RAF Centenary - stories from the Archive
10 Jul 2018
Sun Life, proposal cover, 1931
Today in London there will be a flypast and parade which is the centrepiece of celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the RAF. I thought it would be fitting to have a look in the Archive and put together a short blog on our links to the Royal Air Force over its first century.
Our companies provided specialist insurance for members of the RAF from the 1930s right up to the 1970s. The earliest example I have been able to find is the Protector Policy for the RAF, launched in 1931 by Sun Life, which became part of Aviva through Friends Life. The image below shows the cover of a leaflet for RAF Personnel in 1936.
Sun Life, leaflet cover, c1936
I have only managed to find one other specific insurance link between Aviva and the RAF; in 1953 one of our companies was asked to quote to insure a regimental camel belonging to an RAF Unit “against normal risks, including loss by theft and accident.”
Sun Life, extract from dinner menu, 1926
As might be expected, most of the references to the RAF in the Archive relate to the war and to our staff who served in it. Norwich Union staff on the home front in the Second World War also made a contribution by raising money to purchase a spitfire for the war effort. Directors and staff contributed £5,000 to purchase the spitfire, which was named NUflier. It was a spitfire Mk IIa and was delivered to No.10 Maintenance Unit at Hullavington on 16 March 1941. The plane, photographed below, went into service on 3rd April when it took part in 5 patrols and was flown by Sergeant R H May and Sergeant J Dykes. NUflier’s final operational flight was on 11 July under the control of Sergeant Watolski and it was damaged beyond repair on the following day, presumably as the result of an air raid.
Norwich Union, NUflier, c1941
Although we don’t know exactly how many members of our staff served in the RAF, or its forerunner the Royal Flying Corps, in the First World War, we do have 41 RAF/RFC men listed on our roll of honour. Of these, 32 were killed, one was a Prisoner of War and 8 were decorated for their service receiving between them 7 Military Crosses, one Distinguished Service Cross, one Distinguished Conduct Medal, and one Air Force Cross.
Each individual story is included on our roll of honour and each man who died will be remembered on our remembrance blog on the 100th anniversary of his death, so I’ve just picked out a few examples of their stories below:
Matthew Brown Frew, pictured below, worked for the City of Glasgow Life Assurance Company in Glasgow. Known as "Bunty" he was a flying ace credited with 23 victories. His Military Cross was gazetted on 18 October 1917: "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on patrol, showing a fine offensive spirit in many combats. He has shot down five enemy aeroplanes, and on one occasion leading his formation to attack twenty-two Albatross Scouts, and himself shooting one down". The Bar to his Military Cross was gazetted 17 December 1917 for actions over Houthulst Forest on 26 October 1917 and North east of Comines and East of Moorslede 27 October 1917: "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in shooting down three enemy machines in two days. He had destroyed eight enemy machines and driven down many others out of control." His Distinguished Service Order was gazetted 04 March 1918 for actions over Motta, Italy and Vazzola: "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On one occasion when a leader of a patrol he shot down an enemy aeroplane, two others also being accounted for in the same action. On a later occasion he destroyed three enemy machines in one combat, all of which were seen to crash to the ground. Immediately after this combat he had to switch off his engine and make an attempt to glide towards our lines five miles away on account of his machine having received a direct hit. Owing to the great skill and courage he displayed in the handling of his damaged machine, he succeeded in bringing it safely to our lines. He has destroyed twenty two enemy machines to date." His Air Force Cross was gazetted 03 June 1919 for his work at the Central Flying School as an instructor. He continued his career in the RAF after the war and was awarded further honours, including the Belgian Military Cross, for his work during the Second World War.
