Captain Edward Middleton Knott AFC
On 3rd May 1919, Captain Edward Middleton Knott AFC lost his life when the Airco DH4A he was flying suffered engine failure on take-off from RAF Kenley.
His passenger, Major General Sir Frederick Hugh Sykes, escaped with slight injuries.
Edward Middleton Knott was born in Georgetown, British Guiana on 24th April, 1899. He was the only son of Dr. Edward Milward Knott, of the British Guiana Medical Service and his wife Eleanor. The couple also had a daughter Kathleen. When the Knott family returned to Britain they lived at 1 Coleshill Street, Sutton Coldfield, which appears to be Dr. Knott’s home and surgery. Edward was educated at Ripley and Cheltenham College, where he was a boarder at Newton House.
He became a cadet and joined the Royal Flying Corps as a probationer on 18th March 1917 (RFC Naval Wing , RNAS). Edward’s flying ability was assessed as first class when he graduated from Cranwell in 1917. By September he was described as “a good Pilot Officer”. In November he was recommended for promotion.
After a medical on 26th January 1918, he was declared unfit for general service, but fit for home service with flying for six months.
From April 1918, he served as a ferry pilot and then in August he became a delivery pilot with the Communications Squadrons.
On 3rd May 1919, Captain Knott took off from RAF Kenley at 2.45pm, with Major General Sir F H Sykes, Controller General of Civil Aviation and despatches for the Paris Peace Conference, on board his DH4a. Immediately after take-off, on a climbing turn, the engine failed. Knott had no time to recover as the aircraft side-slipped earthward and crashed onto the airfield.
Major General Sykes scrambled from the wreck and extricated Knott, but he had broken his neck and died on the way to hospital. Sykes escaped with an eye injury and severe bruising.
Knott was given a full military funeral and his parents received a letter of condolence from The Right Honourable Winston Churchill.
The inscription on his grave reads:
He whose body lies here was numbered among those who at the call of King and Country left all that was dear to them endured hardness faced danger and finally passed out of sight of men by the path of duty and self -sacrifice giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten Captain Edward M Knott May 3 1919 aged 20
At the inquest, it was found that the mechanic in charge of servicing D8355, had failed to replenish the radiator, causing the engine to overheat and seize. Unfortunately, this happened during Knott’s climb out of the airfield, when he didn’t have the height or speed to remedy the situation.
Rest in Peace Sir, and thank you for your service.
At the end of Kenley’s days as an Air Acceptance Park, the airfield was used by No.80 Communications Wing, to ferry documents and dignitaries to and from the Paris Peace Conference, then in progress at Versaille.
Amongst the aircraft available to them were several Airco DH4A’s – a variant of the bomber with an enclosed cabin for two passengers, constructed at the request of the politician, Bonar Law, so that a Minister could converse with his Secretary en route to the Conference.
At the time of the crash, Knott’s passenger, Sir Frederick Hugh Sykes, had just been relieved of his post as Chief of the Air Staff, by Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for Air and Secretary of State for War.
While Churchill was busy implementing post-war defence cuts and de-mobilising the Army, Sykes had submitted proposals for expansion of the Royal Air Force, in the future. Consequently Sir Hugh Trenchard was re-appointed Chief of the Air Staff, and Sykes was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath and offered early retirement with the rank of Major-General, with effect from 31st March 1919.
Sykes was an early believer in the importance of military aviation. He had been awarded his Royal Aero Club certificate (No.96) in 1911, after taking flying lessons at Brooklands, but his interest went back even further than that, to his time in Royal Engineers, when he obtained his ballooning certificate in 1904!
In later life he became a Conservative MP.