Camp Taliaferro: The British Are Coming, the British Are Coming, Y’all!

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.

taliaferro announcement 8-17-17 stOn August 17, 1917—104 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.

taliaferro deadThe 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.

taliaferro 1916 FW Aircraft Cross Country MapThis map detail shows the three fields of Camp Taliaferro. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

taliaferro 11-11-17As 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.

wing 3 1913 taliaferro Within days the first airmen were arriving at the three fields.

taliaferro wellesley 11-20-17 st 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.

taliaferro lady w 11-25-17 stLady 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.

taliaferro 11-29-17 stOn 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.

jennys wikiRFC 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.)

taliaferro roscoe 12-11-17 stOn December 11, 1917 the Star-Telegram printed this photo of Lieutenant Colonel David Roscoe, commander of Camp Taliaferro.

taliaferro Carruthers benbrook aerial BPLCarruthers 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 and the tracks of the Fort Worth & Denver and  Rock Island railroads are on the left. Hicks Field was just south of today’s Hicks Field. (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.

taliaferro dance 1-27-18 stOn 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.”

talia soccer 12-19-17 stThe men of the RFC also formed a soccer league. Clip is from the December 19, 1917 Star-Telegram.

taliaferro carruthers BPLMen and machine, Carruthers Field. (Photo from Benbrook Public Library.)

taliaferro carruthers clover squadron BPLClover Squadron, Carruthers Field. (Photo from Benbrook Public Library.)

taliaferro carruthers field crash BPLTraining to survive the dangers of war was itself dangerous. (Photo from Benbrook Public Library.)

taliaferro 2 fliers stDuring 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.

During the influenza epidemic of 1918 both Camp Bowie and Camp Taliaferro were quarantined.

camp bowie money 12-16-17 stOn December 16, 1917 a Star-Telegram writer pointed out the effect of Camp Taliaferro and Camp Bowie on the local economy.

One other effect was to make Fort Worth saloonless for the first time since the Civil War. In April 1918 the sale of liquor was forbidden within ten miles of Camp Taliaferro and Camp Bowie.

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 west of the site of Hicks Field, reachable today only by trespassing, is a field dotted with gas wells. In that field is this concrete-lined 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.

taliaferro rfc graves hootenShakespeare 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.

Posts About Aviation and War in Fort Worth History

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23 Responses to Camp Taliaferro: The British Are Coming, the British Are Coming, Y’all!

  1. Jimmy Ray Pitts says:

    Thanks for another memorable Fort Worth story.

  2. I live in Benbrook and have walked over the area in the article. As a retired military VN Combat pilot, I close my eyes and think WWI flying. My first flight was in 1938 in a 1929 Travel Air 2000 OX5 90 HP engine.

    • hometown says:

      Major, you, more than most, can imagine what Benbrook looked and sounded like when that airfield was there. Meanwhile west Fort Worth was undergoing the same sudden transformation with Camp Bowie.

  3. Kim Anger says:

    I enjoyed your work, my wife’s grandfather, John Lennox Nairn, was a Canadian flight instructor that came down from Toronto. We have photos he took while up in Canada, we even connected with one of the US cadet’s family (Clifford McElvain) to share that photo. We also have his pilot’s log book showing training he conducted while at Taliaferro. He had one photo which he annotated “Cadet Matthews”, which take to be the flyer killed during training, his pilot’s log book also notes Matthews death.
    The photos you found are incredible.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Kim. Paperwork is so expendable. You are lucky that Naim’s logbook survives. What a treasure.

  4. Axel Ravera says:

    My great grandfather Lieutenant John T Hall served with the RFC in Fort Worth. He is beside Vernon Castle in the newspaper picture. Any other information about him would be great.

  5. Bruce Cooke says:

    Photograph titled “Clover Squadron, Carruthers Field. (Photo from Benbrook Public Library.)” is a picture of my grandfather Herbert Davis Cooke who was an English immigrant to the USA. He entered service with the (Canadian)Royal Flying Corps July 1917 and finished January 1919. He was a mechanic on these planes.

  6. Ian Howrie says:

    My father was RFC enlisted man who worked as a truck driver at Barron’s Field.

    Ian Howrie
    Terrell, Texas

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  8. Ann says:

    Recently moved to Benbrook from West FW
    Greatly enjoyed information about Carruthers field. Must hang my biplane model on my patio in its honor

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Ann. What a scene Fort Worth must have presented ninety-nine years ago as four military installations were being built.

  9. nancy brownlee says:

    It’s not really Italian, Mike- it’s English. the Italian pronunciation is as spelled, but it’s been an English name for centuries- hence the corruption of the pronunciation. My grandmother said, if you say Taliaferro, it means you’ve only read it, and never heard it. But if you call yourself ‘Toliver” and spell it that way, it means you’ve only heard it, never read it!
    Like Beauchamp- pronounced “Beecham”, which is Norman French and long been thoroughly English.

    • hometown says:

      The account I read said the surname is traced to Bartholomew Ta(g)liaferro of Venice, who moved to London. No matter. Either way, I am one of those who has only read the word, never heard it pronounced two-MAY-tow or two-MAH-tow.

  10. nancy brownlee says:

    Camp “Tolliver”! Pretty sure I’m a voice crying in the wilderness on this one…

    • hometown says:

      Nancy, I have never read whether Walter’s family used the Italian pronunciation or the Virginian “Tolliver.”

  11. Greg Miller says:

    My stepfather’s dad served in 182nd Aero Squadron also of which he has a picture of the whole squadron but there is very little information available on that squadron.

  12. Jennifer Barber says:

    My grandpa was in WW1. 182nd aero squadron. He was at Taliaferro Field #2, Everman Texas, before going to France. I have many photo’s. One photo I have is of a crashed plane. The markings on the plane are a clover leaf, just like the photo you’ve shown. I’ve tried to do alot of history searches and found no information. Finally I found the connection to my photo. So cool, thank you.

    • hometown says:

      Glad to help, Jennifer. I find nothing on the Clover Squadron or 182nd Aero Squadron in the archives of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That photo is from the Benbrook Public Library, which has a small collection of Taliaferro photos.

  13. Thanks for this fine Blog. Photos of Lt. Col. Lord George Wellesley are extremely rare and I am looking for a good one. I am involved with the memorial services held every two years at Greenwood for the Royal Flying Corps Cemetery graves. We will be doing a service at 10:30 AM, Monday May. 25th the U.S.
    Memorial Day. British officers and Canadian Brigadier General Guy Hamel will attend. Your efforts to bring the unique Fort Worth moment out of the archives are greatly appreciated.

    • hometown says:

      Thank you, Dr. Murphey. It’s a great part of local history. I wonder if the Star-Telegram photo archive at UTA Library has that photo.

  14. Steve A says:

    Thanks for the follow-up.

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