Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Richard Henry Talbot, RNAS
Born 29th March 1888 in Little Gaddesden
Died 29th June 1916 near Dover – of multiple injuries in a flying accident
Family and Home 1
Geoffrey’s parents Alfred Chetwynd Talbot, a younger son of the 18th Earl of Shrewsbury, and his wife Emily Augusta Louisa (née de Grey) came to Little Gaddesden in 1880. They also had London residence in Cadogan Gardens. Little Gaddesden House – which remained in the family until Geoffrey’s sister Bridget’s death in 1971 – had been built in the mid-nineteenth century for the Agent of the Ashridge Estate but was vacant because the then Agent’s wife (a Talbot relation) considered it too ugly and preferred to live at the Manor House. Just across the Golden Valley was Ashridge House, the residence of Alfred’s sister Adelaide, Countess Brownlow (née Talbot) and her husband Adelbert Wellington Brownlow Cust, 4th Baron and 3rd Earl Brownlow – Aunt Addy and Uncle Addy to Geoffrey and his siblings. Although the family was in London for the Census of 1891, 1901 and 1911, much of their time was spent in Little Gaddesden. Geoffrey and his siblings were all baptised in Little Gaddesden Church; he and his parents are buried there.
His three siblings were: Humphrey John Talbot, born 8th October 1883; Bridget Elizabeth Talbot, born 15th January 1885 and Kathleen Talbot, born 22nd November 1893.
In the 1891 Census, Geoffrey was resident at the family’s London address: 74 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea.
In 1901 Geoffrey was away at Prep School (Wellington House, Westgate on Sea, Kent) and his brother Humphrey was at Eton College. His parents and sisters were at home at 28 Cadogan Gardens.
After Wellington House, Geoffrey went to Eton College, where he was a Member of the British Army, Eton College Volunteer Rifles 1901 – 1902.
The Little Gaddesden Brass Band 4
The Little Gaddesden Brass Band, President the Hon. Alfred Talbot and Secretary Geoffrey R.H Talbot, was formed in 1902. A report and statement of accounts for 1902 – 1903 has survived, in the form of a small but thick booklet about the size of a band book. To obtain funds, entertainments were performed, some in the Play-room at Little Gaddesden House, and donations sought. Each band member paid 3d. per week (1¼p in today’s money) toward the cost of tuition etc. Practices were well attended and steady progress made. The Band played a selection at a concert in the Schoolroom in September 1902 and, on Christmas Eve, “a parade was made through the neighbourhood, the Band playing suitable selections, greatly enlivening the inhabitants, the result being a good sum deposited in the sound oak collection box. For their services this night each member received two shillings [10p in today’s money].” In 1903 another Entertainment in the Schoolroom on January 12th was attended by “an immense audience, which filled the room, numbers having to stand.” Two more parades followed and, on 31st July at the Children’s School Treat, the Band played “some selections and dance music”, giving a creditable performance and earning 14s. 9d. for their fund. The report concludes “our balance in hand is very low, but we again rely on our many kind friends to give us their support and stick to our motto: Nil Desperandum”. The booklet, almost certainly produced under Geoffrey’s auspices, contained photos of local places of interest and a selection of advertisements for local shops and businesses.
Fifteen members of the Band went on to serve in the First World War. They were: Frederick Cutler, Herbert Fenn, William Fenn, Hubert Halsey, Walter Holland, Edward Hing, Archibald Johnson, Arthur Johnson, Thomas Johnson, William Johnson, Matthew Munden, Sam Oakins, Steve Oakins, Sidney Rogers and John Wibden.
Work and Army Service in India 3
Between 1907 and 1914, while an Assistant Traffic Superintendent on the East India Railway, Geoffrey was a member of the Indian Army, East Indian Railway Volunteers.
Death of his Parents 2
On 26th January 1912, Geoffrey’s mother Emily, aged 59, died suddenly and unexpectedly of a cerebral haemorrhage. In June 1913, less than 18 months later, his father Alfred, aged 65, died of pneumonia compounded by heart problems. Both are buried in Little Gaddesden churchyard. By the outbreak of war, Geoffrey’s brother Humphrey was head of the family.
