A 6 Squadron 'First' or an unfortunate Deception?
The February 1935 edition of The Aeroplane carried a one-page feature on 6 Squadron's 'coming of age' dinner at London's Mayfair hotel, attended by past and present officers of the squadron as well as the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Edward Ellington and guest of honour Brigadier-General John Becke, who as a major formed 6 Squadron back in January 1914. The story also included a photograph of an old scrap of paper, purportedly evidence that a pilot from 6 Squadron was the first member of the Royal Flying Corps (or any other air force for that matter) to successfully communicate a message from an aircraft to an artillery battery on the ground. The message, scrawled in pencil, read "You hit them We must go home No petrol" and the citation beneath the photograph read, "This message was dropped, in a streamer, by a pilot of No. 6 Squadron on October 20, 1914, on 87th Battery R.F.A., 12th Brigade, 6th Division, when they were stationed near the village of Ennettiers, about three miles West or Sou' West of Lille, and near the Bois Grenier. They had been engaging a German battery on the outskirts of Lille."
No doubt, the existence of said scrap of paper and its detailed provenance was sufficient to convince those who saw it that 6 Squadron did indeed hold this distinction and until now it has stood the test of time. However, upon closer examination, there is a question of doubt over this claim as a number of anomalies have come to light regarding the description, viz:
On the 20th October 1914, there was only one reconnaissance flight made by 6 Squadron, with the intended reconnaissance area around Courtrai and Menen, well to the north of Lille. In the event, the weather was so bad the mission was aborted and the aircraft did not make it back to Poperinghe until the evening. The following day, 6 Squadron was moved to St Omer and did not patrol the Lille region until the 25th October 1914 - see attached entries from Lt J Tennant's personal diary and the page from 6 Squadron's War Diary
From research into the history of the RFA, 87th Battery was transferred from 12 Brigade to 38 Brigade on the 10th October 1914, ten days before the event. I have asked an expert to corroborate this, as well as the date the battery was sited at the specified location.
In examining the photograph of the message it is clear that the writing has been enhanced, as the flow of the letters is uninterrupted over the numerous creases in the paper. The fact that this has not been mentioned is of concern.
If anyone has any information that would help prove or disprove the veracity of the message, I would be very grateful to hear about it.