In an era when leading edge aircraft were constructed mainly from timber and linen cloth, builder Arthur Seccombe had his work cut out for him as ground crew in the Australian Flying Corps.
What would later be known as the RAAF, Australia’s fledgling Flying Corps played its part in the war on the Western Front as the military increasingly realised the potential for the use of aircraft in a modern war.
Arthur, 27, enlisted in Victoria, on February 4, 1916, giving his address as that of his father, the Reverend John Seccombe, of Ascot Vale. He sailed from Sydney on the SS Hawkes Bay on April 20 as a Sapper with the reinforcements of the 2nd Field Company Engineers, arriving in Egypt on May 24 where he joined the miscellaneous reinforcements at Tel el Kebir.
Just four days after arriving in the Middle East, Arthur boarded the HS Briton which left Alexandria for England on May 28. After further training in England, Arthur embarked for France and the Western Front from Christchurch on September 23.
Arthur was taken on strength of the 4th Field Company Engineers, whose initiative and ingenuity provided practical solutions to the problems faced by the fighting men in the field.
Less than two months after joining his unit, Arthur was hospitalised with a severe hernia on November 27. He was treated in France and then invalided to England on the hospital ship Dover Castle and admitted to the 1st Southern General Hospital on December 10.
It was more than five months before Arthur had recovered sufficiently to return to the front. He left for France from Folkestone on May 16, 1917 and arrived at the Australian General Base Depot at Etaples the following day.
Arthur was taken on strength of the 2nd Field Company Engineers on May 23, but on August 7 transferred to the Australian Flying Corps.
At a time aviation was literally just taking off, Australia was the only country among those then considered Britain’s dominions to have its own flying corps.
Arthur returned from France to Farnborough, now regarded as the birthplace of Britain’s aviation industry, and took the rank of Second Air Mechanic.
On January 26, 1918, Arthur was taken on strength of the 8th Training Squadron at Cirencester and on June 7 joined the Number 7 Training Squadron at Leighterton, where only weeks earlier Matthew Horne had played a key role in the rescue of a trainee pilot from a burning plane.
After being hospitalised from June 27 to July 5, Arthur returned to the training squadron at Leighterton where he continued to work as ground crew until the end of the war. He was transferred to the Number 2 Squadron on February 3, 1919.
Arthur left England on May 6 on the Kaisar-I-Hind which docked in Melbourne on June 16. He was discharged from the Australian Flying Corps on October 9, 1919.
According to Arthur’s service record, he passed away on ANZAC Day, April 25, 1953.