The Outbreak of War – Sister Bridget into action 5
The first member of the family to take an active role in the War was Geoffrey’s indefatigable sister Bridget. In July 1914 she passed a Red Cross Home Nursing exam and, following the German advance into Belgium, became a member of the Belgian Refugee Committee that October. That organisation ran depots at Alexandra Palace and Earls Court to house the refugees. Aware of the increasing threat from German submarines, she also organised the Little Gaddesden Co-operative Allotment scheme to improve local food production. In 1915 Bridget undertook further nursing training. A lover of Italy and able to speak the language, in January 1916 she joined Mrs Watkins Pro-Italia group of English ladies at Cervignano on the Austrian-Italian front, where her role included feeding and tending the wounded in the trains, administering first aid in their chalet, and assisting the Italian Red Cross Doctor in the station. She worked briefly as a field telephonist and as railway officer to the English Hospital and took on the role of receiving and distributing goods for the various hospitals from the Committees at Venice, Milan and Florence. She also worked at Cormons, developed X-ray plates under shell fire in the back of Red Cross cars. In June 1917, letters show she was practically running the English Canteen. When Mrs Watkins’ funds ran out in September 1917, the work continued under the auspices of the Red Cross. Nicknamed “General Talbot”, Bridget remained in Italy until 1919 and was awarded La Croce al Merito di Guerra in October 1918 and, in January 1920, the OBE, for valuable services to the troops in Italy. In 1920, Bridget went to Touzla camp near Constantinople, Turkey, which housed 2000 Russian war refugees. She later set up a co-operative farm colony for refugees in Asia Minor.
Geoffrey Volunteers for the Royal Naval Air Service 3
Geoffrey’s RAF Officer’s record shows him as a Flight Sub-Lieutenant at HMS Fisgard, Portsmouth from 2nd to 28th May 1915, after which he was posted to Chingford Air Station until 20th July 1915.
Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate 6
On 27th June 1915, Geoffrey Richard Henry Talbot, born 29th March 1888 at Little Gaddesden, a British Citizen, Flight Sub-Lieutenant R.N., took his Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificate examination on a Maurice Farman Biplane at the Royal Naval Air Station, Chingford.
Royal Naval Air Service Postings 3
From 21st July to 27th August 1915, Sub-Lieutenant Geoffrey Talbot was based at the Central Flying School, Upavon, Wiltshire, after which he was posted to no. 5 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service.
From a letter to his sister Bridget 2
3rd September 1915, Burlington Hotel, Dover
“Dearest Pussy, (Bridget’s nickname) Just a line to say that it is uncertain when we go to Dunkirk but probably in two or three weeks or less – I am at present in No 5 Squadron and found I knew practically everyone in it… “Apparently we are not going out as a squadron but in two or three lots. The first lot is just going out and I believe I shall be in the third, but it is all very vague. We live at the hotel (Burlington Hotel, Dover) and come up here to the station morning and afternoons and one of us stops here every night. When we go to France, I believe it is for two months – one month bomb dropping and one month’s reconnaissance and then one month in England out of which one gets 14 days leave… “We go into khaki when we get over the other side so my old uniform will come in handy… “Please send this on to K… (his younger sister Kathleen), Your Loving , Geoffrey R H Talbot.”
From a letter to his sister Kathleen 2
19th October 1915, from No 1 Wing, RNAS Dunkerque, France
“Dear K, Thank you very much for your various letters – the Bystander and an enormous parcel of food from Fortnum and Mason – I am sorry not to have written to you sooner but it is somewhat difficult to get letters written here. it was wicked of you to send me all those things from Fortnum and M. but they will be very useful if we go out ahead or sleep in ditches – as I believe we sometimes do – otherwise the food is quite eatable here and we often go into Dunkerque and dine there – I blessed your gloves the other day when I was up on a patrol and thoroughly cold! They were capital. There is very little that I can tell you as of course we cannot say anything about what we do. I managed to smash a machine yesterday – my engine gave out and I came down plosh on Dunkerque beach and turned upside down! No damage to myself, but spoilt the look of the machine absolutely. Now must stop as post is going. Let me know if you get this – have ordered Bystander, Tatler, Punch and Daily Mail and Mirror regularly. Much love, Your Loving Geoffrey R.H. Talbot PS You might send this to B – in case I can’t write for a day or two.”
Sister Kathleen’s War 7
Kathleen trained to be a Red Cross VAD nurse and, at the end of May in 1915, went to Clopton House near Stratford upon Avon, which was run by her Aunt Odeyne Hodgson and where her cousin Avis Hodgson also nursed. The Times of 23rd October 1917 noted that both Kathleen, by then a Staff Nurse, and her cousin Avis Hodgson were Mentioned in Despatches for their outstanding nursing work at Clopton. From January 1918 to April 1919, Kathleen nursed in France.
Geoffrey Earns his Second Stripe 3
On 1st April 1916, Geoffrey was promoted to Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service. From then until his death he was a Pilot based at Dover Naval Air Station.
The following day, he wrote to his Uncle Reggie 2, who was also his Godfather, and became Major General the Honourable Sir Reginald Arthur James Talbot KCB CB, Commander of the Army of Occupation in Egypt and then Governor of Victoria, Australia.
