Per Ardua Ad Astra: Cowtown’s British Isle

“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.” Shakespeare wrote that description of his native island in 1595 in his play about King Richard II. That description could be applied to another island—this one also British but this one tucked into section G of Greenwood Cemetery.

The “blessed plot” in Greenwood is small as islands go. It measures just six graves wide and two graves deep.

The men buried here were citizens of the British empire (English or Canadian). They were young. Then World War I began, and they were young and in uniform. Then they were young, in uniform, and, like thousands of other soldiers, far from home. And then, again like thousands of other soldiers, they were young, in uniform, far from home, and dead.

After the United States entered the war in 1917, under an agreement between England and the United States, the Royal Flying Corps trained British and American pilots at Tarrant County’s Camp Taliaferro. The camp consisted of three air fields and an administrative center on the near West Side. Hicks Field was in Saginaw, Carruthers Field in Benbrook, and Barron Field in Everman. 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.

Training for the dangers of war was itself dangerous. During the six months British pilots trained here, thirty-nine men were killed.

rfc obitsThese Star-Telegram obituaries, dated December 30, 1917, February 13, 1918, and March 27, 1918, are typical of those that appeared in the newspaper. Cuthbert, Wray, and Hooten are buried in the RFC plot at Greenwood.

Eleven of the thirty-nine were buried at the three airfields. But then England’s Imperial War Graves Commission bought the small plot at Greenwood and reburied the eleven men. A twelfth RFC flier—Lieutenant Robert Herbert, who survived training and the war and died in 1975 in Florida—was buried here with his comrades. The twelve men are buried in soil hauled in by train from Canada. In 1940 the Star-Telegram wrote that the Greenwood plot is the only soil in the United States owned by England except the embassy in Washington, DC.

ceremony 5-31-20In 1920 floral tributes were placed at the graves of the cadets. Clip is from the May 30 Star-Telegram.

Another of the eleven buried at Greenwood is cadet Cyril A. Baker. He was born in 1897 in Lewisham, Kent, England. Later he was in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, before finding himself flying over the Texas prairie.

The monument in the center of the island bears the insignia and motto (“through adversity to the stars”) of the RFC.

There is a thirteenth grave on Greenwood’s British isle: Just in front of the monument is a small tombstone inscribed “Baby Ruth.” Like the twelve men buried around her, in 1918 the daughter of a Canadian flight instructor was young and far from home and then dead.

In 2017—the centennial of the plot—a remembrance service honoring the cadets was held at Greenwood.

(Vernon Castle, the best-known RFC pilot of them all: The Last Waltz: Death of a Cloud Dancer)

Posts About Aviation and War in Fort Worth History

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4 Responses to Per Ardua Ad Astra: Cowtown’s British Isle

  1. Dale Hinz says:

    Thanks for the piece on the Royal Air Corp…As always very interesting and I haven’t had the time to research myself since I’m constantly working on the Police Department history……

    • hometown says:

      And thank you for the tip, Dale. I plan a little bit more on one cadet in a few months. By the way, Horace Craig was my first city editor. I learned about his father from Sarah Biles.

  2. Steve A says:

    Hmm, Greenwood in Fort Worth definitely needs to go on the “to see” list, right after Pioneer’s Rest in Fort Worth (home of Ripley Arnold) and Greenwood in Dallas (home of many Cabells). Who’d a thunk – British airmen eternally resting in Fort Worth?

    • hometown says:

      Buried not far from them: William John Marsh, composer of the state song, “Texas, Our Texas.” Born in . . . wait for it . . . Liverpool, England. But that’s another post.

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