An avid reader of The News, our local Portsmouth daily newspaper, I like to peruse a nostalgia page edited by Bob Hind. Bob features pictures and items of interest from local history and recently published a photograph showing a cavalcade of cars in 1913 approaching the top of Portsdown Hill near to the the George Public House, it was entitled ‘Funeral of Captain Wildman Lushington RMA, 5th December 1913’. This procession of vehicles accompanied by many pedestrians was heading to Christ Church Portsdown. I located the grave of this Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) Officer north of the church in excellent surroundings maintained by our graveyard gardening team. Capt. Gilbert Vernon Wildman-Lushington was based at Eastney Barracks and was selected during 1912 to be trained as a pilot in the newly created Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, he was promoted to acting Captain, Flight Commander RFC, and based at the RFC Airfield Eastchurch in Kent. Tragically, while piloting a Henry Farman Biplane on 2nd December 1913 he was killed while attempting to land at Eastchurch Airfield when the aircraft fell into a side slip and hit the ground from 50 feet, being completely destroyed. A rear seat passenger Captain Henry Fawcett Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI) survived the crash suffering only light injuries. This type of aircraft was of extremely flimsy design as were many of the early “Flying Machines” of that era. The fliers and pilots were extremely brave men to leave the ground in what became known as “Stringbag Kites“ and Wildman–Lushington had a reputation as a daring and capable airman at the time. His fellow officers of the Royal Marines in Eastney Barracks dedicated a window in the Royal Marines Church of St. Andrews, Eastney Barracks to Capt. Wildman-Lushington in his memory. It contained an epitaph similar to that on his gravestone and an image of Gideon a Biblical military leader of great renown.
St Andrews church located on Henderson Road, Eastney was converted
to apartments shortly after the Royal Marines vacated the Barracks in the 1970s. Wildman-Lushington at the time of his death aged 26, was engaged to Miss Airlie Hynes of Southsea, he was one of the first officers to be trained for the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps and the first to die while flying on military duty. A week or so before his tragic death he had been associated with Winston Churchill who was at that time First Lord of the Admiralty, he took Churchill up three times in a biplane, on the third occasion Churchill piloted the aircraft for a short period. On hearing of the tragedy Churchill wrote to Miss Hynes to express his sympathy at her loss with a wreath of Laurel, Tuber Roses and Madonna Lilies, inscribed in his own hand “In deepest regret for a gallant officer of achievement and promise, Winston S. Churchill“. The Churchill family had great concerns of Winston training as a pilot and he ceased flying shortly after the funeral which took place on 5th December 1913 with full military honours. 400 members of the Royal Marine Artillery formed the detail as the coffin was transferred from Cosham Railway Station to the church by gun carriage, there were also funeral parties from H.M.S. Excellent, the Royal Marine Light Infantry and R.N. School of Music. 300 officers including Admiral Sir Hedworth Meux, Commander in Chief Portsmouth also attended. One may ask why was Christ Church chosen as the final resting place for this brave officer and history provides the answer. Christ Church Portsdown was built in 1870 at the behest and with the patronage of John Deverell who was at that time Squire of Purbrook. Deverell’s motives for building the church on land he purchased from the War Office, was to provide for the spiritual needs of the troops who manned the five forts built by the Palmerston Government on Portsdown Hill. The forts, completed in 1869, were garrisoned by men of the Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) and Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI). That link of the Royal Marines who garrisoned the Portsdown Forts to Christ Church Portsdown is probably why some notable military funerals and burials have taken place in the church yard over the years apart from those in the Military Cemetery. The motto of the Royal Flying Corps now adopted by its successor the Royal Air Force is inscribed on the grave in Latin “PER ARDUA AD ASTRA” which translates aptly as “THROUGH ADVERSITY TO THE STARS”. Capt. Wildman-Lushington was one of many young pioneer military aviators who in those very early days paid the supreme sacrifice carrying out his duties.
With Acknowledgements to Bob Hind of The News Portsmouth