The Channel Islands and the Great War
HENRI) CHARLES BIARD
Amongst the 638 names of Victoria College's
(Jersey) masters and former pupils who died or served
during the Great War that are listed in the College's
Book of Remembrance is that of Henry Charles Biard.
Old Victorian (OV) Henry Charles Amedie
de la Faye Biard was born on 1st January, 1892 in Godalming,
Surrey, where his French father, Raymond was an Assistant
French Schoolmaster at nearby Charterhouse. His brother,
Walter Lucien, was a year younger and it was during 1906
and 1907, that while the family were living in 2 Claremont
Terrace, in St Helier, that both boys attended the College.
Today, it is not clear why the family came to live in
Jersey, or indeed did not stay longer, although his maternal
grandfather had lived in Jersey during the 1860s.
However, by 1909 it seems apparent from
Henry's autobiography "Wings", written in 1934,
that they were back in England. For, it was at the beginning
of that year that the 17 year old Henry was bitten by
the urge to fly, having watched aircraft going through
their paces at Brooklands.
At various times Biard is recorded as being
called Henry or Henri. Henry is used throughout this article
The Young Henry learning to fly in
In due course, Henry was appointed as a Flying Instructor
by Graham-White and on 4th June, 1912 was awarded the
Royal Aero Club's Aviator's Certificate No. 218. Pilot
training was rudimentary, and with aircraft just capable
of a maximum speed of 40 mph, and a stalling speed of
38 mph, somewhat risky in terms of life and limb. There
were no dual controls whereby an instructor could take
over command of the aircraft from an erring student, and
the instructor was to be found unable to intervene physically
as he was sat on the fuel tank! Henry might rightly be
regarded as an aviation pioneer along with the more recognised
names such as Sopwith or the Roe brothers.
It was at about this time that the services established
a Central Flying School (CFS) at Upavon airfield in the
middle of Wiltshire's Salisbury Plain, with its first
Commanding Officer being Captain Godfrey M Paine RN and
the Senior Staff Officer a Major Hugh Trenchard. It was
on 16th April 1913, after gaining his Aviator's Certificate,
that Henry was awarded a probationary commission as a
Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). During
the period at Upavon, Henry witnessed the aftermath of
the crashes that killed Majors Alexander Hewetson and
George Merrick, the latter whose funeral he attended having
borrowed the deceased's Sam Browne belt, and whom he would
later liken to Osborne, the "Uncle" character
in RC Sheriff's "Journey's End".
While at the CFS, he himself was involved in a crash
as a passenger, the pilot being none other than Trenchard!
However, Henry's service with the RFC ended, according
to the London Gazette No. 28836, on 3rd June, 1914, for
it was announced that he had resigned his commission,
although the reason for this is not evident today, nor
was this occurrence mentioned in "Wings". (Coincidentally,
on the same page of that Gazette was the announcement
of the promotion on 15th May, 1914 of fellow OV Stuart
Le Geyt Cutler, to Lieutenant with the 3rd (South) Battalion,
RMIJ. Stuart Cutler would later die while serving with
the RFC over the Ypres Salient).
The Great War
At the time of resignation, it could not have been envisaged
that war would break out across Europe barely two months
later. When it did, by chance, Henry was staying at his
paternal grand-father's farm in northern France. There
he witnessed the continual flow of French refugees struggling
westwards with many of their possessions on carts, along
with German cavalry passing through a nearby village and
a few days later, further cavalry setting alight to numerous
properties, including his grand-father's farm, as wanton
acts of reprisal.
Henry managed to return to England and thereupon to Graham-White's
Flying School at Hendon, and where it appears that he
remained for the next two or more years, where his Flying
Instructor skills were in demand to address the required
increase in the numbers of students who would soon find
themselves over the front lines of France and Flanders.
During this period many new skills had to be learnt, so
that pilots could better survive the rigours of aerial
combat. Aircraft manoeuvres such as rolls or getting into
and out of spins were now taught, a testimony to the improvement
in aircraft capability in the five or so years since Henry
first flew, when such activities would have proved fatal.