- Temporary Lieutenant Alfred Joseph Etches
- Private Thomas Stanley Freeman Etches
Much of the acclaim for the successful achievements of the opening phase of the Arras Offensive can without a doubt be placed squarely on the shoulders of the airmen of the Royal Flying Corps. Flying their flimsy aircraft, often in atrocious weather, they had taken thousands of aerial photographs and had drawn an equal number of sketch maps pin pointing every German gun position and strongpoint thus placing in the hands of the British High Command a complete overview of the obstacles they were facing, and ensuring that the British artillery could accurately pinpoint every enemy gun position. In addition the Corps had flown innumerable reconnaissance flights over the enemy’s positions had provided close cooperation to the troops on the ground by ‘strafing’ and bombing enemy troop concentrations once the assault had begun. A pilot had wrote of the opening day of the offensive;
‘Dawn was due at 5-30 on Easter Monday, and that was the exact hour set for the beginning of the Battle of Arras. We were up and had our machines out of the hangers while it was still night. The beautiful weather of a few hours before had vanished. A strong, chill wind was blowing from the east, and dark, menacing clouds were scudding along low overhead.
We were detailed to fly at a low altitude over the advancing infantry, firing into the enemy trenches, and dispersing any groups of men, or fatigue parties we happened to see in the vicinity of the lines. Some phases of this work are known as ‘contact patrols’, the machines keeping track always of the infantry advance, watching points where they may be held up and returning from time to time to report just how the battle is going. Working with the infantry in a big attack is a most exiting business. It means flying close to the ground and passing through our own shells and those of the enemy.
The storm had delayed the coming of day by several minutes, but as soon as there was light enough to make our presence worthwhile, we were in the air and braving the elements just as the troops were below us. Lashed by the gale, the wind cut the face as we moved against the enemy. The ground seemed to be one mass of bursting shells. Farther back, where the guns were firing, the hot flames flashing from thousands of muzzles gave the impression of a long ribbon of incandescent light. The air seemed shaken and literally full of shells on their missions of death and destruction. Over and over again one felt a sudden jerk under a wing tip, and the machine would heave quickly. This meant that a shell had passed within a few feet of you.
The waves of attacking infantry as they came out of their trenches and trudged forward behind the curtain of shells laid down by the artillery had been an amazing sight. The men seemed to wander across No Mans Land and into the enemy trenches, as if the battle was a great bore to them. From the air it looked as though they did not realise they were at war and were taking it all entirely too easy. That is the way with clockwork warfare. These troops had been drilled to move forward at a given pace. They had been timed over and over again in marching a certain distance and from this timing the ’creeping’ or rolling barrage had been mathematically worked out. And the battle, so calmly entered into, was one of the tensest, bitterest of the whole world war’
The Royal Flying Corps offensive at Arras had begun five days before the infantry had gone over the top. It’s objective had been to clear the air of German aircraft to enable the aircraft of First, and Third Armies to get on with their work of trench mapping and artillery ranging above the trenches. Although the Corps had been numerically superior to the German Air Force they had been equipped with obsolete and under gunned machines which had almost immediately fallen prey to the guns of the heavier armed German aircraft, which, in many instances, had belonged to the Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, and his ‘Flying Circus’.
April had begun to acquire its ‘bloody’ reputation during a snowstorm on Easter Monday [the ninth] when seventy-two British aircraft had been shot down with a loss of a hundred and five aircrew [19 killed, 13 wounded, and 73 missing]. In addition a further fifty six aircraft had been written off as a result of crashes, which had been attributed to the relative inexperience of their pilots, many of whom had been posted to squadrons with as little as ten hours solo flight to their credit, and often with no experience whatsoever in the type of aircraft they were flying. The average life expectancy for a British airman on the Western Front during this period was twenty-three days. The twenty-five squadrons on the front, one third of which were single seater units, lost 316 airmen killed in action from a total aircrew strength of 730 men, a casualty rate of over forty per cent, not counting those who had been wounded, missing, or grounded. Despite the appalling losses and abominable weather conditions the R.F.C. had continued with its task.
