This week, exactly a century ago, 60 rather noisy, rickety-looking aircraft took off from Dover and made their way across the English Channel.
These terrifyingly flimsy contraptions may have seemed like they were held together by string and ceiling wax but they were in fact the Royal Flying Corps heading off to the front.
Among those who took part in these initial reconnaissance flights was Harold Jameson, from Whitby.
He joined the Royal Flying Corps as a mechanic when he was just 17 years old and quickly volunteered to be an observer. He was involved in the retreat from Belgium and quickly made his mark after he was awarded Medaille Militaire by the French president Raymond Poincare for “conspicuous bravery” during operations between August 21 and 30.
On one occasion he was flying over German lines when his pilot injured his hand. Despite the fact his plane was attacked by anti-aircraft guns and one of the engine valves had been shot away, he continued to send important wireless messages back to HQ and they finally made it back to safety.
A number of his wartime belongings, including several photographs, as well as letters and postcards sent to his mother back in Yorkshire, were bequeathed to the Liddle Collection at the University of Leeds, by his late sister, the novelist Storm Jameson.
They charted his impressive rise through the ranks. By 1916 he was second lieutenant and had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and in November that year he won the Military Cross for attacking a German kite balloon while under heavy fire.
By now he had become a pilot which he mentions in a letter home to his mother. “Today I had my second lesson and for about 10 minutes I had full control of the machine - just think of it, sailing along at 65 miles an hour a thousand feet in mid air and having the power to make the machine go up or down, right or left, it is a glorious feeling.”
Whether his mother shared his excitement is debatable given the fact many pilots were killed in training accidents before they even had chance to face the enemy.
The romantic image, fuelled by Hollywood, still persists of air aces whooping it up in ramshackle French farmhouses, or requisitioned chateaux, but the reality for most airmen was far more prosaic. Their quarters were more likely to be a tent in a field, as Jameson describes in a letter home in August 1915. “The floor is the good old earth kept dry by a small trench dug right round it,” he rights. “One thing about active service you find out very soon that there is nothing you cannot do without.”
Sadly, Jameson didn’t live to see the end of the war. On January 5 1917 he was killed in action after being shot down over No Man’s Land having just attacked a German artillery site.
News of his death was carried in the Whitby Gazette. One report said his “brilliant exploits” had reflected great honour on the town, adding: “As a boy, he was of a fearless disposition and generally led the way among his chums with daring tricks, one of them being to be lowered over the cliffs with a rope.”
It was said of pilots in the First World War that they were mostly “a little over 20, former public schoolboys and soon dead”. For Harold Jameson this proved tragically accurate.