Christleton Great War Voices
Pilot Basil Dixon Bate Royal Flying Corps & Royal Air Force
Basil Dixon Bate was an apprentice at the Chester Hydraulic Engineering Company in Brook Street Chester. He was the son of J C Bate of Dee Banks Chester.
Basil had been educated at Arnold House School in Chester and then Hoylake College on Wirral. He had a meteoric rise to fame, for after a short career in the Royal Flying Corps and then the newly formed Royal Air Force, he was awarded a Military Cross on January 2nd 1918. He was still only 19 years old.
London Gazette 5th July 1918
T./2nd Lt Basil Dixon Bate.
Gen List & R.F.C
For conspicuous gallantry & devotion to duty. He carried out a photographic reconnaissance of several distant hostile aerodromes, in the course of which he encountered 15 hostile aeroplanes, and took part in many combats, destroying at least one of the enemy machines. He completed the whole of his reconnaissance and returned with his machine much damaged by the enemy’s fire”.
4th February 1918 Awarded M.C. in Gazette.
The Dixon Bate Family lived at Whitegates in Rowton Bridge Road from 1929-1941. The house was built by Thomas Mayers of Rowton. They also lived at Fieldfare, Skips Lane, Christleton.
Basil joined the Royal Flying Corps as a motor driver aged 18yrs, at Hendon Airfield in London and then took up flying in May 1917. As the war increasingly took to the skies, there was a great need for young men to train as pilots and after passing the higher instruction examination, Basil obtained his wings in August 1917. He initially trained to fly in DH4’s, a bomber with two seats, the “Mosquito” of its day, and a plane able to fly at 20,000ft. After his initial training he was sent to Norfolk where he quickly learned to fly with courage and determination. In September 1917 he was then sent to the front in France, and stationed at Belleview near Arras where he stayed until February 1918, right in the thick of things. He flew at least twenty different types of aircraft during his career, the details of which can be found in his log book which Barry has at his home in Chester. On his last active flight over enemy lines Basil was on a photo reconnaissance mission and had shot down two German aircraft, before engaging with more enemy fighters. This engagement led him to be shot at, and his aircraft took over forty pieces of shrapnel in its bodywork during the battle. The aircraft was damaged and although one control wire had been shot away, Basil still had control and he was able to reach his own aerodrome and land his machine safely. However the shrapnel that pierced the bodywork caused the injection of cold air into the unheated cockpit at 22,000ft, and this led to Basil getting frostbite. On landing he was taken to hospital, and eventually taken to England to recover.
On his return to Chester for a well- earned rest and recovery just before Christmas 1917, the Local Newspapers were full of his bravery, and his story headline news in all of them. The stories told of his bravery, and although the details of how he won his Military Cross were not given, they tell of his shooting down of many German aircraft and of forcing seven others down out of the skies by his attacking actions. He often did photo reconnaissance, and once met a formation of three enemy aircraft 35miles over enemy lines. A fierce fight ensued and he shot down the leader of this formation. Lieut. Bate continued taking photographs and met another four enemy aircraft. He succeeded in driving them away and met yet a third formation this time with nine aircraft. A short fight followed before he returned safely to our lines.
After the war he re-joined the Royal Air Force at Andover at the School of Navigation & Bombing. He taught flying to students but also worked as a test pilot flying a huge number of different aircraft. His record of flying was outstanding, and often flew new aircraft on long journeys to test them. On one such occasion he and his navigator reached the Scottish Borders, but on their return journey south the whole country was covered in a blanket of thick fog. They was nothing to help them as they flew south, and they could only estimate by their instruments where they were. When they thought they had reached the south coast they turned back towards their base. However it was so thick that they couldn’t risk landing, so Basil headed north again thinking he might find a break in the clouds somewhere near the Pennines that he had glimpsed on the initial journey. Despite being in dire-straights, he headed for what he thought he had seen, and eventually dropped through the fog and landed safely in a farmer’s field somewhere in Derbyshire. He had a letter from the Air Ministry commending him for saving his aircraft, and for his fine skills of navigation.
Basil went on to survive the war and build up a successful career in engineering back in Chester, inventing all sorts of machinery for use in WWII.
Thanks so much for the letters- truly it is a pleasure to know someone who occasionally writes a letter- personally I write as little as possible, as you well know.
Now then - to answer some of your questions. The crash came about this wise (but really no blame can be attached to the pilot). Well – just one machine was to go up on a Railway Recon. (no bombs) so, in spite of the fact that I had only done one show before, I was sent. Having successfully left, we crossed the lines & went to Lille (the recon. was from Lille to Valenciennes, this had to be patrolled for 2hours!!!) Having got to Lille we turned south east, and followed the railway and had got nearly to Orchies when suddenly the prop burst, cut out our elevator control. Height 4,000’, time 11.40pm, date 10. 3.18. Then of course we turned west and commenced to go home. What a hope! Suddenly 3 cylinders, burst one after the other, but still the engine kept going-after a fashion”
But we still had a long way to go. We were then just east of Douai height 3,000’ time 11.44 date the same. Got to Douai and then 9,990,000,000,000 A.A guns opened up on us- Life was very difficult.
I had some chocolate and brandy on me, so promptly ate and drank it so as not to waste it! Life not so difficult (there was lots of brandy!) Well we followed the Scarpe, and looked at the Verey lights*. Gad, but they seemed a long way off. We were then losing height like stink, both of us thought it was all up. But the machine continued to hold together- why I don’t know, really the vibration was terrific. Well we seemed to be about a mile away and had only 500feet and suddenly the two other cylinders parted company. Time 12pm.
She went down in a vertical nose dive. I remember crashing and hurting my head, but my first thought was “Not killed anyway” but I could not get out of the wreck because my foot was caught. Pilot pulled leg and out it came minus the boot. We got to a shell hole and then I conked!
When I came to, we started wandering about but everybody was firing at us and life was extra difficult. Well!, we went towards a road and I walked onto a machine gun which worked without a stoppage and consequently hit the pilot in the thigh. Well, I roamed about very fed up and wished I had the brandy for about an hour and a half and I couldn’t find anybody who did not shoot at me. Then I saw figures moving and I shouted to them. They turned out to be English!!! I went to them – hands up, they got some stretcher bearers and we went to try to find the pilot. Found him after a bit and came into our trenches. We had been wandering around in no- man’s land for 2 ¼ hours and everyone had thought we were Bosche and had been firing at us. Dammed bad shots weren’t they.
I was ok except for a piece of bomb which a Hun chucked at me that hit me under the left eye. Got recommended for a decoration but haven’t heard anything yet. Suffered severely from concussion but the wound was nothing. Am fairly fit now but my legs are partially paralysed and my head pains a lot, but the wound has healed right up and can’t be seen, though it hurts a bit inside. Hope to get sent to a Newcastle hospital soon. How long will it be before you can get about?
Will write again soon,
Yours as ever
Very / verey lights.
A pyrotechnic signal in a system of signalling using white or coloured balls of fire projected from a special pistol. Originated by W Edwards an American Naval Officer, and first used in 1917