First World War Project
Harry ODLE (of Newnham)
b. 2nd January 1895
Son of William (who spent all his married life as a domestic gardener in Wilmington, Dartford) and Mary Elizabeth Odle (née Jeffery; b. Brenchley; d. Oct/Dec 1896). William was looking for new employment after his Wilmington employment ended in 1895. The Sussex Agricultural Express of Friday 16th August 1895 carried the following: "GARDENER (head); thoroughly practical in all branches; fruit, flowers, vegetables, &c.; 17 years' character from late employer, personal if required; reason of leaving breaking up of establishment; age 47, family.- Wm ODLE, Wilmington, Dartford, Kent." A year later his wife had died and it wasn't until at least January 1898 (another advertisement appeared in January that year) that William moved with his younger family members to live and work at Newlands, Teynham, continuing to work as a domestic gardener where he appears in the 1901 and 1911 Census records for Teynham.
Harry was the youngest of eight children born to William and Mary Odle, his siblings were Ethel Jane (m. Wilson), Bertha, Mabel, Alice, Clara, Victoria and Charles (who appears in 1911 as a footman to Newlands).
War Graves Commission records show that the commemorative stone (No.222) contains two names - Harry Odle (Tablet 739) and his Flight Sub-Lieutenant L.H.G. Gillespie, RN, killed at the age of 20 years (Tablet 740). Their respective inscriptions read:
(Odle, paid for by Mrs Ethel Wilson (sister) Newnham, Sittingbourne) "IN MEMORY OF OUR BELOVED BROTHER GRANT HIM PEACE"
(Gillespie, paid for by Mr. T. Gillespie, "Denwood", Chambers Lane, Willesden Green, N.W.10) "GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAT THIS, JOHN 15.13.
We can imagine how important Ethel might have been to Harry in the absence of his mother who died in his first year of life.
The Faversham and North East Kent News carried an Obituary on 12th January 1918:- "ROLL OF HONOUR – SUB LIEUT HAROLD ODLE, RNAS. Casualties in the Royal Naval Air Service recently include, we regret to hear, the death of Observer Sub-Lieut Harold Odle, son of Mr and Mrs William Odle, of Forge Farm, Newnham, formerly of Newlands, Teynham. The death occurred from a seaplane at Lemnos on December 2nd. The deceased young officer, who was about 24 years of age, was at one time a clerk in the office of Messrs Wills and Packham, Ltd., Sittingbourne. By dint of perseverance he qualified as a naval writer and entered the naval service about a year before the outbreak of war. He subsequently joined the RNAS and then obtained a commission and had since been doing excellent work."
Harry Odle was posthumously awarded the Victory and British War Medals. [See Appendix 1]
Military Experience of Harry Odle & Circumstances of his death
Harold Odle was "killed in loss of sea-plane" operating from H.M.S. "Ark Royal", committed to the Salonika Front. He was Temporary Sub-Lieutenant on the RNAS Short Admiralty type tractor biplane which crashed in Greece and both he and his pilot, GILLESPIE, Leslie H G, Ty/Flight Sub Lieutenant, drowned.
A "tractor type" plane is one that has a propellor assembly ahead of the control surfaces that "pull" the aircraft rather than a "pusher" propeller mounted on a wing to the rear of the control surfaces. This technology had a troubled beginning but evolved throughout the first world war. We are not able to determine which Short model he died in. Five Short (Short Brothers) models served in the war. The most numerous (more than 900 produced) was the Short Admiralty Type 184. Another model, associated with the Ark Royal, was the Short Type 166. So, these are the most likely candidates for the machine in which these two young men met their end.
The deaths are recorded as taking place on the "Salonika Front". A short history from RAF records tell us: "In Macedonia, British Forces joined the Greek and French troops in the fight against Germany's ally, Bulgaria, on the Salonika front. RNAS [and] RFC [Army aviators] ... supported the British Army along its 90-mile front from Monastir via Lake Doiran and the River Struma to the Aegean Sea. A small scale but fiercely fought air war mounted from inadequate aerodromes over inhospitable terrain eventually assisted in the defeat of Bulgarian forces in September 1918."
Harry's Military experience opened with his enlistment into Pembroke I (Chatham Shore Base) on 22nd December 1913 and he moved on from Navy service aboard the "Centaur" out of Harwich on 30th April 1917 - his Service Number was M6943. An Admiralty Notice of 2nd May 1917, granted Harry Odle temporary Commission as Sub-Lieutenant. In August 1917, Harry is recorded at Eastchurch as "Observer: Probationary Officer under instruction" with seniority of 2nd May 1917. He was stationed at Eastchurch to receive his training. RNVR Officers Service Records confirm his transfer into the RNAS.
Harry went into active service overseas in the Eastern Mediterranean at some time after August 1917, only to die four months later.
Harry's death, along with his pilot, was remarked in Flight International (13th December 1917) as "missing, believed drowned". A subsequent issue (2nd January 1918) reported the Admiralty notice "Previously reported Missing, believed Drowned, now reported Drowned."
