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66 Squadron, RFC & RAF, 1916 to 1919

Nobbs, Charles Henry Ffrench

A Maori in the RFC

There has always been a close relationship between the South Pacific Islands of Pitcairn and Norfolk. But due to Pitcairn becoming over crowded and Norfolk almost deserted in 1856 one hundred and ninety four Pitcairn Islanders landed on Norfolk to re-colonise Norfolk.

Charles Chas Ray Nobbs can trace his family back through marriage to Fletcher Christian and Agnes to Matthew Quintal of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. Charles Henry ffrench Nobbs, “Harry” as he was known by his family and “Nobby” to his friends, was one of sixteen children born to Charles C R Nobbs and his wife Agnes nee’ Quintal of Norfolk Island. The family of farmers resided at Moira and Harry was born there on 18 June 1895. He was educated at the Norfolk Island School and in 1911 he was sent to his father’s old school, Kings School Paramatta, Australia where he studied from 1911 - 13.

The 6th Light Horse Regt and Australian Forces in Galliopili

After leaving Kings School Harry, according to his RAF record was employed as a Clerk at an unknown location, although his British Army record says he was Farmer grazier. On the 10 September 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force’s 6 Light Horse Regt. as a Trooper (Private) service number 161. The Commanding Officer of the 6th was Lt Col C F Fox CB, CMG, DSO, VD. 6 LHR was a component of the 2 Light Horse Brigade commanded by Brigadier General Granville Ryrie. The Brigade consisted of 5, 6 & 7 Light Horse Regiments, 2 Machine Gun Squadron and 2 Signal Troop. The 6 LHR was raised at Holsworthy Military Camp New South Wales, training of the new soldiers took place at Roseberry Park, Rosehill, Liverpool NSW.

On the 21 December 1914 the 2 Light Horse Brigade embarked on HMAT Suevic (A29) at Finger Wharf Woolloomooloo, Sydney, bound for Egypt. The Suevic was only capable of 13 knots and it was not until 1 February 1915 that the Brigade was able to disembark at Alexandria Egypt. Training under local conditions was undertaken at Maadi. During training it was found that horses were not suitable for the early operations taking place in Gallipoli and the regiment were re-trained as riflemen. The 6th were landed at ANZAC Cove on 20 May 1915 and now under the command of 1 Australian Division they deployed to the far right of the ANZAC line playing a defensive role until they left the peninsula on 20 December 1915.

Harry’s Australian Imperial Forces records lead me to believe that he landed at ANZAC Cove on 6 August 1915, although I cannot say why he was not landed with the main party on the 20 May. On the 19 September after deploying to the line, Harry was taken ill with Lumbago and evacuated to the hospital ship Guildford Castle (F27). He was admitted to 19 General Hospital Alexandria on the 26 September. He was diagnosed with Peritonitis and on 1 November admitted to 1 Australian General Hospital, Heliopolis. After treatment he returned to duty on 13 November and by 27 December had rejoined “A” squadron, 6 Light Horse Regiment at Maardi.

The Royal Flying Corps

On March 1 1916 Harry was taken on the strength of 2 Light Horse Reserve Regiment also at Maadi, he stayed with the regiment until he departed Alexandria on 1 May 1916 on board S.S. Euripides for the U.K.

Once there, he was posted to the Australian Army Pay Corps on the 10 May and then, on 14 August to 1 Command Depot, Perham Down, near Andover. From 1 Command Depot he was posted to the Australian Army Pay Corps on the 21 August stationed at Bhurtpore Barracks, Tidworth. It would appear that whilst on the strength of the Army Pay Corps and stationed at Administration Headquarters at 130 Horseferry Road, London that he applied to join the Royal Flying Corps on the 22 September 1916.On 12 October 1916 the Australian Imperial Force sent a letter to the British War Office informing them that the following men had been appointed to a commission in the R.F.C.

Q.M.S. Eirtle Charles Clark – Australian Army Veterinary Corps.
L/Cpl Harold Edwin Rydon – 9 Infantry Battalion.
Cpl James Cowan – F.A. Brigade.
W.O. R. A. Whitelaw – D.A.P.S.
Trooper Charles H. F. Nobbs – 6 L.H.R.

On 16 November 1916 he was posted to the recently formed Cadet Battalion at Denham, (this became 1 Wing on 1 July 1917).

His first posting was to 3 School of Military Aeronautics at Exeter College Oxford, on 26 January 1917. The School was one of the RFC’s probationary officer ground training schools. Students were taught subjects like the theory of flight, rigging and mechanics. From the Cadet Battalion he was posted to 12 Reserve Squadron which were based at Thetford, for basic flying training, and on 18 April to 53 Reserve Squadron at nearby Narborough. The latter was equipped with a mix of Avro 504, Be2c, DH6 and RE8 aircraft.

Also located at Narborough was 62 RS and Harry took his Central Flying School A certificate examination with the squadron on 4 June and was immediately appointed a Flying Officer and confirmed in the rank of 2/Lt. Although his record does not record it, further instruction would have continued with 62 RS and when he reached the required number of flying hours or standard he would probably have had a short aerial gunnery course that would have lasted a week or so before posting to his first service squadron. Harry was formally discharged from the A.I.F. in England on 16 March 1917.

