|Major Evelyn Paget Graves 1890-1917|
“He was absolutely fearless.”
Major Evelyn Paget Graves
Royal Field Artillery and No.60 Squadron, R.F.C.
By Gareth Morgan
This article first appeared in the Australian Society of WWI Aero Historians and is published with the kind permission of the author.
Evelyn Graves was born into a military family at Pachmarhi, India, on 5 June 1890. His father was Major the Hon Adolphus Edward Paget Graves, and his mother was Major Graves’ second wife, Katherine Mary, herself the daughter of a Colonel. He was educated at The Wick, Brighton, where he was head boy, and Lancing College, where he was the head of his house. After school, he joined the Army to study at the Woolwich and was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery on 23 December 1910.
After graduation from Woolwich, Evelyn was posted to India, where he served for four years with the 25th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, during which time he was promoted to Lieutenant on 24 December 1913. On his return to England in July 1914 he began flying training, and qualified for Royal Aero Club Certificate No.870 on 18 August that year, followed by an attachment to the Royal Flying Corps.Unfortunately, he was involved in a severe flying accident in February 1915, probably while serving with No.11 Squadron, when his Gnôme-engined Martinsyde fell some 700 feet, resulting in a compound fracture of his left leg and a broken right arm. He was lame for the remainder of his life.
After recovering from his accident, Evelyn was appointed as Staff Officer and Brigade Major to Brigadier-General J.F.A. Higgins, (1) then commanding II Brigade RFC,(2)and served in that position until December when he returned to flying as a Flight Commander in No.20 Squadron. The squadron had been formed at Filton from a No.7 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron nucleus in September 1915 and was equipped with the FE2b in December, before flying to St Omer on 16 January, followed by a move to Clairmarais on 23 January. Together with the single-seat DH2, the FE2b was one of the RFC’s main weapons in the defeat of the Fokker Eindekker. This had previously made operations tough for the RFC men in BE2cs then commanding II Brigade RFC, and served in that position until December when he returned to flying as a Flight Commander in No.20 Squadron. The squadron had been formed at Filton from a No.7 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron nucleus in September 1915 and was equipped with the FE2b in December, before flying to St Omer on 16 January, followed by a move to Clairmarais on 23 January. Together with the single-seat DH2, the FE2b was one of the RFC’s main weapons in the defeat of the Fokker Eindekker that had previously made operations desperate for the RFC men in BE2cs.
|Brigadier-General J B FK Higgins|
There is little information on Capt Graves’ activities while with No.20 Squadron, but some details emerge after research. On 16 April Capt Graves was flying 6202, with Lt H L C Aked as Observer, when the aeroplane crashed during a forced landing, but both crew members were unharmed.
Capt Graves was mentioned in RFC Communiqué No.34 after a prolonged action on 24 April 1916
The Second Army(3) reconnaissance (five FE2bs of No.20 Squadron) carried out a running fight during the whole of its course. Just before reaching Roulers, at a height of 9500 feet, the left front machine was attacked from behind by a biplane. A drum was fired from the back mounting and the hostile machine disappeared. After turning at Roulers, Capt James on the right rear machine was attacked by a Fokker, which was driven off. Immediately afterwards he was again attacked by a biplane from behind. Turning about, he fired at close range. The hostile machine went down in a spinning nose dive and was seen to crash into the ground. Shortly afterwards two biplanes attacked the whole formation from the left front, diving through the middle and being fired on by all machines. The rearmost of the two went down steeply, apparently not under control. Confirmation of this is given by the Guards Division, who report seeing a hostile machine fall near Passchendaele. From this point onwards there was continuous fighting but the formation worked so well that the reconnaissance machine was enabled to take its photographs successfully. During the whole time, there were scores of other hostile machines firing on the reconnaissance from long range. Our machines fired over 500 rounds during the reconnaissance. The pilots and observers are as follows:
|2Lt J.R.Morton||Lt F. Billinge|
|Capt E.P. Graves||2Lt G.E. Chancellor (4)|
|2Lt P.G. Scott||Cpl Gawthor|
|Capt C.E.H. James||2Lt Exley (5)|
|2Lt D.H. Dabbs||Cpl C.G.S. Ward|
Capt Graves was flying FE2b 6332 during the above combat when he and 2Lt Chancellor were credited with a victory over the German two-seater that crashed near Passchendaele. Identifying the crews of the German aircraft claimed as shot down on 24 April is difficult. Casualties of the German Air Services could suggest that the crew of the downed German machine may be OfStv Karl Ritter (pilot), and Oblt Dietrich Freiherr von Kanne (observer) of Flieger Abteilung 41. They were killed near Roulers, or Ltn Olaf Bergengrün (pilot) and Rittm Benno Freiherr von Maydell, of FliegerAbteilung 24, who died near Ploegsteert. However, Roulers is some eight kilometres from Passchendaele, while Ploegsteert is about 15 kilometres from Passchendaele – the village which was the scene of much bloody fighting in 1917 was then some eight kilometres behind the German lines.
In May 1916, Evelyn was promoted to Major and transferred back to the UK to command a Reserve Squadron at Hounslow. An accident in November resulted in another leg injury, but he recovered by December, when he returned to the Western Front just before Christmas as Commanding Officer of No.60 Squadron, then based at Savy. Curiously, he replaced another officer who limped, Major R.R. Smith-Barry,(7) and he was, in turn, replaced by another limping commander, Major A.J.L. Scott. (8) The Etonian Major Smith-Barry (9) had built No.60 Squadron into a very efficient unit, both in the air and on the sporting fields, where it boasted talented teams in Association and Rugby football. He also had a unique method of dealing with a mountain of paperwork that threatened to overwhelm him: he simply burnt down the squadron office, with the paperwork inside!
