The Imperial Aircraft Flotilla — II

As of May 1916, the Imperial Aircraft Flotilla consisted of 91 machines purchased with funds donated by Britons overseas, 69 for the RFC and 22 for the RNAS. The RFC donations were organised through the Over-Seas Club -- £1500 for a B.E.2c and £2250 for a Vickers F.B.5 -- and were as follows.1

The Names of the Over-Seas Flotilla

Aircraft name
Donation (£)
Presented by
SOUTH AFRICA1500Residents in the Union of South Africa and Rhodesia
HONG KONG, No. 11500Residents in Hong Kong
HONG KONG, No. 21500Residents in Hong Kong
HONG KONG, No. 31500the Partners of the Tai Tan Bank
BRITISH WEST INDIES1500Residents in the British West Indies
GIBRALTAR1500the People of Gibraltar, through the Colonial Office, as a result of the Over-Seas Club's Appeal
ONTARIO, CANADA1500Residents in the Province of Ontario, through Mr. Fane Sewell, Hon. Corresponding Secretary of the Over-Seas Club at Toronto
NEWFOUNDLAND, No. 12250the Patriotic Association of Newfoundland through His Excellency the Governor
NEWFOUNDLAND, No. 22250the Patriotic Association of Newfoundland through His Excellency the Governor
REID BROTHERS, NEWFOUNDLAND, No. 31500Messrs. Reid Brothers, St. John's, Newfoundland
RHODESIA, No. 11500Residents in Rhodesia, through the British South Africa Co., as a result of the Over-Seas Club appeal. Local Organiser: Colonel Raleigh Grey, Salisbury, Rhodesia
RHODESIA, No. 21500Residents in Rhodesia, through the British South Africa Co., as a result of the Over-Seas Club appeal. Local Organiser: Colonel Raleigh Grey, Salisbury, Rhodesia
MONTREAL, No. 12250Mr. Robert Hampson, of Montreal, through Mr. George Lighthall, Hon. Corresponding Secretary of the Over-Seas Club at Montreal
TASMANIA1500the Government of Tasmania
MONTREAL, No. 22250the British Empire Grain Co. of Montreal, through Mr. George Lighthall, Hon. Corresponding Secretary of the Over-Seas Club at Montreal
ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO1500Major R. W. Leonard of the Corps of Guides
NOVA SCOTIA2250the people of Nova Scotia. Collected by the Halifax Branch of the Over-Seas Club
A PADDY-BIRD FROM CEYLON (CEYLON NO. 1)1500the people of Ceylon, through The Times of Ceylon, Colombo
BOMBAY, No. 12250the City of Bombay, through his Excellency the Governor
BOMBAY, No. 22250the City of Bombay, through his Excellency the Governor
HAWKES BAY, NEW ZEALAND2250the residents at Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, through Mr. C. D. Kennedy, Hon. Corresponding Secretary of the Over-Seas Club, at Napier, New Zealand
NEWFOUNDLAND, No. 42250the Patriotic Association of Newfoundland, Secretary, Mr. C. R. Steer
NEWFOUNDLAND, No. 52250the Patriotic Association of Newfoundland, Secretary, Mr. C. R. Steer
SIERRA LEONE1500the Colony of Sierra Leone, through the Crown Agents for the Colonies
SHANGHAI BRITONS1500the British Residents of Shanghai, through Mr. H. H. Read
GOLD COAST ABORIGINES1500the Gold Coast Aborigines, through the Governor of the Gold Coast
MONTREAL, No. 32250the Board of Trade, Montreal, through Mr. George Lighthall, Hon. Corresponding Secretary of the Over-Seas Club at Montreal
MONTREAL, No. 42250the Board of Trade, Montreal, through Mr. George Lighthall, Hon. Corresponding Secretary of the Over-Seas Club at Montreal
YANGSTE VALLEY1500the British residents in the Yangste Valley
KHAIRPUR2250His Highness Mir Sir Imam Bakhsh Khan Talpur, G.C.I.E., the Ruler of Khairpur State in Sind, India
A DEVIL-BIRD FROM CEYLON (Ceylon No. 2)2250the people of Ceylon, through The Times of Ceylon, Colombo
SIND2250the People of Sind, through the Sind Aeroplane Fund. Mr. C. S. Anderson, Secretary
THE AKYAB2250the Residents of Akyab through the Lieutenant-Governor of Burma, Sir Harvey Adamson, Kt., K.C.S.I.
TOUNGOO, LOWER BURMA2250the people of Toungoo through the Deputy Commissioner, W. E. Lowry, Esq., I.C.S.
JAMAICA, No. 12250the people of Jamaica, through the Jamaica Airplane Committee
GATOOMA, RHODESIA1500the residents of Gatooma, through the British South Africa Co.
PRETORIA1500the people of Pretoria, through the Pretoria Branch of the Over-Seas Club
JOHANNESBURG, No. 11500the women of Johannesburg, through Mrs. Gronow Davis
JOHANNESBURG, No. 21500the women of Johannesburg, through Mrs. Gronow Davis
BRITISH GUIANA2250the people of British Guiana, through His Excellency the Governor, Sir Walter Egerton, K.C.M.G.
A NIGHTJAR FROM CEYLON (Ceylon No. 3)2250the people of Ceylon, through The Times of Ceylon, Colombo
PRETORIA1500the people of Pretoria, through the Pretoria Over-Seas Club
ASHANTI, No. 11500the Chiefs of Ashanti, through the Crown Agents for the Colonies
SHANGHAI RACE CLUB1500members of the Shanghai Race Club, through Mr. H. H. Read
ACCRA1500the Residents of Accra, through the Crown Agents for the Colonies
AKIM ABUAKWA1500the residents of the Akim Abuakwa Division of the Gold Coast, through the Crown Agents for the Colonies
RHODESIA, No. 31500the people of Rhodesia, through the British South African Company
POVERTY BAY, NEW ZEALAND2039[Presented to the Admiralty] by the residents of the Poverty Bay district of New Zealand, to purchase a Henri-Farman biplane
SOUTH AUSTRALIA2250the residents of South Australia, through His Excellency Lieut.-Col. Sir Henry L. Galway, K.C.M.G.
NIGERIA1500the residents of Nigeria, through His Excellency Sir Frederick D. Lugard, K.C.M.G.
LADY HO TUNG, HONG KONG1500Lady Ho Tung, Hong Kong
SIR ROBERT HO TUNG, HONG KONG1500Sir Robert Ho Tung, Hong Kong
SHANGHAI EXHIBITION2250the residents of Shanghai, through Mr. H. H. Read
THE SPRINGBOK1500general subscriptions from South Africa
ASHANTI, No. 21500the Europeans and Natives of Ashanti, through the Crown Agents for the Colonies
CEYLON, No. 4 -- "FLYING FOX"2250the people of Ceylon, through The Times of Ceylon, Colombo
RAGHUNATH AIRPLANE, GOLDINGANJ1500Babu Raghunath Prasad of Goldinganj
MANYA KROBO1500the Chiefs and people of Eastern Krobo, Gold Coast
NEW JUABEN1500the Head Chief, Chiefs and people of the New Juaben Settlement, Gold Coast
SARAN, INDIA1500the people of Saran, through the District Officer, F. M. Luce, Esq., I.C.S.
JAMAICA, No. 22250the people of Jamaica, through the Jamaica Aeroplane Fund Committee
JOHN MACAULAY (Native of Edinburgh)1500Mrs. H. P. Stromberg of New York City, in memory of her late Father
OVER-SEAS CLUB1500[Empire Day, 1916. No. 1]
OVER-SEAS CLUB1500[Empire Day, 1916. No. 2]
OVER-SEAS CLUB1500[Empire Day, 1916. No. 3]
OVER-SEAS CLUB1500[Empire Day, 1916. No. 4]
OVER-SEAS CLUB1500[Empire Day, 1916. No. 5]
OVER-SEAS CLUB1500[Empire Day, 1916. No. 6]
KWAHU1500the Omanhene, Chiefs and people of Kwahu, in the Gold Coast