On Wednesday the eleventh of April a Bleriot Experimental [B.E.] 2e reconnaissance/light bomber aircraft boasting the distinctive ‘flash of lightening’ markings of No.52 Squadron had taken off from it’s airfield near the village of Longavesnes to search for reported heavy German troop movements near the village of Gouzeucourt. The aircraft had never returned, the burned out wreck being eventually located near the village some days later. Nearby lay the mangled bodies of the pilot, the twenty six years old, Flight Commodore Arthur Forbes Baker, and his observer, the twenty three years old; Temporary Lieutenant Alfred Joseph Etches.
Born in Scarborough on Friday the 19TH of January 1894 at No.42 Londesborough Road, Alfred had been the only son of Mary [formerly Rigg], who had been the second wife of Thomas Robert Etches, a ‘Master Tailor’ by profession, who, at the time of his son’s birth had carried on a business which had been started by his father, John Etches, at No.9 Valley Bridge Parade. Motherless almost from birth [Mary Etches had died at the age of thirty nine years on the 30TH of January 1894], Alfred had initially been educated at Scarborough at St Peter’s Catholic School, in Auborough Street and had eventually been sent to a Catholic school in York before returning to the town to work in the family business ‘Etches and Son’, in Huntriss Row. 
By the outbreak of war Etches had been a ‘farmer’ in Canada, where he had also served with the Canadian Militia until 1913. Amongst the thousands of Britons who had returned to the mother country once the conflict had begun, Etches had returned to Scarborough during 1914 to enlist for the duration of the war, at the town’s Burniston Road Cavalry Depot [in 2007 the former site of Burniston Barracks is a housing estate] on the 29TH of December, as a Private into the 18TH [Queen Alexandra’s Own Royal] Hussars. Aged twenty years and eleven months at the time, Etches had been issued with the Regimental Number 28553, and had served as a Private soldier until the 4TH of March 1915, when he had promoted to the rank of ‘unpaid corporal’. During the following month [09/04/15] he had discharged from the cavalry, having been appointed to the temporary rank of Second Lieutenant [a photograph of the newly appointed Lieutenant had appeared in ‘The Scarborough Pictorial’ of Wednesday July 7TH] on the ‘General List’, and had shortly been transferred to the 9TH [Reserve] Battalion of The East Yorkshire Regiment, which at the time had been a part of 90TH Brigade of the original 30TH Division, However, during September 1916 the unit had become the 7TH Training Reserve Battalion and attached to the 2ND Reserve Brigade, which had been based at Rugely Camp in Staffordshire.
Etches had volunteered for pilot training during August 1916 and had undergone a medical which had tested his heart rate [a pulse of 60 was thought to be good and one over a 100 bad]. Examination of the lungs with a manometer had come next, [suitable candidates being those who could hold their breath for 45 seconds]. Following this Etches had been strapped into a typing chair and spun ten times in twenty seconds to see whether his eye movements stabilised within twenty seconds, passing this test, his final obstacle had been a fifteen minute interview, which had been intended to sort out the slow witted, the unreliable, timid, and the unstable. Etches had passed all the tests and had been accepted for pilot training swapping his single Subaltern’s ‘pip’ for a white cap band indicating his cadet status.
Etches had next been sent to the R.F.C.’s Depot at Hastings, where he had waited for a vacancy at the School of Military Aeronautics, which had been located in Christ Church College, Oxford. Run at a strict Regular Army tempo, a typical day at the Depot, according to Winter, ‘had begun with ‘gunfire tea’ and two biscuits at 6am, followed by a cross country run, then came breakfast and inspection. Afterwards came P.E., with much marching at 140 paces to the minute, hands brought up to shoulder level with each swing, before marching off to lectures in map work, rigging, uses of compass, and so on’
The prospective pilot had duly been posted to Oxford on the 14TH of August 1916, his gain in status being indicated by permission to replace his regimental and rank badges. Transfer to the college had also meant a weekly allowance of seven shillings and sixpence together with the issue of fifty pounds as a kit allowance, which had allowed Etches to order one khaki uniform. The ethos of the school was made clear from the very first day, when newcomers were each given a pamphlet which had stated: ‘Every pupil on arrival will make himself thoroughly familiar with the contents of this pamphlet. Ignorance of its contents cannot be accepted as an excuse for neglect of duty or disobedience of orders’…
The pamphlet had gone on to say that all work, on parade, in lectures, and on aerodromes came under the category of ‘parades’, which meant that cadets had to salute an instructor all the time they spoke to him and that no cadet could speak with an air mechanic or N.C.O. whilst under instruction. Cadets had also been specifically forbidden to damage maps, spill ink, break pencil points, or otherwise ‘waste the resources of war’. In addition ‘slacks’ were never to be worn on parades, or shorts and socks at any time.