Matthew Brown Frew, c1916
Ivan Beauclerk Hart-Davies worked for the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society Ltd and, on the outbreak of war, he was the company’s resident inspector at Rugby. A renowned veteran motorcyclist he was the holder of the final Lands End to John O'Groats UK record for solo motorcycles. In June 1911, riding his 3.5hp single-speed Triumph, he covered the 886 miles in 29 hours 12 minutes. As his speed exceeded the then maximum of 20mph further official record attempts were banned by the Auto Cycle Union. He was a keen rugby, cricket and hockey club member and a Boy Scout Leader. He enlisted in the RFC in 1916 having qualified as a pilot in 1913 and was killed in an aeroplane accident at Northolt Middlesex on 27 July 1917, the eve of his leaving for France. Contemporary newspaper reports suggest he fainted while flying, and his companion, who survived the accident, remembered him sitting motionless and the sudden descent of the plane. After his death his manager wrote: "Apart from being a real good chap, all the possibilities of his help to the Norwich Union are closed and I had hoped great things of him."
Richard Henry Driffield Lee, pictured below, worked for the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society Ltd in the Norwich Head Office. A member of the territorials he was called up on the outbreak of war and served with his battalion, the Norfolk Regiment 1st/6th Cyclist Battalion, on coastal defence until 28 November 1915. By December 1915 he had enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and was sent to France where he was wounded whilst flying in August 1916. A letter to the company from his father suggests that he may have been wounded having made a bad landing in fog or at night. He recovered and became a test pilot at Mousehold, Norwich, where he died on 23 June 1917 when the new design of plane he was testing crashed. His father wrote: “My son’s death is our share of the sacrifice in the present need, but it is a very great one which we try to make as cheerfully as he made his.” The notice in the staff magazine on his death ended: “Lee was a real sport. May the earth rest lightly on him!” His older brother, Frederick Gurdon Driffield Lee, also died in the war.
Richard Henry Driffield Lee
Our roll of honour for the Second World War includes the names of 383 members of staff. These include 41 Prisoners of War and 263 men who made the ultimate sacrifice; nearly 40% of our staff killed in the Second World War were in the RAF. Our RAF staff also received 70 honours including 52 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Distinguished Flying Medals, four Air Force Crosses, and four Distinguished Service Orders.
Again, all their individual stories are told on our website so I will only include a few examples here.
Our roll of honour includes 11 Battle of Britain Pilots:
Hubert Weatherby Cottam, pictured below, worked for the Northern Assurance Company Ltd in the Newcastle branch. He began working for the company in March 1937 and joined the 607th squadron of Royal Auxiliary Air Force early in 1940. He took part in the Battle of Britain and shot down three German aircraft in an engagement in which he was wounded. On recovering he accounted for four more German aircraft and was promoted to Flying Officer. In 1941 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and went to South Africa as an Instructor in the Empire Training Scheme, acting as Flight Commander. It was in the course of these duties that he met his death in a flying accident. He died near Buluwayo, South Africa, on 05 December 1941, aged 22.
Hubert Weatherby Cottam
Charles Goodwin worked for the General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation Ltd in the Hull branch. He was born in October 1918 and joined the company on 01 March 1935. He was called up on 01 September 1939 and served as a Sergeant Pilot in the RAFVR, 219 Squadron. He flew in the Battle of Britain and was killed in an aeroplane accident while piloting a Blenheim bomber on 30 September 1940. He was 21.
Hector Jack Raymond Barrow worked for the Road Transport & General Insurance Company Ltd in the London Head office. He joined the company in the accident department in 1936. He flew in the Battle of Britain and was killed on the 28 November 1940. He was 23.
Dennis Garth Ashton worked for the Employers' Liability Assurance Corporation Ltd in the Nottingham branch. He served as a Pilot Officer in the RAFVR, 266 Squadron, and flew during the Battle of Britain. He was shot down in flames in Spitfire P9333 following combat with aircraft off Portsmouth on 12 August 1940. His body was later recovered and buried at sea. He was 20.
Donald Ernest Kingaby (known as Don) worked for the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation Ltd in the Cambridge branch. During the war he served as a Sergeant Pilot and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal plus 2 Bars, Distinguished Service Order, Croix de Guerre (Belgium), and Air Force Cross (American). He was the only pilot to be awarded the DFM three times. He was an Air Ace known as the ME 109 specialist having shot down four of them in one day during the Battle of Britain. By the 12th October 1941 he had brought down 18 enemy plans which, according to the Post Magazine, was highest score to date by a Sergeant Pilot of Fighter Command.
