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Book tells story of Plain in 1914
SALISBURY Plain’s place in the opening moves of the First World War – including a fatal air accident – features in a new book.
August 1914: England in Peace and War by Mark Rowe explores the opening month of the conflict through diaries, letters and local newspapers of the day.
The book details how the fledgling British air force – then called the flying corps and part of the army – set off from the Plain on its journey to France.
So primitive were the aircraft that they had to make the journey in two legs, first to the south coast, and then over the Channel.
And flying over sea was a new experience for most of the pilots.
On the eve of war, the military aircraft were based at Netheravon to be tested – for example, experimenting on how to fly in the dark.
Things could easily go wrong, especially at take-off and landing, as it proved on the morning of August 12 when Second Lieutenant Robin Skene, 23, and his mechanic passenger Raymond Barlow, of 3 Squadron Royal Flying Corps (RFC) set off for France.
At 150ft, their machine made a left hand bank, lost speed and dived vertically.
Unfortunately both men were killed.
Though other machines were loaded similarly to theirs with full petrol tanks, tools and other gear, it was suggested at an inquest into the deaths that the aeroplanes might have been overloaded.
Rowe, a journalist from Staffordshire, said of these early airmen: “Everything they did was an experiment – taking photos from the air, signalling to the ground, and navigating across country.
“Yet they stuck with it for the sheer joy of flying and doing something new and, by their standards, extraordinary.”
The Plain soon hosted soldiers on their way to and from the front line, as it was the venue for manoeuvres before the war.
Salisbury, like the rest of the country at the beginning of war, saw panicbuying at the shops and traders accused of jacking up their prices, the army buying horses to pull their supply wagons, and rumours of Russians passing through on the way to join the British and French in France.
August 1914: England in Peace and War, priced at £11.99, is published by Chaplin Books.
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