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Cody knew my great uncle

13th June 2021 @ 7:07am – by Judi Paterson
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Cody knew my great uncle

Audlem and District History Society
History Shorts 61 by Judi Paterson

There were two famous Codys, both born in America. The first was Buffalo Bill, known for his Wild West shows. The second, Samuel Franklin, was actually born with the surname Cowdery, but changed it to Cody because he admired Buffalo Bill. He was born in 1867. Like the man he admired, he toured the UK and Europe with a Wild West show. He and his family performed in music halls.

It's not clear when Cody decided to stay in the UK. He already had a passion for kites and became involved in their design and construction at the Balloon School in Farnborough. Having realised that balloons had a limited purpose, he designed man-lifting kites and became the first person to fly in Britain.

image 2560px aviationinbritainbeforethefirstworldwarrae o105 ed
A very clear photograph of Cody (right) with Mr. Morton, holding an extended wing kite next to the wooden wall of Cody's shed on Laffan's Plain, near Aldershot. Cody used much larger versions of this type of kite in his man-lifting kite system. After many trials and the occasional accident, Cody designed and built a system that could easily carry a man to a height of over 2500 feet and hold him suitably stable whilst he was in the air. His design was purchased by the War Office and Cody was employed as kiting instructor. The kites also played an important part in Cody’s development and construction of a powered, heavier than air, aeroplane. IWM Non-Commercial Licence. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After learning how to fly he made and piloted the first powered aircraft, flying for 27 minutes in October 1908. Cody was often seen flying over the Surrey and Hampshire countryside in the ensuing years.

On 7th August 1913, he was test-flying his latest invention, the Cody Floatplane. The plane broke up at 200ft. Cody and his passenger were thrown out of the plane and killed. Cody was buried with full military honours before a crowd of 100,000 mourners.

codyvibiplanerae o435 ed
S F Cody at the controls of Cody Aircraft Mark VIA demonstrating its potential as an ambulance plane to the British Army. A medical kit is attached to the side of the cockpit and two soldiers, playing the part of medical orderlies or wounded casualties are sitting on the wings. Cody's assistant, Mr. Wackett, is crouching in the background whilst another mechanic is working on the chain drive of the propeller. Cody at the controls of one of his successful planes. Royal Engineers official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In a previous History Short, I described how my three great aunts were employed at the Balloon Factory. Aged 14, one of their brothers was taken by their father to meet Colonel Templar, Superintendent of the Factory. Percival Edward Crosson, my great uncle, became the first apprentice on 28th September 1896. He earned 3/- (15p) a week working with Bill Cody as he developed the man-elevating kites and the powered aircraft in which Cody made his first flight. It would be nice to think that Percy, as he was known, was the un-named mechanic mentioned in the caption to the photo above.

percy crosson ed

Percy became a fitter and turner and by 1917 was Shops Superintendent, a post he held until he retired in 1950. By then the factory had been renamed the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE). Because his work was so important, he was refused permission to join the Royal Flying Corps during WW1. However, he did serve for twelve years in the Territorials, reaching the rank of sergeant, and later served as Regimental Sergeant Major to the Hampshire Cadets. He died in 1973. His obituary stated that "he made an important contribution to the establishment of the aircraft industry, and was awarded the British Empire Medal."

When my grandparents moved to Bristol, they lost touch with most of the family who remained in the Aldershot area. However, that was not the last family contact with the RAE. Ninety years after Percy became the first apprentice, my niece enrolled as the first female Craft Apprentice. One of her tasks was to make accurate wooden models of the planes of the future to be tested in a wind tunnel. Percy would have been thrilled to know that his great, great niece was continuing the work started by him and Cody so many years before.

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