Remembering the Shotwick 9 – Two incidents on one day

I wrote yesterday about the WW1 pilots graves i have discovered in a village not far from where i live. This is the first of their stories.

Flying Cadet Vernon Francis Gibson

51st Training Depot Station – Britishdied saturday November 9th 1918 aged 19

Vernon Gibson was only 19 years old when he died on November 9th 1918, just 2 days before war ended. As a Flight Cadet he was well on his way to gaining his wings. Already he would have completed 2 months of basic military training, before moving on to the school of military aeronautics for a further 2 months of theory, map reading and basic aircraft maintenance. The next phase involved learning to fly at a Training Depot Station ( TDS ), in this case the 51st TDS. Here he would have been expected to have undergone a minimum of 25 hrs basic flying training over 3 months, both dual and solo in Avro aircraft. Once achieved students received a grade A rating before a further 35 hours flying more up to date aircraft, such as the Sopwith Camel.

As it was the Camel that he was killed in i am assuming that Vernon was in his final stages of training.

The accident itself took place on Saturday November 9th 1918. The accident record simply states that Vernon appears to have blacked out while flying a Sopwith Camel ( F1946) before diving into the ground.

The Camels were notoriously difficult planes to fly mainly due to their centre of gravity being right over the engine. Pilots had to constantly fight with the joystick just to keep her level and although very successful in combat the plane tested pilots to the limit. More than half the camel’s built, over 2,000, were destroyed in non-combat and training accidents.

The were known to get into dangerous spins once control was lost so as soon as Vernon started to lose consciousness he was doomed.

Sopwith Camel similar to the plane that Vernon Gibson was flying.

Second Lieutenant Francis Athol Hinton

51st Training Depot Station – New Zealander – Died Saturday 9th November 1918 Aged 30

On the same day as Vernon Gibson, New Zealander Francis Hinton also lost his life. Again just 2 days before the end of hostilities.

He was the son of Thomas and Ellen Elizabeth Hinton and was born in Cambridge, New Zealand on December 5th 1887. Upon leaving school Francis became a farmer in Eureka, joinng his parents. Then, at the age of 28, on the 8th of February 1916 he joined the New Zealand Army, being attached to the Otago Infantry Battalion. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on the 25th of March 1916, probably because he was older than many of the men joining up and had more life experience to draw upon. He arrived in the UK with the Otago Infantry Battalion on 3rd October but on the 9th, just 6 days later, he found himself in the New Zealand General Hospital at Codford, returning to duty 5 weeks later on November 16th.

On the 31st of March 1917, Francis was posted to the New Zealand Command Depot, but he was declared as medically unfit for Army service and was given a medical discharge on the 17th of August 1917.

At this point he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps on Sept 27th 1917, to train as a pilot and was commissioned as an officer on the 7th of February 1918, receiving his Pilots Badge on the 28th of June 1918.

He had only been posted to No 51 Training Depot weeks before his fatal accident. It is believed he was a flight instructor.

Two days before the end of the First World War, Francis was flying Avro 504K F8719 at Shotwick. It was a training flight and his engine stalled while he was making a left hand turn close to the ground. The Avro spun into the ground from a gliding turn.

Avro 504K as flown by Francis Hinton on that fateful day.

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