Airfield ..... 1916 - 1919
A book has been published
on this subject called
'Mattishall Airfield and The Zeppelins 1916-1919'
by Derek Bingham,
who's Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles lived at Tollgate Farm
which was within a few yards of the aerodrome.
The book is no longer in circulation.
|The site of the airfield was on the field
behind Tollgate Farm on the north side of the road just past
the cross roads of Blind Lane and Church Lane (Welborne) on
the road coming out of Mattishall heading to East Tuddenham.
Quick Link: 2nd Lieutenant MICHAEL
HUBERT FRANCIS THUNDER'S Memorial click HERE
The first Zeppelin raid occurred
on the night of 19th January 1915, when the L-3 carried out an
attack on the undefended town of Great Yarmouth, dropping eight
110 lb high explosive bombs in a line across the built-up area
and on South Denes. The two people killed in the attack were the
first British citizens to die in an air raid. Later the same night
the L-4 dropped bombs on King's Lynn, killing a woman and a child.
To combat the ever-increasing German
Zeppelin raids which were flying over England unchecked and terrorising
the civilian population a decision was made by the War Office
to build a line of airfields stretching from London to Hull, called
the Home Defence Line. Mattishall was selected as it was in the
centre of this defence line and the 80-acre field behind Tollgate
Farm was chosen.
The residents of Toll House Farm
had no warning that an Airfield was going to be built on their
field. The first indication was one morning when lorries and personnel
arrived and started putting up tents quite close to the farm's
back door. They constructed huts for officers as well as basic
facilities such as latrines, bathsheds a generator for the water
supply, hangers, workshops,stores and a cook house. The huts were
sectional and were made by Boulton & Paul of Norwich. It must
have been quite a hive of activity.
The first aircraft flown from Mattishall
was the (Bleriot Experimental) BE-2c often called the "Quirk"
it was an updated version of the BE-2b with a modified engine
for extra stability and the addition of an observer's Lewis machine
gun. The BE-2c was Britain's attempt to cope with the superior
German Fokker D-V11 and the menacing Zeppelins The pilots from
The Home Defence Line had small hand held bombs that they would
literally drop onto their targets.
When the 38 Squadron was moved to
France to fight on the western Front, they were replaced by 51
Squadron and the FE-2b biplane (Farman Experimental). Initially
it was used for reconnaissance, the 2 seater biplane was armed
with two or three .303 Lewis machine guns, the observer sat forward
in the nacelle, directly in front of the pilot.
An interesting and horrifying account is recorded
by Frederick Libby the first American ace of World War 1, on his
experience in the plane.
"When you stood up to shoot
all of you from the knees up was exposed to the elements. There
was no belt to hold you. Only your grip on the gun and the sides
of the nacelle stood between you and eternity. Towards the front
of the nacelle was a hollow steel rod with a swivel mount to which
the gun was anchored. This gun covered a huge field of fire forward.
Between the observer and the pilot a second gun was mounted, for
firing over the FE-2b's upper wing to protect the aircraft from
rear attack.... Adjusting and shooting this gun required that
you stand right up out of the nacelle with your feet on the nacelle
coaming. You had nothing to worry about except being blown out
of the aircraft by the blast of air or tossed out bodily if the
pilot made a wrong move. There were no parachutes and no belts".
These small aircraft were often taking
off and landing in total darkness and patroling the night skies
over Norfolk and its coastline.Often after flying at operational
height, on landing the pilots had to be carried from their cockpits,
which were completely open , suffering from intense cold.
There were several accidents on and
around the air field planes were frequently coming into land and
finishing up on their nose. A Lieut Thunder crashed on the Mattishall
side of Blind Lane and was immediately engulfed in flames - SEE
BELOW for more details - The pilot, injured and severely burnt
,managed to crawl to the nearside bank. He was taken to the Norfolk
and Norwich Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. Regular
training flights were made between Mattishall and Marham, they
would follow the Dereham - King's Lynn railway line.
