Fitting tributes to airmen who crashed at Wolvercote

Relatives at the plaque - Diana Claudia Monk, who was named after her uncle Claude in his memory, and Jay Knox, great niece of Lieutenant Hotchkiss.
Relatives at the plaque - Diana Claudia Monk, who was named after her uncle Claude in his memory, and Jay Knox, great niece of Lieutenant Hotchkiss.

It is 110 years ago that two Royal Flying Corps aviators were killed when their monoplane crashed as they tried to land at Port Meadow in Oxford.

Second Lieutenant Edward Hotchkiss, 28, and Lieutenant Claude Bettington, 37, died as their two-month-old Bristol Coanda monoplane came down on the edge of Wolvercote on September 10, 1912.

The crash was a huge shock to Oxford residents, with thousands turning out to watch the funeral procession through the city three days later.

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Two monoplanes had crashed in the previous five months, yet both airmen volunteered to replace the victims of the second crash a few days earlier to ensure full RFC participation in annual army manoeuvres.

Lieutenant Hotchkiss, who was at the controls, was an experienced pilot, having qualified in 1911, and a commercial instructor.

Lieutenant Bettington, a veteran of the Boer War, was observer on the flight. He had just qualified as a pilot.

Photo: Oxford Mail

The funeral service at St Peter’s Church, Wolvercote, was attended by family, friends and representatives of the War Office, Army Council and Admiralty.

The two coffins, covered in Union flags and wreaths, including two from Wolvercote schoolchildren, were carried into the packed church by colleagues of the two men.

After the service, the coffins were put on two horse-drawn gun carriages from the Royal Field Artillery.

Soldiers from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, based at Cowley Barracks, were the formal escort, with the infantry’s regimental band and other groups following with the families.

The procession led by mounted soldiers travelled slowly along Woodstock Road, into Cornmarket Street and to Carfax, where city and university dignitaries joined, then into Queen Street towards Oxford railway station.

Thousands of people, including many schoolchildren, lined the route. Cornmarket Street and Queen Street were packed, reportedly with the crowd six or seven deep.

Photo: Oxford Mail

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Houses and businesses along the route drew their blinds and many people took off their hats as the cortege passed.

At Oxford station, at the families’ request, the coffins were put on trains for burial – Lieutenant Hotchkiss to Shropshire and Lieutenant Bettington to Yorkshire.

A plaque in their memory was installed on Airmen’s Bridge at Wolvercote in 1913 after more than 2,000 people contributed to a fund.

In 2012, Wolvercote Local History Society and Oxford City Council organised a ceremony to mark the centenary of the crash, with a bugler sounding the Last Post.

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Reader Peter Smith, of Arthur Street, Osney, who has supplied the pictures for this article and is studying aspects of the history of Port Meadow, is keen to hear from anyone with information about the 1912 funeral. Call him on 01865 728883 or email wolvercoteww1@btinternet.com

The pictures show Claude Bettington, left, and Edward Hotchkiss, the crashed aircraft, and the funeral procession in Woodstock Road, turning at Carfax and in Queen Street and relatives at the plaque - Diana Claudia Monk, who was named after her uncle Claude in his memory, and Jay Knox, great niece of Lieutenant Hotchkiss.

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This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Andy.ffrench@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF