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66 Squadron, RFC & RAF, 1916 to 1919

Purves, Stanley Stuart Beattie


Scotsman Purves was trained in higher aviation by 66 Squadron during the autumn of 1916 and after more advance training he joined 19 Squadron. In late 1916 flying the BE12, 19 Squadron started to convert to SPAD SVII’s in October 1916 with the last BE12 being withdrawn by early February 1917. He was to fly both types whilst with the squadron and he was shot down captured on 19 March 1917.

Stanley Stuart Beattie Purves was born on 29 June 1893 at 3 Bennochy Terrace, Kirkcaldy to Mary and Alexander Purves, a draper. Tragedy stuck the family when some three years later his mother died and the young Purves was brought up by his father. He was educated at Kirkcaldy High School for three years where he was a member of the school O.T.C. He attended the Kirkcaldy School of Science and Art studying mechanical engineering, where he won the Douglas and Grant medallion 1910-11. Once he left high school he was offered a position with Douglas & Grant Ltd (Millwrights & General Engineers) as an engineer, working in their Fitting, Erecting Shops and Drawing Office. It would seem that he was sponsored as a day student by the company and attended Harriot Watt College, Edinburgh between 1911 and 1914 when once again he was presented with another medallion for the Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering (Day) (2nd Year) course 1912-13. In September 1914 he enlisted in the Scottish Horse Regiment, a Yeomanry Regiment. Purves became Private S. S. B. Purves s/n 802. On 22 September 1914 at the Regimental Depot in Dunkeld he agreed to waive his right to only serve in Home Forces and agreed to serve abroad when and where needed. He was posted to the newly created 3rd Regiment 1st Scottish Horse on the same day, on the 17 April 1915. He was promoted to Lance Corporal and graded as a Motor Cyclist – despatch rider.

The Royal Flying Corps

Purves as 2/LtMore promotion followed when on 26 December he was Commissioned as a 2/Lt in the 3/1st. One of his testimonials for his commission noted that Purves was “anxious to get a transfer to the Royal Naval Air Service”. It was not the R.N.A.S. that he was destined to serve with but the Royal Flying Corps. On 29 May 1916 he attended a medical board at the Military Hospital Perth, not far from his Regimental H.Q. at Dunkeld. He was passed fit for service and seconded from the regiment to the R.F.C. reporting to the R.F.C. 1 School of Instruction at Reading on 5 July 1916 for Officer Training and later the same month to 27 Reserve Squadron at Gosport for basic flying training. This completed he was then posted to 66 Squadron at Patchway arriving late on the 31 August 1916. The squadron under the command of Major Reginald G. D. Small (Leinster Regt.) was tasked with training new pilots to the level of “higher instruction” to take the Central Flying School officer pilots “A” certificate. The squadron was equipped with a mixed inventory of aeroplanes. There were three Flights, with a mix of Avro 504A, B.E.12, B.E. 2c and B.E.2d machines. Purves graduated after taking his flying examination with 54 Squadron, based at Castle Bromwich on 21 October and was awarded his certificate, wings and promoted to Flying Officer on the same day. He then returned to 66 Squadron, attached for two days before returning again to 54 Squadron for further advanced instruction on the 23rd. During November 1916 he was posted to 34 R.S. which was based at Castle Bromwich until 13 November when it moved to Ternhill. 34 R.S. was equipped with nine Avro 504’s, three Bristol Scout D, and nine Sopwith 1½ Strutters. After taking the course in December he was again posted out, this time to 55 Squadron at Lilbourne equipped with the Avro 504 and B.E.2c.

