Service in the Armed Forces in World War I: 1915-1918 & in World War II: 1939-1945

🔎 Amos Allan Denison writing to his eldest grandson on 13th December 1972 and on 3rd March 1976.

"I was 17 when I left Ackworth School, Yorkshire in 1914 and expected to join the family woollen firm and played about learning designing and weaving in the Mill. However the War was in everybody's mind and I joined up in about March 1915 [saying my age was 19 although aged 17.5 years] in Whitehall, London with two friends. I was hoping to be a motor cyclist despatch rider- having earlier been given a Triumph 3.5HP at home. I was told to walk round the building and come back to say I was aged 21 - which I did. Then to my surprise we were taken to the Mall [in London leading to Buckingham Palace] in a lorry and there told to drive the thing. Fortunately I knew how to drive a car as Father had a 20 HP Pick (made in Lincolnshire) I must have passed as we were sent to some barracks near Bromley, Kent. After one month as a Private ASC(MT) I was sent overseas via Southampton, Le Havre and up river to Rouen. Later sent to Boulogne and put in charge of a Thornycroft Lorry with the then Army Service Corps to transport goods to the front and did nothing but unload ships, also in tents on Calais beach.
My parents [as committed peace loving Quakers] did not wish me nor my elder brother to be a combatants.
However, this was not my idea of the War and I applied for a commission in September 1915 when I would be 18 years old on 5th September and was eventually interviewed at the War Office, London by P. F. Warner [later Sir Pelham "Plum" Warner the old England Cricket Captain] I was commissioned in November 1915 to the Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment (2nd Foot). Warner said I was tall enough for the Guards but without [in those days] a substantial private income Warner believed the Queens to be the next best Regiment of Foot in the British Army. We trained at Shoreham and when the Irish Rebellion started we had been in Fermoy and spent our time rounding up the Sein Fieners.
At that time the Royal Flying Corps were an elite Corps. I transferred and learnt to fly at Netheravon & Upavon on the Salisbury Plain in July 1916 and made my first solo flight for 10 minutes on 21st July after one week's instruction.

Image five
AAD standing 3rd from the left, 1916
Image six
AAD sitting on a chair 3rd from the left,1916

The machines we used were:
(1) Maurice Farman biplane with Renault engine;
(2) Henri Farman with Gnðme Rotary engine;
(3) Vickers Gun Bus Monosoupape 90HP (Single Valve) Rotary;
(4) De Haviland 2 (Scout) with Monosoupape engine
and finally passed out on 16th September 1916 and given my wings in a F.E.8 Single Seater Mono engine Scout now called "Fighters".

I joined 41 Squadron RFC in Gosport, Hampshire and we few flew across the Channel - quite an experience in those days. Our job was to patrol above the trenches and do what were called offensive patrols over the German held territory. Often we were at about 10,000 ft with no oxygen or parachutes. One day, though, our own artillery were strafing and I saw what looked like a shell nearby at the top of its trajectory - very scaring!

Our airfield was at Abele, behind Ypres and patrolled from the Belgian floods in the North down to South of Armentières.

I had a few skirmishes with the "Huns (our name for the Germans) but was brought down over Ypres by the Richthofen Circus [Baron Richthofen's sister was married to D.H. Lawrence] on 24th January 1917. I was patrolling with Lieutenant Fraser when we were attacked by four either Albatrosses or Halberstadt.

Fraser had engine trouble and I was left alone. In a dog fight you twist and turn and try to keep the enemy off your tail. We had tracer bullets to help firing and one got me. However, I was wounded in the arm and my engine was hit. It was a 100 HP Monosoupape (single valve) where the rotary engine is at the rear of the cockpit and fortunately was able to take a lot of the bullets when I was forced to descend having no power. I was later told there were about 90 holes in the aircraft as shown in the Casualty Report. I got one of the enemy machines and was credited with two others. I was awarded the Military Cross. The Distinguished Flying Cross, "DFC", did not come into being until April 1918 when the R.F.C. and Naval Air Service became the R.A.F. The citation in the London Gazette read "Although wounded, he continued single-handed to fight two enemy machines and succeeded bringing one of them down. Later, although his machine was badly damaged, he effected a successful landing. He has at all times displayed marked courage and initiative."

Whilst serving with the RFC I was granted a Regular Commission with the York & Lancaster Regiment there being no Regular RFC at that date and we were therefore seconded to the RFC. [AAD used to relate that the Army had no idea how to categorise "pilots and their machines" so machines were first categorised as "horses" such that AAD & fellow officers received "Hay Allowance" in their initial pay packets] I believe that after I left the front that my 41 Squadron and certainly 46 Squadron in which my friend Eric Armitage was killed did a lot of trench strafing, a useless and dangerous occupation.

