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Oxford Inscriptions: Airmen’s Bridge, Wolvercote


Airmen's Bridge plaque

IN DEEP RESPECT FOR THE MEMORY OF
LIEUT. C. A. BETTINGTON & SECOND-LIEUT. E. HOTCHKISS,
OF THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS, WHO MET THEIR DEATHS
IN THE WRECK OF A MONOPLANE 100 YARDS NORTH OF THIS SPOT
ON TUESDAY SEPT. 10, 1912.
SYMPATHISERS IN OXFORD AND WOLVERCOTE TO THE NUMBER
OF 2226 HAVE ERECTED THIS STONE AS A TRIBUTE TO THE
BRAVERY OF THESE TWO BRITISH OFFICERS WHO LOST THEIR
LIVES IN THE FULFILMENT OF THEIR DUTY.

The above plaque is in Wolvercote, on the bridge near the Trout pub on the Godstow Road that was originally called Toll Bridge but was later renamed Airmen’s Bridge, in honour of the two Royal Flying Corps airmen who died here when they were attempting to land at the Port Meadow civil aerodrome on their way to manoeuvres in Cambridge, East Anglia. They were:

Hotchkiss

Second-Lieutenant Edward Hotchkiss (the pilot)

Hotchkiss was born in Shipton, Shropshire on 2 June 1883, but soon after his birth his family moved fifteen miles to Stokesay. At the time of the 1911 census, Hotchkiss, aged 28, was described as an aviation pupil at Salisbury Plain and was living at Woodville, Craven Arms, near Ludlow, Shropshire with his father Henry Hotchkiss (71), who was director of the Ludlow Brewery, and his sister Helen (32). Hotchkiss was the Chief Instructor and test pilot for the British Aeroplane Company based at Brooklands, Surrey.

He was aged 28 when he died in the Wolvercote crash. His address at the time of his death was given as Durrington Camp, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

Hotchkiss was the first RFC Reservist to be killed in the line of duty. He was buried at Stokesay, Shropshire.

Betterington

Lieutenant Claude Albemarle Bettington (the observer)

Bettington was born at King William's Town, Eastern Cape, South Africa on 13 May 1875, the son of Colonel Rowland Albemarle Arthur Bettington (1853–1933) and Fanny Bowker (1849–1941).

He was aged 37 when he died in the Wolvercote crash.

His probate record stated that at the time of his death his address was Santa Clara, Park Town, Johannesburg, South Africa.

He was buried in Hunmanby (God's Acre) Cemetery in Hunmanby, North Yorkshire (photograph of grave),

On 10 September 1912 the Bristol Coanda Military Monoplane that they were flying from Larkhill, Wiltshire was attempting to land on Port Meadow, but crashed after a flying wire came loose and tore a hole in the fabric of the starboard wing, causing the plane to lose its ability to fly. Bettington was flung to his death from the aircraft, while Hotchkiss died in the wreckage.

An inquest was held at the Plough Inn, Wolvercote, and Lieutenant de Havilland appeared as an expert witness.

On Friday 13 September 1912 there was a huge military funeral procession through Oxford for the two airmen. The coffins on two horse-drawn gun carriages left St Peter's Church, Wolvercote and proceeded down the Woodstock Road to central Oxford on their way to Oxford Station, passing along Cornmarket Street and Queen Street, with the Mayor and Corporation of Oxford joining the procession at Carfax. Thousands of Oxford residents lined the route.

Woodstock RoadThe procession passing down the Woodstock Road

Queen StreetPostcard (published by Alfred Cecil Taunt Wheeler, photographer of 10 Magdalen Road, east Oxford)
showing the procession passing westwards along Queen Street. The group of soldiers behind the
policemen are in the uniform of the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars.

The disaster was a huge shock for Oxford and funds were raised, mostly through public subscription, to pay for the plaque on Godstow Road. Reportedly over 10,000 people attended the unveiling in June 1913. The plaque is made of Emerald Pearl granite bordered by Balmoral red granite. A surviving fragment of the aeroplane is held by the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock.

