Young John Gleed was Albatros fodder back in 1917

Lt J V A Gleed on a motorcycle at his Spalding home. (via Kim Mathieson)
Lt J V A Gleed on a motorcycle at his Spalding home. (via Kim Mathieson)
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One hundred years ago yesterday (Friday), the son of one of Spalding’s great men was shot down in flames and killed during an aerial battle in World war One.

John Victor Ariel Gleed, who died on July 7, 1917, was the son of Sir John Gleed (1865-1946), an alderman of the town whose work as chairman of the Holland Education Committee saw the town’s secondary schools named after him in 1941.

Lt John Fotheringham RFC, Lt Gleed's observer/air gunner. (via Kim Mathieson)

Lt John Fotheringham RFC, Lt Gleed's observer/air gunner. (via Kim Mathieson)

Born on June 7, 1897 at The Elms on London Road Spalding, John Gleed junior was educated at Lydgate House preparatory school in Hunstanton until, aged 11, he moved to Spalding Grammar School.

Then, aged 14, he went on to Uppingham School. Here he took a great interest in sporting pursuits, representing the school at hockey, at ‘fives’ and in the 2nd-eleven cricket team.

Aged 19, he entered service with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) with the intention of becoming a pilot. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant (2/Lt) on April 18, he attended No.2 School of Instruction at Christchurch College, Oxford for ground technical training.

On June 5, 1916 he was posted to No.5 Reserve Squadron (5 RS) at Castle Bromwich airfield to begin basic flying training where his progress was quite rapid, since he took his Royal Aero Club (RAeC) solo test on June 26, 1916 in a Maurice Farman aeroplane and was awarded RAeC certificate No.3287.

Memorial window to Lt Gleed and his brother-in-law Capt Charles Harvey in St Mary & St Nicolas Church, Spalding. (A Goodrum)

Memorial window to Lt Gleed and his brother-in-law Capt Charles Harvey in St Mary & St Nicolas Church, Spalding. (A Goodrum)

He could now begin the RFC’s own course of flying to bring his skill up to the standard required of a war-time military pilot and moved to 28 RS, also located at Castle Bromwich.

At the time of 2/Lt Gleed’s arrival the unit was equipped with Avro 504, Bristol Scout and Sopwith 1½ Strutter aircraft and by August 28, 1916, having shown satisfactory progress, John Gleed was awarded his RFC ‘wings’.

Records show that 2/Lt Gleed was fortunate to complete his early training because he wrecked Sopwith 1½ Strutter No.7797 at Stowe-by-Chartley in Staffordshire while landing in fog on November 13, 1916. Landing much too fast, he managed to run the aeroplane through two hedges before ending up in a pond.

He was injured, requiring him to have surgery on December 27, but, recovering from his injuries, he finished his training at Castle Bromwich on May 11, 1917.

Lt John Victor Ariel Gleed RFC.

Lt John Victor Ariel Gleed RFC.

Posted to No. 45 Squadron, equipped with the out-classed two-seat Sopwith 1½ Strutter at Sainte-Marie-Cappel in northern France, luck stayed with Lt Gleed because he had managed to miss the infamous Bloody April, when the German Air Force’s Albatros fighters wreaked havoc among the RFC. This was a time when the operational life expectancy of RFC aircrew was measured in days.

John Gleed arrived on the squadron on June 28 and in just five days between July 3 and 7 he flew seven operational patrols with his gunner/observer Lt John Fotheringham, before they were shot down, having had the misfortune to run into the Red Baron’s ‘Flying Circus’.

At 5pm on July 7, six Sopwith 1½ Strutters from 45 Squadron, led by Captain Cock, with Lieutenant Ward as his gunner/observer, were on a photo-reconnaissance mission when they were attacked by 18 Albatros fighters at 10,000 feet over Wervicq.

First, Sgt Yeomans and his gunner Cpl Harries, in the right rear machine, were attacked by two enemy fighters (EA) diving on them. He turned sharply and got on top of one which was diving past him.

Sopwith 1� Strutter of the RFC in 1917. (Crown)

Sopwith 1� Strutter of the RFC in 1917. (Crown)

Firing his front gun, Sgt Yeomans got in a long burst at this machine which turned on to its back with clouds of smoke coming out of its exhaust pipes before side-slipping into a spin.

Immediately afterwards, seven more EA dived on Sgt Yeoman’s machine, which had by this time dropped slightly behind the formation. One EA dived to within 30 yards of them. Cpl Harries fired at this machine; flames burst out of it and it fell earthwards.

Cpl Harries fired at another EA which he hit in the ammunition box because an explosion took place in front of the enemy pilot followed by dense smoke. This machine put its nose down with a violent jerk and disappeared.

Cpl Harries barely had time to load another drum on his gun when a third EA was on top of them. Sgt Yeomans, however, destroyed the enemy’s accuracy of fire by making ‘S’-turns and this machine, too, was shot down out of control by Cpl Harries.

Leading the formation, Capt Cock and Lt Ward had an EA dive right across their tail and Lt Ward claimed to have shot down this machine out of control.

Lt Walker and gunner Lt Mullen, who were flying immediately on the right of the leader, at one time had five EA on their tail. Mullen opened fire on the nearest, which was so close he could see the instrument panel in front of the pilot and the pilot’s hands on the joy-stick. Lt Mullen fired a burst right into the body of the pilot and, seeing this EA falling out of control, they withdrew.

The Sopwith in the left rear position (Lt Hewson and gunner Lt Snyder) was flying too straight and level and was attacked by five EA from above and below. Hewson’s machine was hit, burst into flames and went down.

Four EA then closed on the next Sopwith (Lt Gleed and Lt Fotheringham) which was flying immediately in front of Hewson and this, too, was shot down in flames.

Lt Gleed is commemorated in a splendid stained glass window set in the north wall of St Mary and St Nicolas Church, Spalding. His image and that of his brother-in-law Capt Harvey, who also died in the war, are depicted in stained glass.

Lt J V A Gleed is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery at Wytschaete, Belgium. At the time, the body of Lt J B Fotheringham was not found with or near that of Lt Gleed and, although many Unknown Soldiers found in that vicinity are buried in Wytschaete, Lt Beveridge was never positively identified and remains ‘missing in action’.