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Old Wolverton: Bouverie Walter St. John Mildmay - a daring pilot dived to his death
DRESSED TO KILL: Pilots in the First World War had to brave the
elements with little more than a leather coat and a pair of sturdy boots
SHE FLIES THROUGH THE AIR: Sopwith Camel, First World War vintage,
in which Lieutenant Bouverie Walter St. John Mildmay lost his life

On the 18th April, 1918 the RAF Board dispatched a telegram containing the sad news that 19 year old 2nd Lieutenant Bouverie Walter St. John Mildmay had been killed.

Born February 25th, 1899, he was the only child of the Reverend Arundell St. John Mildmay and Mrs Mildmay of Old Wolverton Vicarage, and from the fellow members of their son's squadron Number 70 they received this fitting tribute; "He was a remarkably daring pilot, and he was trying a very steep dive over the aerodrome when something appeared to break in his machine.

"He pulled out of the dive with difficulty, but almost immediately afterwards, while turning to land, his machine went out of control and he dived again into the ground. He was killed instantly.

"We have so far been unable to discover the cause of the accident because the machine was so badly broken on reaching the ground.

"Your son was so young and such a plucky fellow that we all took to him at once, and we looked upon him with a little more experience as likely to prove one of the best pilots we have ever had in the squadron."

Of his generation, Bouverie was the eldest male representative of the Hazelgrove Mildmay's of Somerset and in fact it would be by dint of his birth that he could, had he chosen, have claimed the position of a count of the Holy Roman Empire.

Educated at Mr Churchill's School at Stonehouse, Broadstairs, and then at Winchester, it was through his headmaster's nornination that from Winchester Officer Training Corps he joined the Royal Flying Corps, as a cadet, in April 1917, and since he passed all his exams with high marks, it was of little surprise that he gained promotion to 2nd Lieutenant.

As a pilot he quickly showed great pluck and daring, and indeed within the first 40 minutes of his first solo flight he had looped the loop!

During December he was then appointed as a test pilot with the Service Test Squadron, although when this made known in the mess at South Carlton, where he was then based, his compatriots were initially somewhat sceptical; "Come, 'Cherub' (his nickname in the RFC), there must be some mistake: they would never appoint one with so little experience as you have had."

Yet there was no mistake, and it would whilst subsequently serving at Castle Bromwich that he began to perform a lot of test work.

However, his method could hardly be said to be orthodox, for on one occasion whilst chasing a fox over some down land the animal became momentarily caught up in his skid.

Then during another escapade a shepherd, who had been asleep, fled in terror with his dog when the aeroplane dived straight at them.

As for a later episode, he began flying in and out amongst people digging potatoes in Lincolnshire, but "when they began to pelt me with potatoes I went off'.

Unfortunately for his aunt, her house lay not far from Castle Bromwich, and deciding to literally pay her a flying visit he took great delight in chasing the butler and servants around the house, whereupon - as he later recalled - "the dear old cook fell flat on her back."

It was therefore of little surprise that his aunt, who was not in the best of health, became rather upset when he flew straight at her bedroom window, before zooming up among the chimneys.

Bouverie then concluded his visit by flying low between the houses along the village, to the great amusement of the many onlookers.

On March 9th, 1918, he joined 70 Squadron, and having apparently been wounded the previous day, it would be whilst flying a Sopwith Camel, D1782, that on April 16th, 1918, he was killed.

A plaque to his memory may now be seen in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton.

As for another of Wolverton's associations with early aviation, one late Wednesday afternoon in July, 1919, whilst engaged in distributing Victory War leaflets a Government aeroplane came down heavily in the Recreation Ground.

The pilot, Captain Pomfret, suffered a severe gash over his right eye, and although Sergeant Hare escaped uninjured, both men were severely shaken.

During the landing a piece of the fence that divided Stacey Hill Farm from the Secondary School playing ground was carried away, and eventually the machine came to rest on the Recreation Ground fence, just behind a seat.

With the propellers smashed to splinters, the machine was badly damaged, and although there were thankfully no casualties, having endured such a narrow escape a little girl, named Muriel Lines, fainted from fright!