A typical day at Oxford had begun with reveille at 6am; P.E. had followed this in the quadrangle. After breakfast the 500 cadets and fifty officers had marched the mile or so to the university lecture rooms, where from 9am until 12.30 and again from 2 until 5 the cadets had attended lectures on the various aspects of aircraft construction, their evening being filled with writing up, and learning notes.
Etches had ‘passed out’ of Oxford on the 3RD of September 1916, at some point during his training Etches had transferred from pilot to observer training, whether due to medical reasons or ineptitude is not recorded, however, there had always been a shortage of observers, mainly due to their vulnerability in combat, therefore, it may not be too unreasonable to say that he had simply been ‘poached’ from pilot training to fill one of the many vacant seats. Posted to the 2ND Reserve Squadron, Etches had eventually joined the recently formed [May 1916] 52ND Squadron at the unit’s aerodrome near Hounslow on the 11TH of October 1916, he had remained there until the 16TH of November, when the unit had begun to make it’s way to France.
Commanded by Major Leonard Parker, Fifty Two Squadron had been the first R.F.C. Squadron to be equipped with the new R.E.8 reconnaissance aircraft [nicknamed ‘Harry Tate’ after a successful music hall comedian of the time]. The unit had assembled at Rouen before moving southwards to the Somme Sector, where the Squadron had made it’s home at the large aerodrome situated near Bertangles, a village situated a few miles north of Amiens.
Attached to Tenth Corps of the Fourth Army, the squadron had soon begun to undertake it’s primary role of Corps reconnaissance, a task which had entailed the taking of hundreds of aerial photographs, and sketching maps, often in atrocious weather, of the enemy’s positions in the Corps sector to the east of Albert. Etches had remained at Bertangles until December when his Squadron had moved eastwards to an airfield near the village of Chipilly.
The meagre training available to observers at the time had meant that Etches had had to learn his trade the hard way, in action over the lines. Ten flights over the front [if they were fortunate enough to survive] had been considered the absolute minimum for a trainee observer before he had been awarded the coveted half wing emblem of a qualified observer. Etches had received his half ‘brevet’ on the 25TH of November 1916.
On the 7TH of January 1917 the Squadron had suffered its first casualty to enemy action. A little before midday Parker and his observer, Second Lieutenant Mann had left Chipilly in an R.E.8 on a photographic patrol, they had never returned, having been shot down half an hour after the pair had taken off, north west of Peronne. Mann had been taken prisoner, and had survived the war, whilst Parker had been killed in the crash; his remains were subsequently buried in Tincourt New British Cemetery.
Due to a number of accidents the R.E.8 had received a reputation as a killer machine due to ‘spinning in’ with fire frequently following, as a result of the engine being pushed back into the fuel tank, this perhaps coupled with the loss of Parker had been enough to destroy any of the confidence the crews of 52 Squadron had had in their machines. Therefore, in an unprecedented move, the unit had exchanged their aircraft for the older B.E.2e’s of 34 Squadron on the 26TH of January [the unit had changed back to R.E.8’s at the end of May 1917]. Shortly after this exchange of aircraft 52 Squadron had moved to the village of Meulte, where the unit had remained until March 1917, when it had relocated to the aerodrome at Logasvesnes, from where Baker and Etches had taken off, never to return, into the snowstorm of the eleventh of April
Alfred Etches’s father had received a telegram from the War Office at the family home ‘St Bedes’, No 3 Osbourne Park on Tuesday the seventeenth of April that had reported his son as missing. A week later, on the 25TH of April, Thomas Etches had received another telegram from the Secretary of the War Office bearing few words;
‘Regret to inform you that 2/Lt. A.J.E. Etches General List attd. R.F.C 52 Sqn previously reported missing is now reported killed April eleventh. The Army Council express their sympathy’…
The tidings had subsequently appeared two days later in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the twenty seventh of April 1917;
‘Scarborough Flying Officer killed - News has been received that Second Lieutenant Alfred Joseph Etches, son of Mr. Etches, Huntriss Row, who was recently reported missing, was killed on the 11th of April.
