Archibald Britton Wyles (1887-1941)
Royal Navy Air Service (P.I.C. 200880) 1917-1919
On his marriage certificate dated 1.10.1910, Archibald Britton Wyles (born 1887) is recorded as living at '33 Beakes Road' in the ‘Smethwick’ area of Birmingham, also known as West Bromwich. His occupation is listed as that of ‘Groom’, and if memory serves me correct, he worked in Uppingham (which is 8.6 miles west of Duddington) as a young man pursuing this occupation, before migrating ever further westward toward Birmingham. Although living in Birmingham when he joined the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) in 1917, his War Record lists him as coming from Duddington and now working as a ‘Draper’. This is the story of how our family ‘Wyles’ lineage left Duddington in the early 1900s. If, for sake of argument, it is said that Archibald left Duddington on his 18th birthday (c. 1905), then it would be another 103 years before his great grandson (i.e. myself – Adrian Peter Wyles) would yet again set foot on the soil of Duddington – the land of our ‘Wyles’ forefathers. Alfred Gregory Wyles (my grandfather) was born on August 5th, 1916 in Smethwick – he was the second of our Wyles family to be born outside of Duddington in the 20th century (the first was Joseph Wyles – the first son of Archibald and Helen born probably around 1910). Interestingly, Alfred was born during the First World War and a time of great uncertainty for many ordinary men in the UK. Archibald joined the Royal Navy Air Service on September 28th, 1917. By the time of the birth of Gregory – six years into the marriage of Archibald and his first wife Helen Wyles (nee: ‘Edwards) - Archibald is described on the birth certificate as a ‘Master Draper’ (or more specifically - ‘Draper (Master)’. Years later, as a young man, Alfred Wyles would traverse back to the Lincolnshire area (although not Duddington), where my father – Peter Desmond Wyles – would be born to Alfred (a serving soldier – Ox & Bucks Light Infantry) and Gladys Wyles (nee; Kilmurray from Ballynacarrigy, Westmeath, Republic of Ireland), in the Louth (Lincolnshire) 82.6 miles northeast of Duddington in 1943. The first child of Alfred and Gladys, however, was Patricia Wyles (born in 1940), who spent much of the war living with relatives in the Irish Republic. Patricia, Alfred and Peter were all ‘war babies’.
A friend of mine who used to work for the Audit Commission, assisted me for many years in researching the Wyles family history of Duddington. Indeed, it was ‘Liz’ who found Archibald’s War Record for WWI in the National Archives (free of charge). This is different to the WWII Naval War Record of my maternal grandfather – Arthur Gibson – for which we had to pay a fee to the Royal Navy for a search in the archives of the Imperial War Museum (London). Why Archbold's WWI War Record was placed in the National Archives (or ‘when’) we do not know. Archbold’s Royal Naval Number was ‘P.I.C. 200880’ and he signed on from September 28th, 1917 for the duration of hostilities – and was eventually ‘demobilized’ on the 21st of July, 1919. The initials ‘P.I.C.’ stand for ‘Protection and Identity Certificate’, and the initials ‘F.E.’ after his age mean ‘First Entry’ (or first time in the Royal Navy). His date of birth is recorded as the 18th of February, 1887. He is described as being 5 ft 8.5 ins tall, with a chest measurement of 34.5 ins, together with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. Nothing is listed for wounds, scars or marks. He entered service – and received his basic training – at the RNAS recruiting depot situated at Roehampton in West London. Archibald appears to have been on what the Royal Navy terms ‘concrete ships’ (or in this case a ‘stone frigate’), with the first posting being on ‘HMS President II’ (stationed at Felixstowe, Calshot and Bembridge), where he held the rank of ‘ACII’ or ‘Air Craftsman' 2nd Class’. This designation shows that he was enlisted into what was effectively a ‘private’ into the Royal Navy to work exclusively upon the new concept of aeroplanes used for warfare. The Royal Naval Air Service was the air arm of the Royal Navy, under the direction of the Admiralty's Air Department, and existed formally from July 1st, 1914 to April 1st, 1918, when it was merged with the British Army's Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force.
