Two local men died on 17th September 1916 whilst serving in the Armed Forces. 19-year-old Lieutenant John Cyril Hodges, Royal Flying Corps, was born in Lerwick, Shetland and was killed in a flying accident at Castle Bromwich aerodrome. 26-year-old Private John Frederick Lewis Hornsby died in France whilst serving with the Wellington Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
John Cyril Hodges was born on 19th August 1897 and was the only son of Yorkshire-born parents Rev. Edward James Hodges (1853-1941) and his wife, Constance Mary (née Byers). John’s older sister, Phillis, was born in Glasgow in 1892. John was born in Lerwick, where his father was Rector of St Magnus’ Church, a post he held for 11 years from 1896-1907 before he moved to St Philip’s Church, Newcastle-on-Tyne and, in 1912, to St Margaret’s Church, Marks Hall. Rev. Hodges retired from the post in 1929 and moved to Bath where he died, aged 87, in 1941.
John was educated at Crondall School, Hampshire, Kingswood Preparatory School, Camberley and Worksop College, Nottinghamshire where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps (OTC). He was training for the naval entrance examination but on the outbreak of war he obtained a commission as Second Lieutenant on 24th February 1915, being promoted to Lieutenant on 8th August 1916, then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps on 12th April 1916.
He passed his aviator’s certificate on 17th June 1916 in Birmingham, flying a Maurice Farman biplane. John then became an instructor, having been selected from a number of pupils to remain at Castle Bromwich. It was during a practice flight on 17th September 1916 that he was killed whilst looping the loop. His commanding officer wrote to Rev. & Mrs Hodges that their son was a general favourite in the squadron for his “boyish ways, and his pupils had confidence in him as a steady flyer”. A report of the inquest, which returned a verdict of accidental death, appeared in the Lichfield Mercury, 22nd September 1916:
A biplane disaster occurred near Birmingham on Sunday resulting in the deaths of Second Lieut John Hodges (19), a flying officer and instructor, son of the Rev. E. J. Hodges, rector of Coggeshall, Essex, and Second-Lieut Leslie Syson (23), whose brother resides at Shepherd’s Bush, London. The accident was investigated by a coroner and jury on Monday.Evidence was given that the machine was completely overhauled just before the ascent, and found to be in perfect condition for flying purposes.Captain Simpson, R.F.C., who witnessed the flight, said he saw the machine loop the loop at a height of about 3,000 feet. It seemed to go through the evolution all right. Then he saw the tail plane move but he could not say what was the cause.He expressed the opinion, in reply to questions by the Coroner, that the last loop was made in such a way as to put rather a heavy strain on the machine.The loop was quite good, but when the second was made the machine seemed to drive too much, and the pilot (Hodges) pulled it back rather suddenly to go up to a loop, which would cause a heavy strain.In reply to another question, witness said that looping the loop as a training was very useful indeed.Reply to a juryman, witness admitted that although it was rather gusty on Sunday he thought that at the height of the machine the gusts would not have any effect.Dr James Robb said the probability was that the force of gravity would be so great that the men would lose consciousness before reaching the ground, and in each case death would be instantaneous.
John Cyril Hodges is buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas & St Peter, Curdworth. He is also commemorated on Worksop College War Memorial.
John Frederick Lewis Hornsby was born in Moseley in 1889 and was the youngest of the six children of parents Frederick George (a commercial traveller in the hardware industry) and Sarah Ann (nee James) who had married in Llangeview, Monmouthshire in 1876. John – known in the family as Jack – was the couple’s only son, and he had five older sisters – Margaret Frances (1878-1953), Georgina Mary (1881-1924), Emily (1882-1896), Hilda Mary (1884-1941) and Annie Louise (1885-1962).
The family lived in Moseley until at least 1901. By 1911, Frederick and Sarah were living in Meeting House Lane, Berkswell but none of their children were living with them. It was noted that the couple had been married for 35 years and had six children of whom one had already died. This was Emily, who died in 1896, aged 13. Only one of the couple’s children is known to have married and had children – Margaret Frances married George Percy Crofts in 1902 and they had two children (Gladys Marjorie (1904-1974) and George Ronald (1907-1985)).
Frederick George Hornsby was spared the knowledge of the death of his only son as he died in June 1914. Probate records indicate that he was living at “Sunnydale”, Berkswell at the time of his death, and his occupation was given as “gentleman”. Sometime between 1914 and about 1920, Frederick’s widow, Sarah Ann, moved with her daughter Georgina from Berkswell to “Locarno”, Hampton Lane, Solihull. Georgina died in 1924 and, by 1939, Sarah had moved to Moseley and was living with her unmarried daughters, Hilda Mary (a retired nurse) and Anne Louise (an art teacher).
We don’t know when Jack emigrated to New Zealand but he is listed on the 1911 electoral register as a shepherd at Tawapata Opoutama, Gisborne, New Zealand. His service record on the Discovering Anzacs website shows that he enlisted in the Wellington Infantry Battalion in June 1915. He gave his occupation as a farmer and his employer as Mr Coop at Muriwai, Gisborne. His next-of-kin was listed as his mother, and his sister Georgina was listed as the administratrix of his estate after his death.
He was wounded in action, receiving a gun shot wound on 16th September 1916 and dying the following day at XV Corps Main Dressing Station, 63rd West Lancs T.F. Field Ambulance. He was buried in the British Cemetery, Becordel – 1.5 miles south-east of Albert. Private John Frederick Hornsby is also commemorated locally on the lychgate war memorial at Temple Balsall, and on the memorial plaque in St Peter’s Church, Balsall Common.
If you have any further information on these men or their families, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977
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