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66 Squadron, RFC & RAF, 1916 to 1919

Warnock, John Maxwell

Introduction

John Maxwell Warnock is described in Wayne Ralph's biography, Barker V.C. as "A combat-fatigued flight commander at 66, with almost a year of operations behind him", now whilst this was probably true; Ralph does not explain why Warnock was combat-fatigued. Jim Warnock as he was known by many of his 66 squadron comrades was a survivor, not just of Western front and the Italian front, for like many men in the R.F.C. he had also served in the trenches, not in France and Flanders but at Gallipoli, that most devastating military failure in the Middle East, Trooper Warnock had been wounded in the thigh, and given an honourable discharge but he was still determined to play his part in the Great War as we shall see. So how did John in April 1918 find himself being sent to home establishment when the troublesome Canadian flight commander from 28 squadron took command of C flight 66 squadron.

Early Life

John WarnockThe journey started before the start of W.W.I., which erupted in August 1914 with the shooting of the archduke at Sarajevo. John Maxwell Warnock was born to Ellen and John Warnock on the 3 March 1890 at Lepperton New Zealand. One of six children, the family moved to Port Nelson and John attended Nelson College between 1904-1906. He was apprenticed for three years after leaving Nelson College although it is not known which trade he was employed in, he also joined the Stoke Rifles. But when war broke out he was already in Australia working at the Four Trees Station as a boundary rider come surveyor. He enlisted on 22 August 1914 at Scone, N.S.W. becoming Trooper 192 1st Light Horse Regt., Australian Imperial Force two days later he was posted to "A" squadron stationed at Roseberry, he was 24 years and 5 months old. After a short training period the regiment was embarked on HMAT Pride of Victoria on 20 October 1914, bound for Egypt, disembarking at Alexandria on 2 December 1914.

Gallipoli

The regiment departed Alexandria for Gallipoli on 9 May 1915, two ships were used the largest party consisting of 25 officers and 447 other ranks were accommodated on the Devanha, the remaining one officer and 30 other ranks along with 76 horses were in the Kingstonian. The regiment went ashore at ANZAC Cove on 12 May 1915. But trooper 192 was only to serve 16 days at the front; on 25 May he was shot in the thigh. The 3rd Light Horse was the garrison regiment at Popes Post and its left and right flank, the 1st Light Horse Regiment were the local reserve on duty that night. These two regiments along with the 2nd Light Horse Regiment who were out of the line at base on rest, these regiments formed the 1st Light Horse Brigade.

On the 24 May a local armistice had been agreed with the Turks so that the dead and wounded could be collected. It was thought that there were somewhere between 50 - 100 dead Turks in front of Popes Post, the armistice took effect from 0730 hrs and lasted until 1630 hrs, there were no violations on either side. Another witness to the events of the 24 May noted; the smell of the dead was becoming so unbearable that it was causing considerable sickness and the Turks arranged an armistice on this date. Parties from both sides went out with white bands round both arms and buried as many bodies as possible examining and identifying them at the same time. About 3000 Turks were buried (on the whole front). The air next day was appreciably "thinner".

During the 25 May the Australians were engaged on local working parties with an occasional stand to arms, the night was quiet except for the occasional fusillade, and it was during one of these fusillades that Warnock and one other man were wounded. Treatment in theatre was unsuccessful; he arrived at the Valletta military hospital on 4 June 1915. After eighteen days treatment the wound was still causing concern and Warnock again embarked, this time on the hospital ship Loyalty on 21 June. After a nine-day journey the ship docked at Plymouth. He was then transferred, possibly by train to 2 General Hospital, Manchester, this was at Whitworth Street for assessment, and then to 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital Harefield Park, Denham Bucks. After his assessment he was again transferred arriving at Woodcote Park Epsom. Here after treatment he was discharged to duty at Victoria Street, and graded as fit for overseas duty. But on 3 October he attended a medical board at 4 Australian General Hospital Randwick where he was found to be unfit for duties and recommended for discharge from the service. He departed Plymouth on 8 October on board the ship Suevic for Sydney. On arrival yet another medical board confirmed the findings in England and he was discharged from the Australian Imperial Forces on 8 December. He then made his way back to New Zealand much to the relief of his family.

Aviation

He returned to New Zealand and the support of his family and friends. During the spring he became interested in aviation and the thought of returning to the war with the Royal Flying Corps. John attended the New Zealand Flying School at Kohimarama, Auckland.

A Curtiss FB at KohimaramaTwo brothers Leo and Vivian Walsh ran this. The school operated a mixed fleet of Curtis Flying Boats. One of these may have been the aircraft originally built by the brothers between 1913-15. The two brothers had opened the flying school in October 1915, with the aim of training pilots for the Royal Flying Corps. The cost of the instruction was $200 and John Warnock was part of the second group of pilots trained. He commenced his training during March obtaining his Royal Aero Club ticket on 9 September 1916 no 3587Ha.