Let's start with the Dominions. These are all represented: seven from Canada (two from Ontario, four from Montreal, one from Nova Scotia), two from Australia (Tasmania and South Australia), two from New Zealand (Hawkes Bay and Poverty Bay), five from Newfoundland and six from South Africa (two from Pretoria, two from Johannesburg, two from general subscriptions). Australia and Newfoundland are the clear standouts here. Australia was not that far behind Canada in terms of population, but contributed less than a third the number of aircraft. Indeed, it contributed less than half the number that tiny Newfoundland did, even though it had about 20 times the population. A couple of potential reasons come to mind. One is that Australia was the only Dominion which had, in the form of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) an aerial force of its own actively engaged in combat operations for any length of time (the Mesopotamian Half Flight, at this point defunct, though No. 1 Squadron AFC was shortly to begin operations in Egypt) the South African Aviation Corps only saw intermittent or low intensity operations). So perhaps anyone in Australia who was of a mind to donate an aeroplane would given it to the Australian government, not the British government. Conversely, men from Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Newfoundland who wanted to fight in the air mostly had to travel to Britain to join the RFC or RNAS, and their supporters at home would have had to direct their energies in the same direction. But the other possibility is simply that, for whatever reason, the Over-Seas Club and associated bodies were more active in some places than in others. Neither of the Australian donations seem to have come about through the activities of the Over-Seas Club, judging from the brief annotations: one was the gift of the Tasmanian government, the other from the South Australian people via the Governor. On the other hand, the Over-Seas Club seems to have had its hand in most of the aircraft coming from the other Dominions, apart from Newfoundland where the Patriotic Association dominated.

