LAWRENCE'S AIR FORCE
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|The note left under a rock by Lt W.G. Stafford on 22 June 1917. He and 1/AM Porter had run out of fuel in their Crossley tender and were lost in the Hejaz wilderness. They were lucky to be found and rescued by Bedouin tribesmen.|
The flight had another observer when 2Lt J.N. Wilkinson returned from Egypt. Col Wilson suggested that the flight might move back to Yenbo to support a proposed attack by Emir Ali against an outpost of Medina. This plan eventually fell through and 'C' Flight continued its reconnaissances and the harassing of the Turks around El Ula. For this to continue, an Advance Landing Ground (ALG) was needed at Gayadah. An aircraft went out to the site on 30 May 1917, piloted by Capt Stent with Lt Brewis in 4478, followed the next day by a ground reconnaissance party using a Crossley, two Rolls tenders and the Ford car. The RFC men were Capt Stent, Capt Henderson and 1/AMs Pound and Warr, the Rolls being in charge of the OC Armoured Car Section. They were attempting to find a 'road' route to the Wadi Ghizal which ran roughly parallel to the Hejaz Railway, 20 miles due west of it. On 2 June, Lt Siddons in 5421 flew out and located the ground party and dropped them a message to call-off the reconnaissance and return to Wejh as Turkish troops were reported heading towards Gayadah. However, this ALG was eventually established and two machines flew out on 8 June to test the landing area successfully. A telegram was despatched to HQ at Suez asking for an urgent supply of 4 Crossley double wheels, 50 off 20lbs Hales bombs, 600 gallons of aviation spirit and two BE12 machines. The latter were a forlorn hope!
On 3 June 1917, 2Lt W.G. Stafford moved to El Wejh and 2Lt R.H. Brewis (Lancs Fus/RFC), J.M. Watson and B.E. Leeson (Ches Regt/RFC) were passed out as fully qualified observers. The ALG at Gayadah was not all it was hoped it would be, because it was at an altitude of 3000 feet above sea level and totally surrounded by mountains 5000-7000 feet above sea level. Another reconnaissance on the station and camp at El Ula was planned, so on 12 June, Capt Henderson with Lt Brewis (4488) and Lt Wilkinson with Cpl Stokes (4529) flew from Wejh to Um Jarad, positioning for the next day's photo mission. When they arrived at the ALG, they found the petrol supply had not been delivered and the rations had been stolen by the locals, so the mission was cancelled.
It was now half way through June and the weather was at its hottest – 112 degrees F. On 15th, 2Lt Stafford with 1/AM Porter and 2Lt Batting with 1/AM Farnworth left Wejh in two Crossley tenders to reconnoitre a possible 'road' route to Gayadah. This was going to be an arduous task over un-mapped country in mid-summer and was undoubtedly a difficult expedition. Meanwhile on 18 June, observers Lt D.B. Aitken and 2Lt J.D.D. Renfrew joined 'C' Flight, having been posted from Egypt.
LOST IN THE WILDERNESS
The cars party successfully reached Gayadah and on 19 June, Stafford with Porter set off to return to base, but after 3 days were posted as missing. Immediately, a ground and aerial search was undertaken, Capt Henderson drew up a car search-party programme. Capt Stent and Lt Siddons (4488) searched by air and Henderson with Sgt H. Mahomed and 2/AM R.W. Forder, left Wejh in a Crossley tender to try and pick up the missing vehicle's tracks, but without success.
The two missing RFC men were now in a bad way, having exhausted all their food and especially water. Their vehicle's fuel had all but evaporated and they had even drained the coolant from the tender's radiator to help slake their thirst. Stafford tore a page from his notebook and scribbled a short message which he left under a rock near to the vehicle. It read:
We have no water. We have gone on to west
The two then went on foot. Were they in full control of their reasoning? Surely to stay with their vehicle was best, it could be spotted from the air more easily, rather than two souls on foot in the hills. On 23 June, they were luckily found by Bedouin tribesmen and brought back to Wejh.
A searching Crossley eventually locates Stafford's lost vehicle in rough ground. Note that the ground party have also put out the arranged signal (triangle) to indicate to aircraft search completed.