10th from the top, M.C.McGregor, 13th E.H. Garland 1916 Two brothers Leo and Vivian Walsh ran this. The school operated a mixed fleet of Curtis Flying Boats. One of these may have been the aircraft originally built by the brothers between 1913-15. The two brothers had opened the flying school in October 1915, with the aim of training pilots for the Royal Flying Corps. The cost of the instruction was $200 and John Warnock was part of the second group of pilots trained. He commenced his training during March obtaining his Royal Aero Club ticket on 9 September 1916 no 3587Ha.

The Flying School was owned and run by two brothers Leo and Vivian Walsh. The school operated a mixed fleet of Curtiss Flying Boats. One of these may have been the aircraft originally built by the brothers between 1913-15. The two brothers had opened the flying school in October 1915, with the aim of training pilots for the Royal Flying Corps. The cost of the instruction was £75 which the student paid and on passing the course could claim a refund from the War Office in London. John Warnock was part of the second group of pilots trained. He commenced his training during March obtaining his Royal Aero Club ticket on 9 September 1916 no 3587Ha.

Also passing his test that day was Malcolm Charles McGregor ticket number 3584Ha. They then both applied for commissions in the Royal Flying Corps. Along with two other newly qualified pilots from the same school, Edgar H. Garland and Gordon G. A. Martin . On the 12 October a letter to John confirmed that he had been appointed 2/Lt on probation in the New Zealand Defence Forces Unattached List, and was enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force as a Private, he had asked for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps, he also agreed that in the event that the RFC did not want him that he would report to the Commandant NZEF at 8 Southampton Row, London for service with the Expeditionary Force as a Private.

The four were on their way to England along with the 18th Reinforcements, departing on 16 October 1916 on the Willochra. They travelled via the Cape of Good Hope and spent three weeks in harbour at Freetown Sierra Leone on account of enemy submarine reports. They arrived at Plymouth Devonport on the 28 December 1916 only to be confronted with thick fog for a welcome. John was posted to 1 SoMA at Oxford and arrived on the 31 December 1916 for his basic training along with his four friends. After basic training came flying training and Malcolm McGregor moved to 8 Reserve Squadron at Netheravon, John to Yatesbury. McGregor visited him there on 15 April taking him for a jolly. All four were gazetted 2/Lt on Probation from 16 October 1916, and John was gazetted 2\Lt on 21 April 1917 after the award of his wings.

66 Squadron in France

John joined 66 squadron on 9 June 1917. 66 were based at Estrée Blanche and commanded by Major Owen T. Boyd. The squadron was at that time equipped with Sopwith Pup's and under the command of 9 Wing R.F.C. His first flight took place on 11 June in Pup A6191, he flew other practice and collection flights before he flew his first operational patrol. On the 20 June 1917 the squadron moved to Calais for the defence of the South coast of England from the frequent Gotha raids that had been a feature of June. The squadron did much flying but did not sight any Gotha's and on July 5 they returned to Estrée Blanche.

John flew his first combat patrol on 7 July, when with Capt. John O. Andrews, Dudley F. Cox, Thomas C. Luke, Francis A. Smith and James W. Boumphrey they undertook an uneventful no 1 offensive patrol. Warnock continued to fly most days at least one patrol a day. The usual patrols were undertaken, protecting the observation patrols on their work and denying the airspace to roving enemy patrols. His flight commander at this time was Patrick G. Taylor, John was to become deputy flight commander when Gordon left for home establishment on 18 September. He would eventually become A flight commander. On the 20 September John flew 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. 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 attacked by a German two seater who dived on him through the clouds and although John returned fire the E.A. got away. Five days later he attacked two E.A. scouts who were attacking some RE8's but his gun jammed and the E.A. failed to push home the advantage. On 14 October John accompanied Major Henderson to collect the first of the Camels that were to re-equip the unit

The Death of Gregory

John in a  Camel of 66 squadron66 Squadron was one of three fighter squadrons that were withdrawn from the Western front and allocated to the Italian Front. On 10 November 1917 66 ceased to be part of 9 Wing, and prepared for the move to Italy. By December 1917 John was the senior flight commander and had regularly been leading patrols.

On the 17th December he was credited with his only combat success when attacked a two seater at 9500 ft. at close range , the aircraft burst into flames and crashed into an orchard near St Lucia di Piave. The 5 January found him and Gore, Hilborn and Bell detailed on protection duties for a bomb raid by 6 RE 8's of 42 squadron on Cordenons aerodrome. Bell engaged an Albatros D111 but the engagement was indecisive.

