The final words of a young Officer - Gilbert Thomas Richardson Pettigrew Part 6

By the new year of 1916, we find Gilbert in a different regiment and a vastly different rank. In January 1916, Gilbert was given a commission with the Herefordshire Regiment thereafter becoming Second Lieutenant Gilbert Thomas Richardson Pettigrew of the 1st/1st Battalion Herefordshire Regiment.

His father had been a Sergeant Major at the Indian Mutiny and his brother already held a commission.

By August 1916, Gilbert had been granted a transfer...

In his first letter back home (referenced in the first blog post on Gilbert Pettigrew), he had described the pilots like this:

It made one wonder, however, at the iron nerve of these brave men

... but now he joined their fabled ranks. From the Herefordshire Regiment to the Royal Flying Corps. Gilbert had become a fly boy.

By April 1917, Gilbert had married and had a daughter. He had also passed his tests to graduate as a pilot.

For sometime he served in France but had problems in the unwieldy planes due to the injuries sustained in 1915 in his back and side. A medical assessment ruled him unfit for frontline duty but

fit for home duties in teaching and assessing. He was a fine pilot.

On the 12th August 1917, Second Lieutenant Gilbert T. R. Pettigrew was flying with a pupil, Lieutenant William Edward Tate formerly of the 2nd/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment). They had set off from their flying base at Yatesbury in northern Wiltshire sometime between 10 and 11 in the morning, it was a Sunday. The weather was poor. Flying in the dual-control plane, it suddenly plummeted in altitude from 1500 feet and went into a spinning nose dive. The plane crashed near the adjacent village of Winterbourne Monkton killing both men outright. In a tragic twist, it turned out that Gilbert's brother Lieutenant W. R. Pettigrew, Devonshire Regiment was on leave and had been with him at the airbase waiting for him to return.

21 year old Lieutenant W. E. Tate was buried in All Saints churchyard in the village of Yatesbury near their flying base. And Second Lieutenant G. T. R. Pettigrew was buried in Warwick Cemetery where his memorial remains to remind others of the man that once was. Two men connected.

Gilbert was only 24 years of age when he was killed in that tragic plane accident. But as this blog tries to show - there was much more to Gilbert Pettigrew than his war actions. He had packed much life into those few short years of his life.

Perhaps as his letters have demonstrated. Gilbert was a talented writer. He was trained as ayoung journalist at the Warwick Advertiser, his local paper after leaving school at Warwick School. He also joined the Warwickshire Territorials. He then journeyed to Canada where he worked for two different Canadian newspapers - the Winnipeg Telegram and the Montreal Daily Mail. This led to him becoming the private secretary for the Minister of Public Works for Manitoba. His return to Britain led to another stint in journalism at Aldeburgh before the war hit.

His actions for the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, his commission into the Herefordshire Regiment and his transfer into the Royal Flying Corps speak much of the man. His injuries received at Hooge on the frontline in 1915 put paid to seeing more action in the air but his promotion as an Assistant Instructor meant that many realised his flying qualities.

On his death, his funeral was marked by military honours and by a home town that recognised the kind of man that war had taken from them. It was full of the people who had known this man - boy, journalist, scoutmaster, friend, soldier, pilot, teacher, husband, father.

The Warwick Advertiser described the young man they had known:

Everybody who knew him will readily believe it, for he was full of life and the spirit of adventure, and did not know what fear was. Any kind of manly activity and clean sport had a great attraction for him, and he was greatly liked by all who ever knew much of him for his most kind, frank, chivalrous and cheerful nature.

Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser 18 August 1917 page 3

A week after his death was reported in his local newspaper - the Warwick Advertiser again wrote about Gilbert Pettigrew but this time from an anonymous source.

J.G.C. writes an appreciation of the late Lieut. G. T. R. Pettigrew, Royal Flying Corps whose death we reported in our last issue. In the course of this, he says:
Death is only a transition, and in this hope would I wish to pay a last tribute of respect to the memory of my young friend Gilbert Pettigrew, whose call came so suddenly and under such tragic circumstances. I had many occasions of meeting him before and after he became attacked to your newspaper staff, and I found him to be a bright, frank, intelligent and ambitious lad. He had a high sense of duty and in the various capacities in which he acted both in his civil and short military career, faithfulness was his watch-word, and his pleasant and loveable manner won for him the respect and esteem of many friends far beyond the confines of Warwickshire only, and I have learned that he was the same general favourite amongst the numerous members of the forces with whom he came in contact. His unselfish devotion led him in early life to take an active interest in any movement which tended to improve the physical and moral welfare of his companions, and his cheery disposition and bright smile will be missed by many who anticipated for him a useful and prosperous future. Ever of a happy nature and optimistic spirit, he heard his country's call and obeyed it loyally

Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser 25 August 1917 page 3

In 1921, Gilbert's name was added to a list of Birmingham and Midland newspaper staff who had lost their lives in the Great War commemorated on a memorial at the Birmingham Press Club. One of their own.

Back to Warwick and back to farewells. There is a rose planted on Gilbert's grave. A cross engraved with the RFC. And words about a flyer who was a soldier, a journalist, a man.

And from me,

To Gilbert Pettigrew, the words you left us, find us still.

To find out more about Gilbert Pettigrew on Wars Last Goodbyes, head over to the main website: