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  • Writer's pictureSi Biggs

Winston Churchills Flying Instructor Killed

Unit/ Formation: RM Airmen

Location: Royal Naval Air Station Eastchurch

Period/ Conflict: 1900's

Year: 1913

Date/s: 2nd December 1913

Churchill had a course of flying lessons while he was First Lord of the Admiralty and came close to graduating as a pilot but, despite personal enthusiasm, he didn't persevere with the instruction due to family pressure more so after the death of his instructor Capt G.V. Wildman-Lushington (RMA) when his plane crashed on landing on 2nd December 1913.

A Henry Farman bi-plane c.1908

Gilbert Vernon Wildman-Lushington was born on July 11th 1887 and is first mentioned in the Navy Lists in October 1905 when he was at Greenwich Naval College as a 2nd Lieutenant RMA. In July 1906 he was promoted to Lieutenant but had no posting until 1909 when he began serving on HMS Magnificent. A year later he was aboard HMS Bulwark and from October 1911 on HMS Neptune. In August 1912 he joined HMS President but within a few months had been posted to the Central Flying School at Upavon, Salisbury. He then joined the Royal Flying Corps, Naval Wing at Eastchurch. On April 15th 1913 he is recorded as having the rank of Flight Commander RFC with temporary rank of Captain.

First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, sits in Short-Sommer Pusher Biplane, T2, of the RFC (Naval Wing), while learning to fly at Eastchurch, Kent. In the foreground, facing left, is Lieutenant G V Wildman-Lushington, Churchill's favourite instructor, who was killed in a flying accident the month after this photograph was taken. (© IWM CH 4779)
Captain Gilbert Vernon-Wildman-Lushington RMA (known as 'Spot White' due to his light blonde hair)

Wildman-Lushington was the first officer of the Naval Wing to lose his life whilst flying a naval machine on duty. He had been for a flight over Sheerness with Captain Henry Fawcett RMLI as passenger, on Henry Farman biplane No. 23, when on returning to Eastchurch the plane fell into a side-slip and hit the ground from about 50 feet. The plane was completely wrecked and the body of the pilot was found under the petrol tank with a broken neck. Captain Fawcett was dazed but suffered only slight injuries.

Captain Wildman-Lushington had a reputation as a daring and capable airman but came to mainstream attention when he flew with Mr Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, whilst the latter was learning to fly. Churchill had been flying for several months before Wildman-Lushington's death at the great consternation of family, friends and the nation at large. He ceased flying shortly afterwards. At the time of his death Wildman-Lushington was engaged to Miss Airlie Hynes of Southsea to whom Churchill wrote to express his sympathy at her loss.

Funeral procession heading up London Road from Portsmouth to Christ Church Portsdown

The burial of Captain Wildman-Lushington was held on 5th December 1913 at Christ Church, Portsdown Hill. Churchill sent a wreath of laurel, tuber roses and Madonna lilies, and inscribed in his own hand "In deepest regret for a gallant officer of achievement and promise from Winston S. Churchill."

Possibly the funeral procession of Captain Wildman-Lushington (Hendon archives)

About 400 members of the RMA formed the detail as the coffin was transferred from Cosham Railway Station, where it had arrived from Sheerness Station, to the church; there were also funeral parties from HMS Excellent, the RMLI and the RN School of Music.

Over 300 Officers, including Admiral the Hon. Sir Hedworth Meux (Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth) attended the funeral service.


A memorial window in (the former) St Andrews Church, Henderson Road, Eastney

Read More/ Web Link: Memorials & monuments in Portsmouth

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