Either explanation could work for the balance of the flotilla. Indeed the very fact that so many more aircraft were donated from India and the colonies than the Dominions could also represent the lack of aerial forces to direct airminded support towards; but then again the Over-Seas Club, or something like it, would be exactly the sort of thing that the men who were out there building, running and exploiting the Empire would gravitate towards, to maintain connections with similar men from other colonies or the mother country. But, Rhodesia apart, the imperial dimension would appear to be more important than either. It depends on what 'residents' means, the most common term, but it seems that most of the donations appear to come not from Europeans, but either from rulers on behalf of the entire colonial population ('Residents of Akyab through the Lieutenant-Governor of Burma, Sir Harvey Adamson, Kt., K.C.S.I', 'the Head Chief, Chiefs and people of the New Juaben Settlement, Gold Coast'), or from wealthy non-Europeans (Lady and Sir Robert Ho Tung of Singapore). So it could be about demonstrating loyalty to the Empire. In some cases the 'donors' might not have known they were donating anything. Europeans are more in evidence in the informal empire in China, with the aeroplanes named Yangste Valley, Shanghai Britons, Shanghai Race Club and Shanghai Exhibition.

Some other points. Part of the point of the Imperial Aircraft Flotilla was that the donated aeroplanes would be named after the communities which paid for them, hence Montreal Nos. 1 through 4. But clearly there was some latitude: one South African machine is called The Springbok, while the Ceylonese aircraft are given the names of flying creatures, from A Paddy-bird From Ceylon to Flying Fox. Another idiosyncrasy is the aeroplane given by Poverty Bay in New Zealand. Despite the stern admonition of Major-General Henderson that the RFC didn't want just any old machine, the people of Poverty Bay donated precisely £2039 for 'a Henri-Farman biplane', which was not on the approved list. Also worth noting is that the two Johannesburg machines were from the women of that city, not the men; presumably thanks to the fundraising ability of (who I presume is) the widow of a Crimean War hero 'through' whom the donation came. Another woman, Mrs H. P. Stromberg of New York City, gave a machine in memory of her father, a Scot. So the act of giving could be more than about just nation or empire, it could be very personal.

Here are the aeroplanes donated through the Patriotic League of Britons Overseas, all Short seaplanes at £3500 apiece.2

The Patriotic League of Britons overseas

Aircraft name
Donation (£)
Presented by
SEAPLANE No. 13500[General subscriptions. Britons overseas, No. 1]
SEAPLANE No. 23500[General subscriptions. Britons overseas, No. 2]
SEAPLANE No. 33500[General subscriptions. Britons overseas, No. 3]
SEAPLANE No. 43500[General subscriptions. Britons overseas, No. 4]
SEAPLANE No. 53500[General subscriptions. Britons overseas, No. 5]
SEAPLANE No. 63500[General subscriptions. Britons overseas, No. 6]
SEAPLANE No. 73500the Shanghai Branch of the Patriotic League. Shanghai Britons, No. 1
SEAPLANE No. 83500the Shanghai Branch of the Patriotic League. Shanghai Britons, No. 2
SEAPLANE No. 93500the Shanghai Branch of the Patriotic League. Shanghai Britons, No. 3
SEAPLANE No. 103500the New York Branch of the Patriotic League, New York Britons, No. 1
SEAPLANE No. 113500[General subscriptions. Britons overseas, No. 7]
SEAPLANE No. 123500[General subscriptions. Britons overseas, No. 8]
AIRPLANES14000[General subscriptions. Britons overseas, Nos. 9-22]

There's less to say about these, because there's less information about the donors. But from what little information there is it's clear that Britons outside the British Empire were prominent: New York Britons and (three times over) Shanghai Britons (who also gave three aeroplanes via the Over-Seas Club, as noted above).

