Date Posted... Nov 11th 2022


School Archive

Archive Attic: More letters from the Front, 1914-1918

Edward J.P. Burling (TS 1899-1906)

Flight Sub-Lt., R.F.C.. Naval Wing

The first question always asked is; ‘What is the sensation like?’ Well, this depends, as it does with a ship at sea on the weather! On a calm day the motion is quite smooth, but on a gusty day the machine is ‘bumped’ up and down, and rolls about very similar to a ship in a rough sea, but with a much quicker and more jerky motion. The air up to about 500ft. Is nearly always ‘bumpy’, above this height, as a rule, the higher you get, the more settled is the air. Landing the machine safely is by far the most difficult part of all, as this requires a good eye and judgment. At a height it is very cold and you have a peculiar sense of loneliness, the panoramic views obtained are splendid, but everything looks so small and you wonder you can possibly land again in the Aerodrome, which looks about the size of a penny. Rivers, railways and roads show up most distinctly — fields look more or less all the same. The machines used are well fitted out with instruments for ascertaining: speed through the air, revolution of engine height above ground, inclination of the machine to the horizontal, and a compass of special design is also fitted. The roar of the engine is very deafening, and it is a great relief when you shut off your engine and ‘vol plane’ to the ground. When once in the air you lose all the sense of speed; looking over the side to the ground does not give you that uncanny sensation felt when looking over a cliff or from a high tower. Do we get nervous? Not often! Our main object is to fly well and make a good ‘landing’ in front of ‘those in authority’, who we know are carefully watching our little efforts.

Truro College Magazine, April 1915


Sub-Lieut. E.J.P. Burling, R.N.A.S., writes from H.M.S. Vindex in October.

Just a few lines to let you know that I am fit and well. The boat I’m on now is a specially fitted seaplane ship, which, in addition to carrying ordinary machines, has others capable of flying straight off the ship’s deck. The work is very exciting and interesting, and of course we are very busy. I was very sorry to hear of Gilpin’s death…Lots of my friends have fallen, both ’Varsity and Air Service Companions, which brings home to us the awful nature of this war.

Truro College Magazine, December 1916

The same magazine later recorded:

Flight-Lieut. E.J. Burling is at the R.N. Seaplane Base, Port Said, Egypt. He has recently been down through the Suez Canal for a fortnight’s expedition into the Red Sea.


In April 1918 the school magazine recorded

Flight-Commander E.J.P. Burling, R.N., well deserves this promotion. Since he joined the Flying Service in 1914 he has had a distinguished course. After being on patrol duties on the Belgian coast he was promoted flight-lieut. In 1916; in October 1916 he was sent to Port Said, and for his services there was mentioned in despatches. On November 15th, 1917, he was specially promoted to flight-commander, and a little later was decorated by the French Admiral with Croix de Guerre for services rendered at Gaza.


The following edition noted

Lieut. (Hon. Capt.) E.J.P. Burling has been awarded for gallantry and distinguished service the Distinguished Flying Cross.


The July 1919 magazine summarised his wartime career

Capt. E.J. Burling, whilst in the Cambridge University O.T.C., was selected for Flying in 1914, and has done most of his work in seaplanes from and in conjunction with H.M. ships covering various theatres of war such as North Sea, Belgian Coast, France, Palestine, and Indian Ocean. He has been mentioned twice in despatches, and has received three distinctions: D.S.C., D.F.C., and Croix de Guerre. On May 9th he went to Buckingham Palace to received the decorations from the hand of his Majesty. He is now commanding officer at the R.A.F. Air Station, Shotley. We congratulate him on his brilliant achievements, and we are glad to note that he has come through without accident or illness.

Joseph W. Hunkin (TS 1896-1903)

J.W. Hunkin (Rev) left Devonport on November 22nd with the M.E.F. as Chaplain. A letter posted on the High Seas on November 25th says:

I was talking to a Sub. Yesterday, and he said: ‘You’re very much like a man I know called Hunkin’ – and it was Collins (H.J.). He is going out in charge of a draft, and looks very fit. It was a great pleasure to run across with him. Where we are or where we are going I can’t tell you. We have a large number of men on board, and are having a very enjoyable voyage. We have two little cabins rigged up as a Quiet Room, where men can come and meditate and read and pray, and we hope to have a big Hymn Singing on Sunday evening. I find the people very glad to have a Testament.

Truro College Magazine, December 1915


Chaplain JW Hunkin, 29th Division R.A., Cape Helles.

