Previous

Joseph C. Akester

(1897-1986) – Pilot and POW

Truro School pupil Joseph C. Akester was inspired to become a pilot by seeing Henri Salmet flying his plane over Truro. ‘I little thought when I saw my first aeroplane in 1912 at Truro…it would be another such that I would land in behind the German lines in 1917’.

Credit: Truro School Archive

Read full story

In 1912 there was ‘a welcome interlude’ at Truro School ‘in the shape of M[onsieur Henri] Salmet and his aeroplane. The aviator arrived whilst we were at tea… we were just in time to see the aeroplane circling above Truro. M. Salmet came fairly close to the School grounds as he swerved to descend, and everyone was much impressed by the skill with which he handled his plane in the teeth of a sharp gale’.

J.C. Akester, at the school that day, later wrote of his own flying exploits:

‘…I set off in a tri-plane (by myself) to do my little bit… four German aeroplanes came down out of the clouds behind me… For almost half-an-hour the chase kept up, and my machine was riddled with bullets… but dodging anti-aircraft shells and the four aeroplanes, which were about 50 to 100 yards behind me all the time, was a bit too much for me… Finally I was hit in my left arm, and the bullet passed straight on and pierced my petrol tank… how I escaped being hit in at least a hundred places, goodness only knows…I little thought when I saw my first aeroplane in 1912 at Truro ... it would be another such that I would land in behind the German lines in 1917’.

Akester spent 15 months as a POW in Germany, and arrived home in April 1919 having suffered ‘a good deal through wounds, sickness, and bad treatment’.  Despite this he was able to take up a business career in London in December 1919. 

Coming from Hartlepool in County Durham with a father who was a Nonconformist minister, Akester boarded at Truro School between 1909 and 1914 and played football and cricket.  He won the school history prize for coming 5th in the Senior Cambridge Exam and the Wickett Scholarship at Speech Day.  When he left Truro School in December 1914 he seemed destined for a career in the Civil Service but by April 1917 was training to become a pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service.

British pilots in the First World War flew without parachutes, even though these had been invented before 1914.  At first the planes were considered too fragile to carry them.  By 1916, when the planes were parachute-worthy, it was thought that the carrying of parachutes would encourage premature ditching of planes.

Credit: Truro School Archive