Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, one hundred years ago this month. Eight days later, on 12 August, the primitive aeroplanes of Nos 2, 3 and 4 Squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) reached Swingate Downs near Dover. The pilots were warned that they would be taking off for France and the war at six o’clock the next morning.
The pre-flight briefing informed the pilots that there would be no rescue organisation for crossing the Channel and that they should not set course for the French coast until they had reached a height of 3,000 feet, a height, sufficient it was hoped, to enable a stricken aircraft to glide across in the event of engine failure. They were instructed to make landfall at Boulogne and then to fly along the coast to the Somme estuary and to follow the Somme river south-east to their destination, the aerodrome at Amiens.
The first machine took-off at 0624 hours and by nightfall all 49 aircraft had reached Amiens.
The day after war was declared, on the 5 August, the 64 year old Lord Kitchener was recalled to the War Office, He immediately issued an order to double the number of RFC squadrons from five to ten. The man responsible for the supply of equipment at the Military Aeronautics Directorate, Major Brancker quickly set about this task. He was subsequently asked by Kitchener to prepare for a vast expansion of the RFC. Brancker proposed 50 new squadrons – Kitchener, with prophetic insight, wrote a note back to him, “Double this – K”.
By the end of the war four years later the RAF comprised 188 squadrons!
FIRST WORLD WAR AIRCRAFT PROPELLERS ARE DISPLAYED IN THE MUSEUM’S MERSTON HALL