Whilst on patrol with Boysen, Francis, Reade and Apps on 15 January at 10,000 ft over St Vito they engaged three Albatross DV’s at 10.30 a.m. Capt. Warnock got behind one E.A. firing a good burst at close range, the E.A. made a zooming turn and 2/Lt Reade fired another burst at the Albatross on the turn, who then descended vertically but pulled out near the ground and escaped along the valley. The other two aeroplanes were attacked by the rest of the patrol, they both escaped in the same manner as their compatriot.
On the 23 January 1918, Major Robert Gregory the squadron commander was killed whilst air testing Camel B2475, he crashed near Monastiero. Gregory was thought, wrongly to have been a victim of an unknown Italian pilot. He would not to been the only victim of an over zealous Italian. In May of 1918 the O.C of 45 squadron Major Awdry "Bunny" Vaucour would also be shot down. John became the temporary squadron commander until a replacement could be found. He continued to fly and patrol. Gregory's replacement was Major John T. Whittaker M.C., another combat veteran from France who arrived on 6 February. John continued to lead his flight and was involved in a number of combats. Typical of John's luck at this time is a patrol he led on 18 March 1918 when John and Gerald Birks were engaged on an offensive patrol, whilst at 8000 ft over Capo Sile they came across a Rumpler C type, Warnock attacked with Birks following on behind. The Rumpler went into a dive with the two Camels following as the enemy aircraft made for his aerodrome. John following it down fired at the aircraft all the way down to 500 ft, the observer was seen to slump into his cockpit. John used all his ammunition up in one gun as the other had stopped. Birks then continued the attack down to 100 ft the Rumpler was seen to crash near Pravisdomini aerodrome at 8.25 am, the combat credit was awarded to Birks.

Barker

28 Squadron commander Major Hugh F. Glanville was posted to Home Establishment on 19 March, his replacement was Major Claude A Ridley who was posted to 28 from home Establishment. Captain George Barker, C flight commander of 28 squadron was disappointed that he was not given command of 28 and a number of the other Canadians possibly felt that justice was not being done. Nevertheless at 66 squadron least one Canadian Bill Hilborn thought he was in with a chance of promotion to flight commander C flight. He notes in a letter to his brother Clarence, who was also a RFC pilot serving on the Western Front with 59 squadron. That there is another who has not put in as much time as he had, this was possibly Stanley Stanger who would later move to 28 squadron and become a flight commander. So John became O.C. C flight, but the trouble at 28 squadron would mean that he would not hold the position for long. Whittaker and Glanville reputedly got together and arranged for Barker to be posted to C flight 66 squadron and for John to be posted to 28 squadron. John was to make way for Barker and was posted to the vacant position at 28 squadron. John never went to 28 squadron, instead he went to 7 Aircraft Park for a few days, and then on paper back to 28 squadron, from which he was posted to Home Establishment on 16 April 1918.

England and Home

His next posting was to 4 Training Depot Station in May as a Flight Commander, flying Camels and Dolphins. On the 1 May 1919 he was posted to 15 (Manchester) Aircraft Acceptance Park, Didsbury/Alexander Park area. This unit was involved in accepting aircraft produced by local manufacturers, mainly AVRO types, although he was not stay here long, on 2 July 1919 he was discharged from the service by Headquarters Midland Repatriation Camp Shawbury.

Lydia ShortridgeJohn Warnock must have visited Shawbury during this period. Stationed at Shawbury at the time was a young WRAF officer, Lydia Shortridge from Morpeth Northumberland. They had only known each other for a matter of weeks, when they became engaged to marry. John returned to New Zealand in 1919, Lydia sailed to New Zealand, arriving on 20 May 1920, they were married the same day in Auckland. Later that year tragedy struck the Warnock family, John's sister Kathleen, the Mayor of New Plymouth James Clarke were joy riding in Avro 504K F9745 owned by the NZFS. The pilot was another NZFS pupil Captain Richard Russell DFC, he had been on tour around Auckland since late August and had already visited Wellington, Wanganui, Hastings, Palmerstone North and then on to North Plymouth. On 11 November at 4 p.m. Russell was gliding down to land, and is thought to have stalled during a turn at about 200 ft and started to spin, the Avro crashed near the Boys High School opposite the racecourse. John was at the race course that day, he arrived just as the Avro took off, and was informed that his sister was a passenger. Although he was at the event he did not actually witness the crash. A contemporary report notes that John had some year's experience as a pilot. John and Lydia set up home in New Plymouth where for a while he owned a quarry, but during the depression the enterprise failed and be came a bankrupt. When the New Plymouth Aero Club was formed in 1928 he was appointed instructor and reputedly flew their first aircraft a DH60 in from Wigram.

He then went into trade sales to the farming community and was very successful making many friends. He joined the RNZAF in 1940 and was later posted to 3 (GR) Squadron as adjutant. The squadron was based in the Pacific theatre of operations and took part in the defence of Guadalcanal in support of the American forces at Henderson Field.

The Warnock’s retired to Rotorua, and John died on 25 May 1975 at Gisborne New Zealand.

My thanks to John Warnocks daughter Pat Livinston, for her valuable family knowledge and my first definitely identified photograph of John whilst with 66 squadron.

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