Some background material has been transcribed from official histories below to give an idea of how Harry was experiencing the War as an Observer operating from HMS "Ark Royal", which was anchored at Mudros as it was too dangerous for the ship to venture out at a top speed of only 8 knots.
Aerial co-operation with ships and their use in bombing and surveillance
A brief summary given in "Aerial Co-operation with the Navy, Chapter 3" gives an overview that explains the place of H.M.S.Ark Royal. "At the Dardanelles conditions were different. Enemy opposition was much less, calm water was nearly always available for the get-off, and hence throughout the operations seaplanes played an important part.
When the operations began in February, 1915, the only aircraft available on either side were seaplanes on H.M.S. Ark Royal, which were employed chiefly in locating the forts and entrenchments on the Peninsula. Later both sides were reinforced by airplanes, and in May H.M.S. Ben-my-Chree, a small seaplane-carrier of high speed arrived.
From this time onward the presence of submarines necessitated Ark Royal (a ship of only 8 knots) remaining in harbour. Her machines were chiefly employed in spotting for the monitors and blister ships against positions on the Peninsula. This work they did most satisfactorily, their performance being quite sufficiently against the limited numbers of enemy aircraft and antiaircraft guns."
Drawing on the much more extensive official history, "The War in the Air" authored by Walter Raleigh provides several insights into the place of the Royal Naval Air Service in the Eastern Mediterranean. The balance of command and control in the region changed at times between France and Britain as different 'areas of influence' ebbed and flowed in the fortunes of the region.
The fate of Harry Odle provides a place to reflect on those circumstances in and around 1917.
After arriving to take command in February 1916, Wing Captain F.R. Scarlett argued: "The Ark Royal ... could no longer, owing to the activity of enemy submarines, be considered of value as a sea-going carrier, and he recommended that she be brought back from Salonika and based at Mudros as a repair and depot ship. Five of her seaplanes had already been detached to a temporary base at Stavros, at the request of the British military authorities at Salonika, to make a photographic survey of the country in that area." The Ark Royal returned to Mudros in the middle of March 1916.
"The Admiralty approved the retention of the Ark Royal as a depot ship, and agreed to maintain No.2 Wing at one Flight of two-seater fighters (110 horse-power Clerget Nieuports), one Flight of reconnaissance aeroplanes (B.E.2c's) and two Flights of bombers (Henri Farmans). They further stated that as personnel and material became available two additional Flights would be allotted to the Eastern Mediterranean."
With the arrival of 1917, so the terminology changed on 1st January - "Flights" were now named "Squadrons".
"The air operations in the Aegean during 1917 may be divided into:
(i) watching the Dardanelles for possible movements of the Turko-German fleet;
(ii) preventing enemy aircraft from surveying the British fleet bases and the movements of ships;
(iii) long-distance reconnaissance to the Marmara and Bosporus;
(iv) bombing attacks on military objectives in Turkey and Bulgaria;
(v) work on the right flank of the army in Macedonia; and
(vi) anti-submarine patrols.
For these extensive operations there was, in the Eastern Mediterranean on the 1st February 1917, a total strength of 57 flying officers, 78 aeroplane, 29 seaplanes, and 5 S.S. type airships. This strength was distributed among the following units: 'A' Squadron at Thasos and 'D' Squadron at Stavros, responsible for reconnaissance and bombing operations in southern Bulgaria and the Lower Struma; 'C' Squadron at Imbros for reconnaissance and bombing of the Gallipoli Peninsula, the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Constantinople railway; and 'B' Squadron at Thermi (Mitylene) for anti-submarine patrols of the Smyrna and Aivalik areas, and for reconnaissance and bombing of the Panderma-Smyrna railway and other communications. The rest of the air command comprised the stores depot and base at Mudros, the S.S. airship station at Kassandra, the seaplane carrier Empress, and the depot ship Ark Royal."
On the date given for the accidental death by drowning of Harry and his pilot only one action appears in the record presented by Walter Raleigh. So, this action is copied here for interest, as it does not appear to be the action that claimed Harry's life.
'C' Squadron at Imbros
"In October 1917 'C' Squadron moved from Kephalo to a new aerodrome at Gliki, on the north-east side of the island, where they were shortly reinforced by two D.H.4 aeroplanes. These were used in November for the bombing of bridges on the main Sofia-Constantinople railway, the enemy seaplane base at Nagara, and the flour mills and warehouses at Gallipoli. When the attack on the last-named objective took place on the 27th of November, it was observed that on the aerodrome at Galata, untenanted for many months, three hangars had been erected. These were bombed by the D.H.4's, with a Sopwith fighter escort, on the 1st of December, and thereafter patrols of Sopwith 'Camels' and 'Pups' occasionally visited the aerodrome, seeking combat. In a fight on the morning of the 2nd December two enemy aeroplanes were shot down over the aerodrome, and in the afternoon, when the enemy attempted a raid on Gliki aerodrome, another was driven down."
In short, the disposition of aerial support from strategically placed islands and the swifter float plane carriers shifted as the circumstances in the region changed between conflict in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Persia (today's Iran), and Jerusalem. The sluggish Ark Royal was superseded by nimbler ships such as the Ben-my-Chree.