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David J. Carpenter

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Died: 15 July 1918

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David John Carpenter was the only man named on the Village Memorial to have served in the Royal Flying Corps, which he joined on 20th June 1916. He is also commemorated on Lewes War Memorial and in the Church of St. Thomas at Cliffe in Lewes. David was a 3rd Class Air Mechanic and part of Number 1 Balloon Section in France. When the Royal Flying Corps became part of the Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918 his rank changed name to Private 2 and his number was then 99640. One thing that did not change was his rate of pay - 1/6d [7½ pence] per day.

Baptised in Ringmer on 4th February 1877, David was the oldest of our lads to die in the Great War. His parents, Thomas an engineer by trade and Harriet, lived at Chapel Row in 1891 but members of the family moved to North Road, Ringmer sometime prior to 1915. David left school at fourteen to become an agricultural labourer and progressed by 1912 to become a brewer’s labourer. He married Georgina Blanche and they moved to 7 Southdown Place, Malling Street, Lewes around 1915 from their earlier home at Clayhill. They had at least three children one of whom, Nellie Margaret, was to die of enteric fever at the age of fourteen in December 1917. This tragic event occurred whilst David was home on leave from France, presumably on compassionate grounds. Their young son, William David, was baptised in Ringmer on 10th October 1915.

The Balloon Sections of the Royal Flying Corps had the unenviable job of spotting for our artillery batteries. They observed the fall of our shells or the flash of the German guns and telephoned the results down to the ground. It was usual for balloons to rise to 4,000 feet or more and the winching took a long time. If the balloon was attacked by enemy aircraft, a popular sport of the Red Baron and his Flying Circus, or by long-range shellfire, the usual method of descent was by the parachute. As the balloon was full of highly inflammable hydrogen gas no attempt was made to haul in a balloon under enemy shellfire. This was in case the gunners waited until the balloon was almost down to the ground (the exact range having been calculated whilst it was aloft) and then fired. A direct hit would explode the gas and kill the ground crew as well as the observers. The spotters were generally unarmed and as such rarely machine gunned whilst aloft or hanging from a primitive parachute. The attacking aircraft usually satisfied themselves with the destruction of the balloon alone.

The kite balloons used in 1918 by the British were called Caquots. They had a 23,000 cubic foot gas capacity, and weighed around one ton complete with the regulation 6,000-foot cable and two observers. It is no wonder they required a ground crew of 98 officers and men. It took 45 men just to inflate and control the balloon on the ground. There were also winchmen, telephonists, riggers and the usual cooks, drivers etc that accompany any military unit. The exact task of Air Mechanic Carpenter is not known. He was a labourer with the Balloon Party and would no doubt have helped out where required. He is recorded as dying, probably as a result of illness rather than enemy action, on 15th July 1918. David’s grave is in La Targette British Cemetery (Aux-Rietz) near Arras. Around 5% of all our deaths in France were from disease rather than the result of enemy action.

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La Targette Cemetery, with the huge French cemetery at Neuville St. Vaast in the background.

Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993