Herbert BellerbyBorn 29th August 1886 - Killed in Action 7th October 1916
Herbert Bellerby was the second of three sons born to Henry Thomas and Mary Eleanor Bellerby. The family’s origins lay in Yorkshire and the north. Herbert himself was born in Doncaster where his father was a bank manager. The family including Herbert’s brothers Frank and Sidney moved to Chingford following his father’s retirement where for some time they lived in Goath cottage, Endlebury Road.
With the outbreak of war all three Bellerby boys joined the army, Frank and Sidney joined the Westminster Dragoons and Herbert enlisted in the City of London Yeomanry on 25th September 1914. In short order Frank and Sidney were dispatched to Egypt, while Frank in the Yeomanry remained in England and was posted to Dereham, Norfolk. Indeed out in Egypt brothers Sidney and Frank were doing a little of seeing the world as fellow Old Bancroftian Second Lieutenant E Good would relate back home:
It is not clear what the motivation was, but it is reasonable to assume from the speed with which Herbert enlisted, that he was keen to see action. While he had joined a cavalry regiment, with the stagnation of the front across Belgium and France, the likelihood of cavalry being deployed, other than on foot, was remote. Indeed Sidney and Frank’s regiment had been deployed on foot in the Suvla Bay landings on Gallipoli.
Another influence may have been the proximity of the family home to the Royal Naval Air Service aerodrome in Chingford in the area now covered by the Girling Reservoir. Whatever the motivation, Herbert, the one remaining of the Bellerby brothers in England, left the cavalry and joined the Royal Flying Corps. After basic training Herbert was posted to 27 Squadron. 27 squadron was as new to flying as was Herbert himself. It had been raised on 5th November 1915 at Hounslow Heath Aerodrome. Its motto was:
"Quam celerimme ad astra" or "With all speed to the stars" and perhaps slightly incongruously its badge featured an Elephant. The Elephant reference was not accidental however, as, shortly after the squadron’s formation, it was equipped with Martinsyde Elephant Fighters and deployed to France on 1st March 1916.
Aviation itself and military aviation certainly was in its infancy, and though intended as an escort fighter the ‘Elephant’ was in its characteristics slow and ponderous in flight, relatively stable but sacrificing manouevrability for that stability. It was without doubt outclassed by the German fighters of the day.
In May 1916 27 Squadron was based at Hesdin (St Andre-aux- Bois), some 6o kilometres west of Arras. It was now to perform a bomber-reconnaissance role making full use of its good range and bomb carrying capacity. The squadron had some notable success in its new bombing role attacking a number of German airfields through August and September. Below them on the ground the Third battle of the Somme - the actions around High Wood, Ginchy, Delville Wood and Flers, was raging. Playing their part the squadron attacked the opposing army headquarters of General Von Bulow at Bourlon Chateau.
Meanwhile the German air force had been reorganised so as to create fighter units whose specific role was to hunt down opposing aircraft. One of these was Jagdstaffel 2 under the command of Germany’s then top scoring fighter ace Oswald Boelke. Serving under Boelke in Jagdstafel 2 was Manfred von Richtofen, later to earn the nickname the ‘Red Baron’.
Richtofen himself, like Herbert a former cavalry officer, would go on to earn a feared ,and in the chivalric conditions of aerial combat of the Great War, an ‘admired’ reputation for his deadly skill. The arrival of the Jagdstafel at the front equipped with the Albatross aircraft signalled an end for the honeymoon days of the RFC.
On 23rd September a total of six Elephants of 27 Squadron were dispatched on an Offensive Patrol over Cambrai, setting out at 8.30 am. There was a low ground mist masking the view of the countryside below and with it the wide scar of the western front battlefield as the flight crossed over above enemy lines. Then over Cambrai all six were attacked by five Albatross aircraft of Jagdstaffel 2 led by Boelcke.
The Albatross flown by Manfred von Richthofen immediately bore down upon the Martinsyde flown by Herbert Bellerby. Some 300 rounds were discharged from the Albatross’ machine guns riddling the RFC plane and our pilot. Up above, two further Elephants were shot down and when the ammunition was exhausted one of the Elephants was deliberately crashed by its pilot into its Albatross opponent.
By now Herbert’s Elephant was veering down, apparently out of control, towards the ground. It came down near the Bapaume - Cambrai Road, with the Red Baron landing his own plane nearby. Approaching the pilot, Herbert was found dead in his cockpit. The Red Baron’s log book reveals that Herbert’s machine gun had been jammed by the bullets fired into it in aerial combat. The Red Baron removed the machine gun as a memento.
Herbert’s body was treated with every due respect and was buried nearby where he crashed by officers of the German Army. Sadly, in the war which would ebb and flow across Cambrai in the years that followed, the grave was lost and Herbert’s loss is now commemorated on the ARRAS FLYING SERVICES MEMORIAL.