Flying Officer Edwin Ffoulkes-Jones - 6 Squadron Royal Air Force

 

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In researching the service history of Edwin Ffoulkes-Jones for one of his great nephews, I discovered that Ffoulkes-Jones was a member of a very small band of air force pilots who served in both the Royal Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force. He flew on active service in Northern Italy (Grossa and Sarcedo) during WW1 flying a Sopwith Camel at 28 Squadron, immediately after WW1 in the Middle East with 6 Squadron, posted to Home Establishment and India during the inter-war years and finally with the No:1 Flying Training School, Leuchars during WW2, retiring from the Royal Air Force in October 1945 holding the rank of Wing Commander.

 

In the course of my investigation, I discovered Edwin Ffoulkes-Jones was a pilot with 6 Squadron for almost three years. Almost by chance, I came across an interesting incident that took place early in his career. On the 19th October 1920, whilst flying alone in a Bristol Fighter (F2b) Serial No: D8051 on an operation over Kufa, 170 km south of Baghdad, Flying Officer Ffoulkes-Jones was caught in a sandstorm and forced to crash-land in the desert. Though he was not injured in the accident, the aircraft was so badly damaged it was never recovered. The following day, when the sandstorm had cleared, Flying Officer (and acting Captain) Arthur Harold Beach, MiD and ex Canadian Infantry, left 6 Squadron's base at Hinaidi (near Baghdad) in another F2b, Serial No: D7844, and searched for the crash site with the intent of rescuing Ffoulkes-Jones from the desert before he was captured by the hostile locals. All went according to plan and the two men were soon heading north with Ffoulkes-Jones sitting in the observer’s cockpit. Just before they reached the half-way mark (53 km north of Kufa abeam the village of Hillah), the engine of the ‘Brisfit’ cut out and Beach was obliged to carry out an emergency landing. Beach emerged from the landing unscathed but Ffoulkes-Jones received a deep laceration to his left knee. It is not recorded how the two men made it back to the squadron but it is most likely a repair crew was sent out in one of the squadron’s lorries to fix the aircraft’s engine in situ.

 

Ffoulkes-Jones and Beach remained with 6 Squadron until November 1923 when they were both transferred to Home Establishment, but the service life of ‘Brisfit’ D7844 came abruptly to an end on the morning of the 31st May 1922 when it crashed on landing at Sulermanejeh,  144 km from the railhead at Kyri and 288 km NNE Baghdad. Though the cause of the crash was never determined, the aircraft was destroyed with both pilot and observer suffering serious head injuries. The pilot, Flt Lt Frank Neville Hudson, died a week later from a fractured skull but his observer Flt Lt Ernest Drudge MBE eventually recovered from a serious concussion.

 

To further demonstrate how hazadous it was to fly in Iraq in those days, this accident took place only two weeks after another 6 Squadron F2b Serial No: D7845 suffered engine failure whilst taking off on the 10th May 1922 for an engine test flight and stalled into the ground after the pilot attempted to turn back at 100 feet. The aircraft burst into flames with its pilot, Flying Officer Lionel Conrad Hooton MC (and bar) and his passenger Air Mechanic 2nd Class George William Butler killed in the subsequent inferno. Lionel Hooton was buried at R.A.F. Cemetery Hindi (now known as Ma'asker Al Rashid) Ref. plot 3 Row A Grave 9 and George Butler was buried there also, at 1800 hrs on the 19th May 1922, after an application by Butler's relatives to have his body returned to England for burial was rejected by the authorities.

 

Lionel Hooton had already survived two crashes in his service with the Royal Flying Corps / Royal Air Force. The first was in April 1918 whilst serving with 8 Squadron when his aircraft was struck in the fuel tank by anti-aircraft fire. In a bid to save the aircraft, his observer, 2nd Lt E I Wells, climbed out on to the wing and for his actions that day was awarded a MC. The second crash occurred in August 1920 when the engine of Hooton's ‘Brisfit’ failed. Hooton's double MC honours were awarded to both himself and his observer, 2nd Lt H Wisnekowitz, whilst they were serving with 8 Squadron, the first in FK8 Serial C8430 on the 23rd March 1918 during a contact patrol at low altitude in thick mist when they attacked a german machine gun post and the second only four days later whilst on another contact patrol in FK8 Serial C3611 when they flew low in the dark to draw fire in order to locate the enemy. On both occasions the aircraft was damaged but Hooton succeeded in bringing each one back to the squadron's base, the first time at Chipilly and the second at Poulainville.

 

Though the effectiveness of the Bristol Fighter has never been questioned after pilots were trained to fly the aircraft aggressively as if it were a single seat fighter, the type has received a fair amount of criticism over the years regarding the high number of engine failures, especially when fitted with an engine other than the originally designated Rolls Royce Falcon III. Taking the opportunity to investigate how successful the ‘Brisfit’ was in the desert when it was on charge with 6 Squadron, I examined every crash and casualty for the first two years that 6 Squadron operated in the Middle East (viz. mid 1919 to mid 1922) and the results were surprising. Other than the day-to-day aircraft movements in and out of the squadron, a total of eighteen aircraft – all F2b Bristol Fighters – were struck off charge arising from accidents or hostile involvement, resulting in the deaths of five men and injuries to three men. Of these eighteen aircraft, an unexpectedly high number of nine accidents were due entirely to engine failure.

 

Shown below is a 6 Squadron line-up of Bristol F2b fighters, the photograph taken most likely at Hinaidi in early October 1920. The third F2b from the left is D8051, the aircraft that FO Ffoulkes-Jones crashed whilst flying an a sandstorm.

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