Archibald served on the President II between September and March 31st, 1918. On March 31st, 1918, he is recorded as holding the rank of ‘ACI’, or ‘Air Craftsman' 1st Class (acting)’. He was then transferred to President V (a ‘stone frigate’ based in London) which specialized in handling military accounts. Archibald served aboard HMS President V until February 18th, 1919, where he held the rank of ‘CI’ or ‘Air Craftsman 1st Class’. Although Archibald Wyles went about methodically training, the RNAS recruits were trained to be office workers (I.e. military clerks), sailors, pilots, mechanics, infantrymen, marines, armoured car personnel and perform any number of difficult functions and tasks (in many ways the RNAS of 1914-1918 appears to be the forerunner Long Range Desert Petrol and Special Air Service formed during WWII). The main ‘naval’ roles of the RNAS were fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and submarines, as well as attacking enemy coastal territory. The RNAS patrolled the English Channel and the North Sea for U-boats. In 1917, for example, the RNAS was responsible for identifying 175 U-boats, whilst successfully attacking 107 of those U-boats. The limited technology of the time meant that these attacks were not successful in terms of German submarines destroyed, but the sightings greatly assisted the Royal Navy's surface fleets in combatting the enemy submarines. Early during WWI, the RNAS provided mobile cover using armoured cars, during the British Army withdrawal from Antwerp to the Yser. Later during WWI, squadrons of the RNAS were deployed to France to directly support the ‘Royal Flying Corps’ (RFC). The RNAS was also at one stage entrusted with the air-defense of London. This led to its raids on airship stations in Germany, in places as far from the sea as the manufacturing site at Friedrichshafen.
During WWI the British Army administered the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) which was merged with the RNAS on April 1st, 1918 to form the new Royal Airforce (RAF). Archibald Wyles was still in the RNAS at this time, and continued to perform operational duties as a member of the RNAS until he left the ‘stone frigate’ President V on 18th of February, 1919 and returned to the RNAS training camp at Roehampton in West London. He then spent 6 months being ‘debriefed’ and ‘processed’ until his final demobilization on the 21st of July, 1919. President V probably became operational just before Archibald Wyles was posted to it on April 1st, 1918. It appears to have specialized in training Accountant Branch Ratings – but was decommissioned on the 30th of September, 1919. However, President V was recommissioned on the 14th of July, 1941 for exactly the same function. The RNAS stated that on the 31.12.1917, the 31.12.1918, and the 18.2.1919 Archibald Britton Wyles was of ‘Very Good’ Character. Also, on these dates his all-round ability to cope with the training and discipline is described as ‘Satisfactory’. I assume he received some kind of War Medal for participating in WWI but it is not mentioned on his discharge papers (the section under ‘Badges’ is blank). I am very proud of my great grandfather and am saddened that he died in 1941 (at only 53 years of age, whilst his son – Alfred, my grandfather – was away fighting in another war)) – 26 years before I was born!
Update: (26.7.2019) In an extraordinary coincidence, I reading Roy Jenkins’ biography of ‘Churchill’ Macmillan, (2001), Pages 248-253 - for another (political) research academic project I am involved in. As Liberal MP for Dundee, Winston Churchill served as ‘First Lord of the Admiralty’ from 1911 – 1914. He was forced to resign and leave government in 1915 following the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign. Prior to this, however, Churchill was instrumental in founding the ‘Royal Navy Air Service’ (RNAS), with its innovative ‘Royal Naval Division’ of ground troops, reinforced by armour-plated Rolls-Royce cars fitted with Maxim Machine Guns. These are believed to have been the first armoured-cars used very much like ‘light-tanks’ before the concept of a tank-proper had even been developed. Despite the utmost bravery and sacrifice in the face of Imperial German aggression in Belgium and France in late 1914, the RNAS suffered terrible casualties with many hundreds becoming POWs in German camps. As Churchill was on the ground ‘commanding’ these men in Europe, he was directly blamed for the disaster by Prime Minister Asquith. Roy Jenkins states:
‘Churchill was already in the habit of paying frequent visits to Dunkirk, where he had established both a naval air squadron and several armoured car squadrons (under naval command), which he had grandly constituted by requisitioning all available Rolls-Royces. With some armour plating (of a sort familiar to British ambassadors in the late 1970s when terrorist attacks became a threat) and the provision of equipment for “bridging small cuts in the road”, Churchill saw them as early prototypes of the tank....