On Aug 5th 1918 the Germans attempted
what was to become the last raid on England by a Zeppelin. The
L-70 was hovering of the Norfolk coast, on board was Peter Strasser
(pictured earlier with Count von Zeppelin) )when it was spotted
by the crew of a Lightship. The Lightship radioed the information
to Yarmouth and the signal was sent to the airfields. The L-70
was located by Major Egbert and Captain Leckie who attacked the
Zeppelin with their incendiary bullets, the Zeppelin ignited and
fell into the sea. There were no Survivors.
The Armistice was signed eight months
later and the First world War was over. Two of the giant German
airships, L-64 and L-71 flew around Norwich during daylight they
were on their way to Pulham Airship Station where they surrendered
in accordance with the Armistice Agreement. It was reported that
they were clearly seen from Mattishall.
MATTISHALL AIRFIELD 1916-1919
The airfield known as Mattishall
Airfield, was situated mostly in East Tuddenham, with a smaller
part in Mattishall and a much smaller part in Welborne.
In 1916, Mattishall was a large village
with plenty of shops, public houses and a large church situated
on the Tuddenham side ofthe village. The church with its tower
was a good landmark for pilots attempting to find the nearby airfield.
The Home Defence Line
The airfield was built after a
decision by the War Office to build a line of airfields stretching
from Hull to London, called the Home Defence Line, to combat the
ever-increasing raids by German Zeppelins, which were flying over
England with impunity and terrorising the civilian population.
The massive Zeppelins, six times as long
as Mattishall Church is high, had already been seen by villagers
on starlit nights; and the noise from the airships' throbbing
diesel engines was frequently heard. The reason why Mattishall
was selected as part of the defence system, was because it was
equidistant from Hull and London and in the centre of the line
of defence. The site where the airfield was situated was a large
80-acre field behind Tollgate Farm, on the left-hand side of the
road leading to Norwich and well-positioned for fighter aircraft
to defend the centre area of Norfolk.
The two other airfield sites in Norfolk
were Marham and Great Yarmouth, the latter already a sea-plane
base that had been built to provide protection for Britain's North
Sea Fleet. This aerial defence system was built only twelve years
after the first manned flight by American Orville Wright, on December
17th, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
The Construction of Mattishall
Airfield - 1916
At this time, my grandparents,
aunts and uncles lived at Tollgate Farm and the first indication
of an airfield being built was in early 1916, when lorries and
personnel arrived one morning and started to erect tents within
a few yards from the back door of the farmhouse.
My grandmother asked what was going on and
was told that an aerodrome was to be built in close proximity
to the farm. Indignant, she insisted that they move further from
the backdoor, which they did, selecting an area at the end of
the farmhouse paddock.
The 80-acre field, known as the Great Field,
was short grass, having been previously used for sheep grazing.
The shepherd was a Mr. Basey from East Tuddenham.
The constructors used a Steam Roller (Number
4, driven by a Mr. Gambling) from Norwich Corporation, at Westwick
Depot, to make a hard roadway onto the airfield and another roadway
leading into the farm paddock. It was also used for general levelling
work around the site.
Arrival of No. 38 Squadron,
The first aircraft flown from Mattishall
Airfield belonged to the No. 38 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps,
with one Flight at Mattishall, one at Marham and a third at Tydd
St. Mary, near Wisbech in Lincolnshire.
The aircraft flown by the squadron at this period, were very slow
BE2c biplanes armed with a single Lewis gun and small bombs carried
in the cockpit. The bombs were for dropping on the Zeppelin airships
if it was possible.
The airfield soon became operational with
six biplanes and two mobile search-lights. The search-lights were
sent out most nights and positioned at Honingham and Yaxham. The
lights helped to deter the Zeppelins and also assisted the pilots
in finding the airfield at the end of a night patrol.
At first, the RFC personnel stationed at
Mattishall Airfield were billeted in tents and local buildings:
the lower ranks being in tents and the officers living at Mr.
Eason's Green Farm and at Mrs. Claxton's Barrack Yard at East
A well was bored; latrines; ablutions; bath sheds; and two long
wooden huts for officers were erected at the Mattishall side of
the farm. Four similar huts were erected for the other ranks at
the Tuddenham side. Behind the farmhouse, a hut called the Power
House was built to house a generator to provide electricity and
to pump water from the well. At the same time, a guard but was
erected at the entrance to the farm paddock.
Other huts for stores and cookhouse were
built; as well as two hangers and workshops, all to high specifications.
