Author's comments

William Rhodes Moorhouse was the first aviator to win the Victoria Cross. It was his dying wish to be buried on the hilltop above the family estate at Parnham House in Dorset. This was very unusual in the First World War - the dead were usually buried near where they fell, as the countless war cemetries for the dead of a score of nations that are scattered from the English Channel coast to the foothills of the Alps so readliy testify.

This is a work of fiction; however, all of the aviation incidents I have used in this tale actually happened to someone.

Finally, my father joined the Royal Air Force in 1922 and was posted to his first squadron in 1924, flying Bristol Fighters. He flew for thirteen years and was one of the pioneers of the RAF Flying Boat force.

Many of the men he served with had come through the First World War. It was he who taught me the peculiar toast that was given when someone died and also he who taught me the RFC song: 'A handsome young airman lay dying.'

This story is dedicated to his memory.

Like Father Like Son


Prologue: April 2003

My wife and I were walking our dogs on the hills above the village where we live. As we crested one brow, we could make out some wrought iron railings on the summit of the next ridge. Vanessa said: "That must be the airman's grave. Let's take a look." So we did. Whoever chose this spot had chosen well. Below us the village slumbered in the afternoon sun. The land fell away on three sides, green and brown and golden. Sheep, like distant puffs of cotton wool in their winter fleece, dotted a distant hillside; a large buzzard circled a patch of woodland that topped one rise, reminiscent of a monk's tonsure.

We took in the view and congratulated ourselves once more on our decision to move to the country and then turned our attention to the grave itself. It was nothing fancy, a low rectangle of amber marble almost obscured by a riot of daffodils. Indeed, the flowers were so profuse that I couldn't make out the black lettering of the inscription. The very last part only was discernible. It read: '.Barnes MC RFC.' Well, as some of you may have gathered from reading one or two of my stories, I am something in the way of an amateur historian. Seeing those letters 'RFC' whetted my curiosity. The Royal Flying Corps! At once my mind started to race. I couldn't wait to get back home and discover the identity of the mysterious airman whose grave lay in such elevated solitude.

I was babbling on like a schoolboy all the walk home. Vanessa, who fortunately has the patience, if not of a saint then at least of a minor candidate for canonisation, indulged me. "Off you go and research him then," she said. It was about four hours later I returned from the depths of my office. I had been through all my source books to no avail. I turned to the Internet and logged on to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. No joy. Eventually I got my first clue on an amateur site dealing with the history of aviation in Dorset. God bless enthusiasts! I had a name. Captain Phillip Worrell Welford-Barnes, MC, RFC. Killed in Action, April 23rd 1917. Born London, 12th August 1894. That made him not quite 23 years old.

The site added one further snippet. His son, also a pilot, Flying Officer Michael Jonathon Welford-Barnes, DFC, RAF, had been killed in action on 15th September 1940. Both father and son were buried in the same grave atop a hill in West Dorset. The land in which they were interred had once belonged to the family estate. The Welford-Barnes family died out with Michael; the estate was broken up to pay Death Duties.

That was it. This little double tragedy, this piece of quintessentially English History of the Twentieth Century reduced to a few spare lines on an anorak's website. It wasn't good enough! I had to know more. First, I had to tell Vanessa the sad little story. When I finished she gave me one of her special little smiles.

"You ought to tell their story," she said. "I'm sure there has to be something more to it."

"Of course. There has to be, but where to start?"

"Well, there's always the village museum."

I blessed her then and made up my mind to start devilling right away. You see, the dates of their deaths were highly significant. Phillip had died during 'Bloody April' - the nadir of the Royal Flying Corps' fortunes. Michael had been killed on 'Adler Tag': Eagle Day, the bloody climax of the Battle of Britain. The link between them was incredible. Both had been flyers, that was obvious, both had been decorated with medals of high honour. Both had been just 22 years old.

'Like Father Like Son' is a long story. Opening a chapter opens it in a new window, so there's no need to hit 'back' to return here. This page will still be open. Enjoy!

The Airmen's Grave on a hilltop in Dorset

Please tell me what you think of this story!

Feedback Form

Back to Smilodon's Lair