Royal Flying Corps
Synopsis of Life and Military Service
Charles Fowkes MacPherson, was only 2 according to the Census in 1901 so would have enlisted very late in the war. A portion of his service record still survives (the majority of British Army Service records were destroyed by bombing in WW2). This shows that he was examined for war service at the Central London Recruiting Depot in New Scotland Yard on 28 December 1916. From these records it can be established that he was born on 9th December 1898 and was just shy of 6 feet tall (5ft 11 ¾ inches), He weighed 140lbs and had a chest measurement, fully expanded, of 36 inches. He also had excellent vision, good physical development and he’d had two vaccination scars.
Having had his medical he enlisted in the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps on 2 February 1917 and subsequently transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as a cadet on 16 April 1917 in Reading attached to 36 Training Squadron. Shortly afterwards on 17 May 1917 he was commissioned as a Temporary Second Lieutenant (on probation) and placed on the RFC General List. His Service Record for RFC (subsequently the RAF from 1 April 1918) show Charles Joseph MacPherson as the next of kin and the family living in Priestwell House, Dufftown.
Confirmation of his rank as Second Lieutenant came on 28 September 1917 at which point he was transferred to (what looks like) Wireless Observer’s School. He was there for two weeks and on 17 October 1917 was sent to the Western Front. It appears he flew with Number 59 Squadron in Royal Aircraft Factory RE8s (or ‘Harry Tates as they were known colloquially, after the music hall act at the time). No.59 Squadron was formed at Narborough Airfield in Norfolk on 1 August 1916. On 13 February 1917, the Squadron crossed the English Channel, deploying to Saint-Omer in northern France to operate in the army co-operation role.
The RE8 was the principal reconnaissance aircraft of the time and at this stage of the war was a stable platform for taking photographs. However, that was not the case when it was first introduced into service. It was plagued by so many fatal accidents that the aircraft was described as a ‘death trap’ and ‘an incinerator of pilots’. In April 1917, 59 Squadron suffered the loss of all six aircraft of a patrol in a skirmish with Jasta 11 (Richthofen’s Flying Circus) that only lasted minutes.
It’s not entirely clear where he was stationed with No 59 Squadron but it’s likely to have been Vert Galant. The airfield was at the junction of D117/D31 from Beauquesne and the N25 Amiens to Doullens road. The centre is the farm at the crossroads, and the two airfields were astride the N25. The squadron was employed at the Front from Arras to St. Quentin, and by the time the war ended 108 officers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. The Squadron also claimed a unique reputation for its excellent photographs, copies of which were continually being demanded by various units.
Charles was with the Squadron from 12 October 1917 to 2 July 1918. During this time, 19 members of 59 Squadron were killed. Charles returned to the Home Front on 2 July 1918 where he spent the rest of the war (possibly training cadets). It looks as if he was promoted to Lieutenant on 7 November 1918 and was subsequently demobilised on 10 January 1919 at the age of 21. His service record suggests that his time qualified him to be the recipient of campaign medals, in his case the British War Medal and Victory Medal, but there doesn’t appear to be a Medal Index Card for him.
On 29 September 1928, at Saint Peter and Edwards Catholic Church, Palace Street, London, Charles Fowkes MacPherson married Joan Flavia Ward or Sewell. They had two children by their union, Jennifer Ann MacPherson, born 29 June 1929, died 23 November 2015 and Shirley Joan, born 11 June 1935, she died on 6 November 1939 aged 5 years.
Charles died on 29 September 1950. His occupation was shown as Solicitor and Town Clerk of Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland.
The following article appeared in the Aberdeen Press & Journal newspaper dated Friday 25 July 1941, it is an expanded version of the above newspaper article :-
Dufftown Man at Darlington – Charges Fail CHARLES F. MACPHERSON, aged forty-two, describing himself as the town clerk of Dufftown, Banffshire, and as a practising solicitor there before the war, was charged at Darlington yesterday with false pretences. He pleaded not guilty, and the magistrates held that the evidence had failed to sustain the charge, which was thereupon withdrawn by Superintendent Hewitson.
