lt vincent waterfall

Image: Vincent, at Brookland, in early 1914 (Tessa Waterfall)

4 August 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the day Britain entered one of the costliest conflicts in history – the First World War – with fighting continuing until 11 November 1918, Armistice Day. After the war had ended, many communities throughout the UK and elsewhere commemorated their war dead with many memorials and rolls of honour up and down the country.

On the Burgess Hill Town's Great War Memorial is the following inscription:

This monument is set up by the inhabitants of Burgess Hill to commemorate their gratitude to all those who served their King and Country in the Great War, 1914-1918, and especially to the honoured memory to those whose names are here recorded, who set forth from this place and returned not again.

A total of 145 names are recorded and the first person from the town known to have given his life was Vincent Waterfall.


Image: Avro 504 built under license by Harland & Wolff in Belfast (Alan Seymour archives)

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Images: Vincent Waterfall and Charles Bayly (Royal Aero Club RAeC 461 and 441)


Image: Royal Flying Corps badge (Alan Seymour archives)

2nd Lt Vincent Waterfall, 3rd East Yorkshire Regiment, along with his observer Lt Charles George Gordon Bayly, 56th Field Company, Royal Engineers - both attached to No. 5 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (RFC) - had a short war, as on 22 August 1914 they were both to die in action. They were on a reconnaissance flight when their aircraft serial no 390, type Avro504, was brought down by enemy ground fire.

Vincent's observer, Charles George Gordon Bayly, was himself a qualified pilot. He came from a military family, with a great uncle being none other than 'Gordon of Khartoum'. Charles joined 5 Squadron at the end of June 1914 and flew his machine to Amiens on 12 August when the RFC deployed to France.


Image: Remains of reconnaissance report from 22 August 1914 written by Waterfall or Bayly (Alan Seymour archives)


Image: Reputed to be a photograph of the downed Bayly/Waterfall, Avro 504 at Marcq, 22 Aug 1914 (Alan Seymour archives)

They can claim the doubtful honour of flying in the first British aeroplane to be shot down by enemy fire. Therefore they also became the first Royal Flying Corps (and so British Army) officers to die in action in the Great War.

The two men's bodies were originally buried in a shallow grave by the Germans but were later exhumed by the Belgium owner of the land. He placed the bodies in zinc-lined coffins and laid them in the family vault where they remained until 1924. After this they were reburied side by side in the Imperial (now) Commonwealth War Grave Commission Cemetery at Hainaut in Belgium.


Image: Tournal Communal Cemetery Allied Extension, Hainaut, Belgium (Grave reference: Plot III. Row G. Grave 3 & 4) (Alan Seymour archives)

The following is taken from the report in the local newspaper 'The Mid-Sussex Times' of 22 September 1914:

Sussex Officers Killed – Biographical Notes
Lieutenant V. Waterfall, of the Royal Flying Corps, who has been killed in Belgium, was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Waterfall, of Langdene, Burgess Hill, formerly of Derbyshire. He was 23 years of age, and a brother-in-law of Dr. Winkelried Williams, of Hove (Sussex). The King and Queen have forwarded a message of sympathy to Mr. and Mrs. Waterfall in their sad bereavement.

The following week a fuller report appeared 'The Mid-Sussex Times' of 29 September 1914:

Sussex Casualties Killed, Wounded and Missing - Biographical Notes
Second Lieutenant Vincent Waterfall, of Langdene, Burgess Hill, whose death was recorded in our last issue, was gazetted to the 3rd Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment in January, 1912. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in July, 1914 for a course of instruction at Farnborough (Hampshire) and became a Flying Officer in August. In the current issue of 'The Aeroplane' is the following obituary notice: - "Mr. Waterfall will be remembered by many at Brooklands (Surrey) as a very promising pilot. He took his certificate No. 461, at the Vickers School, on April 23rd 1913, and afterwards flew on various machines, particularly doing some good flying on the Martin-Handasyde monoplane. Personally he was a fine specimen of the best type of English public school boy, and had the making of an officer of the very best class. His high spirits which were absolutely without harm to anybody, and his unfailing good nature, endeared him to all who knew him, and he will be greatly missed and deeply regretted by his many friends, who will join in tendering to the lady to whom he was engaged and to his relatives their deepest sympathy." His body and that of Lieutenant C. G. Bayly were found by a Belgian at a place not stated, and were hidden so that they should not be found by the Germans."


Image: Photograph of Vincent's parents possibly taken in the garden at Langdene (Tessa Waterfall)

Vincent's parents, Walter and Mary Waterfall, lived at "Langdene" 94 Mill Road, Burgess Hill, having moved there several years earlier for the sake of Walter's health. Vincent was one of 8 sons and 2 daughters.

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Images: 'Langdene' (94) Mill Road, Burgess Hill, Sussex. The home in 1915 of Walter and Mary Waterfall, parents of Vincent. The house was demolished in 2005 and new houses built. This large plot of land is now the site of Mill and Millers Close. (Alan Seymour archives)


Image: The headstone on the grave of Walter and Mary Waterfall, parents of Vincent. Location: East Terrace - Churchyard of St. John the Evangelist, Burgess Hill, Sussex. (Alan Seymour archives)

Headstone reads: –
In Loving Memory of WALTER FRANK WATERFALL born 20th April 1847, died 13th March 1915 aged 67 years and his wife MARY WATERFALL died 18th January 1927 aged 77 years. Also of 2nd Lieut. VINCENT WATERFALL their youngest son killed in action 22nd August 1914 aged 23 years.

While carrying out my research I found the following article in the Surrey Mirror dated 14 July 1914, just five weeks before Vincent was to lose his life. Vincent pleaded guilty to motoring at 30 mph in the Dorking Road, Betchworth and was fined £2 and costs. The Chairman said "the defendant was evidently careless, and if he was careless in flying it might cost him his life." Little did the Chairman know then that they were only weeks away from the start of the First World War and two weeks after that Vincent would lose his life for 'King and Country'.


Image: Surrey Mirror dated 14 July 1914 (British Newspaper Archives)


Image: Burgess Hill Town War Memorial, 11 Nov 1923. (BHLHS photographic archives)


 Article and images contributed by Alan Seymour


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