The huts were sectional and made at Boulton and Paul, Norwich.
Arrival of No. 51 Squadron,
Not long afterwards, No. 38 Squadron
moved to France for operations on the Western Front and were replaced
by No. 51 Squadron, operating FE 2b biplanes. These aircraft,
were a "pusher" type, that is to say, the engine was
fitted behind the pilot instead of at the front of the airframe.
They were armed with two Lewis guns and had two cockpits, the
gunner sitting in the front of the aircraft and the pilot sitting
behind. The aircraft were just one type of many different aircraft
made by Boulton and Paul at that time. The new squadron deployed
'A' Flight at Mattishall, 'B' Flight at Marham and 'C' Flight
at Tydd St. Mary.
Two cooks were employed - Beatty Basey from
East Tuddenham and Frances Mack from Hockering. One other airmen's
favourite meals was baked wild rabbit, which were easily obtained
locally. The swill from the cookhouse helped to feed the pigs
on the farm.
On one occasion, when the clocks were put
forward one hour, Frances forgot to alter her alarm clock and
did not turn up to cook the men's breakfast at the allotted time.
The airmen sent a dispatch rider to Hockering and brought her
to the cookhouse through Blind Lane, sitting on the steel carrier
on the back of his motorcycle, a rough ride indeed (Dispatch riders
were constantly plying back and forth from Thetford, the area
Head Quarters, with messages and orders).
Some of the squadron officers had their
own motorcycles and these were kept in the farm barn. A Levis
and a Harley Davidson are two of the makes remembered.
There were approximately fifty personnel
at Mattishall Airfield, commanded by a Captain Powell. The C.O.
was an enlightened man and when any of his men committed a misdemeanour
they were punished by being given a number of hours working in
the Camp garden. This ensured a good supply of fresh vegetables
for the cookhouse.
The German Zeppelins came over
at night, so the squadron pilots had to take off and land in darkness,
a hazardous operation. To assist them to pin-point the landing
strip a flare-path of paraffin-soaked rags in oil drums were lit
by one of the groundcrew running along the lines of drums with
a lighted rag on a stick. Later, the airfield was illuminated
at night by small portable searchlights.
Accidents were frequent. On one occasion, a Lieut. Thunder crashed
on the Mattishall side of Blind Lane and the plane was immediately
engulfed in flames. The pilot, injured and severely burnt, managed
to crawl to the nearside bank. He was taken to the Norfolk and
Norwich Hospital but was unfortunately pronounced dead on arrival.
Other crash sites were behind Burgh Farm and behind Crossroads
Farm. These sites are either side of Welborne Church Lane.
Accidents also happened on the Airfield, one plane coming into
land finished completely upside down and others finished up on
As the defences became more efficient the
German Zeppelin crews became more wary and began flying higher
in the night sky. On a number of occasions they made attempts
to bomb the airfield but only one bomb out of several dropped
actually landed on the field, the others landing close to the
Air Raid Precautions
The personnel at the airfield were
warned by telephone of impending raids, and they in turn notified
my grandparents and family, saying they expected the field to
be bombed. My grandmother would then take her two youngest children
to spend the night at Mattishall Heath with her parents, the Nortons.
Grandfather Bingham refused to move for the Kaiser and stayed
put with the older members of the family (he later refused to
move out for Hitler during the Second World War); and, nearby,
the Allendons of Burgh Farm, made an air-raid shelter using a
hay knife to cut a L-shaped tunnel in their haystack. At least,
they kept warm during alerts.
Several tall trees lined the road from Tollgate
Farm to East Tuddenham and were sawn down, the branches lopped
off, and left by the roadside. These made a good grandstand for
the hundreds of people who came from miles around on a Sunday
to watch activities at the airfield, hoping to catch glimpse of
the planes taking off or landing. The tops of the trees were sawn
and taken home by villagers on wheelbarrows and carts to be used
for fire-wood. The tree stumps were left and made good seats for
At the airfield, there were regular training
flights made between Mattishall and Marham. New pilots followed
the Dereham-King's Lynn railway from Dereham to Marham and returned
by following the railway lines from Marham to Dereham and then
Mattishall Church (a good landmark in the distance).
