Henry Tabor's 1916 War Diary
The First World War
World War One, or the Great War, started a year and a half before this diary. On 28th June 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. One month later Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This was rapidly followed by other declarations of war, in line with the system of alliances which had formed in an effort to maintain the balance of power in pre-war Europe.
Germany's decision to invade France through neutral Belgium led to the British declaration of war on Germany on the 4 August 1914. The 'Great War' which developed between the allied powers (led by France, Russia, Britain and, from 1917, the United States) and the Central Powers (led by Germany and Austria-Hungary) was to last until 1918.
On the western front where Henry Tabor was to be based, the two sides rapidly became entrenched, and the technology of warfare at the time made it difficult to overcome the ensuing stalemate. This front was virtually static from the end of 1914 and consisted of continuous trench lines from the Channel coast in Belgium to the Swiss border near Belfort, in all some 400 miles. Although a variety of strategies were employed, including poison gas from 1915 and tanks from late 1916, World War One was remarkable for the extraordinary loss of life in these trenches.
The German army was being driven back but was not defeated on the western front, at the time the Central Powers surrendered, signing an armistice on 11 November 1918. In June 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed with Germany. An estimated 10,000,000 lives had been lost during the war, of which some 750,000 were British, with twice as many wounded.
The Royal Flying Corp (RFC) and 9 Squadron
Great Britain founded the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in May 1912, less than nine years after the Wright Brothers first flight, with eleven qualified pilots. By the end of 1912 the RFC had one squadron of airships and three of aircraft. Each squadron had twelve machines.
By May 1915, the Royal Flying Corps had 166 aircraft. The
vast majority of early operations on the Western Front was carried out by the
French Aéronautique Militaire, which had 1,150 aircraft available.
In August 1915
Hugh Trenchard became the new RFC field commander. Trenchard took a much more
aggressive approach and insisted on non-stop offensive patrols over enemy lines.
British casualties were high, and by 1916, an average of two aircrew crew were
lost every day. It became even worse the following year, and in the spring of
1917 the RFC were losing nearly fifty aircraft a week.
By the time the
Number 9 Squadron was formed in April 1915 in Brooklands
under Major HCT Dowding, later to be Air Chief Marshal of Fighter Command in the
Battle of Britain. It was the first
squadron with a special wireless section.
The RFC, wireless radio and the artillery
The first wireless transmission was made in 1892 by Sir
William Preece. Soon afterwards, Gugliemo Marconi, a young Italian scientist
The RFC's wireless experiments, under Major Herbert
Musgrave, included research into how wireless telegraphy could be used by
military aircraft. By the start of the war in 1914 Musgrave and his team had
devised a system where pilots could use wireless telegraphy to help the
artillery hit specific targets. The aircraft carried a wireless set and a map
and after identifying the position of an enemy target the pilot was able to
transmit messages such as A5, B3, etc in morse code
to the RFC land station attached to an artillery battery. The transmitter filled the cockpit space normally used by the observer
and a trailing wire antenna was used which had to be reeled in prior to landing.
These land stations were generally attached to heavy
artillery units, such as Royal Garrison Artillery Siege Batteries, and were
manned by RFC wireless operators, such as Henry Tabor.
These wireless operators had to fend for themselves as their squadrons
were situated some distance away. This
led to concerns as to who had responsibility for them and in November 1916
Squadron Commanders had to be reminded “that it is their duty to keep in close
touch with the operators attached to their command, and to make all necessary
arrangements for supplying them with blankets, clothing, pay, etc”
The wireless operator’s work
was often carried out under heavy artillery fire in makeshift dug-outs.
The wireless aerials were an obvious target and were often hit, requiring
immediate repair under fire. As well
as taking down and interpreting the numerous signals coming in from the
aircraft, the operator had to communicate back to the aircraft by means of cloth
strips laid out on the ground or a signalling lamp to give visual confirmation
that the signals had been received. The
wireless communication was one way as no receiver was mounted in the aircraft
and the ground station could not transmit.
By May 1916 306 aeroplanes and
542 ground stations were equipped with wireless.
This is a description of a
typical “aeroplane shoot” with a Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison
“Ranging a battery by aerial
observation was generally considered to be the most effective method of
destroying a target. The aircraft crew would often go to the battery beforehand
and discuss the shoot with the officers.
During the flight the observer
communicated with the battery using morse code. This could be delivered by
wireless. Directing a battery was not necessarily very difficult to an
experienced crew but it was always dangerous.
Edward Packe recalled a
successful shoot before the beginning of the battle of the
Henry Tom Tabor
Henry Tabor was
His decision to join the Royal Flying Corp was brought
about by witnessing one of the first air raids by five German Zeppelin airships
near his home in Leyton on
He was given the rank of 2nd Class Air Mechanic
(2/AM) and with the serial number 7754 (ie he was the 7,754th member
of the RFC – by 1918 the RFC had had 329,000 recruits).
He spent three and a half months training in morse code,
principles of electricity and wireless radio at the Polytechnic Institute in
After brief stops
No 9 Squadron’s main role was to carry out artillery
observation and artillery patrol missions with outdated BE2c aircraft (the B.E.
stood for Bleriot Experimental).
Henry Tabor was a wireless operator whose job was to take
communications from the squadron’s aeroplanes and inform the artillery
batteries he was attached to, where to aim.
This diary covers most of 1916 and includes the whole of
the battle of the
1916 he remained in
on active duty
for over two more years to after the war ended, and took
part in the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. During his time in
Read the diary
Letter from Headquarters,
2nd Brigade RFC dated