France with 19 Squadron

Purves in RFCOn the 27 December he was posted to 19 Squadron which was located at Fienvillers in France. 19 Squadron at the time was in the process of changing it’s somewhat out classed BE12 for a full complement of new SPAD VII’s.
On 4 January 1917 he flew BE12 6619 for 25 minutes and making two landings but was later forced to return to the aerodrome with a broken oil pipe. The next day the 5 January he flew a 45 minute practice flight in 6638; the only problem was with the oil pressure gauge which ceased to register just before landing. Later in the afternoon he took 6588 out for an uneventful practice flight; leaving the aerodrome at 14.50 hrs flying via Doullens and Authie.
Purves first combat patrol was on the 7 January when 2/Lt Geoffrey S Bozman left the aerodrome at 14.00 hrs leading a line patrol along the line Hebuterne – Sailly – Saillisel along with Capt John C M Hay and Purves in 6626. Bozman amongst other faults, reported his aeroplane 6594 had a missing cylinder and knocking badly, a tappet rod was broken on number 7 cylinder, the only thing that appears to have been satisfactory about this aeroplane was the Lewis gun. He returned to the aerodrome at 14.25 hrs. Hay was flying 6626 the patrol was abandoned. On his return he reported the machine and engine as “Satisfactory”. Purves returned at the same time as Bozman and reported his engine was only doing 1400 r.p.m developing an air speed of only 60 m.p.h. He must have decided to do a few circuits and bumps when he arrived over the aerodrome, at 14.30 hrs whilst at 200 ft the engine cut out and he landed breaking his propeller against a fence.
A solo morning practice flight on the 9 January in 6588 was terminated after 15 minutes, the motor was producing 1430 r.p.m but threatening to cut out, he landed and had the jets checked. He took the same machine up in the afternoon and landed after three minutes with the engine cutting out again. On the 16 January Purves flew 6640 making three landings all was satisfactory.
Purves’ next combat patrol was on the 23 January along the line Hebuterne – Sailly – Saillisel at 9,500 ft. The patrol left the aerodrome in two flights of two at 13.07 hrs; 2/Lt Andrew Binnie in 6652 and Purves in 6594 departed followed at 13.10 hrs 2/Lt John W. Baker in 6640 and lastly Lt Cuthbert A S Bean with 6632. Bean returned at 13.35 hrs with engine trouble and took off again in 6638 only to force land at Fillievres. Apart from this it was an uneventful patrol. On the 24 January Purves took 6553 up for a 14 minute test flight, the machine and motor behaved satisfactorily.
On 27 January a four machine line patrol departed at 1.00 p.m. to patrol Hebuterne – Sailly – Saillisel consisting of Lt William E Reed (6640), 2/Lt Frank S Wilkins (later 66 Squadron), 2/Lt Purves (6594) and Lt Augustus H Orelbar (6638). Reed returned at 13.50 hrs with motor trouble, no pressure in his main tank and the motor cutting out twice. Wilkins landed at Bertangles, 21 Squadron’s aerodrome for 45 minutes owing to engine trouble. One spark plug terminal was broken and four other plugs were oiled up. Purves landed alongside Wilkins and then returned to his home aerodrome to request assistance, meanwhile Orelbar was forced to land east of Vert Galland when his engine seized due to an oil pipe breaking. On the last day of the month (31st) Purves took BE 12 6652 up for a satisfactory practice flight lasting 45 minutes.
On 1 February he delivered BE 12 6652 to 1 Aircraft Depot at St Omer and stayed for a short course of Instruction in Flying Scouts. I imagine that this was a short course to introduce Purves to the SPAD, returning to the squadron on the 8th.
Purves had returned to 19 Squadron by 14 February, when he had a 30 minute practice flight in SPAD A6663. The next day commencing at 09.22 hrs he flew a 2½ hr test flight in A312. He reported that he reached 10,000ft in 13½ minutes, and reached 15,000 ft in 14½ minutes later. His Speed at 10,000 ft was approximately 95 mph at 1475 rpm. He tested his gun into the sea and reported such to Wing M.G.O. (Machine Gun Officer). The engine was only running on one magneto and vibrating. After he had landed he found out that the radiator plates had come loose, scratching the propeller.
Following some adjustments another test flight lasting 30 minutes on the 16 February in A312, found the engine much improved by widening the spark plug gaps on the left hand side. The engine produced 1430 rpm at ground level, time to 4,500 ft was 4 ½ minutes, 120 mph at 1,000 ft engine rpm 1,600. Another 10 minute test flight on the 26 February in A6642 found the engine running hot when the temperature rose to 85º at 4,000 ft. The radiator was leaking, and engine vibrating.
2/Lt Purves first combat Patrol flight in a SPAD came on 2 March. (One of six aeroplanes led by Capt George B.A. Baker (A6627), to patrol the line Gommecourt - Puisieux-au-Mont-Irles – Le Transloy.) The patrol was abandoned at 20 minutes due to a low cloud base of 2000 ft. Purves flew A312 and returned with a faulty petrol pressure pump which was not working properly. The other members of the patrol were Lt. John D Canning (A6662), 2/Lt F.S. Wilkins (A661), Lt. A.H. Orelbar (A6663) and Lt Frederick L. Harding (A263). Purves machine was immediately looked at by the ground staff and he test flew it at 15.07 hrs and the pressure was found to be too high and he returned for further rectification work.
On 4 March he was one of a three machine flight that flew a line patrol along Gommecourt – Le Transloy. 2/Lt Wilkins (A6661) returned after 65 minutes with defective radiator plates. Wilkins then took off in A6634 patrolling the line Gommecourt – Sailly Saillisel, which had been tested that morning by Major H.D. Harvey-Kelly. Lt J.M. Child patrolled Gommecourt – Sailly – Saillisel. He descended to inspect possible H.A. but formation did not follow him down so he finished the patrol alone. Purves (A312) patrolled the line Gommecourt – Sailly – Saillisel – Bapaume. He tested his guns suffering a no 3 stoppage which he could not clear, immediately afterwards he saw two unidentified H.A. about 400 yards east of him, described as one large biplane and another. He followed to the east for a mile or so, and then dropped off “as I easily out climbed him”. His engine was vibrating due to one terminal having broken and holding down bolts working slightly loose. Following the patrol he was sent to Paris on temporary duty (reason not given).
On the 19 March Capt William J. Cairnes (A312), Capt G.B.A. Baker (A6627) and Purves (A6633) left at 08.10 hrs to patrol Cambrai – Marquion - Le – Catelet. The patrol when over Bois de Bourlon at 13,500 ft at 08.40 hrs they came across what Capt Baker described as a large two seater accompanied by two Albatros Scouts. Baker dived on the E.A. firing about 20 rounds at the two seater with Cairnes and Purves following. The E.A. flew off to the east over Cambrai. The patrol reformed and continued on towards Le Catelet, the E.A. then came up to the SPAD patrol. The German two-seater started firing at long range, the patrol altered course to engage the two-seater and Baker suffered a No 4 stoppage after a few rounds and broke off to reload and in consequence lost the formation. Cairnes reported that he followed Capt Baker on patrol and when over Bois de Bourlon he saw two hostile machines manoeuvring about. As Cairnes started to climb to get above the E.A. he was attacked from behind by another unidentified E.A. Cairnes turned sharply and continued to climb, the German aeroplane made off in the opposite direction. His engine began to overheat so he turned for home, diving to cool the engine, but when he opened the engine up it soon stared to overheat again. On crossing the lines the engine could not be used at all and he landed at Ginchy. On examination he found bullet holes in the radiator and one engine bearer.
After the war he reported that his capture was only partly due to enemy action.

