My father, Chippy Taylor, told me and my three brothers how in 1909 he was a witness to the first successful aeroplane flight over the English Channel. He was in the Berkshire Regiment at the time and was stationed at Dover Castle. He saw Louis Bleriot’s plane appear and land on a hill in a meadow on castle grounds. There was much excitement, of course, and photographs were taken of the occasion, but Dad did not obtain one.
Around 1950, I was living in Marlow Buckinghamshire where I borrowed a book from the public library, “50 Years of Photography.” In that book I discovered a picture of my dad and one policeman with Bleriot standing beside his plane. No one else was in the picture. Since that time I have searched diligently for the book, but I have not managed to find it.
I have found other pictures including the one on the right which appeared in the French newspaper Le Matin at the time. It shows (not too clearly because it was copied from a newspaper) my father in his army uniform standing behind Bleriot and to his right with a sailor in between them.
The First Flight Over the English Channel
The Wright brothers’ now famous first 12-second flight was in 1903. At that time the achievement was only briefly mentioned in a local paper. But the enthusiasm for powered flight built quickly in every industrialized country. By 1908 European plane builders and their pilots were modestly successful. That year the "Daily Mai"l in London offered 500£ to the first to fly across the English Channel. The Paris newspaper "Le Matin" scoffed and wrote that it couldn’t be done. And no one did in 1908, so the Daily Mail raised its prize to 1,000£.
There were several serious contenders. The first two crashed but lived. Then on July 25, 1909 after much testing and preparation the Frenchman Louis Bleriot took off at dawn in a plane of his design. He soon flew past his escort the destroyer Escopette on the sea (with his wife aboard) and flew on without any further guidance or sighting. He was blown off course, but once he saw the coast he was able to fly toward it arriving over Dover, but he did not know where. According to plan, French journalist Fontaine was to find a spot for him to land and to signal it by waving a big Tricolour flag. Fontaine chose Northfall Meadow near Dover Castle. Bleriot flew along the coast until he spotted Fontaine standing in the meadow waving the big flag. He was able to make a bumpy landing, despite the gusty wind, damaging his plane slightly. His time in the air — only 36 minutes — but enough time to become a celebrity.