer “A” with effect from 1 August 1919 and on the appointment to a regular commission in the RAF he resigned his Army Commission with the Territorial Force on 13 October 1920.

Test Flying

On 2 March 1919 Capon was posted to Martlesham Heath and the Armament Experimental Establishment, Martlesham Heath on the 10th he flew two check flights in Be2c 6592 and then went solo on the third flight of the day. On the 26 March he was posted to the Wireless Telephony Experimental Establishment at Biggin Hill. He reacquainted himself with the FE on 7 April when he took 9108 for a short 30 minute flight. Another change on the 19 September saw him posted to the Ministry of Munitions (Department of Aircraft Production). Whilst engaged in this work he did a considerable amount of work flying out of Croydon and had his first flight in a Martynsyde F3 and in a Bristol Fighter. On 25 August he took off in Avroe 504 D7582 which suffered engine failure while taking off, struck some trees. The next day he had his first flight in a Bristol Fighter F4670 which he flew from Croydon to Martlesham suffering a faulty radiator during the flight. Further detachments were made to 1 D. Establishment Biggin Hill. In November 1920 and again in June 1921 he was posted from the Air Ministry to the Department of Research Armament & Gunnery School, Eastchurch where he was in charge as an armament Instructor.

In April 1923 Capon made Chief Technical Officer of Performance Measurement at Martlesham Heath. This was a short term posting as he was expecting to leave shortly for a post in Australia as an astronomer. On his arrival at Martlesham Heath the staff consisted of himself and an assistant. (At the time Performance Measurement reports averaged four pages of data, this would increase 32 measurement points in 1927. This involved the expansion of the Department with the Employment of six assistants as the work became more complicated. Capon introduced a more scientific method of testing). Capon introduced many new developments in testing methods including the introduction of airspeed indicators calibrated for temperature, the use of cameras, the introduction of the Askania stratoscope and the introduction of altimeter calibration (for more information see British Flight Testing Martlesham Heath 1920-1939). In 1923 he was involved in the founding and development of Pattern Bombing. He was posted temporarily to various units testing and evaluating equipment. On 1 July 1924 he was posted from Armament & Gunnery School to Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath for technical duties.

In 1925 he resigned his commission to join the staff of an Observatory in Australia (Mount Stromlo Observatory?). His last flight was on 27 June 1924 when he flew DH 9 E938 with F.O. Fitzgerald. The Observatory was under construction and due to the delays he accepted a post with the Aeroplane & Armaments Experimental Establishment as Civilian Technical Officer and later joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough becoming Principal Scientific Officer and then Superintendent of Scientific Research. In the New Years Honours list 1931 he was awarded an O.B.E for his services. Between 1937 and 1941 he was Deputy Director of Research and Development in Armament and was located at the Air Ministry acting as Director for short periods. His contract was extended in 1941 for another five years until his retirement in 1946.

Australia

In 1948 he and his family emigrated to Melbourne Australia. The family departed Liverpool docks on 16 August 1947 aboard The Blue Funnel Line TSS Nestor under the command of Capt. E.W. Powell bound for Melbourne. Once in Australia he undertook further study of mathematics and also studied quantum mechanics. In 1951 he started lecturing at the Adelaide University mathematics department in fluid dynamics, classical mechanics and differential equations; he published three papers during this period. In 1955 – 56 he took the Sir Thomas Cherry lectures at Melbourne University. Between 1956 – 1965 he translated and re-assessed Sophus Lie’s Theorie der continuerliche Transformationsgruppen publishing a monograph on the same in 1966. Robert Stanley Capon died at his home in Kew, Melbourne, Australia on 22 July 1975.

 

 

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