Alexander Burgess Anstey (1898-1918)

by Gary. M. Ansteychief researcher of the Anstey story project.

Alexander Burgess Anstey, a member of the Chatham Ansteys, was born on 2 July 1898 in Secunderabad, Madras, India to parents John Charles Knight Anstey (a missionary, confirmed on Alexander’s baptismal certificate) and Agnes Burgess. He was brother to fellow Anstey Hero Hugh Knight Anstey, baptised on 28 July 1898 in India. Alexander’s mother died when he was very young, so by the 1901 Census he had returned to England and was living with his aunt Aquila Narbeth and her family at 6 Melody Road, Wandsworth. By the 1911 Census, he was a boarder at Kingswood School, Lansdown Road, Bath.

Alexander signed up for service with the Royal Flying Corps on 29 November 1915 as a Private (Service Number: 7976). He trained as a pilot at the ‘Inns of Court’ Officer Training College then, as reported in ‘The Gazette‘ on 10 August 1916, “The undermentioned to be Temp 2nd Lieutenants with R. F. C… 5 August 1916 Private Alexander Burgess Anstey from Inns of Court O. T. C

Alexander graduated as a Flying Officer on 28 February 1917, and began flying missions in the ‘France’ Theatre of War in March 1917. Then on 9 April 1917, he was “wounded in France with 48 Squadron (R. F. C.)” due to “hitting trees bordering aerodrome on Arras road landing from line patrol” – a photo of him appears in the ‘Daily Mirror‘ 27 April 1917 edition with a caption “Second Lieutenant A. B. Anstey (R. F. C) has been wounded“.

In the same month and probably related to the above incident, he was admitted to Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital at Millbank with concussion. Per the hospital records, Alexander had by then “completed 1 year 5 months of service” and “10 days with the Field Force“. His injury was reported in the ‘Straits Times‘ newspaper on 30 May 1917 “The following casualties are reported London April 16…Wounded… 2nd Lieutenant A. B. Anstey Flying Corps“.

Alexander was transferred to 35th Training Squadron on 4 November 1917 just before it relocated to Port Meadow. He was performing non-flying duties in January 1918 and had resumed flying duties by 12 February 1918, by which time he was a “dual control expert” and likely an instructor of other pilots.

Alexander died just over a week later on 21 February 1918 in a freak accident in England whilst flying a De Haviland DH6 aircraft (‘BE2e A8637’) with the 35th Training Squadron at Wolvercote. The ‘Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette‘ on 22 February 1918 reported “FLYING ACCIDENT near Oxford – TWO OFFICERS KILLED. A shocking accident happened to two members of the Royal Flying Corps shortly after 11 o clock yesterdays morning whilst flying near Port Meadow. Lieut Anstey (22) and Lieut Stern (20) had been in the air for about ten minutes when the machine suddenly nose-dived and crashed to the ground near the Wolvercote allotments, the officers being killed instantaneously. The machine caught fire but the accident was witnessed by a number of persons, and the flames were extinguished. At the time of the mishap the plane was not at great altitude. A short time before the accident another Lieutenant had been out in the same machine and it had then seemed all right. The bodies were not burnt very much when they were got out of the wrecked aeroplane. They were removed to the parish room at Wolvercote, and the coroner for the Central Division of the County will hold an enquiry into the circumstances of the accident this Friday.”

The ‘Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette‘ on 1 March 1918 reported on the enquiry, noting “Sec Lieut Charles Benjamin Seymour R. F. C. said the bodies the jury had viewed were those of Alexander Burgess Anstey 2nd Lieut of the R. F. C. of Henmore House, Hendon aged 20 and Sidney L. Stern 2nd Lieut in the R. F. C. Both of the deceased officers had been stationed at Wolvercote, and he had been at Wolvercote with them since before Christmas. Lt Anstey was the pilot and was an experienced driver. He had been overseas and done 100 yards flying. Lt Stern was the passenger. [Lt Seymour the witness] was at the back of the sheds in the aerodrome when the accident happened. He saw it was in flames when he went outside the shed. He was unable to give the jury any explanation other than the pilot was overdiving it, and the type of machine was too weak to stand that. That was only an observation from a general point of view. He thought the accident was due to the pilot turning with the engine on and jerking the controls, with the result that the extensions broke and the plane folded.

[Note: This concurs with the book ‘The Royal Flying Corps 1912-1918 in Oxfordshire‘ by Peter Wright, which states that “Alexander was flying a De Haviland DH6 aircraft from Port Meadow, Oxfordshire, accompanied by his observer 2/Lt. Sidney Lionel Stern when the wings folded during diving and both were killed at Port Meadow“].

The ‘Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette‘ also reported on the funeral, which took place at Wolvercote Cemetery (grave reference: ‘F27’), stating “The internment of the remains of Lt A. B. Anstey took place at Wolvercote. The chief mourners were Admiral W. J. Anstey C. B (Kennock House Hendon, uncle) and daughter; Mr H. Anstey (brother)… six men of the R. F. C. acted as bearers and there was a detachmen of Officers and men of the R. F. C. The band of the Officers Training Corps, Christchurch played the ‘Dead March’ in ‘Saul’. There was a firing party, and buglers of the Oxford and Bucks L. I. sounded the Last Post“.

For his services, Alexander was posthumously awarded the Victory and British War medals.

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