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American air hero who kept returning to Northampton

It’s Facebook time, folks! Like many others, writes Eric Whitehouse, I love to surf the Northampton local history site and………….

There’s a feature by Dave Knibb in which he lists and comments on old Northampton pubs, mostly now long gone. Whilst investigating this subject, which is of course close to my heart, I came across an entry for the ‘Forest Oak’, 28 Lawrence Street, an address between Bailiff Street and Barrack Road, which was demolished in the 1960’s.
There was a photograph of the aforementioned establishment, on a corner, and a moustachioed cove in the doorway, smiling in the sunlight. It was a typical Victorian/Edwardian alehouse and I had never before heard of its existence. What was different and, to me, fascinating, was the write-up for the pub which described an incident that occurred there in 1904.

One Saturday, that year, a certain Henry Cornelius Redding was drinking in The Oak and had run up a bar tab of, I believe sixpence! His behaviour became rowdy and so the landlord, Joseph Mathias Whitehouse, asked him to pay up and leave. This did not go down too well and a scuffle ensued and a blow was struck to the publican’s head which caused the 58-year-old to fall to the floor dead! Joe’s grandson. Harry, was working in the pub at the time and gave evidence at Redding’s trial for manslaughter, for which he was committed.

Harry’s address was given as Moore Street, just around the corner from Kingsley Park Working Men’s Club , where his father was the steward.
Joseph Mathias’s son was George Joseph, but was also known as Joe (confusing!), and Joe Junior was the father of eleven children, amongst whom was my illustrious great uncle, the renowned WW1 fighter pilot and author of numerous books of military history and fiction.

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So where does this family tragedy of 1904 fit into the story of Uncle Arch, the RFC flier? Well, Joe Junior, his wife, Alice and Arch, and probably others, emigrated to the USA, settling in New Jersey, in 1905.

Would it be beyond the bounds of possibility to suspect that the events of the previous year had some bearing on this move a year later?

Whatever the truth, the removal of nine year old Arch to the states obviously had bearing on his keenness to return in order to enlist to fight for Britain on the outbreak of war in 1914. At this time, he worked his passage to Liverpool, looking after horses bound for the British Army. From there, he made his way to Northampton and enlisted in the Northamptonshire Yeomanry.

He served in Towcester and France until 1916 when he requested, and got, a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps, based in France. He flew ops, mostly as gunner, with Captain Bush, and then became a pilot in 1918, winning the Military Medal. At the end of the war, he returned to the USA to a hero’s welcome. A truly ripping yarn, worthy of ‘Boy’s Own Paper’, and a perfect background for a literary career that lasted until his death in 1979.
His autobiography, ‘The Fledgling’, was published in 1964 and there are currently moves afoot to to republish his many books in the USA.

Arch returned to Northampton to stay with his mother’s uncle, Bob Townley, and his wife, Lizzie, and visited Chapel Place, where his mum had grown up, when he went to enrol in 1914.

He remarked on the ‘reminiscent whiff of shoe leather, fish baskets, dog piddle, rusty ironworks, murky stairways and that odorous paste used to stick bills to hoardings’.
He arrived again in 1932 and 1943 and noticed no significant differences. Oh, what would he think of our poor abused town now!

In 1943 he came to our town as an American war correspondent and stayed with his Aunt Rose and her husband, W.J.Bailey, who were publicans at ‘The Romany’, Kingsley Road, and while he was there I believe he performed an opening ceremony. He returned again in 1962 and 1972, staying at an hotel in Kingsley.

Arch’s story was told in a Chronicle and Echo article by Alan Burman on 4th August 2001. In 2005, in the C&E, Paul Wilkins called for a blue plaque to be erected in his honour.
Last year, I spoke with a publisher in the USA who was interested in republishing some of Arch’s long out of print books and who had come across some of my musical performances on YouTube.

He has also spoken to one of Arch’s grandchildren in the Midwest who had said that one of Arch’s favourite things was to sing risque songs and to tell stories in his local pub. I think I would have liked him and I intend to write further about him in future issues.

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