Lost pictures from WW1 pilot

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Previously unseen photographs from the First World War – which lay undeveloped for almost 100 years – are to be exhibited for the very first time in Leyland.

The 80 sepia-toned images are a remarkable testament to the brave men who carried warfare into the air.

Captain Chambers was killed during a routine reconnaissance mission over France in May 1918, aged just 21.

Born in 1897 he was an electrical engineer by profession.

He joined the Lincolnshire Regiment early in the war.

He applied to join the Royal Flying Corp, and as a young officer learnt to fly at the Royal Aero Club, obtaining his pilot’s license exactly 100 years ago in October 1916.

He then served as a photographic reconnaissance officer with 49 Squadron in Kent.

The negatives were sent back to his family among his personal effects and remained undeveloped in the attic until they were inherited by his nephew Richard Chambers, of Lostock Hall, in the 1980s.

A keen photographer himself, but without the means to develop the pictures, Mr Chambers realised their value and turned to David Lewis of Leyland Photographic Society – an expert in printing early negatives – for help.

Mr Lewis, an award-winning amateur photographer and leading light of Leyland Photographic Society for the last half century, spent more than 200 hours painstakingly developing the pictures in his home darkroom.

“I found the whole process very emotional,” said Mr Lewis, 80, of Bretherton Close, Leyland.

“There were around 8,000 pilots killed in training and life expectancy could be a matter of just a few days.

“These pictures show the importance of the Royal Flying Corps, which later became the Royal Air Force (RAF).

“During the Battle of the Somme the pilots would fly over the battle lines and take pictures of the German trenches.

“Then they would write a note, put it in a metal tin, and drop it down to the artillery to tell them if they were firing in the right place. It’s amazing to think of.”

The exhibition, entitled Those Magnificent Men: The Air Photography of Capt W. G. Chambers RFC (1897-1918), will be officially opened at South Ribble Museum, Leyland, by the Mayor of South Ribble councillor Linda Woollard, on September 1.

The collection will then be open to the public for the rest of the month, until Saturday, October 1.

The remarkable images have excited historians from around the country and it is hoped that this event is only the start of the exhibition’s travels.

“The exhibition graphically shows the risk intrinsic to early flight,” said Dr David Hunt, curator of South Ribble Museum and Exhibition Centre.

“Landing strips were usually rough fields, the aircraft were string-bound wooden struts and canvas, and crashes were very frequent.

“Far more men were killed in training than in combat.

“First World War aeronautical experts have told us that because the pictures were taken on service and often after accidents – rather than by the manufacturers – they are quite rare.

“David Lewis has once again shown his incredible skill with the wet process and we are all very proud here that he has chosen our tiny museum as the first place to exhibit this remarkable collection.”

The exhibition is part of South Ribble Museum’s raft of events to commemorate the centenary of the Great War.

The 1916 film Battle of the Somme, which has been loaned by the Imperial War Museum will be shown on Thursday afternoons (August18 and 25) at 2pm.

The museum will also be open on Sunday, August 21, when there will be a vintage bus service running to the British Commercial Vehicle Museum.

On these days Peter Houghton, of Leyland Historical Society, will also be leading industrial history walks from nearby King Street.

South Ribble Museum and Exhibition Centre, The Old Grammar School, Church Road, Leyland. Opening times: Tues & Fri 10-4pm, Thurs 1-4pm, Sat 10-1pm. Call 01772 422041.

Visit www.southribblemuseum.org.uk