Herbert Musgrave

Herbert Musgrave, the son of Sir Anthony Musgrave, the Governor of South Australia, was born in 1876. After the death of her husband in 1888, Lady Musgrave and her three sons moved to Hurst-an-Clays in East Grinstead. Herbert, the youngest member of the family, was educated at Harrow School. In 1896 he applied and received a royal commission in the Royal Engineers. Three years later Lieutenant Musgrave was sent to South Africa and remained there throughout the Boer War.

On 25th July 1909, Herbert Musgrave was one of the spectators who witnessed the arrival of Louis Bleriot in his small monoplane at Dover. Musgrave was impressed by the sight of the first aircraft to cross the English Channel. Musgrave immediately saw the military significance of this event and went to the War Office to explain the possible dangers this invention would pose to Britain's security. Musgrave suggested the formation of a military aviation service but his ideas were rejected. Sir William Nicholson, British Chief of General Staff 1908-12, later declared that: "aviation is a useless and expensive fad advocated by a few individuals whose ideas are unworthy of attention."

Musgrave, continued his campaign for a military aviation service and when it was decided to form the Royal Flying Corps in May 1912, he was seconded from the British Army. At the time, Musgrave was one of only eleven qualified pilots in the RFC.

Musgrave became a squadron commander and placed in charge of RFC's experiments. This included research into ballooning, kiting, wireless telegraphy, photography, meteorology and bomb-dropping. In March 1915, Major Musgrave was transferred from the Royal Flying Corps back to the Headquarters of the 1st Army. Musgrave was brought back to East Grinstead after being severely wounded on 10th August, 1916. He returned to France in December 1917, and was on a patrol behind German lines when he was killed by a grenade on the 2nd June, 1918.

Primary Sources

(1) An account of the importance of Major Herbert Musgrave in the early days of the Royal Flying Corps appeared in Walter Raleigh's book The War in the Air that was published in 1922.

A great part of the early work of the Flying Corps was experimental. An experimental branch of the Military Wing was formed in March 1913 under Herbert Musgrave. Major Musgrave deserves more than a passing mention in any military history of the air. In 1909, from the cliffs of Dover, he saw M. Bleriot arrive in a monoplane, and was so impressed by the sight that he went straight to the War Office to draw attention to the military significance of this portent, and its threat to our insular security. from this time forward his mind was set on aeronautics.

(2) In December, 1911, Major Herbert Musgrave gave a lecture on the need for a Royal Flying Corps.

When war comes, be assured it will come suddenly. We shall wake up one night, find ourselves at war. Another thing is certain - this war will be no walkover. In the military sphere it will be the hardest, fiercest, and bloodiest struggle we have ever had to face and probably every one of us here tonight will take part in it. We need not be afraid of overdoing our preparations.

(3) Wing Commander Maurice Baring was one of the most senior members of the Royal Flying Corps in 1914. In his diary he records Major Herbert Musgrave's RFC's experiments.

On September 18th the first experiments with dropping bombs from the air were made by Major Musgrave. One bomb was dropped, and it exploded, but not exactly where nor how it was expected to explode.

(4) Walter Raleigh described Major Herbert Musgrave's death in his book The War in the Air.

Major Musgrave was severely wounded in August 1916. almost two years later, on the night of the 2nd of June 1918, having persuaded a battalion commander to let him accompany a patrol, he was killed by a rifle grenade, inside the German lines. He desired no personal advancement, and would have thought no other honour so great as to die for his country. Such men, though the records of their lives are buried under a mass of tedious detail, are the engineers of victory.

(5) The East Grinstead Observer (15th June 1918)

Major Herbert Musgrave, of Dunnings Road, youngest son of the late Sir Anthony Musgrave and Lady Musgrave at Hurst-an-Clays, has been killed in action in France on 3rd June. Born in 1876, the major was educated at Harrow School and was given a royal commission in the Royal Engineers in 1896. He served in the Boer War from 1899-1902. From 1913 to 1914 in the Royal Flying Corps. During 1915 he served at the Headquarters of the 1st Army, from where he was transferred to France in December, 1918. He leaves a widow and a young child and his beloved mother.