Our aircraft [F.E.8] when we first went out in 1916 were supposed to be the best and superceded the DH2 (only eight years after the first official "powered and sustained" flight in Great Britain by S. F. Cody [thanks to Jean Roberts] on 16th October 1908. S .F. Cody's only son Frank is seated on the far right chair in the above photo but was killedthe day before AAD was shot down. AAD was the only pilot in the photograph to survive the war). However as our ceiling was 10,000 to 15,000ft according to the weight of the pilot and the engine fitness the German Albatross, Fokker triplane were better and the supremacy kept changing until 1918 when the SE5 and Sopwith Camels were equal to any. 1917 my year was a bad one and many good chaps were shot down. Remember flying was in its infancy and we didn't know how to get out of a spin until it was safely demonstrated in early 1917 in tests at Farnborough.

I was invalided home and after leaving hospital in London, I was posted to Tadcaster and instructed new pilots. Later I was again posted to France as a test pilot, testing newly repaired machines and I also did the test on a Bristol Fighter to judge whether a two bladed propeller was better than a four bladed propeller at various heights and speeds.

Later I was put in charge of the Issue Section of 2 Air Squadron Supply Depot. We had a large number of various aircraft and in early 1918 when the Germans made their final push we were heavily bombed but we got most of our aircraft back to an airfield further away from the front.

I was awarded the order Member of British Empire(Military) "MBE" for this being a Captain at the time. This being an "Order" it is the first of medals followed by the MC, then the 1914-1918 Campaign Medal, the General Service Medal and the Victory Medal. I was mentioned in despatches by Field Marshall Douglas Haig in 1918 which was announced in the 1919 New Year's Honours and that means an Oak Leaf in on the Victory Medal. This award was for "Testing Aircraft and for Commanding a Replacement Unit". The other medals are for the 1939 -1945 War and are the Campaign Medals again with an oak leaf for a mention in despatches This was awarded for my work in organising the arrival of the American Air Force to RAF Atcham in Shropshire [whose CO was Col. Roy Baum, an architect from Princeton in peacetime, who became Godfather to AAD's youngest son, David]. The last medal is the Air Force Service Medal, similar to the Territorial Medal for the Army and denotes long service with the Royal Air Force Volunteers."

AAD's Order and Medals
Photo of AAD Order & Medals

* In 1976 AAD was invited to 41 Squadron's 60th Anniversary and was the only Founder Member able to attend. In the following year the Squadron kindly sent Letters of Condolences to AADs' family after his peaceful death at home in Devon aged almost 80.

🔔 Comments of Amos Allan Denison to 1st World War

According to his youngest son, neither AAD nor any of his wartime colleagues [1st and 2nd World Wars] ever spoke much about their wartime experiences - it was just "not done" in those days. Only pressure towards the end of his life from his eldest grandson in relation to a school project did AAD [over 40 years ago & then in his late 70's] agree to pen a few words that have been so carefully preserved by his grandson.

If, occasionally, AAD did speak about the First World War it was not about his own experiences but about his anger. Anger that so many people suffered as a result of four related royal families and a few handfuls of politicians being unable to resolve issues but quick enough to fuel hatred amongst their populations. Has very much changed in 2018? He also referred to what is now a famous comedy line in a popular TV series "We were often told that the Royal Families & Generals were right behind us - yes, about 60 miles at least..."

Despite his heroics, AAD had been brought up in Yorkshire as a peace loving Quaker. So it was not surprising that in his 60's he occasionally remarked that the real victors of the 1914 -1918 War were not individual countries but ordinary folks. They saw the oppressive royal families of Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire swept away [even the British royal family was forced to change its name to plain "Windsor"], in England they saw the introduction of income tax on the rich, very low wages began to rise, [leading to the demise of many controlling landowners] and [when AAD was already in his 20's] the right, at last, for Englishwomen to vote. But at what cost of human life and limb and family sufferings.

In 2018, he would undoubtedly be grateful that his generation's sacrifices are still respected 100 years after the cessation of hostilities. He would be saddened, though, that the majority [just!] of ordinary English folks still find difficulty in being in union with our colleagues and often extended family members across the Channel that he had flown over, alone, with no parachute and no radio, in 1916.

AAD in Second World War 1939 -1945

Upon the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918 ["RAF"] AAD was in the first Air Force List as a Temporary Captain with the Military Cross, aged 20 years and six months. It seems that AAD after 1918 resigned from the RAF, but remained in the York and Lancaster’s until 1924, when he is listed in the London Gazette as “resigning his commission, 5th November 1924, with the York and Lancaster regiment, but to retain his rank of Lieutenant.”

He reenlisted in the RAF just prior to the outbreak of the second world war aged almost 42 and was commissioned Pilot Officer on 4th July 1939 in The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve [Administrative & Special Duties Branch] as reported in the Air Force List for July to August 1939, further publications of which were then suspended for sale for the duration of WWII. He was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer on the eve of war, 2nd September 1939. He later told his family that he was on a cricket tour playing in Sidmouth, Devon when war was actually declared on 3rd September.

His early posting was to RAF Speke (also known as Speke Aerodrome), seven miles south-east of Liverpool part of which is now, in 2018,called the John Lennon Airport. He was probably there during the last time No.306 Squadron was there with the last fighter unit of Spitfires from about October to December 1941. In the early 1940's it was an important airfield for all the many reasons so well set out on our link. It was during his time at RAF Speke that he first met his future second wife, Mary Roberts, who together with her younger sister, Hilda {known later as "Sam"} had volunteered with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force ["W.A.A.F."] probably in their home town, Wrexham,, North Wales and then posted to the anti-aircraft barrage balloon centre at Fazakerley, near Liverpool.

