THE MEMORY of a historically important Andoverian was commemorated at a small ceremony last week.

Staff Sergeant Richard Wilson, known as Bert, was one of the first members of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) to die while on duty, on July, 5 1912.

Wings Over Stonehenge, which formed in 2010 to encourage interest in the history of aviation across Salisbury Plain, arranged a commemoration for Staff Sergeant Wilson on Thursday last week in the grounds of St Mary’s Church.

Air Vice Marshal Barry Newton gave a speech on Richard’s life, he said: “He joined the Royal Engineers where his determination and his natural capability very quickly made his mark.

“Early in 1911, the Royal Engineers began to form their air battalion.

“In those days aero engines were pretty unreliable, forced landings were frequent and it became standard practice for a mechanic to be squeezed into the little space behind the pilot’s seat to help get the engine going again in the event of an unscheduled landing.

“Because of Bert’s skills and his lively personality, he was a popular choice and it was no surprise to anyone that he developed a wish himself to learn to fly.

“Bert became only the second commissioned member of His Majesty’s armed forces to be awarded a flying certificate.

“The following day he flew over Andover, no doubt to show off to mum and dad and no doubt his girlfriend, and everyone in the town turned out to wave.”

Captain Loraine and Staff Sergeant Wilson were the first two members of the RFC to lose their lives flying on duty, and are commemorated by the Airman’s Cross, adjacent to the Stonehenge Heritage Centre.

The funeral took place three days after he died.

Air Vice Marshal Newton added: “It was a major event, all roads into Andover were closed for the gun carriage procession to form up in Junction Road outside his parents house, proceeded by the full band of the Duke of Cornwall’s light infantry and headed by no fewer than five general officers, followed by detachments from every unit stationed on Salisbury Plain, and mourners from the town.

“It was, and still is the largest funeral Andover has ever seen. It was a fitting tribute to an outstanding and courageous young man, who was a hero in his own life time.”

Bert’s great nieces, Stephanie Thomas and Penny Rowe thanked the group, and said: “If it hadn’t had been for them, we wouldn’t had learnt anything about him, fortunately we’ve got lots of photographs and everything that we’ve been able to contribute.”