Robert Turner Deighton Mercer worked for the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation Ltd in the Rochester branch. He served as a Sergeant in the RAFVR, 609 Squadron, and flew in the Battle of Britain. He was killed in action on 09 May 1941. He was 24.
Donald Arthur Stanley, pictured below, worked for the Northern Assurance Company Ltd in the London Head Office. He joined the company in September 1927 and worked in the home accident department. He enlisted at outbreak of war and served as a Pilot Officer in the RAFVR, 611 Squadron. He fought in the Battle of Britain and was reported missing on 25 February 1941, when he failed to return to base after an offensive patrol with a fighter squadron over the coast of France. His death was presumed by December 1941. He was 19.
Donald Arthur Stanley
Oswald Kenneth Sly worked in the Bristol branch of the Road Transport & General Insurance Company Ltd. He had been in the Weston-Super-Mare sub-office for four years before the outbreak of war. He served as a LAC or Sergeant in the RAFVR, 29 Squadron, and died in the Battle of Britain on 13 October 1940. We do not know his date of birth, but he was around 20 years of age when he died.
Norman Macdonald Walker worked for the Road Transport & General Insurance Company Ltd in the Glasgow branch. He joined the company in 1934 and, during the war, served as a Sergeant Pilot in the RAFVR, 185 Squadron. He fought in the Battle of Britain and was the pilot who brought down the first Italian plane on English soil, on 11 November 1940. He was killed in the Far East on 02 June 1941. He was 23.
Kenneth Russell Wood worked for the British General Insurance Company Ltd in the Leeds branch. He served as a Sergeant Air Gunner in the RAFVR, 7 Squadron, and fought in the Battle of Britain. He crashed over the North Sea on returning from a bombing raid in Germany on 10 July 1941: "[the] rescue squad saved the rest of the crew but could find no trace of Wood and he is presumed drowned.” He was 22.
Douglas Hamilton Grice (known as Grubby) worked for the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation Ltd in the London City branch. He served as a Squadron Leader and took part in the Battle of Britain. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Gazetted 25 June 1940: "pilot Officer Grice has displayed great courage and determination in attacks on enemy aircraft and has destroyed at least six in various combats. On one occasion he was himself shot down but, after overcoming many difficulties he succeeded in making his escape and returned to his unit." He retired from the RAF in April 1947 as a Wing Commander.
Other members of our staff who served with the RAF in the Second World War include:
William John Oswald Coleman who worked in the London Head Office of the Commercial Union Assurance Company Ltd. He was involved in the first recorded instance of a capture of a submarine from the air, by a Hudson plane of Coastal Command. He was decorated for his actions on 23 September 1941 and the official citation reads: "Squadron Leader Thompson and Flying Officer Coleman, were pilot and navigator bomb aimer respectively of an aircraft in which they carried out a successful attack on an enemy submarine. In very poor weather conditions, Flying Officer Coleman skilfully navigated to the position and, co-operating splendidly with his pilot, attacked with such good effect that the submarine surfaced. When Squadron Leader Thompson opened fire with his machine guns, the submarine crew waved a white flag. One of His Majesty's destroyers later took charge of the submarine. The success of the operation was undoubtedly due to the splendid teamwork of these two officers. Both Squadron Leader Thompson and Flying Officer Coleman have previously carried out numerous operational missions.”
