Remembering these brave WWI Stow Maries pilots who made the ultimate sacrifice

There, in an open space known colloquially as the Parade Ground (although it never was), stands a granite memorial dedicated to personnel of 37 Squadron who made the supreme sacrifice.

Number 37 (Home Defence) Squadron operated out of Goldhanger (‘C’ Flight), Rochford (‘A’ Flight) and Stow Maries (‘B’ Flight) during the Great War, with their headquarters initially located at The Grange, in Woodham Mortimer.

By 1918 the squadron had consolidated on to one site – Stow Maries – making it a very apt location for the memorial.

Of the ten names listed, five were lost flying out of Stow, three out of Goldhanger and two from Rochford. Ironically, none of them were killed by enemy action – eight died in accidents and two at the hands of our own people.

As we stood there, I scanned the names, listed as they are in descending rank order – somehow regimented even in death.

In a strange kind of way, although they all died long before I was born (at least 52 years before), I feel that I knew them, for over the years I have researched and been touched by each of their stories.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: The memorial dedicated to personnel of 37 Squadron who made the supreme sacrificeThe memorial dedicated to personnel of 37 Squadron who made the supreme sacrifice (Image: Stephen Nunn)

These were, of course, the early days of flying, let alone aerial combat and so it is a wonder there weren’t more losses. But that certainly doesn’t make their sacrifice any the less.

The first fatality occurred just a month after Stow Maries became operational. It was on June 5, 1917, that young Australian pilot 2nd/Lt Roy Walter Mouritzen was flying a Sopwith 1½ Strutter.

Returning to Stow at dusk, he attempted a downwind landing when, according to one eyewitness, he struck a steamroller (some say it was a caravan). He was only 20 years old and had gained his wings nine days earlier.

A double tragedy occurred on July 7, 1917, during a raid by enemy Gotha aircraft.

37 Squadron joined the fray and 19-year-old 2nd/Lt John Edward Rostron Young (pilot) and Airman (2nd Class) Cyril Charles Taylor (observer) were killed near the Nore Light, most likely by what we would now term “friendly fire”.

Gloriously named 2nd/Lt William Quintus Newsom Richardson lies buried in Maldon’s London Road Cemetery. He died when his aircraft side-slipped during a practice flight out of Goldhanger on October 6, 1917.

He was 19 and had only been at the station for 24 hours.

There are two RFC graves located in Goldhanger itself. I know them well and often pay my respects.

One is to 2nd/Lt Sydney Armstrong, who took off from the airfield at 11pm on February 17, 1918, in his BE12 biplane.

At 1am the following morning the body of the 18-year-old pilot was discovered in the shell of his burnt-out machine in a field at Tolleshunt Major.

His replacement was Irish-born Catholic lad 2nd/Lt Frederick Augustus Crowley, who took off in a BE2 on his third solo just before 9am on February 26, 1918.

He clipped some trees, stalled and came down in a field at the back of the Cricketers pub, where the aircraft burst into flames. I once met Freddie’s descendants at an emotional family re-union at Stow.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: The author meeting Freddie Crowley’s descendants at Stow Maries AerodromeThe author meeting Freddie Crowley’s descendants at Stow Maries Aerodrome (Image: Stephen Nunn)

The most senior casualty, Captain Alexander Bruce Kynoch, collided in his BE12 with another aircraft (an SE5A of 61 Squadron, Rochford) over Shotgate on the night of March 7, 1918.

A propeller memorial to 24-year-old Captain Kynoch and the other pilot (Captain Stroud) was erected on the site by the local farmer.

2/Lt Edward Gerald Mucklow deserted from the Royal Fusiliers and served with 37 Squadron, under the name Cyril Lawson Milburn.

He was killed on April 22, 1918, when his BE12 suffered engine failure during a spin and he crashed on Moonshine Field, near the aerodrome at Stow Maries.

He was comparatively ‘old’ at 31.

A month later, on May 22, 1918, 2nd/Lt William Martin Burfoot suffered engine failure in his SE5a and stalled, turning near the ground, before crashing at Danbury.

Last, but by no means least, was 20-year-old Lt Edward Cecil Henry Robert Nicholls. On September 20, 1918, he was flying a Sopwith Camel when he turned sharply after take-off from Stow, spun, crashed and was killed.

Just eight weeks later the Armistice was signed, giving birth to a Remembrance that we quite rightly still keep today.

But for me, as far as the fallen of 37 Squadron are concerned, it can be summed up by a (slightly paraphrased) version of the inscription on Lt Nicholls’ grave in Stow Maries churchyard – “In giving their lives for England’s sake, they lost all but England’s praise”.

Long may that be the case.

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