It was RFC policy in early 1917 that squadron commanders should not cross the front line while flying, as the Corps needed to conserve its limited stock of experienced senior officers. However, Major Graves was able to do some flying, such as delivering Nieuport 17 A6645 (10) from Paris on 24 December 1916. Shortly after his arrival in No.60 Squadron, Evelyn conceived the idea of concentrating his experienced pilots in two flights, while new pilots were concentrated in a third flight, where they could become accustomed to flying the Nieuport, but while staying on the Allied side of the lines. However, the idea was not a success, and the concept was abandoned, as at least two experienced pilots were required in the trainee flight to teach the new pilots, and the veterans could not be spared from the other flights.
On 6 March 1917, flying Nieuport 17 A213, (11) Major Graves led three other Nieuports on an Offensive Patrol, departing Filescamp Farm aerodrome at midday. The flight attacked eight enemy fighters that were seen to be harassing an FE2 over Beaumetz, near Arras, and in the ensuing battle his Nieuport was shot down – almost certainly falling to the guns of Stv Wilhelm Cymera of Jasta 1. Major Graves’ Nieuport was the second of Stv Cymera's eventual five victories before he was killed in action over Chamouville on 9 May 1917.
There were many tributes to Evelyn after his death
Brigadier-General J.F.A. Higgins wrote:
“He was one of the best of the many fine officers I have known in the Corps: he was absolutely fearless”.
The Commander of the Thirteenth (Army) Wing, Lt-Col G.F. Pretyman DSO, was to say of Major Graves:
“He was mad keen to imbue his pilots with all the keenness and dash they needed for their work, and up to the time of his death, he was certainly successful”.
A brother RFC officer wrote:
“He died as he lived, trying to help someone else who was in trouble” while one of his sergeants said: “You simply had to work for the Major because you felt you couldn’t let him down”.
Major Evelyn Graves is buried in Grave 1.C.10 in Avesnes-le-Comte Communal Cemetery Extension.
|Above the Lines Norman Franks||Frank Bailey & Russell Guest||ISBN 0 948817 73 9|
|Air of Battle Wing Commander||W Fry||ISBN 0 7183 0353 9|
|Casualties of the German Air Service||Norman Franks, Frank Bailey & Rick Duiven|
|RAF Squadrons||Wg Cdr C G Jefford||ISBN 1 84037 141 2|
|Royal Flying Corps Communiqués1917-1918||Ed Christopher Cole||SBN 7183 0261 3|
|The MacMillan Dictionary of the First World War||Stephen Pope & Elizabeth-Anne Wheal||ISBN 0 333 61822X|
|The RAF FE2b/d||Cross & Cockade||ISBN 978 0 9555734 1 5|
1 Sir John Frederick Higgins (1875-1948), the holder of RAeC Certificate No.264 from 20 July 1914, retired from the RAF in 1940 as an Air Marshal. He is said to have exclaimed “Voila les vaches mécaniques!” (“Look – mechanical cows!”) when he first saw Farman biplanes, and ever after the herd was divided into Longhorns and Shorthorns.
2 II Brigade was attached to the Second Army, in the Ypres area at the northern end of the British-held sector of the Western Front.
3 The Second Army, commanded by General Sir Herbert Plumer from May 1915 to November 1917 (then again after March 1918).
4 Lt Geoffrey Ellis Chancellor (formerly 3rd Battalion, Queen’s Regiment) was killed, aged 18, when flying as observer with Major George John Malcolm MiD (formerly Royal Artillery), who was also killed, in FE2b A20 on 9 July 1916 when the aeroplane burnt out in a crash after a sideslip during a delivery flight. Both airmen are buried at Longuenesse, France.
5 Possibly 2Lt George Allan Exley (formerly 5th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) then a pilot (RAeC Certificate No.3566) in No.29 Squadron who was killed in an accident when flying DH2 7929 on 14 January 1917.
6 Cpl Charles George Sedgewick Ward (2564) (formerly Honourable Artillery Company) was killed in action on 9 November 1916. He was flying as observer in FE2b 7701, flown by 2Lt J D Cowie, who was wounded, during an escort to a bombing mission to Bapaume.
7 Colonel Robert Raymond Smith-Barry (1886-1949) was a pre-War pilot who was badly injured when his BE8 crashed in August 1914. After service in France, he overhauled the RFC’s method of flying instruction and developed the system that remains in use to this day.
8 New Zealand born Lt-Col Allan John Lance Scott flew Sopwith ½ Stutters with No.43 Squadron before being promoted to command No.60 Squadron, where he was credited with five victories. He ended the War as Commander of the RAF Central Flying School but died during the influenza pandemic of 1919.
9 The squadron’s first commander, Major F. Waldron, assembled a trio of Old Etonians as his Flight Commanders: Capts R.R. Smith-Barry, A.S.M. Somers and H.C. Towers. Oddly, Waldron did not attend Eton himself; he was educated at Monkstown Park Public School, Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) in Ireland.
10 A6645 was flown by 2Lt G.O. Smart when he was shot down by Rittm Manfred von Richthofen on 7 April 1917.
11 A213 was previously flown by Lt Albert Ball, who was credited with eleven victories while flying the aeroplane before he left No.60 Squadron in October 1916.
The Western Front Association is delighted to have published a number of similar article by Gareth Morgan:
Captain Horace Coomber : The Manchester Regiment and 45 Squadron R.F.C.
Sous-Lieutenant Maurice Boyau: The Balloon Busting Flanker Escadrille SPA.77, French Air Service
Lt. Archibald Pratt: A Cambrai Casualty No 70 Squadron and No. 68 (Australian) Squadron, RFC.
Escadrille SPA.77, French Air Service