Major Lanoe Hawker Connections

The following post is from Pete Hoare. He was not only in Ligny-Thilloy for the ceremony but also in Belgium the previous day to visit the graves or inscriptions of family members who had been killed near Ypres during WW1. During that quick visit to the Ypres battlefield, Pete managed to pinpoint the site of the airfield at Poperinge (about 10 miles west of Ypres) from which Hawker had flown with No. 6 Squadron before taking command of the newly-formed XXIV Squadron. Pete has written a most interesting and informative report about Poperinge airfield etc which is shown below.

HAWKER CONNECTIONS

In 1979 the Squadron was asked by the RAF museum to organise a First Day Cover in tribute to Major Lanoe Hawker, one of a series celebrating WW1 flying aces. I was pleased to take on this task as a secondary duty. Many months of preparation included a visit to Hawker’s birthplace, Longparish in Hampshire, where I had the pleasure of meeting Lanoe’s brother, Lt Col Tyrrell Hawker MC, the author of ‘Hawker VC’. I also visited the village church where there is a stained-glass window depicting Hawker at Bertangles airfield, where 24 Squadron was based in 1916.

For added significance the First Day Cover was connected to a commemorative flight to mark the 25th Anniversary of the first flight of the C-130. This was added to the end of a normal task, so on the appointed day we flew Lyneham – Bergen – Bardufoss – and then to Cambrai. Relations with the French services then were not as cordial as they are now, nevertheless we were provided with a coach by the FAF. The main task in the short time we had in a long day was to pick up a number of envelopes, the ‘specials’, from the main post office in Amiens where they had been left that morning by my wife Chris for hand-franking. This passed off smoothly and left us time to drive north of Amiens to attempt to locate Bertangles airfield. No evidence remained of its one-time significance, but by using the description in ‘Hawker VC’ and the skyline from the stained glass window in Longparish Church it was possible to be sure that we were standing on the same turf as our gallant predecessors. On the way back to Cambrai were able in the short time remaining to pass close to the site of Hawker’s final dogfight with the Red Baron. The short hop to Lyneham concluded a long but memorable day.

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When I heard about the Hawker Memorial and the ceremony at Ligny-Thilloy I was understandably keen to be present. Chris and I travelled to Belgium the day before the quite remarkable event at Ligny to visit places where our own family members were remembered. We stayed in Poperinge. Although only 12k west of Ypres and subject to frequent shellfire, ‘Pop’ as it was known in WW1, remained west of the front line; indeed, it served as the railhead for the Ypres salient and a welcome ‘R & R’ destination for weary troops.

I was aware from my previous research that 6 Sqn, in which Lanoe was serving in 1915, was based at Poperinge during the second battle of Ypres. With some time to spare I set out to try to locate this airfield from which he had set out on the missions which would lead to the award of the DSO and VC. Our enquiries led to Talbot House in Poperinge. This all-ranks club, was known (in signallers’ shorthand) as Toc H in WWI. The widespread movement providing moral support originated from this building which is still open as a hostel and run by volunteers. My enquiry about a local airfield was met with blank looks until I met by chance a gentleman who had written a number of books about the First War. He suggested I should try at the Chateau de Lovie, about 3k NW of Poperinge, on the road to Krombeke. The grounds of the chateau now house a large institution for mentally handicapped people of all ages. However a very helpful PR manager, after a few hours research, was able to show me photos of the chateau when it served as GHQ for the Ypres campaign both for French and later British General Staff. Indeed it was the HQ of General Gough during the battle of Paschendaele. She then produced aerial photos of the chateau taken shortly after the end of WW1 which showed Poperinge airfield close by with aircraft on the ground.

We were then able to locate the site on the ground. As we studied the photos to be certain a lady came out of a nearby house. She had no knowledge of an airfield but asked her elderly father who with a sweep of the arm indicated the totally flat and treeless area where it had once been. As expected no signs remained of its significant role in history. My research was hurried and certainly not original but nevertheless I felt privileged to be the first 24 Sqn representative, probably for some decades, to be at the site where Hawker was based when he made his name as the first fighter ace.

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