Wind direction was indicated by smoke from a fire kept alight
all day that was positioned at the end of the field, down Blind
Lane. The bonfire was later replaced by a tethered balloon and
later still, by a windsock, in the same position.
My grandmother turned the farmhouse
kitchen into a canteen, helped by Private Clamp and Private Deeye.
They fitted shelving on the wall and did other work. In appreciation
of this help she made special buns with a hollow in the centre
filled with a spoonful of jam. These she called Deeye buns and
they became very popular.
She sold biscuits five for a penny (240
pennies to a pound in those days), buns, cakes and sandwiches.
One day, an airman asked for Welsh rarebit and my grandmother
had never heard of this. When it was explained to her what it
was the airman always had his cheese on toast on request.
Milk and butter were produced on the farm. Cigarettes and pipe
tobacco were also sold, with Gold Flake being the favourite.
The airmen got on well with the local population
and held Sports days on the field in summer and Concerts in one
of the long huts in the winter. The locals attended these by purchase
of tickets, the money going to the Benevolent Fund of the day.
On dark nights, when Beatty Basey was working
late in the cookhouse the airmen used a small portable searchlight
to show Beatty the way home up the hill into East Tuddenham. The
searchlight was also used to guide the last wagon load of corn
at the end of a long day from the top of the Big Field opposite
into the Tollgate stackyard, much to the delight of the hold-gee
boy on the horse (my uncle Geoffrey).
The Last Raids
The German Zeppelins now found
they didn't have it all their own way. One was seen limping home
over the field, low, slow and badly damaged. Later, it came down
in the North Sea. All the base's aircraft were airborne at the
Sometimes, the aircraft were in the air
two or three hours; and in the wintertime, their open cockpits
were very cold and the pilots had to be lifted out of their planes
by the ground crew after returning from a patrol.
The last attempted raid by the Germans was
in August 1918, when four Zeppelins, waiting for night to fall,
were seen hovering 30 miles off the coast of Norfolk by the crew
of a Lightship.
The Lightship radioed the information to
the Yarmouth airfield and thirteen fighters took off in the gathering
darkness, armed with the latest British invention, incendiary
ammunition. Major Egbert and Captain Leckie located the Zeppelin
L-70 and attacked with their incendiary bullets. The Zeppelin
ignited and plunged into the sea, a blazing wreck. There were
The Home Defence Line had defeated the Zeppelins
and the Mattishall-Tuddenham Airfield had played its part. Ironically,
about this time the airfield had been supplied with an anti-aircraft
gun, which was sighted behind the Tollgate. This gun was never
fired in anger.
Eight months after the last attempted raid,
the Armistice was signed and the First World War was over. Two
of the giant German airships, L-64 and L-71 flew around Norwich
during daylight, and were seen from Mattishall before flying on
to Pulham Airship Station where they surrendered in accordance
with the Armistice Agreement.
The L-71, the last Zeppelin built for war
purposes, was 743 feet in length, armed with ten machine guns,
and was capable of carrying a 5 ton bomb load.
The Closure of Mattishall
The end of the Great War saw the
demise of Mattishall Airfield. The airmen were soon demobbed and
only three soldiers were left to guard the Field and its equipment.
This was a boring job for the soldiers but one day rapid firing
from a machine gun was heard in the village and it is assumed
the soldiers had found something to do to occupy their time.
A large auction was arranged and all huts
and surplus equipment was sold. Some of the huts were used as
village halls and others as farm e buildings.
The only evidence of the airfield today
is the two overgrown roadways, one leading to the old airfield
and one into the farm paddock. The small green Pay Hut where the
airmen queued for their pay is still standing in its original
position opposite the farmhouse.
The footings of some of the airfield buildings
are still there below ground and are avoided when the old airfield
is ploughed every year. A 1939-45 Second World War Pill Box can
easily be seen from halfway down Blind Lane. This appears to be
guarding the old airfield.
In 1940, a German plane dropped several bombs on the big field
opposite the Tollgate, 200 yards away. Some bombs failed to explode
and were dealt with by the Army bomb disposal squad. The road
was closed at Mattishall and East Tuddenham and everyone had to
be evacuated from nearby houses (while the squad made the bombs
harmless) except Grandad Bingham who would not move and continued
to dig his garden on the big field, 150 yards away, while the
bombs were made safe.