He may have been over-eager for this adventure, but there is no doubt that he went with the full blessing of the Secretary of State for War and, more reluctantly, of the Foreign Secretary. The Belgians were also promised substantial military reinforcements, although these included parts of the almost totally untrained Royal Naval Division, a private army of Churchill’s. A battalion which went to Antwerp was commanded by his mother’s ex-husband George Cornwallis-West, and contained the Prime Minister’s second son, Arthur (or Oc), an exceptionally good soldier who rose to be a “civilian” brigadier-general. Churchill took until 3.00 p.m. to arrive in one of his commandeered Rolls-Royces. But once in Antwerp he threw himself with a mixture of galvanic energy, total indifference to his own safety and considerable concern for his own comfort, into organizing Belgium’s resistance. He persuaded King Albert and his Prime Minister that they should try to hold out for ten days, a period which would be invaluable for the consolidation of the left of the British line between Lille and the sea.
In fact they managed to do so only for five, but these days Churchill considered to have been time well bought, for without them he believed that Dunkirk would have fallen. The counterbalancing risk was the loss of the bulk of the Belgian army, although at the end much of this was extracted and available to fight again further back. Some 2,500 British including Churchill’s untrained Naval Division, were either lost in battle, captured by the Germans or forced into internment in the Netherlands.’
Adrian Chan-Wyles (25.7.2019)
Sutton – South London
Written on the hottest Day of the Year Where Temperatures topped 36 Degrees!
Update: 18.8.2019 - If we are correct to assume that ‘Mary Ann Wyles’ (1839-1917) was the wife of Thomas Wyles (1824-1887) - then as this ‘Thomas Wyles’ (son of Thomas and Elizabeth – the ‘Blacksmiths’) is our great, great, great (X3) grandfather, then it follows that his wife - ‘Mary Ann Wyles’ - is our great, great, great (X3) grandmother and is the last surviving member of our branch of the Wyles (as far as we know) to live in Duddington! This means that our great grandfather – Archibald Wyles – was born in the same year that his grandfather - ‘Thomas Wyles’ - passed away (I.e. ‘1887’). As his grandfather died on the 30th of December, 1887, he could have known Archibald for a few months, but ‘Mary Ann Wyles’ - as his grandmother – could have known him for the next 30 years (with Mary dying just three months before Archibald left to join the Royal Navy Air Service in September, 1917, to fight in WWI)!
Update: 19.8.2019. Despite the general tragedy of WWI for millions of people in the UK and elsewhere, Archibald experienced a number of personal tragedies around this time in quick succession, and not directly because of the war. His grandmother - Mary Ann Wyles (1839-1917) - passed away in Duddington on the 16th of June, 1917 (aged 78). Archibald joined the RNAS in September, 1917, whilst his father - John Thomas Wyles (1860-1917) - died in Uppingham (Beautmont Chase) on the 23rd of November, 1917 (aged 58). (These two deaths were age related, with John Thomas suffering renal failure). On the 31st of January, 1918, Archibald's wife - Helen Wyles (nee 'Edwards') [1887-1918] - died of 'pneumonia' (aged 31). The First World War ended on the 11th of November, 1918 and Archibald was 'demobilised' from the military on the 21st of July, 1919. On the 4th of Februay, 1920, Archibald (as a 'Widower') - aged 32 - married Diasy Hobson (Spinster), aged 23. Archibald's profession is now described as 'Co-Operative Society - Manager'.