Centenary of Fixed-Wing Flying
May 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of four naval officers learning to fly fixed wing aircraft. Prior to this period, only airships and man lifting kites were used to gain aerial advantage. The naval officers Longmore, Gregory, Samson and Royal Marine Gerrard demonstrated enormous courage in trusting their lives to elementary aircraft which bore more resemblance to large propeller driven box kites than to aircraft as we know them today. This Exhibition celebrates the bravery of the early pioneers of the Royal Naval Air Service.
In close proximity to a replica of the aircraft that they flew in 1911, the Short S27, are the WW1 medals of Henry Allingham, the last survivor of the RNAS, who died at the age of 113 years in July 2009.
Like so many of his generation, Henry Allingham had been reluctant to discuss the events of WW1 and his role within it. It was only in his later years when he felt the responsibility to speak out against the tragedy of war and the need for global brotherhood.
Among Henry Allingham's possessions was his old tool box which had been found by his American grandsons, the Gray brothers, when clearing his home in Brighton. To their surprise and amazement they discovered his WW1 Victory Medal and British War Medal lying at the bottom of the tool box.
The Gray brothers have given the medals to the Fleet Air Arm Museum for posterity and public display. The medals were found in a battered and dirty state without their ribbons and the Museum has taken the unusual decision to leave them in the condition in which they were found. Their condition and the fact that they were found in his tool box are a poignant reminder that veterans from the Great War were not triumphalist: instead they just wanted to forget about it.
Mr Allingham's family have also given the Museum his French Légion d'Honneur which he wore in recent years with an increasing sense of responsibility as he became an ambassador for his generation.
Henry Allingham was interviewed by the Museum in 2006 and excerpts of the interview can be heard on the Museum's website, Their Past Your Future.
His medals and his silver WW1 identity bracelet bearing the inscription "R.N.A.S. Henry W Allingham. AM1 CoE" (Royal Naval Air Service. Henry W Allingham. Air Mechanic 1st Class. Church of England) are now on public display in the Exhibition.