In a report written on his return to the U.K. he reported that he left the ground about 08.00 hrs in the tail position of three machines (Baker and Cairnes) with Baker in the lead. About eight miles over the line they met a similar formation of three machines E.A. The tail man was about 500ft above the first two machines. Capt Baker attacked one of the lower machines and Purves attacked the tail man who was about 200ft above him, he tried to get to the E.A. but could not, although he noted that he should have easily been able to out climb them. After the first few minutes Purves never saw the other members of his patrol. The two lower Albatrai got above him and repeatedly dived and climbed up again. He went on to say that his machine 6331 had been rebuilt after an earlier crash but the radiator plates had not been replaced. The SPAD gradually lost power as Purves crossed the lines gaining height, the temperature not rising above 62° degrees. He was engaged by three Albatrai over Cambrai – St Quentin. His aileron control jammed due to a Bowden cable from the trigger fouling some pipe fittings, he went into a spin for about 500ft discovering the trouble. On opening up the throttle the engine was very feeble, and he tried to reach the French Lines, but the engine gave out, he could not continue to glide as the enemy was on his tail and he went down landing near Homblières. On landing he managed to rectify the fault but was pulled off the SPAD by German troops before he could get away.
Two Germans claimed the victory, Hauptmann Paul von Osterroht (K.I.A. 23 April 1917) from Jasta 12 at 08.40 hrs near Roisel - Templeux and at 09.10 hrs Leutnant Kurt Schneider from Jasta 5 also at Homblières. (Schneider died on 14 July 1917 following combat with a RFC squadron.) On the 24 March Purves was “struck of strength” of the squadron effective from the 19th.

Prisoner of War

Purves as POWIn the British National Archives at Kew in class W0161 are the accounts of returning prisoners of war and their experiences of the camps and treatment they experienced. These accounts were written up on their return to the U.K. Amongst the list of men’s names is that of S S B Purves report number 381. Unfortunately this report was “weeded out” at some time in the past along with other men from the Holzminden mass escape.
It is not known how or when exactly Purves arrived at Holzminden camp; I think it is safe to assume that Purves must have tried to escape from one of other camps he was held in and was duly sent to Holzminden which appears to have been the camp where many of the most troublesome prisoners were kept under the eye of Hauptmann Karl Niedermier.
He might at one of these camps met 2/Lt J.(Jock) K Tullis RFC, who was captured on the 6 September 1916 whist flying 70 Squadron Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter A668. Tullis and his Observer 2/Lt J C Taylor were both destined to escape captivity, Taylor on 27 December 1917 and Tullis later in July 1918.
In 1921 following his return to England, Tullis gave a talk to a group of people where he lived and the manuscript tells of his last flight, capture and experiences of the different Camps he was held in. He lists the following camps, Gutersloh, Osnabrück, Clausthal, Ströhen and Holzminden.
It is thought that Purves and Tullis had met before, possibly when Purves joined the Scottish Horse, but according to the Army Lists Tullis had been in the RFA (Royal Field Artillery) prior to joining the RFC. Purves’ family lore also has it that Purves was billeted in Holzminden B Block and Tullis in A block and that Purves managed to bribe a guard to let Tullis join him. Purves and Tullis were not part of the “working party” that had designed, surveyed and constructed the tunnel; they were part of a group of men who were selected to follow the working party out. According to Tullis’ escape account, a Tunnel Committee had been formed to select the men who were to follow the “working party”. A decision was taken that preference should be given to Officers who had escaped before and who had refused to go to Holland on the Neutral Country exchange which was an agreement that after 18 months captivity Officers of both countries should be allowed to proceed to Holland where they would have to remain until the end of the war. The next group to be allocated a place were Officers who, in the eyes of the experienced Committee would put up a good show if they did get out. According to Durnford the Senior British Officer Lt. Col Charles E. H. Rathborne (RMLI, RNAS & RAF) was the first man to follow the working party. The week before the escape Tullis and his friend (Purves) spent a lot of time studying the best route to follow, preparing their food packs, and clothes. Provisions included ships biscuits dipped in melted dripping, stoned dates, large amount of chocolate, meat cubes, Plasmon oats (As advertised in the Illustrated London News) which were compressed and mixed with Horlick’s Malted Milk, soup cubes, tins of sausages, trench cookers, wax blocks with a wick in the middle to cook their one hot meal each day. The provisions were divided into daily rations and tied up in waterproof bundles so that when crossing rivers they would remain as dry as possible. Clothing for the journey was also prepared. Tullis carried two pairs of socks, warm under clothes and a silk shirt. He had to find a way to keep his clothing dry when crossing any water and he treated his Burberry coat with a thick coating of melted fat rubbed into the fabric, to test the efficacy of the arrangement he tested it by putting his boots, clothes and food packs in the coat, then wrapped them and tied with string and tested in a tin bath of water and all were found to be dry after 15 minutes immersion.

The Great Escape - 23/24th August 1918

On the evening of the escape after the blocks were made secure by the Germans. Tullis and Purves were billeted with Cap. David B. (Munshi) Gray RFC who was one of the tunnel working party. As one of the working party Gray departed earlier in the evening, Tullis and Purves were summoned around midnight, after saying a few good-bye’s they proceeded to the tunnel entrance where they tossed to see who would go first, Purves won and started to worm his way through followed closely behind by Tullis and then the next man.

The escape tunnel was a gruelling experience the men had to worm their way though pushing their packs in front of them. The tunnel was not level and after travelling for some while at a depth of about 30 ft it rose to within 2 ft of the surface, this meant that elbows and feet had to be used to lever themselves up the incline, this in turn loosened the sides so that earth and stones rolled down settling at the bottom (This would later cause some trouble for the men following). Tullis became stuck for a while himself and had to loosen a rock that was stopping him. Once he reached the end of the tunnel he crawled along the track made by earlier escapees across the corn field. Tullis and Purves stopped for a short while to get their breath and then set off towards the River Wesser. Shortly after they were joined by Capt. Edward Wilmer Leggatt RFC (Leggatt p.o.w. report confirms that he escaped on the night of the 23/24 July and that he reached Dutch territory on the night of the 6/7 August). Leggatt left the party some time after crossing the river, but unplanned, they met up again when near the border. They crossed the Dutch border after 14 nights on the run and were interned in a quarantine camp at Rijks on 8 August and after a nine day stay in Holland they crossed to England by ferry.

Held at the National Archives, Kew, London are a number of reports in class WO161 by men who escaped telling of their wartime experiences. Tullis, Purves and Gray wrote reports but unfortunately these were weeded out at some time in the past along with other reports by other escapees that night from Holzminden.

After the War

It is known that he went to Aden and spent some time there after falling dangerously ill with dysentery.

Mr and Mrs Purves departed Liverpool on the 15 April 1920 in the Billy Line’s “Oxfordshire” bound for Siam, via Marseilles, Port Said, Colombo, and Rangoon. Purves had been offered a position in Bangkok to build a Rice Mill. Whilst in Bangkok the Purves first child Evelyn was born in 1921.

On their return to the United Kingdom he joined the Middlesbrough Company Dorman Long. The company had won the contract to design and build the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Work started on the construction in 1923 and Engineer Mr and Mrs Purves together with daughter Evelyn left Liverpool on 20 December 1924 for Australia via South Africa in the Blue Funnel Line’s Ulysses. Disaster struck the family shortly after arriving in Australia when they were caught up in floods where their belongings were in store. His role in the construction of the bridge was in the quarrying of the granite used as buttresses for the bridge from a quarry at Moruya which is south of Sydney.

When the bridge was finished the family moved to Tasmania where Dorman Lang had an interest in a new cement works at Railton which was not doing very well. Purves was sent by Dorman Long Director Laurence Ennis to investigate. The report presented to Ennis concluded that the Cement Company should be wound up and a new company formed. The outcome was that a new company was formed, the Goliath Cement Company with Purves employed as General Manager and later Chairman. With the outbreak of WW2 the demand for cement rose and he was to remain with the company on what was considered vital war work. Despite this he did join the Volunteer Defence Force at Devonport on 3 June 1942 becoming its Northern Tasmania Director with the rank of Major; he was discharged on 31 January 1946.

Purves in later lifePurves did not cut all links with his homeland, he returned in July 1935 on board the Cunard White Star “Berengaria” from New York. After WW2 he visited the United Kingdom to visit family arriving on the 9 June 1948 and departing the on 14 October on the R M S Orion after a short stay at the Goring Hotel, Grosvenor Gardens. He is listed as Company Manager and was travelling with his wife and daughter Sheila.

Stanley Stuart Beattie Purves died on the 15 June 1969 in a car crash at Penguin Tasmania on his way to Burnie, it is believed that he went to sleep at the wheel of his car.


My thanks to Alec Purves for all his help and assistance.

For anyone who wants to know more about the escape from Holzminden I would suggest that they read Beyond the Tumult by Barry Winchester and The Tunnellers of Holzminden by H. G. Durnford.

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