Kenneth Edward Ladds worked for the London & Scottish Assurance Corporation Ltd in the London Head Office. He was reported missing in the Bay of Biscay and was rescued, with five members of his crew, after 11 days at sea. He was decorated in November 1943 as reported in the staff magazine: "For valour during an action with a U-boat, which was destroyed, he has been awarded a DFM. He was one of the crew of a Halifax bomber which was brought down in the Bay of Biscay after combat with a U-boat, which they destroyed, he and his 5 comrades who survived endured great hardships with courage and fortitude for 11 days before being rescued." The official citation reads: "This officer and airman were pilot and mid-upper gunner respectively of an aircraft engaged in a patrol in September, 1943. A surfaced U Boat was sighted and Flying Officer Hartley immediately dived to attack. In spite of fierce gun fire from the submarine, Flying Officer Hartley straddled the vessel with his depth charges and probably destroyed it. During the approach Flight Sergeant Ladds used his guns to good effect, pouring a hail of bullets into the U-boat's gun positions. The aircraft sustained severe damage during the action and, a little later, Flying Officer Hartley was compelled to bring it down on to the sea. This officer and airman together with other members of the crew boarded the dinghy in which they subsequently drifted for 11 days before being rescued. During this period they had little food or water and, at times the sea was very rough. Nevertheless, they bore their privations with great heart and fortitude, setting an example which proved an inspiration to their comrades."
William Fleming Caldow worked for the Commercial Union Assurance Company Ltd in the Glasgow branch. He was decorated in June 1941, aged 21, for his part in the attack on the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the English Channel in February 1941. "Captain of an air craft he was detailed to attack and succeeded in delivering attack before being interrupted by three enemy fighters. By skilful airmanship, the attackers were held off until the rear gunner was able to obtain an accurate sight. One enemy aircraft was shot down towards the sea." The Policy Holder magazine dated 15th July 1942 contained the following details: "here one has a peep at a team of youngsters engaged in high endeavour. At the time Caldow had not yet attained his majority. Yet on his skill and resourcefulness depended not only whether the job he had been given to do was carried through but whether he and his companions would come through with their lives. The way these young men have risen to the occasion and are shouldering such great responsibilities is a source of pride to the whole nation."
Herome Alexander Innes (known as Sandy) worked for the General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation Ltd in the Cheltenham office. He was awarded the DFC for gallantry during air operations. Typical of his whimsical nature was the comment he made on being congratulated by his former colleagues: "I attribute my medal entirely to the training I got in the GA - if this doesn't sell a policy, don't blame me!!" He died in April 1940 as the result of a flying accident. His death was reported in the Cheltenham Office war journal as follows: " Sandy Innes was a most popular figure in the office during his years with us from 1933 to 1937, and nothing we can say here can do justice to the feelings of us all when we heard that that gayest of spirits had gone."
James Leslie Robert Young worked for General Accident in the Bristol branch from 1934. He served as a Pilot Officer in RAFVR, 9 Squadron, and was reported missing and later POW by March 1941 after bombing operations over Germany. Known in the army as ‘"Cookie", he was involved in the tunnelling operations at Stalag Luft III and was one of those listed to escape in what became known as the ‘great escape’. He did briefly escape, but was recaptured and killed on 13 April 1944. According to the staff magazine he was: "One of the allied officers so brutally shot by the Germans at Stalag Luft III last March."
We also have two members of staff who were members of the so-called Guinea pig club, formed by those who underwent experimental reconstructive plastic surgery under Sir Archibald McIndoe at Queen Victoria Hospital:
Ian W Craig worked for Employers Liability Assurance and "narrowly escaped cremation in a Wellington Bomber" in 1942.
Owen Smith was a junior in General Accident's Swansea Office in 1938. He was called up in 1940 and joined the RAF. His aircraft was shot down, on fire. Smith was so impressed by the work of the hospital in treating his burns that he left insurance and studied medicine so that he could continue to help fellow sufferers, later becoming a leading plastic surgeon in Rhodesia.
I’ll end with an example of how the records we keep in the Archive can sometimes be put to unexpected use. Stuart Trevor Hollick worked for the Employers' Liability Assurance Corporation Ltd. He served as a Flying Officer (Flying Instructor) in the RAFVR and was a seconded Test Pilot flying Spitfires from Rolls Royce Hucknall in the early 1940's. He was killed when Spitfire EN114 crashed on 29 December 1942 when he was 24. His plane was eventually excavated and the Archive helped put the team of aviation archaeologists in touch with his family so they could return his monogrammed lighter, which was found on his body.
Stuart Hollick's lighter