Archive of WWI pilot’s letters up for auction

Undated handout photo issued by Henry Aldridge and Son of a letter that is part of a collection written by a First World War flying ace days before he was killed in action, which are to be sold at auction.
Undated handout photo issued by Henry Aldridge and Son of a letter that is part of a collection written by a First World War flying ace days before he was killed in action, which are to be sold at auction.

A fascinating collection of letters from a First World War flying ace has been revealed - with the last written days before he was killed in action.

Lieutenant Edgar Taylor, 21, wrote home to a recipient known only as Ruby during the four months he spent serving with the Royal Flying Corps in 1918.

He was born to British parents in Rhode Island, in the US, and flew Sopworth Dolphin planes.

His final letter to Ruby is dated days before his death on August 24 1918, when he was shot down in France.

The letters are being sold by auction house Henry Aldridge and Son in Devizes, Wiltshire, where they are expected to fetch up to £8,000.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: “It is an incredible archive - the letters show the matter of fact way this young man dealt with life and death situations.

“One incident sees him crashing his plane in No Man’s Land and him spending the night there. It must have been a terrifying incident, which he describes as ‘all rather interesting’.

“The content of the letters is superlative.”

Lt Taylor’s letters start on April 14 1918, from training in Scotland shortly before his transfer to France.

“One of our chaps was in collision with Lt England and Lt Hockman. All three were killed. It was an awful sight to see the three of them all laid out,” he writes.

The next, written on May 23, reads: “Last night I was very much disappointed in one of my little adventures, we were out on patrol and below us I saw several Huns on our side of the line, it is so seldom that you get such a chance.

“I was pleased as can be, I went down on one and I guess I scared him nearly to death but my guns jammed and by the time I got them going he was safely in Hunland.”

Another letter, from June 14, says: “I have had several narrow escapes recently, the narrowest of all was over Hunland, we were at 15,000ft and the Archies (German anti-aircraft units) were shelling us.

“A fellow did a climbing turn and crashed into me from below, I thought I’d been hit by an Archie at first but I soon saw the other plane.

“We separated and I started back to our lines, gliding all the way. The Hun Archies saw I was crippled and tried to finish me off however they did not hit me.

“I landed near the line and was obliged to stay there until my mechanics came..”

His final letter to Ruby, dated August 17-18, describes how he plans to study French when he returns home on leave.

“I am still in France but will leave here in about ten days now. I will be glad to get a rest,” he writes.

Lt Taylor goes on to describe how he was left “wild with delight” after attacking German balloons.

He signs off what would be his final letter with the words “Au revoir”.