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Corporal Lionel Gordon Tucker RFC, 1897-1974
Over a century ago, 19-year-old Gordon Tucker joined the Royal Flying Corps, trained as an aircraft rigger and engineer, and on 19 February 1916, was posted to RFC Beaulieu where he joined No 16 Reserve Squadron. During his time here he kept daily diaries, detailing his repairs on various WW1 planes, his flights with the airmen, his run-ins with senior officers, his likes, dislikes, the food he had to eat, visits to the cinema and the theatre, his holidays and, most intriguing of all, his many romantic liaisons. Tucker's letters, notebooks and diaries are the most extensive records found to date of the day-to-day life of East Boldre Airfield during WW1.
He was clearly very proud of his work at Beaulieu, mentioning in a letter home on 25th March, that the 16th Reserve Squadron was becoming one of the biggest and most efficient of the Reserve Squadrons in the RFC.
His work as an air mechanic required him to spend many days and nights jumping into trucks and driving out to locate crashed planes. The group of mechanics would bring the damaged machine back to the aerodrome, where it could be repaired and rebuilt. This work required a lot of strength. It was a physical challenge to transfer the aeroplane back to the aerodrome. Mentally though, it was particularly tough, requiring long hours and working through the night, often having to complete the gruelling task of removing dead bodies from the cockpits.
Gordon Tucker's handwritten rigging manual contains numerous beautiful sketches of World War 1 aeroplanes and complex calculations detailing the length of various struts and wires. He would have carried it with him while he worked at Beaulieu but he may well have relied more on the skills he learnt while making model aircraft. His early fascination with model aeroplanes is something he believed really helped him to quickly pick up the skills of the job, stating in a letter home:
"Do you know that my experience in model flying has come in much more useful than I ever thought it would, for if a machine is found to fly left or right wing low, nose heavy, etc., I know exactly what to do. I think that some of the other Air Mechanics are a little surprised."
Gordon married Mable Hall on 6 October 1926. He and 'Mabs' were happily married for 48 years until Gordon's death in 1974. His biography states the Gordon always referred to Mabs as his 'x' which was the source of a common misunderstanding. Gordon's son, Michael, explained that his father was very keen on algebra where 'x' is the unknown quantity. He had many romantic liaisons, before his marriage, which he recorded in his diaries and letters but he had no idea which of the many girls he dated, he would fall in love with and marry, so he referred to her as his 'x', the unknown quantity.
On 26-28 July 2019, the Tucker Diaries were exhibited at East Boldre Village Hall, and many of the visitors had a chance to talk with Michael Tucker, 84, who travelled from his home in Melbourne, Australia to attend exhibitions at East Boldre and Wye in Kent. The exhibition, which was put together by Wye-based company Funder Films CIC, will be going on to Ashtead and Hounslow in the autumn, but Michael will have returned to Australia by then.
Regrettably, Michael's brother Stuart was unable to make the journey from his home in Ashstead, Surrey to attend the event.
As well as the Tucker Collection, the exhibits included an exhibition of the WW1 flying school at the East Boldre, Beaulieu Airfield. This has recently been enhanced with some newly restored photos of the WW1 Military Hospitals at Brockenhurst which treated the pilots who were injured in the many flying accidents at East Boldre, one of whom was Flt. Sgt, Arthur Simmons who took photos of the airfield and of the hospitals that treated his injuries following a flying accident.
In addition, the exhibits also included the New Forest National Park Authority's mobile WW1 Exhibition and stands for the Milton Heritage Group and the East Boldre Painters Group.
Village Hall Chairman, Michael Husband, said, "Whilst traffic was lighter than some of our previous events those who came greatly enjoyed the exhibition and were very complimentary about our efforts, and some good, new contacts were made."
Throughout the exhibition, Michael Tucker proudly wore his distinctive white beret of the RAF Police Association. After he retired from the RAF, he wrote an autobiography 'Patience and Trust' which included stories of his time as a police dog trainer.
Michael's father, Corporal Gordon Tucker, joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1916, aged 19, and worked as an air mechanic and rigger at East Boldre Airfield. He learnt his engineering and rigging skills as a boy by making model aircraft which he flew on Wimbledon Common where he perfected his craft. The exhibition included Gordon's hand drawn rigging manual which has now been scanned and posted on this website. A full transcript of his diaries is also available.
Michael Tucker brought with him two of the many model aircraft his father made before WW1 when he was just a lad, his father's pocket camera and three albums of the photos he took at the military airfields. There were four Edwardian tobacco and cigar tins, containing some of his original rigging equipment and various nuts and bolts from the aircraft. Many visitors were surprised at the size of Gordon Tucker's RFC uniform which showed he was not a large man.
On Saturday morning, Michael Husband, gave a short speech formally thanking Michael and Stuart Tucker for bringing their father's diaries and memorabilia to our exhibition. Dr Julian Lewis MP then presented Michael with a signed copy of 'From Forest Field to Western Front', the book published by the East Boldre Village Hall Trustees.
The exhibition organisers thank Hampshire County Councillor Keith Mans for his generous financial support to cover the cost of digitising Gordon Tucker's diaries, photographs and documents, and printing them to exhibition standards. Thanks also go to James Brown of the New Forest NPA for his assitance before, during and after the exhibition.