Plaque on St Peter's Church, Wolvercote

 

Right: Embossed metal plaque on the rear wall of St Peter's Church, Wolvercote, made from metal salvaged from the aeroplane, that appears to have been unveiled six months after the plaque on Airmen's Bridge


Note on the separate memorial to Wolvercote airmen who died in the First World War

The above accident took place before the First World War, and hence there was a huge response by Wolvercote and Oxford for what was then a unique incident. The 17 airmen who died while training on the Port Meadow flying aerodrome during the First World War had to wait a hundred years before their free-standing memorial was unveiled in 2018 at the former Port Meadow bathing area near Wolvercote carpark:


Press reports on the 1912 crash

JOJ 4 June 1913

Oxford Journal Illustrated of 11 September 1912:

  • Two photographs of the wreckage (p. 3)

Oxford Journal Illustrated of 18 September 1912:

  • Photograph taken from the new Radcliffe Infirmary buildings of the gun-carriage cortege passing along the Woodstock Road (p. 1)
  • Four photographs of the aftermath (all on p. 4):
    (1) Army Flying Corps men removing the engine from the wreckage
    (2) Burning the remains of the aircraft
    (3) General view of the area where the crash occurred and the willow tree the aeroplane hit
    (4) Mr Gooden, a Wolvercote aviator, reading a log written by one of the two victims
  • Photographs of the funeral procession (all on p. 6):
    (1) Officers following the gun carriage
    (2) The Mayor and Corporation joining the procession at Carfax
    (3) Oxford Light Infantry (presumably the OBLI?) from Cowley Barracks (with their arms reversed) heading the procession from Wolvercote
    (4) Territorials in the procession
    (5) Part of the large crowd lining the route
    (6) Placing a coffin on the gun carriage at Wolvercote Church
  • More photographs of the funeral procession (all on p. 8):
    (1) Placing the coffins on the gun carriages, with the Revd E. A. Sydenham (Vicar of Wolvercote),
    the Revd C. L'Estrange de Labat (Rector of Wytham), and the Revd Ernest F. Smith (Chaplain of the City Territorials)
    (2) General Bethune, Director-General of the Territorial Forces, with other naval and military officers, awaiting the arrival of the coffin
    (3) The choir leading one of the coffins into the church
  • More photographs of the funeral procession (all on p. 9):
    (1) A gun carriage with coffin crossing Wolvercote railway bridge
    (2) Officers saluting as the coffins were removed from the gun carriages at the station
    (3) Members of the Fire Brigade and St John Ambulance in the procession
  • Photographs taken at the Wolvercote inquest (all on p. 16):
    (1) Mr Hotchkiss, brother of the pilot, leaving the inquest
    (2) The Plough Inn, Wolvercote, where the inquest was held
    (3) Captain Allen with a piece of iron which may have contributed to the crash and expert witness Lieutenant de Havilland
    (4) Two of the wreaths donated by readers of the newspaper

Oxford Journal Illustrated of 4 June 1913

  • Photographs of the unveiling ceremony at the bridge in Wolvercote:
    (1) Major Brooke Popham, Royal Flying Corps, unveiling the memorial after prayers by the Revd E. A. Sydenham, Vicar of Wolvercote (p. 1)
    (2) Some of the “several thousand” spectators who attended the ceremony  (p. 3)
    (3) Nine photographs relating to the unveiling ceremony (p. 8, see image above)

Oxford Journal Illustrated of 10 December 1913

  • Photograph (p. 8) of the tablet erected in St Peter's Church, Wolvercote in memory of the two airmen

Oxford Mail, 20 July 2012: “Plane crash centenary ‘worth remembering’

Oxford Mail, 11 September 2012: “Victims remembered 100 years after crash

Stephanie Jenkins