I have now been here eleven days. It is a place of great natural beauty, and the climate has been delightful. I had a bathe on Christmas Day after my morning’s round of services. To-day, however, it has been considerably colder, as a north wind is blowing. My work as Chaplain takes me round to half the batteries on the Peninsula. Generally I walk, though sometimes I get a horse for part of the way. I think I know practically all the 29th Division batteries now. They are generally well concealed. Today I took services in four different places, and buried ten poor fellows in one grave. The Turks get us both from Achi Baba and from Asia. “Asiatic Annie” strafes the beaches, and “Quick Dick” has been a special nuisance. But what everyone loathes most of all are the bombs dropped by Taubes. One section of our line is held by the French, and my opinion of the French has gone up by leaps and bounds. They are so thorough and efficient in so many little ways. There can be no doubt but that a situation like this tends to make a man more thoughtful, and to open his eyes to things he had never paid attention to before.

Truro College Magazine, April 1916


The following magazine reported that

J.W. Hunkin (Rev.), now acting as a Chaplain in France, was recently on furlough for a week, and called in April.


On 22 November 1916 Hunkin wrote from France

It has been a busy month since I got back from leave. In this desolated country the roads are extraordinarily bad, and the mud wickedly tenacious and deep; and one has considerable distances to cover. Our men have had more to put up with than at any time since the Peninsula days, but their health and cheerfulness have been simply remarkable.  I have been trying to run a small canteen as well as take services of various kinds, and go round and round the different units. I have been living in an old German dug-out – a splendid place, dry and cosy and deep. … I am about to go out of the line for a little rest.

Truro College Magazine, December 1916


In July 1917 it was reported that

Chaplain J.W. Hunkin has also been awarded the Military Cross for helping the wounded under fire near Monchy le Preux. Other particulars are not yet to hand.


By July 1919

Lt-Col. J.W. Hunkin, M.C (with Bar), who has done such splendid work as Chaplain at the Front, has been appointed Dean of his old college Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, and has now taken up his residence in that town.

Roy Harris (TS 1905-07)

Australian Contingent, writes from Anzac Bas Depot, Monte Video Camp, Weymouth, on November 11th, 1915:

I received the old College Magazine yesterday. It had been posted to me from Australia, and has been following me, first to Egypt, then the Dardanelles, from there to Mudros, thence to Malta, and from Malta on to England, so I guess that copy holds a bit of a record. I’m off back to the Front in a day or two, so I’ll be sure of Turkey for Christmas dinner. I had two months at the Dardanelles, what we did and did not do the correspondents have told you all about, so I won’t try to better their stories, except to say the lads are fine. Well, Sir, I have seen a nice slice of the world on this trip. We had five months at Cairo, and saw the Pyramids, Mosques, and old Roman Castles on the Gebel Mohattan. We had a very lucky escape in coming to England; the boat struck a mine, but it did not explode. Also when we left Anzac a submarine chased us, but did not succeed in getting one home. While in hospital in Malta I met an old Probus boy, and we had some fine yarns together.

Truro College Magazine, December 1915

Percy Phillips (TS 1905-09)

RFC, Egypt

After we had occupied Baghdad, the advance on which, by the way, was quite a strenuous affair, as it takes some doing to move an army over 200 miles in fifteen days. I stayed there three months when the OC sent me back to the RFC, Egypt, to learn to fly, or, in the Army lingo, to ‘Get my Brever’. After going through various courses at Aboukir and Heliopolis I have at last attained that dizzy height, and it only remains to acquaint Fritz of the fact and stop the war. One goes up in a machine and has scraps with another machine, but on pulling the trigger of the gun instead of pouring a stream of lead in to the other machine it merely takes a photo of it, shewing where it was in relation to the gun at the moment the trigger was pressed, and where the shots would have gone, from which one finds out the mistake one is making in aiming. At Heliopolis we were taught every stunt that is possible to do with an aeroplane, and in time one becomes so accustomed to Looping, Spinning, and Immelmanning and can take the ‘bus’ to 6,000ft or over and let her fall down like a leaf dropping from a tree without the slightest quickening of the pulse or any unusual sensation in the process.

Truro College Magazine, April 1918

Maxwell Hall (TS 1911-15)

Private, 2nd Battalion Artists’ Rifles, in France

November 11th, 1916

We started at night, but on account of the bad weather we had to return to harbour until the next night. …I spent the whole of that night holding on to a rope for dear life, and had not a wink of sleep for the whole night. On arrival we marched to the rest camp, 4 ½ miles out, and spent the night in tents. The following night we were marched back to in pouring rain and along a road thick with mud puddles. By the time we had tramped the 4 ½ miles we were wet through, and were put into trucks for THQ. We were glad to change when we arrived at our destination and make ourselves respectable. You may imagine how we set-to at hot stew and tea, the first hot meal we had had for five days. One of the first men I met at the barracks was Sergt. Joe Blight. We had a good talk about the old place where we had spent so many happy days, and of the good people who had contributed so much to our life while there. …Do instil into the minds of the boys the need of manly Christianity, by which a man looks upon everything which comes to him as sent for some purpose, and let him see that in every position and every circumstance in which he is placed, there is some purpose and object. There are many fellows here who think themselves merely drifting along without any purpose whatever. But there are great opportunities today, and it is up to everyone to look out for them. One thing I have determined upon – that is, to be a teetotaller, and I will not break away from that.