66 Squadron France 1917

Lt CHF NobbsHarry landed in France on the 28 July 1917; and was posted to 66 Squadron from the pilot’s pool the next day. The squadron was a component of 9 Wing which reported directly to R.F.C. Headquarters in France. The squadron was based at Estrèe Blanche a small village in the Pas de Calais on the modern day D341 and under the command of Major George L. P. Henderson M.C, the squadron was equipped with the Sopwith Scout which was as former A Flight Commander Capt John O Andrews noted was démodé as a combat aeroplane and was being replaced in other squadrons by the Sopwith Camel or SE5A. Englishman Andrews returned to Home Establishment on 16 July 1917 and another Australian 2/Lt Patrick G (Bill) Taylor was given command of A flight and promoted to Captain. Harry was posted to A flight on his arrival at Estrèe Blanche. At the time 66 were supporting the Army during the ongoing Third battle of Ypres. Harry took part in twenty four Offensive Patrols the last of which was on the twentieth of September 1917 when 2/Lt John M Warnock (A6242) led Harry Nobbs (A6183) on a Special patrol, on his return Warnock reported that he led a “special patrol along the canal from Armentieres to Menin, the clouds being at a height of 50 ft. He came out of the clouds over some railway sidings east of Menin and dropped four 20 lb. Cooper bombs on to 30 or 40 trucks, afterwards firing 70 rounds at transports, motor lorries and a team of six horses drawing a wagon. He was then attacked by a German two-seater which dived on him through the clouds”, Warnock returned fire and the E.A. got away

On his return to the U.K. on 3 January 1919 in a written report completed by all p.o.w’s 2/Lt Harry reported to the Air Ministry that he was captured near Polygon Wood. He stated that they were, “Sent out in bad weather to bomb and strafe aerodrome (N of Courtrai).and failed to locate the aerodrome on account of bad weather. Proceeded to return to the lines but encountered and engaged E.A. which went down through clouds after my first burst – later encountered five E.A. over lines but evaded them by diving into clouds. Continued under clouds towards lines then observed several battalions of German Infantry on the march and in (unclear) formation near the road so dived to attack with machine gun fire, much confusion and casualties observed (subsequently confirmed from German sources) [but] finally brought down by fire from ground during third dive. Not wounded. Unable to destroy machine as crashed amongst German soldiers who very nearly lynched me but managed to delay matter by feigning to be wounded till arrival of German Officer who escorted me at a run for 2 or 3 miles followed by a great crowd of shouting German soldiery from whom all semblance of order or discipline apparently disappeared.” His effects were sent to a relative Mr H W Scott who was residing in Chiswick/Acton area of Middlesex at a later date.

Nobbs with his bandIt is not known exactly where and in which order Harry was held as a P.O.W., but it is thought that he was held at Schweidnitz and Holzminden. He met a number of prisoners including James B Hine another 66 Squadron pilot who was captured on 28 July 1917. Amongst some of the other men he met were 2/Lt Sidney A. Sharp 40 Sqn, Lt. Robert E Fisher. 12/13 Northumberland Fusiliers, Capt William S. R. Bloomfield, 2/Lt Victor O. Lonsdale both 57 Sqn, 2/Lt Ernest A. Marchant 216 Sqn, Capt George. Chadwick 19 Sqn, Capt Thomas J. Morrill 4 Bn East Yorks Regt, Capt J. T. Preston Lincolnshire Regt, Charles Walters RN, Lt H. Latham Suffolk Regt, Lt Richard T. Leighton 56 Sqn, 2/Lt C. E. Stuart RFC, R. H. Richardson RFC, Lt W. D. Chambers RFC, 2/Lt Charles A. R. Shum 23 Sqn, J .Clarke HMT Hunsfall RN, Capt J. Blaikie HMT Caledonia, and Capt. Hon. Michael C. H. Bowes-Lyon the elder brother of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen mother with whom “Nobby” got along with quite well and on visits to the U.K.

Harry arrived back in the U.K. on 3 January 1919 landing at Leith. He was then sent on leave and then he was put on the disposal list on 1 April 1919 and finally the unemployed list on 22 June 1919, although he had departed from the U.K on 8 May 1919 to Norfolk Island via Sydney on the S S Devana. Harry returned to Norfolk Island at a date unknown.

After the war On the 19 June 1925 Harry was posted as Flying Officer Citizens Air Force, RAAF Richmond NSW. On the 18 March 1926 he suffered an accident in RAAF DH9 A6-5. The aircraft was written off the following year after a crash which killed both the crew Flt Lt R I Dines and Cpl J Ramsden RAAF.

it is known that he was working as an Aerodrome Manager aviation in the Papua, New Guinea area in 1929, during the same year he re-visited England arriving at Southampton the 11 April, he was on his own, and his rank and occupation given as Captain, Aerodrome Manager. He gave a London address in King William Street.

He married Audrey Copperthwaite who had connections with the Malton, Yorkshire Brewers Messrs Russell on 20 March 1930, they had two children.

When WW2 broke out he tried to re-join the R.A.F, but later became a leading figure in the Local Defence Volunteers which later became the Home Guard, eventually rising to the rank of Major, and commanded the “A” Company 7th North Riding Battalion for three years. Harry Nobbs died on 7 January 1946 and his wife Audrey on 25 August 1984.


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