The Imperial Aircraft Flotilla also contains a list of aeroplanes 'Presented through other channels', which seems to mean that they conformed to the usual pricing scheme, but were not donated by way of the Over-Seas Club.3

Presented through other Channels

Aircraft name
Donation (£)
Presented by
TRINIDAD2250the Chamber of Commerce, Trinidad, through the West India Committee
DOMINICA1500the residents of Dominica, through the Colonial Office. This was the first airplane presented to the Royal Flying Corps from Over-Seas
ZANZIBAR[4 Biplanes]the Government of Zanzibar, through the Colonial Office
MEXICO BRITONS[Biplane]the British Colony in Mexico, through the Foreign Office
JOHORE[Biplanes][H.H. The Sultan of Johore, through the Colonial Office]
MAURITIUS, No. 12250the people of Mauritius, through the Crown Agents for the Colonies
MAURITIUS, No. 22250the people of Mauritius, through the Crown Agents for the Colonies
NORTH CHINA BRITONS1500British residents in North China
RIVER PLATE, No. 12250the British Society, Buenos Aires, through the League of the Empire
CEYLON1500F. J. de Saram, The Hermitage, De Saram Place, Colombo
EAST LONDON, SOUTH AFRICA[Biplane]E. Bryant, East London, South Africa

These have a similar mix to the above, but come mostly from the smaller colonies, like tiny Dominica in the West Indies (population something over 30,000) or Mauritius, or the informal empire, such as 'the British Colony in Mexico' or 'the British Society, Buenos Aires, through the League of the Empire'. Perhaps these aircraft were 'Presented through other channels' because the Over-Seas Club had no presence in these places. Whether they were included for completeness or to take some of the credit is not known.

Yet another list is of aircraft 'Presented through the India Office'.4

Presented through the India Office

Donation
Presented by
8 AirplanesH.H. Maharajah Sindhia of Gwalior
5 Lakhs of rupees for purchases of airplanesH.H. Maharajah Gaekwar of Baroda
3 Armed AirplanesJunagadh Durbar
1 AirplaneMaharajah of Jeypore, Vizag
1 AirplaneRaja of Ramnads
36 AirplanesPunjab Aeroplane Fund
1 AirplaneMr. Justice Macleod of Bombay
1 AirplaneStaff of the B.B. & C.I. Railway
1 AirplaneH.H. Maharajah of Rewa
1 AirplaneH.H. Raja of Rajpipla
AirplanesReaders of the Madras Mail
1 AirplaneH.H. The Khan of Kalat
1 AirplaneThe town and district of Thana

So clearly the Nizam of Hyderabad was not the first Indian prince to think of giving aircraft to the empire: there are more than 17 from various rajahs in this list. There are also one from a magistrate, one from the readers of a newspaper, one from a railway company and one from a town, but by far the most impressive is the 36 from the Punjab Aeroplane Fund. Including a couple of Indian and Burmese gifts in the previous lists, this makes the subcontinent easily the biggest single source of gift aircraft, at least to this point, the more so if Ceylon is included. I have no explanation for this. But it's interesting that Montagu of Beaulieu spent much of the war in India, working for the India Office on aviation among other things. He spent part of 1916 in Britain, though, where he gave several public speeches on the need for what he called an 'Imperial Air Service', unifying not only the RFC and the RNAS, but the aerial efforts of the British Empire as a whole. Indeed, in his notes he mentioned several times the gifts of aeroplanes from the Dominions and India, and particularly mentions Peshawar (though he might have been thinking about the possibilities of air control here).5 So the Imperial Aircraft Flotilla seems at least to have been an inspiration to him, if he didn't play any part in its promotion in India.

