Gresham's School in Wartime

We would like to invite people who have an interest in our WWI story to get in touch with us through the blog. Our sixth form researchers will be contributing their own experiences of the project to the blog and we hope to update the website as new material becomes available. If you have any relevant comments or contributions of stories or archive material we would be delighted to hear from you.

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George Lee Temple - Gresham's 'Baby Airman'

In the early hours of 2017 a themed pub in Acton, The Aeronaut, suffered a disastrous fire which saw party-goers evacuated and the building’s upper floors gutted. The pub was celebrating the New Year with typical events, including cabaret acts and circus performances with airborne feats in honour of its local hero George Lee Temple. Born in Acton in 1892, George was the youngest of the four children of retired naval lieutenant George and his wife Philippa.  He attended Trent College before registering at Gresham’s in January of 1908, winning a prize for drawing in the following year, as well as representing School House in swimming races, before leaving at Christmas. George soon embarked on a motor apprenticeship in Coventry and was a keen ‘daredevil’ motor cyclist, racing in a team for the Singer Works.  An accident in 1912 perhaps brought him to the realisation that his talents lay in the fledgling aviation business, though, and in September he went into partnership and opened a flying school at Hendon. The young man began learning to fly and purchased a biplane.  He was granted his Royal Aero Club Certificate in February 1913, but sold his interest in the flying school that Summer after concluding that there was money to be made in exhibition flights for the entertainment of the enthralled public.  One of his daring stunt flights, on 17 May, drew a crowd of 6,000, who each paid 6d to enter the landing ground and watch the aerial acrobatics.  

On 4 September George became the youngest pilot to make the journey from France to England, but his performance in a handicap race from Hendon to Brighton was somewhat hampered by his compass falling off into his lap! On 25 November he became the first Englishman to attempt the bunt(loop) in England, a feat so dangerous he was lucky to escape with his life, indeed The Times reported that he joked he would kill himself with these exploits one day!  Having succeeded at flying upside-down, although not achieving the elusive loop, George continued to give daring performances to large crowds, the adulation encouraging him to take even greater risks. Luck ran out for the so-called Baby Airman, though, on 25 January 1914 when he set off from Hendon in very cold and windy weather despite recovering from a bout of flu.  After flying his Bleriot plane round the enclosure for ten minutes the engine suddenly failed, causing the machine to execute a complete loop, landing upside-down in the middle of the aerodrome.  George died of his injuries, which included a broken neck, later believed sustained by collapsing at the controls due to illness, but the plane was unscathed.  The 21-year-old airman was buried in the cemetery at Acton in the family plot, his memorial an angel, and his epitaph read, “Now gallant boy pursue thy happy flight with swifter motion haste to purer flight.” (Photo courtesy of National Portrait Gallery)

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