No.8 Balloon Centre Command 1942 Fazakerley, Liverpool
which administered No.'s 919, 920 & 921 (Balloon) Squadrons which provided the Liverpool barrage.
It was located at Lime Tree Farm, Fazakerley

Mary Myfanywy Roberts [later Denison] {aged 30 years} Left hand end in the back row
Hilda {"Sam"}Roberts [later Lloyd] {younger sister to Mary} Third from the left in the front row

Made temporary Squadron Leader on 1st March 1942 when he is recorded as being appointed Camp Commandant at RAF Condover, a satellite airfield for RAF Atcham.

21st April 1942 - Wing Commander John Heber-Percy [who had just taken over as Commanding Officer at RAF Atcham] visited RAF Condover. He was already known to AAD and then on 4th May 1942 AAD was posted from RAF Condover to RAF Atcham as Station Administrative Office ["SAdO"] taking on the position of Squadron Leader Millington, who was posted to RAF Valley. During this time, AAD's second son [then aged about 14] came to visit RAF Condover and recalls " staying with Sir Offley Wakeman *who then gave me my first lesson in 12 bore shooting " [* who would have been the 4th Baronet [1887 -1975] living at Yeaton Peverey House, Bomere Heath, near Shrewsbury.] In January 1943 AAD is Mentioned in Despatches as the Operations Record shows which was for organising the arrival of the USAF to RAF Atcham.

During the latter part of WWII AAD was posted to * RAF Montford Bridge near Shrewsbury which was a small unit, not an over demanding role as Sqdn Ldr Admin but he was then almost 47 years of age and very happy to be serving at all. It was from here that he was married to Section Officer, Women's Auxiliary Air Force [ "W.A.A.F."] Mary Myfanwy Roberts [younger sister to Squadron Leader John Roberts] on 10th July 1944 and was presented with a fine silver tray from fellow officers [see photo below]. This may have included a contribution from the late Raymond Baxter [later a well known TV presenter] who was also serving at RAF Montford Bridge until June 1944 – see his auto biography “Tales of My Time” [1922-2006] pages 71 to 74. This had so many pages dedicated to RAF Montford Bridge because RB met his future wife there who was serving in the US Forces nearby. They were well known to AAD and their US Air Force Colonel, Roy Baum, [in peacetime an architect from Princeton, USA] serving there became a great friend to AAD and later god-father to AAD's youngest son, David, born on 7th May 1945,the day before the end of WWII and who, evidently, narrowly escaped being christened "Victor"! [*RAF Montford Bridge - background information is here.]

John C Roberts [older brother to Mary Myfanwy Roberts]
Standing 3rd from the right in the back row
No.39 Squadron RAF North Africa October 1942
Wing Commander Gaine A.F.C. Officer Commanding

Women's Auxiliary Air Force ["W.A.A.F."]
Officer Corps Training Unit ["O.C.T.U."] at Windermere, England 1942
Graduating Class

Mary Myfanwy Roberts [later Denison] {aged 30} Left hand end standing on the ground
A & L Slingsby, Photographers, Grange-over-Sands

the silver tray presented to AAD
by fellow officers for a wedding

Then it was over and AAD ended his total of ten years fighting a nation with whom he had no personal grudge. He was then posted to Berlin as continued on "Family"-page.

AAD was confirmed in his rank as Squadron Leader on 4th April 1946 and then is noted in the London Gazette 1st June 1954 as relinquishing his emergency commission as Sqn/Ldr retaining the rank of Wing Commander, with effect from 10th February 1954. Why this nine year delay since the end of WWII is still [in 2018] rather a family mystery.

Later in 1945 AAD was in Berlin as part of the Occupying Force where his new wife and youngest new-born son joined him. He later joined the Control Commission for Germany known as the "CCG" as Assistant Director of Restitutions for the British Zone of Germany and was mainly living in Detmold until 1950.

AAD RFC Cufflinks Box
The silver cufflinks box with the “RFC” engraved lid [see photo below] was a gift to AAD [prior to 1918] from his Mother. The box is in two parts as the lid is about 1917 and replaced an earlier lid, as the main silver hallmark is 19th century. In October 2011 this was in the ownership of his youngest son, David, and then passed to AAD's eldest grandson.

A "walking cane" engraved with the RFC crest made for Capt A. A. Denison MC and said to be from the wooden propeller of a WW1 Sopwith Camel aircraft. In the 21st Century it was given to AAD's eldest great-grandson [upon his 18th birthday] who was later to hold a Commission in the British Army and to serve in Afghanistan.

The presentation case was crafted from West African mahogany hard-wood by Flight Lieutenant Gerry Keyworth at whose marriage AAD's youngest son, David, was Best-Man.

Go UP ▲
Copyright 2018: Andrey Chaley of History Houses ®
Related topics of this author:It can be INTERESTING To visit FRIENDS