Sergeant John Martin
On 17th March 1930, Flight Lieutenant Richard Llewellyn Roger Atcherley of 23 squadron, Kenley, flew to Farnborough with Sergeant John Martin, in J7519, a dual control Gloster Grebe.
After several attempts to land on the bumpy ground, Atcherley brought the aircraft in, they bounced, the undercarriage collapsed and the Grebe overturned. Atcherley only sustained minor injuries, but Martin, who was thrown from the aircraft in the impact, died of his injuries three weeks later.
“Aeroplane” magazine 16 April 1930, gives following account:
“An inquest was held at the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot, on April 8 on the body of Sergeant John Martin, RAF, who died in the hospital from injuries received in an accident to an aeroplane which overturned in landing at the Farnborough Aerodrome. Flight Lieutenant Atcherley stated that on March 17 he flew a Grebe aeroplane from Kenley to Farnborough, and in landing he smashed the undercarriage. The result was that the machine overturned and Martin was thrown out very heavily. Sergeant Martin had been.flying the machine and had made two unsuccessful attempts to land. The officer then took it over, as he could see the ground was bad and he thought he could make a better landing. The ground was bumpy where he landed. The machine was in good order before the flight.”
“Sergeant White, who was flying another machine in formation with F/L Atcherley, stated that while they were in the air he saw Martin’s straps come undone. Martin tried to fasten them, but was unsuccessful.”
“Edgar Schofield, an Air Ministry official, stated that considerable repairs were being carried out on the rough ground of the aerodrome. He did not think, however, that the ground was more than partly responsible for the accident, as he had seen numerous other machines land safely at the same spot.”
Richard “Batchy” Atcherley, was already a very competent and daring pilot by this point, having won the King’s Cup Air Race in 1929 and broken the world air speed record, flying at a speed of 332.63 mph during the Schneider Cup race of the same year. He went on to have a distinguished career in the R.A.F., becoming one of it’s great characters and returning to Kenley as Station Commander in 1942.
In John Pudney’s biography of the Atcherley twins, he says that Sgt. Martin had been off flying as the result of a crash, prior to his flight to Farnborough with “Batchy”. The undercarriage had collapsed on landing because of the structural failure of a pin in the undercarriage leg and not through any fault in Atcherley’s flying.
“Batchy” mentioned Sgt. Martin in a letter home:
“….I have just heard that the doctors are holding some hope for poor old Sergeant Martin. They established by X-ray that he was suffering from three fractured vertebrae and a dislocation of the spine; they operated on him and relieved the pressure on his spinal column, which very fortunately was not injured, so they think that when the fractures are mended he may be fit and well again, but of course it is rather a long chance, poor devil.”
Two days later, he visited Martin in hospital:
“He is being very plucky about it all as he must be suffering agonies, mentally as well as physically….The doctors hold out hope that they may be able to put him on his feet again, but I know it is pretty long odds.”
Sergeant John Martin was 26 years old when he died of his injuries on the 6th April 1930. We know very little of his life except that he enlisted in the RAF as a civilian (boy) between August 1919 and January 1921.
Rest in Peace, Sir, and thank you for your service.