CASE DISMISSED – An alternative charge of obtaining credit by fraud was proceeded with, and to this he also pleaded not guilty. The case was dismissed. Superintendent Hewitson said that Macpherson, dressed as a major, stayed at the North-Eastern Hotel, Darlington, from July 3 until the following Wednesday. When asked to settle his bill he did not do so and the next day was again unable to pay the bill. Detective-Sergeant Oliver saw the accused at the hotel and told him about the complaint and also that he had reason to believe that he was no longer in the army. Macpherson replied that he had received no official communication that he had been discharged. Among papers Detective Oliver found a letter stating that his pay and allowances from the Army would cease on September 27, 1940.
DECLINED TO RESIGN – Mr C. A. Hinks, who defended, said that Macpherson had been pressing for a court-martial before he regarded himself as dismissed from the Army. Apparently the Army Council would not consider his appeal until he resigned, and he declined to resign. Giving evidence, Macpherson said that he was commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps in the last war and served overseas as a pilot. After the war he joined his father in his practice as a solicitor in Dufftown. He went to Edinburgh University, and after being admitted a solicitor returned to Dufftown. About 1923 he was appointed burgh treasurer of Dufftown, and in 1925 became town clerk, still holding that office. He took a commission in the Gordon Highlanders, and rose to the rank of major. He admitted that he had been drinking far too much.
NO INTENTION TO DEFRAUD – Mr R. Anderson, the presiding magistrate, said that the amounts of the income tax demands found among his papers suggested that Macpherson was a man of substance and asked whether he was drawing any salary at present as town clerk of Dufftown. Macpherson replied that he was not receiving any salary. The work was being done by the deputy town clerk, who was also solicitor and had taken over his practice. While there was no arrangement between them at present about an allowance in respect of that work, he expected some would be made. He added that he was more or less fuddled with drink all the week he was at Darlington. He had absolutely no intention of defrauding. As stated, the case was dismissed.
According to the 1901 Census on 31 March 1901 Charles Fowkes MacPherson was residing with his parents at Priestwell, Dufftown, Banffshire. From information from this census and from a family tree on ‘Ancestry’ the family is shown as:-
- Wife – Joan Flavia Sewell, born 7 July 1905 at Brown’s Town, Saint Ann, Jamaica, died 7 March 1986.
- Daughter – Jennifer Ann MacPherson, born 29 June 1929, died 23 November 2015.
- Daughter – Shirley Ann MacPherson, born 11 June 1935, died 6 November 1939.
- Father – Charles Joseph MacPherson, born 11 February 1866 at Elgin, died 1932- Occupation – Solicitor.
- Mother – Elizabeth Symon or MacPherson, born 29 January 1866 at Dufftown, died 1951.
- Brother – John Symon, born 26 September 1897 at Dufftown, died 15 March 1918.
- Sister – Isobel, born 30 May 1901 at Dufftown, died 1999.
- Sister – Patience Mary, born 3 April 1905 at Dufftown, died 1974.
- Brother – Alexander Gordon, born 24 September 1906 at Dufftown, died 1981.
Their father was a solicitor and appears to have been quite successful. At the time of the 1901 Census they had three household staff, Penciel Shaw the nurse, Jessie Baron the domestic cook, and Mary Jane Sherron who was a domestic housemaid.
- The 1901 Census his and parents address as Priestwell, Dufftown, Banffshire.
Links to Additional Information
- Lives of the First World War – Charles Fowkes MacPherson
- London Gazette dated 9 June 1917
- John Symon MacPherson, Lieutenant, Gordon Highlanders – Brother of Charles
- England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index.
- Banffshire Courant dated 10 November 1939.
- Banffshire Courant dated 6 October 1950.
- Press & Journal dated 25 July 1941.
- British RAF Officers 1912-1920.
- Aberdeen Weekly Journal dated 31 July 1941.
- British Army Service Records.
- 1901 Census.
- A ‘Family Tree’ on Ancestry.
- Trevor Torkington