An original First World War sketch of three founding figures from the earliest days of British military aviation - Winston S. Churchill, Hugh Montague Trenchard, and Edward Louis Gerrard
Circa 1919. This large, compelling, circa First World War original sketch features three founding figures from the earliest days of British military aviation. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, is featured in his aviation kit, accompanied by Hugh Trenchard and E. L. Gerrard, as well as two unidentified airmen. The sketch is based on a photograph that appeared on 21 June 1914 in the Swedish magazine Hvar 8 Dag.
As pictured in the sketch, Churchill had just returned from an eight-hour flight. The 6 June 1914 issue of Illustrated London News reported that Churchill “flew from the Central Flying School at Upavon, on Salisbury Plain, to Portsmouth...” Written in pencil on the verso of the sketch is: “Major Gerrard | Colonial Flying School | for Hugh Trenchard | WSC”. The date of the sketch is likely no later than August 1919, since that is when Gerrard, labeled hereon as “Major Gerrard” was awarded permanent commission as a colonel. The sketch is on paper affixed to a black-bordered drafting illustration board, the paper measuring 18.625 x 14.875 inches (47.31 x 37.78 cm), the board measuring 19.375 x 15.625 inches (49.21 x 39.69 cm). The paper is nominally toned, with moderate overall soiling and spotting and some minor scuffs and punctures, none of which substantially inhibit the experience of the sketch.
Hugh Montague Trenchard (1873-1956) was a central figure in the development of the RAF. Like Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Trenchard had served as a cavalry officer. In 1912, after two decades of military service, Trenchard learned to fly. At the Central Flying School in Upavon, where he was serving as assistant commandant, Trenchard again met Churchill, an old polo opponent. Though neither were talented pilots, they shared both personal passion for flying and a keen, perceptive interest in flight’s military potential. On the day captured in this sketch, Eugene Louis Gerrard (1881-1963) was Churchill’s pilot. Gerrard was one of the first four officers selected by Churchill’s Admiralty to undertake flying lessons and his comments testify to the staff’s terror “of having a smashed First Lord.” Gerrard wrote “if anything happened to WSC the career of the man who had allowed him a solo flight would be finished.” Gerrard understood the impetuosity of early aviators; posted to Upavon, Gerrard almost immediately attempted to set a new altitude record, with none other than Trenchard as his passenger. Gerrard would serve with the Royal Air Force until 1929, eventually rising to the rank of Air Commodore.
The First World War saw Trenchard command the Royal Flying Corps in France. In 1918 he served briefly as Britain’s first Chief of the Air Staff. He returned to the post in 1919 at the invitation of then Secretary of State for War and Air, Winston Churchill, remaining until 1930. During that decade, “he became a legend’, securing and shaping the RAF that would play such a crucial role in the next world war. Both Churchill and Trenchard might lay claim to fathering the RAF. In the immediate aftermath of the First World War, Churchill and Trenchard labored together to firmly establish and viably sustain the fledgling service. At that time, "The Air Ministry was small and new; it had few friends." (Gilbert, Vol. IV, p. 208) Nonetheless, both men overcame resistance to build resources and organizational capacity.
Churchill and Trenchard’s vision of air power as integral to an effective future military was prescient; two decades later, Prime Minister Winston Churchill would famously praise the British pilots ("Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.") who played the vital role in preventing Nazi invasion. During the Second World War, Trenchard “enjoyed the role of privileged spectator and potential morale booster…” inviting himself “to every battlefield in the Mediterranean and north-west European theaters, relishing the deferential company of commanders whom he had encouraged in their early days…”. Item #007044