He joined as Private at Burniston Barracks, afterwards gaining a commission and serving in the East Yorks. Later he joined the R.F.C. lieutenant Etches had spent two years in Canada. He was 23 years of age, and single. There are two brothers [Bede and Arthur] in France, and another brother [Paul Septimus] has been invalided sick from France’…
The remains of Etches and Parker had initially been buried where they had been found, However, after the armistice they had been re-interred in Gouzeaucourt British Cemetery, in the village of Gouzeaucourt, which is located fifteen kilometres to the south west of Cambrai. Alfred Etches’s grave can be located in Section 6, Plot B, Grave 1 of the Cemetery, whilst Baker’s grave is located in the nearby Section 5, Plot E, Grave 20.
Just eight weeks after the death of Alfred, the Etches family had received word that another son had been killed in action. 36122 Private Thomas Stanley Freeman Etches.
Born in Scarborough on the 10TH of February 1897 at No.39 Garfield Road, Thomas had been the eldest son of Thomas Robert, and third wife, Sardle Jane England Etches [formerly Freeman], who had been popularly known as ‘Tippe’. Initially also a pupil of St Peters Roman Catholic School, Thomas had eventually graduated during 1907 to St Martins Grammar School, where he had remained until 1912. By the out break of war Thomas had been a scholar at Ushaw College at Durham, where he had been studying for a degree in Mathematics. He had enlisted into the army at Newcastle during September 1916 and had initially served as a Gunner [Regimental Number 174115] in the Royal Field Artillery. The eighteen years old had subsequently transferred to the infantry and had joined during January 1917 the Eighth [Service] Battalion of the Loyal [North Lancashire] Regiment which had been serving with the 7TH Infantry Brigade of the 25TH Division which had been enduring the bitter winter of 1916/17 in the Somme Sector.
By the beginning of June 1917 Etches’s unit had been transferred to the Ypres Sector, where the 25TH Division had been attached to the 2ND A.N.Z.A.C. [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps] of the British Second Army in preparation for a forthcoming assault on the Messines/ Wytschaete Ridge The attack had duly begun on the seventh of July and the Division had been involved in the largely successful operation, during the ensuing days the Germans had subjected the commonwealth forces to an incessant heavy artillery bombardment. During this period the Eighth Loyal’s had been in trenches near to the Belgian village of Gapaard, where, on Sunday the tenth of June 1917, Thomas Etches and a number of other men had been killed outright by a direct hit on their position.
Etches’s old school magazine ‘The Martinian’ had included in the 1917 edition an epitaph to the school’s former pupil, including a segment of a letter from an officer of Thomas’s unit which had originally been written to his father;
‘I was present at the time of his death’, wrote 2nd Lieutenant C.W. Kay. ‘On the 10TH, after the battle of the 7TH, we held an extremely dangerous position of the advanced line near Gapaard; we were enfiladed by heavy artillery fire, and one of the shells hit the trench directly. Your son was killed instantaniously. He was always bright and cheerful, and above all quietly efficient. Yes, Etches, as we knew him at school, was always quietly efficient. One of his comrades wrote: -- ‘It was only two days before his death that he brought in eight German prisoners and one of our own men wounded all alone, and I am not very certain whether or not he was recommended, as he had to go before the C.O. for his gallant conduct in the field under very heavy shell-fire’…
No identifiable remains of Thomas Etches had ever been found. After the war his name had been included with those of over fifty four thousand officers and men who had lost their live in the Ypres Salient, and for whom there are no known graves, on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, at Ypres, it can be found on Panels 41 and 43. During the post war years the congregation of St Peters Roman Catholic Church had erected a War Memorial outside the church to commemorate the names of the thirty one former members of the congregation who had lost their lives during the Great War [a further eleven names had been added after the Second World War], amongst them can be found the names of the Etches brothers.