One American B24 bomber crashed in Mattishall
in the last war (1944) down by the side of Blind Lane, within
300 yards of Lieut. Thunder's fatal crash. The B24 caught fire
but eight of the crew escaped but unfortunately the pilot and
co-pilot were burnt to death whilst strapped in their seats.
The following document was
found in the shed of a house in East Tuddenham
ENGINEER SERVICES required at Aerodrome, Mattishall, Norfolk.
For "A" Flight No. 51 H.D. Squadron, R.F.C.
15th November 1916
The Contractor is to provide all
work labour and materials for the erection of Latrines Ablutions
and Bath Sheds as per drawing marked “A”
All timber to be sound well seasoned fir
or spruce, or similar timber of good quality all to be subject
Joinery work to be of good quality deals
wrought and free from all loose bad knots, sap, shakes &c.
Framework of wallings, floorings and roofs
to be of the sizes shown and with the timbers of the cantlings
as figured on the plans.
Concrete in foundations with screened ballast,
pit gravel or shingle and sufficient sand to fill the interstices
and in the proportion of 1 of cement to 6 of bulk of mixed dry
aggregate. Provide all casing for concrete work above ground.
Floors to be composed of approved clear porous material such as
iron slag, hard burnt bricks, etc., broken to pass a 3/4"
gauge with proper proportion of fine stuff and in the proportion
of one part of cement to four parts of aggregate and when in position
it is to be rammed with wooden beaters and steel trowelled to
a fair and smooth surface.
The tops of concrete bases to be weathered and floated to a fine
Doors, windows, frames and lourves to be
knotted primed and stopped, and painted three coats of best oil
colour finished to approved tints.
All other woodwork externally exposed, underground,
and plates bedded on concrete to have two coats of creosote.
All corrugated sheet iron to be black dipped
one coat of oxide paint at the works and painted externally one
coat approved common colour.
Steel ridging to roofs to be No.2 S.W.G.
and painted as described for sheeting.
The Contractor to inspect the Site before
making his Estimate and allow for any inequalities in the site
and removal of rubbish &c.
On completion of the work the Contractor
is to remove all surplus soil and rubbish from the War Department
Walls to be constructed with
the timber framing of the sizes shown upon drawing lined inside
of Boiler House with No.22 S.W.G. corrugated sheet iron and
painted as described for sheeting.
Walls and roof of Bath Shed to be lined
with match boarding wrought iron one side.
The 4" x 3" sill plate to be
bolted down with '/2" rag bolts at about 4' - 0" intervals.
All floor and wall framing to be creosoted.
Roof to be covered with corrugated sheet
steel and sheet steel ridging.
Form floor and channels in concrete laid
to fall to channel all as shown upon drawing to be trowelled
off to a smooth surface. Make good to gullies in channels.
Form seats with 2" x 2" deal
wrought legs and bearers and 2" wrought battens '/,"
apart for seating.
Published by Derek Bingham Mattishall,
In 1916, when the eyes of the world
were witnessing the horrors of the Somme and the Western Front,
a Norfolk village provided valuable service to assist Britain's
Positioned in the centre of the
Home Defence Line, the airfield at Mattishall and East Tuddenham
provided fighter aircraft to combat a new, frightening menace
- the German Zeppelin. Flying over Norfolk and the eastern counties
of England, bombing at will, the huge airships terrorised the
civilian population. These airborne monsters were over 600 feet
long, could fly as high as 10,000 feet and were capable of carrying
a large bomb load. In defence they were armed with machine guns,
manned by highly-trained crews.
Undeterred, the tiny aircraft of
the RFC patrolled the night skies over Norfolk, frequently landing
and taking off in total darkness. Climbing to operational height,
the pilots sat in open cockpits in intense cold, probing the
night skies for signs of the enemy.
On their return to base they often
had to be carried from their cockpits by their faithful ground-crews.
Yet, in the months that they carried out operations against
the German Zeppelins, their extreme courage and youthful daring
finally defeated the airborne menace.