The final list is of the grandly named 'Malayan Air Squadron'.6

The Malayan Air Squadron

Aircraft name
Presented by
MALAYA No. 1 'The Eu Tong Sen'the Hon. Mr. Eu Tong Sen, Kampar, Perak
MALAYA No. 2 'The Kinta'the people of Kinta, Perak
MALAYA No. 3 'The Alma Baker'the organiser, Mr. C. Alma Baker, Batu Gajah, Perak
MALAYA No. 4 'The Wi Chang Kim'[Collected by] the Hon. Dr. Lim Boo [sic] Keng, M.L.C., Singapore
MALAYA No. 5 'Publicly Subscribed'all nationalities, British Malaya
MALAYA No. 6 'The Choon Guan Peng Siang'Towkay Lee Choon Guan, J.P., and Towkay Lim Peng Siang, J.P., of Singapore
MALAYA No. 7 'The Armenia'Mr. H. S. Arathoon, merchant, Singapore
MALAYA No. 8 (Fighter) 'The Manasseh Meyer'Mr. Manasseh Meyer, merchant, Singapore
MALAYA No. 9 (Fighter) 'Balas'all nationalities, British Malaya
MALAYA No. 10 'The Malacca Chinese'the Chinese of Malacca, collected by the Hon. Dr. Lim Boon Keng, M.L.C., Singapore
MALAYA No. 11 (Fighter) 'The Jaffna'the Ceylon Jaffna Tamils of Malaya
MALAYA No. 12 (Fighter) 'The Civil Service'members of the F.M.S. Civil Service
MALAYA No. 13 'The Alma Baker II'the organiser, Mr. C. Alma Baker, Batu Gajah, Perak
MALAYA No. 14 'The Garland--Hope'Mr. E. T. C. Garland and Mr. H. Ashworth Hope, of Ipoh, Perak
MALAYA No. 15 'The Cheow Teng--Ngoh Bee'Towkay Tan Cheow Teng and Towkay Gan Ngoh Bee, of Penang
MALAYA No. 16 'Menang'all nationalities, British Malaya
MALAYA No. 17 (Fighter) 'The Alma Baker III'the organiser, Mr. C. Alma Baker, Batu Gajah, Perak

For the first time, there is real evidence here of what is almost a total, colony-wide effort for what does, after all, sound like a miniature colonial air force. There are contributions from Chinese, Armenian and Jewish businessmen, Chinese and Tamil minorities, several people with European names, the Federated Malay States Civil Service, and a number from 'all nationalities' or specific locales. The only omission is the obvious one, the Malay majority. It could be that the various minorities felt (or wanted to demonstrate) more loyalty to the British, to guard their privileges. But Malay loyalty should not be underestimated either, and a Malayan Air Squadron could be a focus for national feeling too. Anyway, Malayan donations could be included in the more general donations, and indeed in a list of subscriptions for Malaya No. 9, one of the 'all nationalities' aircraft, there are a number of what could (in my vast knowledge of the country) be Malayan names, though they could also be Muslim Indians too.7 In any case they are outweighed by donations from Europeans. Interestingly, it's clear that the Malayan Air Squadron was being conceived of, or at least presented as, an actual combat unit rather than simply replacements, though to my knowledge it never was. After listing the previous aeroplanes funded by Malayans, Alma Baker, the organiser (and donator of three aircraft himself), wrote:

This completes the seven scouts required for our air squadron. The craft now required by the War Office to make the Malayan squadron an efficient 'fighting unit' are 'fighters,' armoured gun biplanes of 100 h.p., costing $19,300 each.8

Interestingly, Baker suggests naming this fighter 'Miss, or Edith, Cavell's Avenger' or 'Avenger', after the nurse executed by the Germans a month previously, asking 'Do subscribers agree?'9 Maybe they did, because Malaya No. 9 was eventually named Balas, which is apparently Malay for 'reply'.

I may write another post about the Imperial Aircraft Flotilla from the New Zealand angle, since I found this book in Archives New Zealand. And maybe I'll try to find more about the Australian angle, because I've just found a 1919 newspaper article about the War Office thanking Baker (a New Zealander, originally) for the 53 aircraft added to the imperial war effort by the Malayan Air Squadron Fund, but also for the 41 aircraft added by the Australian Air Squadron Fund.10 Which rather confounds the neat theory I put forward about the existence of the AFC undercutting aircraft donations to the British government, because that's exactly what the Australian Air Squadron Fund did.11


  1. The Imperial Aircraft Flotilla (London: The Over-Seas Club, n.d. [1916]), 18-23. 

  2. Ibid., 24. 

  3. Ibid., 25. 

  4. Ibid., 26. 

  5. Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King's College London, Montagu of Beaulieu papers, VI/8, VI/17. 

  6. The Imperial Aircraft Flotilla, 26-28. 

  7. Straits Times, 8 November 1915, 10

  8. Ibid. 

  9. Ibid. 

  10. Barrier Miner (Broken Hill), 12 March 1919, 2

  11. Sydney Morning Herald, 17 July 1916, 10

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