Alfred and Thomas’s names can also be found in Scarborough’s Manor Road Cemetery on a shield shaped memorial in the Roman Catholic plot [Section G, Row 1, Grave 0] near to a memorial which bears the names of Mary Etches, who had passed away on the 30TH of January 1894, and Thomas Robert Etches, who had died in a Scarborough nursing home on the 23RD of November 1931 at the age of 77 years. Nearby can also be found a memorial which commemorates the names of a further three sons of Thomas Robert and ‘Tippe’ Etches, who had also lived relatively short lives. Cuthbert born in Scarborough on the 13TH of February 1902, died January 29TH 1909, John Jerome who had died on the 9TH of September 1933, and seventh son Paul Septimus, who had died at Adelaide Australia on the 28TH of August 1935 at the age of 27 years.
During April 1918 the Etches family had received another blow when news had been received that the eldest son, Private Bede Etches, serving in the Yorkshire Regiment was believed to be missing in action. Many days of anxiety had been endured until the twenty sixth of the month when Thomas had received a card from the missing son stating that he was a Prisoner of War in a camp in Germany.
At the end of the war Bede Etches had returned to Scarborough to work in the family business until the death of his father when ‘Etches and Sons’ had finally closed their door after trading in the town for over forty years. Arthur Osbert Etches [born during 1899] had also been a pupil of St Martins Grammar School, after officer training at Sandhurst he had embarked for France during the summer of 1916 where he had served in the Army Service Corps; he had had the good fortune to survive the war.
The Etches’s youngest son Francis Anthony [born during 1900] had also been a pupil of St Martins Grammar School, from 1913 to 1916, when he had left to serve in the Royal Naval Air Service, he had also survived the war to eventually migrate to Australia where he become a ‘weighs and measures inspector’ and during 1932 the husband of Constance Cora Miranda Boseley. Frank had also been the father of a daughter named Judith Marie, who had been born on the 6TH of January 1937, and had eventually married at Alice Springs on the 4TH of April 1959 to ‘Driller’ Earl Graham Reidy.
After the death of her husband, ‘Tippe’ Etches had lived for many years at No 3 Leighton House Flats on the corner of Scarborough’s Brunswick Terrace and Vernon Road [the flats, once a hotel, had been badly damaged during a German air raid the following year and had lain derelict until demolition in 1946], she had died on Easter Morning, March 24TH1940 at the age of seventy five years. ‘Tippe’s grave can be found in the Roman Catholic Section of Manor Road Cemetery [Section W, Row 3, Grave 12].
The author wishes to express his deep gratitude to Mr Peter Etches of Huddersfield, who had supplied so much valuable information regarding his father Private Bede Etches, and the remainder of his amazing ancestors, the Etches family including the various sons of a tailor.
 ‘Winged Warfare’; Major W.A. [Billy] Bishop, V.C. D.S.O. M.C. Hodder & Stoughton, 1918.
 At the time of the 1891 Scarborough Census the Etches family had been living at No. 42 Londesborough Road and had consisted of Thomas Robert aged 36 years, born at Bury, Lancashire, Sarah Ann, 46 years, born at Doncaster, Bede, aged 8years, born at Scarborough, and daughter Sybil, aged 11years, who had been born at Seamer. Ten years later, during the 1901 Census, the family had been living in Scarborough at No39 Garfield Road and had consisted of Thomas Robert, aged 46years, Master Tailor, Sarah J.E. aged 36years, born Kensington, London, Alfred J. aged 7years, Thomas S. aged 3years, Arthur O. aged 2years, and Francis A. [son] aged 10 months.
 The first of the few; Denis Winter, Penguin Books Ltd. 1982.