Today, there are few signs to indicate
the existence of their Norfolk airfield. Few people know of
the heroic deeds and sacrifices of the pilots. This is an account
of Mattishall during the years 1916-1919.
Recently erected to officially
mark Mattishall Airfield
|THUNDER - Michael Hubert Francis
||Michael Hubert Francis
Thunder - age 36
|Date of Death:
||Royal Flying Corps
(St Augustine) Roman Catholic Churchyard
||Son of the late Major George Francis
Thunder (7th Bn Royal Fusiliers) and Margaret Mary
Michael Hubert Francis
Thunder was born on September 6th 1880 at Ramsgate,
Kent although no official record has been found.
The son of Major, George Francis Thunder born in
Ireland and Margaret Mary Pugin born at Ramsgate,
Michael never married.
As no official birth record
has been found this seems to imply Michael's birth was
not registered through the normal channels or, as his
parents had only recently returned from India his birth
may have taken place at sea on the ship - Michael's mother
(Margaret) was the daughter of celebrated architect Augustus
Welby Northmore Pugin and Jane Knill - Pugin was an English
architect, designer, artist and critic who is principally
remembered for his pioneering role in the Gothic Revival
style of architecture - Pugin was responsible for many
historical building which are admired by many today -
Working together with Sir Charles Barry, The Palace of
Westminster and Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben
are but two - He also designed his own home (The Grange)
in Ramsgate together with his personal Roman Catholic
Church (St Augustine's) which he built on the plot next
door - it was this which would become Pugin's final resting
place, he was jut 40 years old, followed virtually 64
years later to the day by his grandson, Second Lieutenant
The marriage for Margaret
Pugin to George Thunder was a second marriage she had
previously been married to Henry Francis Purcell - Purcell
was a renowned barrister-at-law and Judge from Ireland
who travelled the globe with his work - In 1877 he was
in Bombay regarding a case of an Englishwoman - Very sadly,
on June 4th whilst on a tiger shooting expedition, he
was taken ill and died leaving Margaret a widow with four
children - Margaret and her younger baby travelled to
Bombay to claim Henry Purcell's body - The widow Margaret,
spent some time with George Thunder, a British Army officer,
on the ship back to England - George Thunder had been
raised in Ratoath, north of Dublin, and had 13 siblings
- Margaret and Thunder were married in 1878 at St George's
Church in Hanover Square, London - by 1879 they were back
in India where their first son, James Augustus (Michael's
brother) was born - then again back in Ramsgate Kent by
September 1880 where it is claimed Michael was born although
as mentioned, no formal registration of his birth has
been found - During this time and with six children to
be cared for they employed a French nurse, Marie Louise
Meisterzheim (known as Louise) - In 1884 during (or as
the result of) childbirth of her seventh child Margaret
died aged just 34 - It is said Margaret's widowed mother
Jane Knill Pugin took over looking after the children
at The Grange, Ramsgate as George had been called back
to India - We assume Louise, their French nurse also stayed
on at her position - Louise must have made quite an impression
for six years later (1890) George Thunder and Louise married
in London and both left for Bombay leaving James and Michael
in a boarding school in Bath and the four Purcell children
with Jane (their grandmother) at the Grange - Whilst in
India George and Louise had a daughter, Minnie Louise
Thunder born in 1892 - George died on June 18th 1904 age
54 at Worthing Sussex - On November 25th 1904 Marie Louise
Thunder of 21 Wenban Road Worthing Sussex was awarded
probate of £161.18s
Michael, or Mick, as he
was called within the family, accompanied by his brother
James were educated at St Augustine's College, Ramsgate
- then by the 1891 census Michael and James were pupils
at La Sainte Union Covent School, Bathwick - 1893-1897
Michael was a Pupil at Clongowes Wood College in Ireland
- Their father’s family lived at “Lagore (His
father had 13 siblings, two of whom died young. His mother
had seven siblings.) The two boys attended the school
with two first cousins, also named Thunder - The four
Thunder boys were schoolmates of James Joyce (Irish writer)
and you’ll find a character named Cecil Thunder
in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young
Man - Michael's next move
was as we can only assume influenced by his father's military
career for in 1899 he to chose to join the military and
fight in the Boer War - He joined the 13th Battalion of
the Imperial Yeomanry (“IY”) they were a volunteer
force “raised” in late 1899/early 1900 for
one year’s duration. - Michael was 19 years of age,
and joined as a private, service number 9649 - The Battalion
consisted of four companies, Mick was in the 45 (Dublin
a/k/a Irish Hunt) Company of 126 men - The Battalion arrived
in South Africa between February and April 1900 - 45 Company
arrived on The Montrose in Cape Town - The entire Battalion
surrendered on May 31, 1900, to the Boers and became a
Prisoners of War - it was has also been said Michael had
Following the Boar War, in
the 1901 Irish census Michael was at 15 Merrion Square
North (Trinity, Dublin), Ireland, (the same block (no
1) had been the family home of the late Osgar Wilde) -
records show: Michael Thunder, Nephew, single, age 20,
no occupation, born Ramsgate Kent - he was staying with
his late mother's sister Katherine, she had married in
1871 to Austin Meldon, a widower, a Physician and Surgeon,
from Roebuck, Co Dublin - one of Michael's half sisters,
Eily Purcell age 25 was also a visitor.
Michael having gained qualifications
as a mining engineer spent some time working in Argentina
and Malaya - He also gain the reputation as a 'Gentleman-Jockey'
whilst working as an executive for a tin mining operation
in Malaysia - In 1913, a cousin, medical doctor Wilfrid
Thunder joined Mick and Wilfrid’s brother Bernard
in Malaysia - All three of them returned to the UK for
the war - Here is the announcement of Mick’s departure
from The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser
of October 19, 1915: Mr M H Thunder of Perak, left
for Home on Thursday to join the Aviation Corps -
He was commissioned in December 1915, qualified as a Pilot
on the 16th January 1916 at the Military School in Ruislip,Surrey
and gazetted Flying Officer in March 1916 - He would then
join the newly created RFC 51 Squadron which had been
formed at Thetford, Norfolk on 15 May 1916 as a Home Defence
unit - The Squadron flew BE2s and BE12s on anti-Zeppelin
patrols, the unit also providing night flying training
for newly qualified pilots with Avro 504Ks - From September
1916, units of 51 Squadron Home Defence were based at
Marham but also used airfields dotted about the county
for training exercises such as night flying one being
On the 24th September 1916
Lt. Thunder scrambled from Mattishall to intercept an
attack from a dozen Zeppelin airships that were reported
to have crossed the North Sea to attack London and the
East coast - According to the cause of death from his
death certificate he failed to gain enough height on takeoff
and crashed the Mattishall side of Blind Lane near Tollgate
Farm Airfield - Cause of Death: Accidently burnt and his
death was occasioned through the petrol of an aeroplane
he was flying becoming ignited after colliding with a
tree and falling to the ground - There are reports that
say that although badly burnt he managed to crawl away
from the aircraft to a nearby hedgerow bank where he was
picked up and taken to Thorpe St. Andrew War Hospital
in Norwich where he later died of his injuries.
Death Certificate: 24th
Thorpe St Andrew Norfolk War Hospital R.D - Cause of Death:
Accidentally burnt and his death was occasioned through
the petrol of an aeroplane he was flying becoming ignited
after colliding with a tree and falling to the ground.
FLYING OFFICER KILLED
An inquest was held
this week on the body of a flying officer, who
died from injuries following a mishap late on
Saturday night. The Coroner told the jury that
the deceased was brought to the Hospital in a
severely injured condition. It appeared that he
had been flying in the dark, when the machine
collided with a tree. That caused the machine
to come to the ground, and for some reason or
other the petrol took fire.
Deceased was very
badly burned, and died a few hours after having
been admitted to the Hospital. Margaret Eileen
Gladstone, of Dane Court Lodge, Broadstairs, 27,
wife of Charles Elsden Gladstone, Captain RN,
and sister of the deceased, gave evidence of identification.
Her brother, who was 36, was a second lieutenant
in the RFC. He returned to England from the Straits
Settlement just before Christmas last, and joined
the RFC at the beginning of the present year.
Deceased was a native
of Co. Meath. A verdict of accidental death was
He was the first
airman to be killed serving with 51 squadron.
Six officers of the Flying Corps acted as pall-bearers,
and the officer in command arrived by aeroplane.
He had qualified as a mining engineer and spent
some time working in Argentina and Malaya before
returning to the UK.
second claim to fame is that he was the grandson
of Augustus Northmore Welsby Pugin, the leading
architect of Victorian Britain and famous for
his Gothic style of architecture in many churches
around the country, not forgetting his most famous
work: the Palace of Westminster in London.
2nd Lt. Michael Thunder
now rests with his grandfather in St. Augustine’s
Church, Ramsgate which was also designed by Augustus.
Thanet Advertiser - Saturday 30
FLYING FATALITY. OFFICER'S FUNERAL AT RAMSGATE.
DEATH OF MR. WELBY PUGIN'S GRANDSON.
On the festival
day of his patron Saint, St. Michael, the funeral
took place at St. Augustine's Abbey Church, Ramsgate,
yesterday (Friday) afternoon, of Second-Lieutenant
Michael Hubert Francis Thunder, R.F.C., who died
at Norwich Hospital on Sunday from burns, the
result of a flying accident.
who was an Old Boy of St. Augnstine's College,
was the youngest son of the late George Thunder,
of Lagore, Co. Meath, and of Margaret, daughter
of the late Augustus Welby Pugin, the famous architect
of the abbey church. He was a brother of Mrs.
Gladstone, wife of Captain Gladstone, of St. Peter's.
The body was conveyed
to Ramsgate on Thursday and was met at the station
in the evening by an escort of forty men from
the Royal Flying Corps. The coffin, draped with
the Union Jack, was placed on the aeroplane trailer
of a Flying Corps motor lorry by six non-commissioned
officers and taken to the Abbey Church, where
it was met by the Rev. Prior O'Gara and the priests
of the Monastery. The officer in charge of the
escort arrived by aeroplane earlier in the day.
A short service was
afterwards held, and the coffin remained in the
Lady Chapel at the Abbey for the night.
at 8 o'clock, a requiem mass took place, the celebrant
being Prior O'Gara. The short funeral service
was conducted by the Prior at 12.30, and the coffin,
carried by six officers of the R.F.C. to the churchyard
adjoining the church, was afterwards lowered into
the same grave as that containing the remains
of deceased's nephew, Master Gladstone.
The gallant young
officer, who died in the service of his country,
was buried with full Service honours, a firing
party attending from the 44th Provisional Battalion,
while the Buglers of the same Battalion afterwards
sounded the Last Post.
Second Lieutenant Michael
Thunder, of the Royal Flying Corps, was buried at Ramsgate
on September 29th 1916 with full military honours - Michael
was buried with his grandfather in St. Augustine’s
Roman Catholic Church in Ramsgate, which was also designed
by Pugin - He had an escort of forty men of the Royal
Flying Corps met the body at the station, and the coffin
was placed upon an aeroplane trailer attached to a Flying
Corps motor lorry. Six officers acted as bearers. Prior
O'Gara officiated at the funeral at St. Augustine's Abbey.
A firing party attended.
5th - Federated Malay States, United Kingdom - Probate
- Michael Hubert Thunder who died on September 24th 1916
- probate was awarded to
Margaret Eileen Gladstone and Charles Elsden Gladstone
- LDS website.
Charles Elsden Gladstone was at this time a retired
Royal Navy Captian he had married Michael's half sister
Margaret Eileen Purcell in 1903 - Gladstone apart from
having a very colorful navel career is well known for
his book binding - his works now fetching very high prices
- Charles died in 1919 and left an estate of £27,030
2s 5d - Charles and Margaret had one son, Richard Pugin
Gladstone but sadly he died in 1915 aged just 10 - It
is with young Richard, Michael now share a grave and headstone.
Find a Grave
Dearly Loved Only Child of
CHARLES & EILY GLADSTONE
Who Died March 1st 1915
age 10 years
Rest In Peace
Also of MICHAEL HUBERT FRANCIS THUNDER
2nd Lieut Royal Flying Corps
Who Died For His Country September 24th 1916
Some of the above has been
taken from a very in depth article by James Michael Thunder
the great nephew on 2nd Lieutenant Thunder:
Plus the Pugin Society: http://www.thepuginsociety.co.uk/margaret.html