Manuscript memorial volume of a pilot officer of 56 Squadron R. F. C.Ealing, Middlesex: 1918 Stock Code: 144576
A family record of a pilot's brief life over the Western Front - "Remember that I always wanted to be an airman, that I have had my wish, & that the fight must be".A unique and extremely moving document, a manuscript record of the life and brief career of 2nd Lieut. G. M. Wilkinson, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, attached to 56 Squadron R.F.C. (1898-1917), lovingly copied out and compiled by his mother. Following the structure of the memorial volumes of the era the volume offers a brief account of schooling and youthful pursuits, contains extracts of letters recounting the subject's exploits and thoughts on service, together with letters of condolence from friends and colleagues with their memories of their fallen comrade, here all interspersed with a selection of original photographs.
In keeping with the template of the memorial volumes produced by grand families for their lost sons, the album opens with a studio portrait of the subject, and an epigram, in this case from Ruskin's Proserpina; "Every noble life leaves the fibre of it interwoven in the work of the world". Fifth child of Henry Wall Wilkinson and his wife Ada, Geoffrey Miles, known to the family as Miles, was born at the family home in Hartfield Rise, Eastbourne 21 June 1898. Due to severe headaches he was largely educated at home, being prepared for Sandhurst by "Mr. Gladstone of Gloucester Road". Despite having only a short time to prepare "and as his education had been so interrupted it was feared he might not pass, but he did well in every subject & took a good place on the list". On passing out he was gazetted to the DCLI, and immediately attached to the RFC, and glided through training at Oxford and Upavon, doing "so well that on completion of his training & after having gained his wings and certificate he was put into the best and smartest scout squadron (56th) we possessed". The photographs show a boy who was clearly enthralled by all things mechanical and technical: images of his scratch-built model Blériot monoplane; Miles sailing a punt jury-rigged with a sail, or beaming from behind the motor car in "Mr. Whitcroft's garage"; twice shown seated on his Douglas motorcycle, once in civvies and again proud in uniform, his duster coat discarded in the branches of tree behind.
He joined his squadron in April '17, and on the 28th May got the worse of an aerial combat with 20 "Huns", receiving a flesh wound in his back. Officer commanding 56 Major Blomfield's letter to Miles' mother remarks that she has "every reason to be proud... he put up a very good performance - as although already wounded he continued fighting and eventually brought his machine safely back to his own aerodrome". His brother Alan Major A. G. Wilkinson, RFC, DSO visited him at 110 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital where he was convalescing, and wrote to their mother; "He is very cheerful & not in the least perturbed about his experiences - he put up a wonderful show, & owes his life simply to doing the right thing at the right moment, he showed extraordinary coolness & courage, he was in about the tightest corner anyone has ever been in, & got out of". For his part Miles explained that "I am not really bad enough for "Blighty". I would not mind coming home for a fortnight, but I don't want to come home for long as I really want my revenge". Col. Reasons, commander of the hospital, was clearly impressed by the "brightness & happiness that he shed around him", and wrote on a number of occasions following Miles' death and even visited the Wilkinsons in London when on leave, offering spiritualist consolation to his mother, "he had just finished his work & had passed on to another phase a little farther off where I would one day join him". The photographs include an group portrait of convalescents at the hospital in Doullens, Miles for once serious with a swagger stick.
Back to his squadron he was engaged in almost daily fighting, and very much in his element. "We have been quite busy lately, good fun this morning, we attacked some two-seaters, Captain Maxwell Gerald Maxwell, Miles' flight commander, 26 accredited kills got one in flames. I managed to get another out of control apparently seen to crash from the ground... I'm rather tired tonight so as I am probably on the early show tomorrow I will stop". A much needed and longed-for leave saw him back with his family for two weeks in late September, "he was bright but looked overtired". A joyfully carefree family trip to Salcombe is recorded in a sequence of painfully poignant images. He returned to 56 on 7 October and on the 10th set off on an offensive patrol over enemy territory led by Maxwell, who recounts to Miles' brother; "We did not see any Huns until abut 4:30 pm, we then saw about 10 Hun scouts about a mile over the lines. We attacked them from above... your brother was flying next to me on my right. We dived on the Enemy Aircraft most of whom made off East, about six remained and we had a "dog fight" with these for some time. The Huns were mostly painted black & white and were a very good lot Jagdstaffel 18 led by Rudolf Berthold, who was severely wounded in the engagement... I was scrapping with two Huns and saw some way off a machine which I thought was a S. E. 5 going down in a fast spin... I am very sorry about your brother and hope he may have landed safely. He was a long way the best man in my Flight and invaluable over the lines". On the final page Miles' mother records "My beloved boy's own words spoken on the evening of Oct 5 1917, 'You mustn't mind too much mother if anything happens - Remember that I always wished to be an airman, that I have had my wish, & that the fight must be and that you have others...'" Miles Wilkinson is buried in Pont-du-Hem Cemetery, La Gorgue, IV. H. 29. A complex and truthfully eloquent artefact.
Quarto (200 x 160 mm). Red straight-grained morocco album for The Times Book Club, ink stamp to rear pastedown, single fillet panel in blind to the boards, all edges gilt, gilt floral roll to the turn-ins, pale cream moiré coated card endsheets.
Around 100 pages of hand-copied excerpts, 35 mounted original photographs.
A little rubbed at the extremities, leather just started at the head of the front joint, the lower a little forced by the extra pages tipped in at the rear of the volume, cracked but holding, rear hinge similarly a little open, light toning to the contents, overall very good.
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