Biography

Captain Bertram DicksonAt dawn on 21st September 1910 a Bristol Boxkite biplane took off from Larkhill on Salisbury Plain and flew south over Stonehenge towards Wylye Valley. It had been prevented from taking off for the two previous days because of bad weather. The aircraft carried out four successful sorties and did not return to Larkhill until night fall.

The pilot was Captain Bertram Dickson FRGS, late Royal Horse Artillery. He had the distinction of being the first British serviceman to qualify as a pilot in April 1910. He persuaded the War Office to let him take part in the Autumn Military Manoeuvres so that he could demonstrate the advantages of using an aeroplane for effective observation. The mission he was given was “To observe the movements of Blue Forces and report them to the opposing Red Forces”. He was given neither a map nor a briefing. The Bristol Boxkite was owned by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company. The other pilot was Lt Lancelot Gibbs RA who did not fly on that day. Robert Loraine, a civilian, and actor by profession, joined the exercise on the second day and was consequently the first man to transmit a radio signal using Morse code from an aeroplane to the ground.

During the first short flight Dickson located the Blue Forces and landed near Codford St Mary to telephone his sightings. There he was surrounded by Blue Forces and after declaring himself neutral to the umpires flew back to Red Forces HQ to give the commander his report and his sketch map (see illustration). There and then he was congratulated on his achievements by Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, and General Sir John French. This was the very start of military aviation.

As a consequence of the success of these first flights The Royal Flying Corps was formed in 1912, the Royal Naval Air Service (later Fleet Air Arm) in 914, and the Army Air Corps in 1942.

Bertram Dickson was badly injured in a flying accident in Milan a week later on 28th September. He had worked for the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company since leaving the Army that August and, with their help, continued to campaign for military aviation until his untimely death from the effects of his injuries in 1913. He was buried at Achanalt in Ross-shire, Scotland. He was aged 39.