The following story emerged from the launch party for the current exhibition at Wildwood Arts …
One hundred years ago, in the turmoil that followed the end of World War 1, a country boy from Cornwall did history a big favour.
He was called Frederick Daw and by 1919, the year of his 20th birthday, he was Aircraftman Daw – a junior rating in the new Royal Air Force.
On May 17 of that year, he was with another mechanic, two pilot officers and a VIP from the Army, in a big biplane, a Handley Page Type O/400, when it hit a tree trying to land in a little airfield near Rome.
The pilot, aged 27, died in the crash and his co-pilot (a 2nd Lieutenant at the age of 19) was fatally injured. AC Daw and his mate, travelling in the bomb bay, were thrown clear and escaped with cuts and bruises. The VIP who had hitched a lift with them was left hanging in the wreckage, tangled in his seat harness, with a broken shoulder blade, torn muscles and cracked ribs.
AC Daw crawled back in to release Colonel T.E Lawrence and drag him to safety. And during his convalescence, Lawrence began writing writing Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, the war memoir which made him famous forever as Lawrence of Arabia.
The crash, and the two deaths it caused, are still remembered, largely because the involvement of Lawrence made it a significant event. The British Embassy in Rome has attended a number of ceremonies of remembrance at the graves of the dead pilots and researchers into Lawrence’s life have been there to glean what they can. But this year, on the 100th anniversary, one of the guests had a different angle.
Jane Pine of Yelverton is a grand-daughter of Frederick Daw. She grew up knowing the family story of Grandfather and Lawrence of Arabia.
But it is only recently that she has looked into the crash herself. Last Christmas, she borrowed Fred Daw’s photo album from his son Peter Daw, now 80 and living in St Germans. She is an artist and she was drawn in by the pictures and started to copy them as sketches and paintings and to ask questions about the grandfather who died when she was two.
Some of those questions were certainly asked in 1919 but the answers seem to have been forgotten. The accident in Rome was one small part of a big disaster for the newly-formed RAF. The aircraft was one of 51 Handley Page bombers sent to Egypt over the summer of 1919, to help enforce the new Middle East which had been drawn up with advice from Lawrence. They all spent two months hopping down through Europe, flying low from one rough-hewn landing strip to another, and making and mending as they went. Only 26 ever made it. An astonishing 15 planes were wrecked and 10 more were abandoned because they were damaged beyond repair by heat or sand or mechanical failure. Eight crewmen were killed and at least eight more were badly hurt. Lawrence himself was involved in a second crash-landing before he got to Cairo, although he walked away from it.
Mrs Pine has found a copy of a letter from one RAF historian to another which summed up: “There was Hell to pay in Parliament.”
But she is still looking for the records of that.
This is her painting from a photograph of Frederick Daw in 1919 …
He was born, one of eight, in 1899, in Millbrook, on the Rame peninsula, over the Tamar from Plymouth, where his father worked as a farrier and bricklayer. Somebody taught him to write quite well and he must also have proved himself a useful fixer by the time he got recruited into the glamorous new flying service as a trainee fitter at the age of 18. He finished his training just after the war ended – and applied for discharge in 1920.
“I think he must have been quite shaken up by his experiences,” says Mrs Pine, 54. “His squadron, No. 58, had four mechanics for 10 planes and they must have been working flat out, dealing with problems no planes had ever had to face before. It would be fascinating to know his side of the story but I don’t think he ever kept a diary and his family never asked him much about it while he was still alive. All we knew really was the Lawrence angle.
“We knew he was very impressed with Lawrence, who sent him a thankyou letter with a £10 note – which must have been worth about £500 in today’s terms. And later, in 1929, when he was working in Devonport Dockyard, Lawrence was stationed nearby, at Mountbatten, and he looked him up in Keyham and had a cup of tea and gave a nephew of Fred’s a lift to the dockyard on the back of his motorbike. Then they met again sometime later, in London, and had a conversation. That was enough story for us. But now I wish I knew the rest of it.”
Frederick Daw spent most of his life at the dockyard, including working as a fireman and a diver. His daughter Jean was Mrs Pine’s mother.
Mrs Pine grew up in Plymouth and nowadays lives in Yelverton, where she paints and gives lessons. Some of her paintings are on show at Wildwood Arts on Chapel Lane, Horrabridge.
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Jane Pine in her studio. Picture by Matt Austin of mattaustinimages.co.uk/
Colonel Lawrence’s thankyou letter to Frederick Daw, with tenner enclosed: said:
“Will you buy yourself some trifle to remind you of our rather rough landing at Rome? I was not at all comfortable hanging up in the wreck and felt very grateful to you for digging me out.”
T.E. Lawrence in 1919 – a picture he gave to Frederick Daw.
A Handley Page 0/400 biplane like the one which nearly killed Lawrence of Arabia.