At the end of last year, I was trying to enhance an old photo of Joseph Bamford’s store, at the Arcade, in Kilrea.  The photograph was taken over a hundred years ago.  It was of very poor quality, and was difficult to do much with. It still needs much more work. 

But then earlier this year, I encountered a tiny photo of his son, also called Joseph, and after reading of his very interesting exploits in the first world war, was inspired to attempt to enlarge, enhance and colourise this old photo.

Joe’s signature was later discovered and added.

Memories of Kilrea

First, a little bit about Kilrea. The village, according to a recent census, has some 1700 inhabitants. It lies about 7 miles from our old farmhouse, in Dreenan.

It will always be a place that is very close to my heart. 

It’s the village that dad, in his younger years (across the 1950s), would go to socialise, and meet up with friends, on a Saturday night.  Mum’s sister, Jean, would fondly remember those nights.

I remember Saturday nights. Richie was always hungry when he came home from Kilrea.  He loved a tomato. He would come home, cut a tomato in two, and cover it in salt and pepper.Jean Quinn

BTW I also have my father’s love of tomatoes. 

Some 25 years later, during the 1980s, I also socialised in, and around, Kilrea. 

It is a village that will always hold very special memories for me.

Anyway, I digress, back to the issue at hand.  While working on the old Bamford images, and reading of his exploits in the first world war, I kept reflecting on the Yeats poem, An Irish Airman Foresees his Death. It seemed to tie in with the Kilrea pilot’s exploits.

Lieutenant Joseph Lamont Bamford of Kilrea

Lieutenant Joseph Lamont Bamford was born on 4th January 1894 in Kilrea.  He was five feet eight and a half inches high, with brown hair and grey eyes. In the documents from early in the war, he is listed as a motor mechanic.

In January 1915, Joe joined Commander Locker-Lampson’s armoured-car squadron, serving with it in France and Belgium.

The Kilrea man then received a commission to join the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

Not long after that, he was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, and gained his wings in August 1916.

The following month, September 1916, Joe was transferred to Salonika, in Greece. From internal reports, Joe was recognised by his colleagues as a top pilot and highly respected. 

world war one pilot

world war one aircraft

In early 1917, the President of France, with the approval of His Majesty the King, in London, bestowed a special award, the Croix de Guerre, upon Second-Lieutenant Bamford, of the Royal Flying Corps, in recognition of his distinguished services during the war.

No doubt his parents at The Arcade, in Kilrea, would have been very proud.

A Marvellous Escape

Joe was to spend eleven months in Salonika, until his death. 

In the spring of 1917, shortly after the above award, the young airman was nearly killed when another aeroplane collided with his, at 11 thousand feet.  In the impact, the tail was sliced off Joe’s plane. He managed to survive the heavy crash landing.

Joseph Bamford, from Kilrea, Ireland, killed World War 1

Lieutenant Joseph Lamont Bamford, Kilrea, Ireland.

I Fell Like a Stone

Joe recalls:

I fell like a stone in a spinning nose dive for about 6,000 feet and, having to hold on with both hands, I could not get my engine shut off.

Eventually I managed to do it and the machine then turned upside down and started gliding at a more respectable pace, I being held in by my belt, which did its duty nobly.

I had a vertical gun going straight up above my head (and in this instance it was pointing straight down) which I thought would be better out of the way when I hit, so I undid the fastenings and let it drop overboard. It was a jolly good thing that I did, as the mounts were knocked to bits.

The only control I had was lateral, viz., making one wing go up and the other down, and just before I hit, I yanked it right over, and I made the right wing strike the ground first, breaking the fall considerably.

I was a bit shaken up, but was not by any means insensible”.Joe Bamford

The downed airman recuperated in Egypt having escaped, to use his own words, with only “a few bruises and two splendid black eyes.”

A Second Incident. Missing, believed killed

Some four months later, on 20th August 1917, Joe was involved in a second incident.  But this time, there was to be no happy ending.

In this case, he was initially reported as missing, believed killed.

Newspaper reports, at the time, suggested that there was very little doubt about his fate.

Commanding Officer Recalls Lieutenant Joseph Bamford’s Final Flight

Joe’s Commanding Officer, Major J H Herring, Number 47 Squadron, remembers the circumstances of Lieutenant Bamford’s death as follows:

He, together with another pilot, each on single-seater scout machines, were escorting a bombing formation to Prilep.

On the return journey our machines were attacked by a considerably numerical superiority of the enemy.

Your son fought brilliantly for a long time, guarding the rear of the formation, on several occasions helping others of our machines, out of extremely tight corners.

In the course of one of his engagements he had obtained position behind an enemy machine and was firing at it, and would undoubtedly have brought it down in a few seconds, when another hostile scout dived on him from a considerable height, firing as he came down.

Your son’s machine was seen immediately to fall completely out of control, giving the impression that its pilot had been killed.

This machine fell thus until it reached the ground, and on the morning of the 21st (the day after the incident), we received confirmation of his death from two captured German aviators.

I cannot say, how deeply I sympathise with you in your loss of so fine a son.

He was known to me personally, and apart from his exceptional skill as a pilot and extreme courage, his bright personality and keenness for his work had made him one of the most popular pilots in the squadron.

His loss has been greatly felt and will be for a long time.Major Herring

A Star Pilot

One of Joe’s fellow officers went on to say:

It is with great grief that I write to you about the death of your son.

He was killed in an air fight on 20th August. He was fighting one Hun, when another came up behind, and then, of course, it was all up. He must have been killed instantly, for his machine came down entirely out of control.

They fought at 12,000 feet, and he fell in the Hun lines. He has already been avenged, as we brought three of them down yesterday.

He died as I know he would have wished, swiftly, and fighting as only brave men can fight. He was a star pilot and fully recognised as such by his comrades.

I, who have lived in a world of men and women, would die happy tomorrow did I think that words of regret should be said and spoken of me as they have been of your son. Spontaneous and whole-hearted as they have been, I have seldom heard their equal.

All of us who knew him extend to you our heartfelt sympathy, for deeply do we feel the loss. Your son was a cheery and sincere friend and a great and gallant soldier.

Delightful Personality

Another officer wrote:

We all miss him greatly, as everyone who knew him loved him not only for his gallantry as a pilot, but for his delightful personality.

I feel that I have lost a friend.

It is all too sad that so valuable a life should have been sacrificed, and I do most sincerely grieve for you in this terrible sorrow.”

bamford kilrea war airplane death crash

remnants of Joe Bamford’s crashed plane, with the airman who shot him down

When putting this article together, I kept pondering William Butler Yeats moving poem, about a downed airman. 

An Irish Airman Foresees his Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

by William Butler Yeats