Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill OM, KG, CH, PC (1874 – 1965)

Captain Edward Wakefield commissioned the hydro-aeroplane ‘Waterbird‘; which first flew from Windermere on 25 November 1911, with a ‘stepped‘ float for which he obtained the grant of a patent in 1913. Waterbird had the distinction of being the first successful British hydro-aeroplane.

‘The importance of these facts in connection with harbour, estuary and coast defence and scouting need hardly be remarked upon. For the fame of Mr. Wakefield himself and Windermere it is hoped that the Admiralty may take this matter up so that we may not be left behind by any other European powers.’ – Kendal Mercury & Times, 22 December 1911.

Private Enterpise

In November 1911, the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was reconvened: ‘To consider future development of aerial navigation for naval and military purposes and the measures which might be taken to secure this country an efficient aerial service’. On 28 February 1912, the Report of its Technical Sub-Committee was approved, which recommended that the Naval Wing of the Flying Corps should be established and it attached importance to the maintenance of private enterprise in the field of aeronautics.

Wakefield’s Ally

Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty (1911-1915), was a member of the Standing Sub-Committee. Upon being asked in the House of Commons about the Royal Navy and hydro-aeroplanes, he replied by referring to experiments, including at Windermere, and that ‘the results so far attained have been promising’.

Protesters against flying at Windermere wrote to the press and mounted a national campaign. They targeted the House of Commons with deputations and ultimately by having an MP raise a question on 16 April 1912. Wakefield had successfully quoted the Admiralty for his floats and undercarriages, or royalties, and to convert an Admiralty aeroplane into a hydro-aeroplane, but could not advance this major counter-argument because he had signed the Official Secrets Act. Therefore, the future of flying at Windermere was hanging in the balance. – The answer came from Churchill, who stated that private hydro-aeroplane tests would continue at Windermere.

Churchill campaigned for an Air Department at the Admiralty, which was refused three times by the Treasury. Treasury sanction was obtained and Captain Murray Sueter appointed as Director in November 1912. Churchill wrote Prince Louis of Battenberg, First Sea Lord, on 7 December 1912: ‘Captain Sueter requires supervision, and the connection between the Army and Navy work must be close and harmonious’.

The term ‘seaplane’ was coined by Churchill when he answered a question in the Commons on 17 July 1913.

Churchill set out a policy and a programme for seaplanes in a Minute dated 26 October 1913. He recommended three types of new aeroplane: an overseas fighting seaplane, to operate from a ship as base; a scouting seaplane, to work with the fleet at sea, and a home-service fighting aeroplane, to repel enemy aircraft.

Churchill advanced an argument in favour of seaplanes in a Minute of 10 February 1914: ‘The facilities of reconnaissance at sea, where hostile vessels can be sighted at enormous distances while the seaplane remains out of possible range, offer a far wider prospect even in the domain of information to seaplanes than to land aeroplanes, which would be continually brought under rifle and artillery fire from concealed positions on the ground, among trees, behind hedges, etc.’.

Taking lessons and flying as a passenger, gave Churchill enthusiasm, understanding and foresight. Yet another example of his feeling for technical advances driving him onwards.

Churchill flew with Lieutenant Gilbert Wildman-Lushington at Eastchurch on 29 November 1913, so becoming the first cabinet minister in the world to assume control of an aeroplane in flight. – Flight magazine, 6 December 1913.

In February 1914, Churchill was flown in a seaplane at Portsmouth by Lieutenant Arthur Longmore, who had test flown Waterbird for the Admiralty on 20 January 1912, as he wanted to see for himself whether a submarine could be located when submerged.

He flew nearly 140 times, but relented under pressure from his wife Clementine and colleagues due to the risks, albeit he kept his foot in the door! A letter to his wife on 6 June 1914 included: ‘I will not fly any more until at any rate you have recovered from your kitten: and by then or perhaps later the risks may have been greatly reduced’.

Churchill wrote on 10 February 1914 that ‘Seaplanes, when they carry torpedoes, may prove capable of playing a decisive part in operations against capital ships’. On 15 June 1914, he visited Longmore at Calshot and asked that the torpedo experiments be speeded up. On 28 July 1914, Longmore made the first torpedo drop by a British aircraft and pilot.

The following tributes say it all

‘The First Lord of the Admiralty has proved in a high degree the fairy godfather of naval aviation. The Navy hardly possesses a single type of aeroplane on which he has not made a flight as a passenger.’ – The Aeroplane magazine, 1 January 1914.

‘No Minister of our time has been at so much pains to become thoroughly acquainted with the work of his department as the present head of the Navy, with the result that probably no First Lord has at any period had so deep and thorough a knowledge of the work and needs of the Navy as Mr. Churchill.’ – Flight magazine, 26 June 1914.

‘The First Lord showed particular interest in all matters relating to the Naval Air Service and made many flights in aeroplanes and seaplanes. No occupant of this high office of state has made corresponding effort to acquire a practical knowledge of the work of the Navy.’ – Brassey’s Naval Annual, 1914.

‘Mr. Winston Churchill was always keen on aeroplane work, and the help and encouragment he had given to the RNAS ever since he took over the post of First Lord of the Admiralty were fully appreciated by all of us who were in a position to know. Without his keenness and driving power the RNAS would not have reached the state of advancement it had done in 1914.’  – Fights and Flights by Air Commodore Charles Samson.

Churchill’s faith in Wakefield and Windermere was borne out by:-

  • Wakefield converting an Admiralty Deperdussin aeroplane into a hydro-aeroplane which flew at the lake during 11-25 July 1912;
  • an Admiralty representative visiting on 19 July 1912 to observe a new method of transmitting wireless messages from air to ground;
  • the award of an Admiralty contract for training pilots in December 1915. Large numbers of probationary Sub-Lieutenants were sent there for basic instruction;
  • two ex-pupils being credited with the first sinking of a U-boat by an RNAS seaplane on 20 May 1917, for which they were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross;
  • becoming a Royal Naval Air Station from June 1916 until June 1917, and
  • an ex-pupil being on the list of the first recipients of the the Distinguished Flying Cross on 3 June 1918 for bombing a U-boat.

Another record

In January 1942, Churchill made an 18-hour journey from Bermuda to Plymouth aboard Boeing Clipper flying boat ‘Berwick‘, so setting another record by becoming the first world leader to make a transatlantic flight.

Wavell Wakefield

Wavell Wakefield, Edward Wakefield’s nephew, was a Conservative Member of Parliament 1935-1963, and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Under-Secretary of State for Air 1940-1942. At the General Election in 1945, he was elected as MP for St Marylebone, when Churchill joined him on the hustings. Upon his retirement from being an MP, he was created Baron Wakefield of Kendal. He served as a pilot in the RNAS/ RAF 1916-1921.


Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

Reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown, London on behalf of the Broadwater Collection © Broadwater Collection

Punch magazine, 25 March 1914
Click to enlarge image.

World War One


On 25 November 1911, from Windermere, Waterbird achieved the world's first successful flight to use a stepped float. Waterbird was an Avro Curtiss-type hydro-aeroplane. The pilot was Herbert Stanley Adams (later Lieutenant Colonel).

Waterbird was commissioned by Captain Edward Wakefield from A. V. Roe & Company. Wakefield patented the stepped float and means of attachment, for which he entered into a contract on 14 March 1912 with the Admiralty, and also to convert a Deperdussin naval serial M.1 to a hydro-aeroplane.

'We believe that with the exception of the hydro-aeroplanes of the Unites States Navy no other machine of like nature has been so successful.' - Kendal Mercury & Times, 22 December 1911.

Deperdussin at Windermere

The dismantled Deperdussin arrived by rail at Windermere on 13 June 1912, and, having been successfully converted from a landplane, was flown during July by Adams, Lieutenant Reginald Gregory and Lieutenant (later Air Commodore) Charles Samson. On 10 January 1912 off Sheerness, Samson had achieved the first aeroplane launch from a British warship - HMS Africa, and on 2 May 1912 off Weymouth, the first take-off from a moving ship - HMS Hibernia.


In a letter to the Times, on 11 January 1912, Wakefield wrote 'I yield to no one in love for the scenery, and loyalty to the interests of my country. But many, who along with me learnt during the war in South Africa, the value of scouting, believe that scouting by hydro-aeroplane will shortly become a necessity for the safety of this island. England is far too behind other powers in aircraft and in flying men for both Army and Navy.'

'Edward Wakefield was convinced that the future for Naval hydro-aeroplanes lay in scouting for the fleet and relaying back information – extending the Naval battle space over the horizon. He knew that Naval aircraft could be the eyes and ears of the fleet.' – Commander Sue Eagles, Fly Navy Heritage Trust, in the Fleet Air Arm diary 2012.

'Not only did Edward Wakefield correctly predict the need for floatplanes in the Great War but also the role for the Sunderland flying boats that were to be built on the lake 30 years later.' – Wings on Windermere by Allan King.

The Importance of Private Enterprise

On 28 February 1912, the Report of the Technical Sub-Committee of the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was approved, which recommended that the Naval Wing of the Flying Corps should be established and that it attached importance to the maintenance of private enterprise in the field of aeronautics. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the Standing Sub-Committee, when asked in the House of Commons about the Royal Navy and hydro-aeroplanes, referred to the experiments at Windermere and that 'the results so far attained have been promising'.

On 16 April 1912, Churchill confirmed in the Commons that private hydro-aeroplane tests would continue on Windermere. Click here for image.

The term 'seaplane' was coined by Churchill when he answered a question in the Commons on 17 July 1913.

Seaplanes in War

Churchill wrote in a Minute of 10 February 1914 that 'The objectives of land aeroplanes can never be so definite or important as the objectives of seaplanes, which, when they carry torpedoes, may prove capable of playing a decisive part in operations against capital ships. The facilities of reconnaissance at sea, where hostile vessels can be sighted at enormous distances while the seaplane remains out of possible range, offer a far wider prospect even in the domain of information to seaplanes than to land aeroplanes',

Whilst Wakefield advocated defensive scouting, derived from his experience in the Boer War, Churchill, however, came to the view that attack was the prime tactic for defence: 'The great defence against aerial menace is to attack the enemy's aircraft as near as possible to their point of departure'. Three years and one month after Waterbird's first flight, carrier-borne seaplanes were launched against Germany. 'The Cuxhaven raid marks the first employment of the seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service in an attack on the enemy's harbours from the sea, and, apart from the results achieved, is an occasion of historical moment. Not only so, but for the first time in history a naval attack has been delivered simultaneously above, on, and from below the surface of the water.' – Flight magazine, 1 January 1915.

Training for Naval Marine Aeroplanes at Windermere

A private Seaplane School was formed at Hill of Oaks on the south east shore of Windermere. For an example of the fate of Windermere students, click here.

Following the outbreak of war, Adams joined the RNAS becoming a Lieutenant Colonel with the DSC and MBE, and Wakefield joined the Cheshire Regiment becoming commander of a Labour Battalion on the Western Front. On 11 November 1914, the Cockshott Point hangar lease, together with Waterhen, Seabird and Lakes Monoplane were sold by the Lakes Flying Company to the Northern Aircraft Company Ltd.

'Large numbers of probationary Sub-Lieutenants R.N. were sent to Windermere for basic instruction, in addition to those who had already qualified on land machines.' - Britain's Seaplane Pioneers by M H Goodall, Air Pictorial January 1988.

The School was taken over on behalf of the Government, and in May 1916 training operations at Cockshott Point and Hill of Oaks became RNAS Unit Hill of Oaks. In June 1916, the headquarters of the RNAS at Windermere moved from Cockshott Point to Hill of Oaks, and, with the departure of civilian instructors, the name was changed to RNAS Windermere.

A Royal Naval Air Station was established at Hill of Oaks 1916-1917. At various times, the fleet included 4 Nieuport VI seaplanes, 9 F.B.A. flying boats, and 3 Short 827 seaplanes.

The first pupil to obtain a Hydro-aeroplane Certificate at RNAS Hill of Oaks was Paul Gadbois, on 14 June 1916. He departed Windermere on 26 June 1916, but two weeks later was seriously injured in a seaplane accident. The last pupil to obtain a Certificate at Windermere was Edward Haller, on 16 August 1916. He joined the RFC, but was killed on 3 June 1917, when shot down flying a Sopwith 1½ Strutter.

RNAS personnel involved themselves in the local community, even putting on a concert. However, parents of daughters complained that the prefix to RNAS Hill of Oaks stood for Rather Naughty After Sunset!

A Tribute to Windermere

'Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay Hill of Oaks, Windermere is that but for its existence, just a few years later Britain could quite easily have starved to death as a result of the U-boat blockade. Thankfully the deterrent aspect of seaplanes and other aerial craft forced enemy submarines to stay under the surface and therefore make them less effective.' – The Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust.

On 20 May 1917, two ex-Windermere pupils, Flight Sub-Lieutenants Charles Morrish and Henry Boswell, were officially credited with the first aerial sinking of a U-boat whilst flying a Curtiss H-12 flying boat.  Both of them were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

On 3 June 1918, ex-Windermere pupil Captain Harold Gonyon was amongst the first recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross

Borwick & Sons, boat builders of Bowness-on-Windermere, who constructed the floats and aeroplanes of Oscar Gnosspelius (later Major), Waterbird's floats, floats for the RNAS and pinnaces for the Admiralty, were sub-contracted in 1918 to manufacture Felixstowe flying boat hulls.

On 10 May 1918, Captain Cooper Pattinson from Windermere was first pilot of an S.E. Saunders Ltd-built Felixstowe flying boat which shot down a Zeppelin at Heligoland Bight, for which he was among the first recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross. On 16 May 1918, whilst carrying out an anti-submarine patrol, he achieved the record for the longest duration flight during World War 1 at that time of 9 hours 45 minutes. It is claimed that Pattinson invented the spotlight altimeter in 1918, wrongly attributed to Guy Gibson in 1943 in the Dam Busters film.

Wavell Wakefield

On 1 November 1918, Flight Lieutenant Wavell Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's nephew, later Lord Wakefield of Kendal) landed a Sopwith Pup on the after deck of HMS Vindictive at Scapa Flow.

Arthur Wakefield

Doctor Arthur Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's brother) unveiled a memorial on 8 June 1924 at the summit of Great Gable to the twenty members of The Fell & Rock Climbing Club who fell in World War One.


Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

Admiralty Deperdussin

Cuxhaven Raid