Maxwell Hart was the first Old Boy of the school’s newly formed Cadet Corps to enlist.

Truro College Magazine, December 1916


Frank E. Gilpin (TS 1909-15)

Second-Lieut. F.E. Gilpin writes from France on June 29th:

As yet we have had no casualties in this battery… Our infantry are splendid. I think they earn at least £1 a day each, and often a V.C., but they get neither. One could not wish to work with a finer set of men and officers. They are cheerful and willing in the midst of constant danger, and besides having the physical qualifications of the soldier they are admirable men themselves. Now is a trying time for all, and the Hun is no fool to deal with— neither is our Staff for that matter. It is wonderful how coolly and smoothly everything works out. Everyone seems to be doing his best. I met Will some weeks ago… To-day one of our fast ‘planes, which was observing a Siege Battery, was brought down with a bullet through the petrol tank and a few through the body. The pilot and the observer and ‘plane got down safely, and the operators were not wounded.

Truro College Magazine, July 1916


I have just been reading last term’s magazine for the second time, and find it a very interesting number. I’m longing to get a few days of leave in England, and if I do I shall come home to Cornwall without delay. We have had rather a rough time ourselves of late, and it is rather marvellous that I am alive to-day. Fritz has destroyed my splinter-proof dug-out by dropping an 8in. armour piercing shell on to the roof, which was only 6 in. deep and made of clay and sheet-iron. I’m pleased to say I was not there when that one fell, although I was in it when a previous shell came five yards away. I thought it quite ‘napu’ with us then, but we scrambled out after having been rattled like army biscuits in a biscuit tin! The blast of the explosion blew out the candle and threw it with a smack on to my face. The other poor fellow just out from England was scarred terribly, and, as Tito Tregea would say, he was ‘tremblin’’ like a leaf! I was badly frightened myself, but somehow sub-consciously I seemed to have experienced the same incident before, and I ‘sort of’ knew the programme of what was to follow immediately. Shortly after we’d got away the dug-out was destroyed, and the next day we were digging out remnants of clothing and the remains of three pairs of footwear. I rescued several things which had been hurled about in all directions, but I had not much except what I was wearing at the time. … Our battery was mentioned in despatches for the Somme fighting, as we did some jolly good work. Will’s battery is a few miles further up the line, and I am afraid he is in for a rough time. …I am sick of the horrible sights and the awfulness of war. …With all the best wishes for a successful term.

Truro College Magazine, April 1917


War Flying in France

There is a great difference between war flying and other type of flying outside the war zone. In ordinary flying there is very little risk at any height above 1,000 feet; the most dangerous parts of a flight are when the machine is taking off from the ground and when landing is being effected. During flights over the lines our low-flying machine are in constant danger from machine-gun fire, from anti-aircraft guns, and from attacks by enemy aircraft. Our airmen in these low-flying machines do counter-battery work, photography, and contact patrol work, and are under a continual nervous strain for the duration of the flight, which lasts about three hours. Any bullet or piece of shell striking a vital part of the machine, such as a control wire or the petrol tank, might mean death of both airmen and the loss of the machine. It is an almost daily occurrence when flying low over the trenches to return and find several bullet holes in the wings. The dangers in the air during war are ever increasing, as anti-aircraft defences become more efficient, and the speed armament and capacity for manoeuvre of new types of aeroplanes are improved. In favourable weather two flights of three hours each are done by everyone, but in winter there are some days when no flying is possible, and the time is passed by visiting batteries in the line or attending lectures. During active operations preceding an attack, and during the progress of the battle and afterwards, our airmen often work strenuously in the dangerous atmospheric conditions. To aid our low-flying machines to co-operate effectively with artillery and infantry, strong fighting patrols fly above them in order to protect them from attacks by hostile aircraft. Our Scout machines are splendidly managed by courageous men who have no thought of personal danger.      

Truro College Magazine, December 1917

E.J.P. Burling, 1905

Rev. J.W. Hunkin, 1927

F.E. Gilpin, 1914