Camp Bowie was not Fort Worth’s only military installation during World War I.
By 1917 England had been at war three years; Germany was bombing England from Zeppelin airships and Gotha G.IV bombers. After the United States entered the war on April 6, on July 18 the Star-Telegram announced that Fort Worth was being considered as the location of an “immense aviation training camp” for cadets of the British Royal Flying Corps because “weather conditions in Texas . . . permit flying nearly 350 days in the year.” The camp, the newspaper wrote, would bring “nearly 4,000 flyers and students and 3,000 mechanics” to town. Camp Bowie and the aviation camp would “give Fort Worth close to 40,000 men brought here for war purposes” and perhaps “20,000 additional” in family members. Fort Worth’s civilian population at the time was about 100,000.
On August 17, 1917—102 years ago today but just two months after the War Department had announced that Fort Worth had been selected as the site of a National Guard mobilization camp—the Star-Telegram announced that Fort Worth also had been selected as the site of a training camp for Canadian fliers. So, as the War Department built Camp Bowie on the West Side it also built in outlying areas three fields to train cadets in the new military science of aerial warfare. The three fields were Hicks (Wing 1) at Saginaw, Barron (Wing 2) at Everman, and Carruthers (Wing 3) at Benbrook. Hicks Field was named for rancher Charles Hicks, on whose property that field was built. Barron Field and Carruthers Field were named for American cadets Robert J. Barron and W. K. Carruthers, who had been killed while training at other airfields.
The Canadian pilots named the three fields collectively “Camp Taliaferro” in honor of Walter Taliaferro, a U.S. Army flier who had been killed in 1915.
This map detail shows the three fields of Camp Taliaferro. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
As with Camp Bowie, the three fields were constructed on the double. By November twelve hundred men were nearing completion of Carruthers Field (Wing 3) in Benbrook. The airplanes were being assembled from parts shipped to the three fields.
Within days the first airmen were arriving at the three fields.
This Star-Telegram photo spread of November 20 shows, in the middle of the top photo, Camp Taliaferro’s most famous flier, ballroom dancer Vernon Castle. Left photo at the bottom is Castle and his pet monkey Jeff. Right photo at the bottom shows, on the left, Carruthers Field commander Lord George Wellesley, great-grandson of the Duke of Wellington of Waterloo fame.
Lady Wellesley and her two children spent the winter of 1917-1918 in Fort Worth with Lord Wellesley. Her first husband, Lord Wellesley’s brother Richard, was killed in the war. Photo is from the November 25, 1917 Star-Telegram.
On November 29, 1917 the Star-Telegram reported the personnel numbers of the three fields. During 1917-1918 RFC instructors at the three fields would train about six thousand men, both American and Canadian. Each field housed about two thousand men.
RFC instructors taught men to fly in the Curtiss JN4 Canuck (“Jenny”), a biplane weighing just over one ton and having a top speed of seventy-five miles per hour. (Photos from Wikipedia.)
On December 11, 1917 the Star-Telegram printed this photo of Lieutenant Colonel David Roscoe, commander of Camp Taliaferro.
Carruthers Field in Benbrook as seen from a Jenny. (Photo from Benbrook Public Library.)
These photos of Barron Field are from the Barron Field Review of 1919. In the lower left of the bottom photo, “Lock” is aerial daredevil Ormer Locklear.
Hicks Field in 1918. U.S. Highway 287 is on the left. (Photo from Wikipedia.)
When the Canadian fliers of Camp Taliaferro ventured off base, they were quite popular with the local single women. C. W. Hunt in Dancing in the Sky: The Royal Flying Corps in Canada quoted one local woman, a Miss McCluer, as saying, “Many of the girls I knew couldn’t wait to get in their cars to drive to town and would ride up and down the streets to see if they could pick up some of the RFC cadets and officers.”
The U.S. cadets, to render their Canadian social rivals less appealing to the local women, were said to have started the rumor that the white band that fledgling Canadian cadets wore on their caps indicated that the wearers had a social disease.
On January 27, 1918 the Star-Telegram reported that the Daughters of Caledonia had entertained members of the RFC. “William Marsh” and “W. J. Marsh” are probably William J. Marsh, composer of “Texas, Our Texas.”
The men of the RFC also formed a soccer league. Clip is from the December 19, 1917 Star-Telegram.
Men and machine, Carruthers Field. (Photo from Benbrook Public Library.)
Clover Squadron, Carruthers Field. (Photo from Benbrook Public Library.)
Training to survive the dangers of war was itself dangerous. (Photo from Benbrook Public Library.)
During the few months that pilots trained at Camp Taliaferro, thirty-nine men were killed. On December 9, 1917 and February 10, 1918 the Star-Telegram reported the burial of one cadet and the death of another.
On December 16, 1917 a Star-Telegram writer pointed out the effect of Camp Taliaferro and Camp Bowie on the local economy.
After the war the three airfields of Camp Taliaferro yielded to civilian aviation (flight instruction, air shows, flying clubs) and farmland and eventually to industrial zones and housing subdivisions, although Hicks Field was reactivated during World War II by the Army Air Corps to train pilots. It was converted into an industrial park in the 1990s. One of the last surviving remnants of Camp Taliaferro, the munitions building at Barron Field, for a while was owned by, incongruously, a local garden club. Benbrook has a small monument to Vernon Castle on the street named for him.
And this century-old curio survives. About one mile southwest of the site of Hicks Field, reachable today only by trespassing, is a field dotted with gas wells. In that field is this silhouette of a World War I biplane. Hicks Field cadets used it as a bombing target, dropping bags of flour from their airplanes. The silhouette measures about forty-four feet across. The wingspan of Germany’s AEG C.IV fighter plane was forty-four feet.
Shakespeare wrote of his native island in 1595: “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.” That description could be applied to another island—this one also British but measuring just six graves wide and two graves deep and tucked into section G of Greenwood Cemetery on the West Side. Twelve of the thirty-nine pilots killed while training at Camp Taliaferro are buried in a plot bought in 1924 by England’s Imperial War Graves Commission.