Cadet Wilfred Cecil Alcock

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Massachusetts.

The grave of Wilfred Cecil Alcock
The grave of Wilfred Cecil Alcock

The weekend of 24 November 1917 saw a series of accidents at the training airfields that made up Camp Taliaferro near Fort Worth in Texas. The newspapers of the day carried lured stories of multiple fatalities and mortally wounded aviators (see the gallery for an example) but the truth is somewhat simpler to recount. On Saturday 24 November Cadet Wilfred Alcock crashed into the undercarriage of another Curtis JN4 flying in formation and was killed instantly. The other pilot, Royal Flying Corps Cadet James Harold Thompson, crash landed and was injured but recovered. Another crash involving Cadet Eric Biddle was not the fatal event that the newspapers reported, and neither was that of Cadet Brailey Gish, although they were injured. A second fatality occurred on Monday 26 November when newly commissioned Second Lieutenant Frank Park Mathews fell in his aircraft from 2,500 feet. Only Alcock was British; Thompson was born in Canada but lived in the United States and Biddle, Gish and Mathews were Americans, the latter two being pilots of the Aviation Section, United States Army Signal Corps.[1]

Wilfred Cecil Alcock was born in Knutsford, Cheshire on 10 May 1891; he was an only son.[2] His father was a printer and ran a stationary business in which all the family was involved. Wilfred Alcock emigrated to the United States on 19 October 1912 and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He established himself there as a print manager for the News Publication Company on William Street.

Alcock enlisted into the Royal Flying Corps on 6 September 1917 in Toronto as an aviator cadet and was allocated the number 74783. After a period of ground training he travelled to Texas for his flying training at Everman Field, Camp Taliaferro with 79th Canadian Training Squadron in 42nd Wing. On 24 November 1917, Alcock was flying a Curtis JN4, serial C760, south of Everman Field, when he collided with the undercarriage of another aircraft. The casualty report indicates that the centre section of his machine was ‘carried away’.[3]

Alcock’s remains were returned to New Bedford, where he was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery on 28 November. The grave is in Section MM, Lot 57, which is on the eastern side of the cemetery to the left of the eastern-most path, and is marked with a private memorial.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Cadet Wilfred Cecil Alcock
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Cadet Wilfred Cecil Alcock

Cadet Wilfred Cecil Alcock is commemorated on page 575 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 13 December. He is also commemorated on the war memorial in Over Knutsford, at the junction of Mobberley Road and Thorneyholme Drive, and on the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force memorial in Greenwood Memorial Park, Fort Worth, Texas.

1. (Back) 74236 Cadet James Harold Thompson was born in Ontario on 30 August 1899. He enlisted into the Royal Flying Corps on 16 July 1917, stating that he was over 18 years old, and was commissioned into the Royal Flying Corps on 1 November 1917 while at Camp Taliaferro. He relinquished his commission on 8 December 1919.

74834 Cadet Eric Harbeson Biddle, a son of a well-known Philadelphia family, enlisted into the Royal Flying Corps on 10 September 1917 and was commissioned into the Royal Air Force as a Second Lieutenant on 22 August 1918. He relinquished his commission on 29 September 1919.

Cadet Daniel Brailey Gish was born in Indiana on 21 April 1889. He attended the University of Washington, Seattle and later travelled east and established an automobile business in Washington DC. Gish made something of a name for himself as an amateur athlete and as an infrequent amateur motor racer. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Aviation Section of the United States Army on 25 January 1918 and promoted to 1st Lieutenant on 21 August 1918. He served in France, where he was injured, and continued to fly after the war taking part in several races and record breaking attempts. In 1919, with nine other pilots, he was awarded the Mackay Trophy for most meritorious flight of the year for their participation in trans-continental races.

1st Lieutenant Frank Park Mathews was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1896. He attended Missouri State Military School, part of the University of Missouri, before enlisting into the United States Army in June 1917, where he was soon promoted to Sergeant. At Fort Riley, he volunteered for aviation training and in July 1917 was sent to Toronto in the first batch of US servicemen to be trained by the Royal Flying Corps. Having completed the first phase of his flying training with 28th Aero Squadron at Everman Field, Texas, he was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in the Aviation Section of the United States Army. He was killed in a flying accident on 26 November 1917.

2. (Back) Frederick Alcock (1854-16 September 1929) married Harriet Jones (1857-1950) on 16 May 1882 at Tiviot Dale Methodist Chapel, Stockport; Sarah (later Ogden) (1883-NK). Four other children died in childhood.
3. (Back) Alcock, W C. Royal Air Force Museum. Casualty card. His death certificate erroneously records his date of death as 26 November.

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