Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Time Travel

'Research' for me is a word that evokes stuffiness, bookish tendencies and frankly, a dry as dust well where the spirits sink. At least that was the case until I started doing a little digging myself, it seems quite different now as the mud and metal of Flanders and Arras edge closer.
Keen group3
Left: Capt PCO Riddell (Recording Officer) Centre: Unknown, possibly Padre Keymer, Right: Capt AW Keen
SE5a Cpt GH Lewis
Capt GH Lewis and 'The Artful Dodger'
There isn't much mud or metal on my desk but plenty in my imagination as I trawl through accounts penned by Taffy Jones and Mac MacLanachan, as they were still trying to make sense of and come to terms with their part in the first great war in the air, to delve here is to slip through a time lock. Their words bring a powerful sense of immediacy and temporary suspension of the 21st century - immersion in another time. It's a process, you dig and a trickle (if you are in luck, a flow) of information crosses the void of the intervening years.
Discoveries produce a surge of excitement, connections between sources are made, arguments and conflicts seem to be settled, at least until you accept the awful truth that simply because two sources agree, the hard reality or the whole truth has not necessarily been un-earthed. I want to listen and soak it all up - see the conflict and the relationships their experiences forged through their eyes. This all stops abruptly when the present intrudes and cuts you off leaving temporary, sweet regret. No, researching is a lot of fun but it drinks deep from a shallow well of time.
Maj Arthur Keen MC, CO 40 Squadron (SE5a), 15th August 1918: At around 5-30pm Arthur flew across to 70 Squadron's field (Esquerdes - 23 statute miles away) to see a friend and after dinner clambered back aboard his aircraft to fly back to Bruay. Reading the evidence and a little between the lines it seems that on his return he decided to give an impromptu 'I'm home' flyby for the lads which concluded with;
"… a stall turn low down near Bruay, striking a bank about 9-30pm. Machine crashed heavily and burst into flames. Pilot admitted to hospital suffering from burns to face and legs and severe concussion." [1]
Arthur left this life at the age of 24 on the 2nd September 1918, (not the 12th as reported across several internet based sources.) His casualty, service and squadron records along with his gravestone all have the correct date in place. This fascinating search goes on, I take delivery of his personal affects early in the New Year to continue the process of transcribing and recording the contents. An absorbing task that will doubtless fuel our time machine for several months as we strive to understand his life and times.
Footnote: From accidents like these came the advice that I and my contemporaries received from wiser heads as we took our first faltering steps in the display world, "It's the unplanned manoeuvre you throw in at the end that generally gets you, leave that one for someone else!". On the shoulders of giants?
[1] The quote came from David Gunby's excellent history of 40 Squadron, 'Sweeping the Skies'.

Se5a 1

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