“Burlington Hotel, Dear Uncle Reggie… You will be glad to know I am now a Flight Lieut. It was in the paper this morning. I am v glad Leslie has got his also. I had another smash yesterday and turned upside down so I am feeling rather as if I had been rolled down a hill in a barrel today! It was my fault and not the machine’s on this occasion as I bounced when landing and she turned right over.”
Geoffrey’s Death from Multiple Injuries 29th June 1916 8
Geoffrey was killed whilst flying a Nieuport 10 aircraft, No.3968, due to engine-failure on take-off for Dunkerque from Dover Naval Air Station. The plane was caught by a gust of wind, stalled on the turn, side-slipped, crashed and was completely wrecked.
The Coroner’s Inquest 2
A note in the margin of Geoffrey’s entry in the Burial Register at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden reads “after Coroner’s Inquest”. At the inquest it was said that Geoffrey had only arrived at the Dover station on Thursday 29th June and was killed that afternoon, having taken off in a Nieuport biplane with Air Mechanic Hampson, aged 23, who was also killed. Both men were unconscious when help reached them and Geoffrey died from multiple injuries while being lifted into an ambulance. The inquest was told that nothing was wrong with the aircraft and, while it was also said that the accident was no one’s fault, there was no suggestion that Geoffrey was taking evasive action to avoid hitting something on the ground. The verdict could be read as suggesting that pilot error, in difficult circumstances, contributed to the crash.
Geoffrey’s death reported in the Morning Post 3rd July 1916 2
“Flight Lieutenant G.R.H. Talbot, Royal Naval Air Service, was killed instantaneously at Dover on June 29 in commencing a flight to France. The aeroplane was caught by a gust of wind, side-slipped, and was wrecked. The mechanic was also killed… Geoffrey had rapidly become “an expert and exceptionally enterprising and steady pilot. He had made many flights to and from France, whence he had returned only the previous day to that on which the accident occurred. He was a man of generous and affectionate disposition, very popular with his comrades, and the men under him, both in India and in the Air Service. He is mourned by a large circle of relations and friends.”
Burial at Little Gaddesden 4th July 1916 2
Flight Lieutenant G. R. H. Talbot, aged 28, of Little Gaddesden House was buried at St Peter and St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden on Tuesday 4th July 1916.
The funeral was conducted by his uncle, the Revd. F.H. Hodgson, Rural Dean of North Kineton and previously Rector of the Parish, and the Revd. E Clark, Rector. Among the mourners were his brother Humphrey, sisters Bridget and Kathleen and his uncles Reggie Talbot and Earl Brownlow.
His grave is in the old churchyard, next to that of his parents and the CWGC headstone is inscribed:
Royal Naval Air Service
29th June 1916 Age 28
The grave is located North of the church, on the edge of the grass path.
We will remember them
Geoffrey Talbot, R. N. Air Service, is commemorated on the Little Gaddesden War Memorials on the village green and in St Peter & St Paul’s Church.
He is also named on the Rolls of Honour in the church, together with his older brother Humphrey Talbot, Army Service Corps, who survived the war.
Geoffrey was posthumously awarded the following First World War medals: 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal.
Etonians who fought in the Great War 9
Geoffrey is remembered on the Eton College Roll of Honour and named in the List of Etonians who fought in the Great War 1914 – 1919. He is listed in red, to signify his death, and his entry reads “1903 Talbot, G.R.H., Flight-Lt. R.N.A.S. France (k.ac.29.6.16) R.P.L.B.” 1903 was the year he left the college; R.P.L.B. shows that he was in R.P.L Booker’s House.
Brother Humphrey’s War 9
Below Geoffrey on the List of Etonians who fought in the Great War 1914 – 1919, named in black to signify his survival, is his brother Humphrey, who left the College in 1901 having been in H.E. Luxmoore’s House. The responsibility of being the eldest son seemed to weigh heavily on Humphrey after his parents’ death. Commissioned in December 1915, he first served overseas in France in February 1917, a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps (Motor Transport) attached to the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was previously an Able Seaman in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
1. Leonhardt, John (ed), 2002, A Century Remembered – a celebration of the Millennium in Little Gaddesden, Rural Heritage Society of Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Ashridge
2. Bolton, Roger & Julia (2013) A Family at War – The Talbots of Little Gaddesden, Grosvenor House Publishing Ltd.
4. Report and Statement of Accounts of the Little Gaddesden Brass Band 1902 – 1903
8. Hobson, C (1995) Airmen Died in the Great War 1914 – 1918, J.B. Hayward & Son
9. List of Etonians who served in the Great War 1914 – 1919 https://ia802706.us.archive.org/10/items/listofetonianswh00eton/listofetonianswh00eton.pdf
Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson