Archive of letters from First World War airman up for auction

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A fascinating collection of letters from a First World War flying ace has been revealed – with the last written days before he was killed in action.

Lieutenant Edgar Taylor, 21, wrote home to a recipient known only as Ruby during the four months he spent serving with the Royal Flying Corps in 1918.

He was born to British parents in Rhode Island, in the US, and flew Sopworth Dolphin planes alongside other American aces such as Frances Gillet and Frederick Lord.

His final letter to Ruby is dated days before his death on August 24 1918, when he was shot down in France.

Letter written by Lt Edgar Taylor (Henry Aldridge and Son/PA)
Letter written by Lt Edgar Taylor (Henry Aldridge and Son/PA)

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: “It is an incredible archive – the letters show the matter of fact way this young man dealt with life and death situations.

“One incident sees him crashing his plane in No Man’s Land and him spending the night there. It must have been a terrifying incident, which he describes as ‘all rather interesting’.

“The content of the letters is superlative.”

Lt Taylor’s letters start on April 14 1918, from training in Scotland shortly before his transfer to France.

The letters by Lt Edgar Taylor are expected to fetch up to £8,000 at auction (Henry Aldridge and Son/PA)
The letters are expected to fetch up to £8,000 at auction (Henry Aldridge and Son/PA)

“One of our chaps was in collision with Lt England and Lt Hockman. All three were killed. It was an awful sight to see the three of them all laid out.”

The next, written on May 23, reads: “Last night I was very much disappointed in one of my little adventures, we were out on patrol and below us I saw several Huns on our side of the line, it is so seldom that you get such a chance.

“I was pleased as can be, I went down on one and I guess I scared him nearly to death but my guns jammed and by the time I got them going he was safely in Hunland.”

(Henry Aldridge and Son/PA)
Lt Taylor’s letters start on April 14 1918 (Henry Aldridge and Son/PA)

“A fellow did a climbing turn and crashed into me from below, I thought I’d been hit by an Archie at first but I soon saw the other plane.

“We separated and I started back to our lines, gliding all the way. The Hun Archies saw I was crippled and tried to finish me off however they did not hit me.

“I landed near the line and was obliged to stay there until my mechanics came. It was an all-nighter with the shelling and star shells. It was all rather interesting.

“The next machine I took up, the engine failed me in a scrap. When I started for home a petrol pipe burst, it was a wonder it didn’t catch fire.

“I was covered in petrol and I was unable to find a place to land, I crashed into a hedge wrecking my machine completely. Beyond few bruises I wasn’t hurt.”

(Henry Aldridge and Son/PA)
The letters are being sold by Henry Aldridge and Son in Devizes (Henry Aldridge and Son/PA)

“I am still in France but will leave here in about ten days now. I will be glad to get a rest,” he writes.

Lt Taylor goes on to describe how he was left “wild with delight” after attacking German balloons.

“The defending machine guns opened up in me something awful but I shook their accuracy by dropping a couple of bombs which I put aboard for that purpose,” he wrote.

“The bombs did the trick, the Huns fired wildly in all directions, I then returned and attacked the balloons.

“At last I closed in and put a long burst of machine gun fire into it at close range.

“It commenced to smoke and burst into flames. Needless to say I was wild with delight.”

He signs off what would be his final letter with the words “Au revoir”.

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