3(F) SQN Perry Parfitt
Sometimes, the dedication of unlikely individuals at keeping the memories of our past aviation pioneers alive is astonishing.
The case in point is a certain Monsieur Gerard Lobry, a primary school teacher from Les Violettes School in Amiens France. His research and desire to pass this on to the next generation, led him to painstakingly organise a fitting memorial for a true pioneer of British aviation. He had heard about 2nd Lt Perry and realised the significance of him having the dubious accolade of being the first British officer to die on foreign soil during the First World War.
So, Gerard organised for a road on the Picarde University campus in Amiens to be named in honour of 2nd Lt Perry. On 14th August 2019, 2 representatives of 3 Sqn, Flt Lt Baldock and Chf Tech Cutting travelled to Amiens to be part of the ceremony along with Flt Lt Alex Lock representing the British Embassy in France. The ceremony was well attended by the Mayor of Amiens along with dignitaries from the French Air Force, Army, Navy and Police force. Pupils from Les Violettes school told the story of 2nd Lt Perry and Air Mechanic Parfitt (outlined below) and a choir sang the British and French national anthems before Flt Lt Baldock laid a wreath from the current 3(F) Sqn. There was also a large turn out from the local people of Amiens to ensure that these two brave airmen shall be remembered forever.
Evelyn Walter Copland Perry was born on 4th December 1890 in London, son of Walter Copland Perry, a famous author and lawyer.
He was a true pioneer of British aviation and a mechanical engineer, he obtained his pilots license on 11th September 1911, only the 130th to be issued in the UK.
In 1912 he became an instructor and trained many pilots. On 26th March 1913, he was appointed reserve Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. On 1st August 1914, he was ordered to join the RFC at Netheravon, which he did on 5th August and waited for 3 Sqn RFC and then flew with them to Dover on 12th August. They were joined by 2 and 4 Sqn that evening. At midnight, orders were sent that all the aircraft were to be ready to take off at 06:00 the next morning. Each aircraft took with them a tool kit, spare parts, blankets, binoculars and revolvers in their cases. They also had a bag containing 2 biscuits, cold meat, some chocolate, a can of soup, hot water for tea, navigation maps, a small stove and a tin cup.
On 13th August 1914, 9 days after Great Britain declared war on Germany, 2nd Lt Perry took off from Dover and crossed the English Channel with some 50 other planes bound for Amiens. After crossing the Channel from Dover to Bologne, navigating by sight using natural features, they flew low along the coast to the Somme estuary and then followed the river to Amiens. The first aircraft belonging to 2 Sqn took off at 06:25 and Lt Harvey Kelly was the first to land at Amiens at 08:20, at the Rouen Road airfield located on the current university campus. The RFC which went to France between the 13th and 15th August 1914 was the first military force to fly to war abroad. On August 15th, Perry wrote a letter to his mother telling her of his immense joy and exhilaration of the flights he had flown so far in his military service. Leaving Amiens, the next day, he was joined by another Londoner, Herbert Edward Parfitt, a farm mechanic from Battersea. The following is an extract from “Amiens during the 1914 – 1918 war” by Albert Chatelle:
The aircraft departed tail to tail, superbly following each other within a hundred yards. Around 12:30, Perry and Parfitt were the last ones to take off. Just after taking off, Perry’s BE8 began to rock heavily. He made a double turn towards Saleux, then dipped one wing. It seemed that his engine stalled after wanting to climb too fast resulting in a loss of speed, turning to the side falling 150ft with frightening rapidity into an oat field near Cross Jordan. Their tanks caught fire and both airmen were burned alive. Only Air Mechanic Parfitt was still breathing when they were freed from the wreckage, but he died on arrival at the Hospital. Their bodies were laid out in a special room where many locals from Amiens brought flowers. The funeral was held the next day at 15:00. A disturbed crowd of grieving locals followed the procession to the Madeleine Cemetery where they were laid down with military honours. A large crowd gathered for more than 3 kms along the route from the hospital to the cemetery.
In 1921, Perry and Parfitt were moved to the National Necropolis of St Acheul in Amiens where they lay side by side.
Tertius Primus Erit
Lest we forget.