Eric Godwin Spiller was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on 17th January 1899 to Jane Spiller, a domestic servant and housekeeper; the father’s name was omitted from his birth certificate.
Jane Spiller was the daughter of Elizabeth Spiller and Richard Barnes Jenkins but for most of her early life she was known by her mother’s name of Spiller. Jane was born in Taunton on 25th Feb 1868 [with her father’s name also being omitted from the registry] almost two years before her parents married on Christmas Day 1869 in Bristol.
In April 1901 Jane was Housekeeper to Harry Godwin Chance at ‘Lynthorpe’ in Barnwood Road, Gloucester, her employer being a newspaper proprietor. Jane’s surname on the census is ‘Spiller’ along with that of her two children; Ida Godwin Spiller, aged 3 and her brother; Eric Godwin Spiller aged 2, being the names on their birth certificates. On 20th July 1901 Jane Spiller and Harry Godwin Chance married by licence in St Mary’s church, Tyndall Park, Bristol. The marriage thereby legitimised the births of their two children, who from then on adopted their father’s surname.
Eric was educated, firstly at Glyngarth in Cheltenham, and then Wellington College, around 1913-15. Whilst at Wellington he served within the Officers Training Corps [OTC] leaving with the rank of Lance-Corporal. After leaving school Eric returned to the family home at Barnwood Court in Gloucester and joined the editorial staff of the ‘Gloucester Journal & Citizen’, of which his father was editor and part proprietor. During this time he also acted as Sergeant to the Cadet Corps of the Gloucester Volunteer Training Corps.
Eric completed his attestation papers on 5th January 1917 for The Inns of Court OTC and on 13th April reported to the depot in Berkhamsted as Private 11056 Eric G Chance. A week or so later however changed his mind, and on 26th April applied for a commission in the Royal Flying Corps. Certification of good moral character was given by the Mayor of Gloucester with his standard of education being certified by John Bayley who wrote “Chance is a gentlemanlike young fellow, full of spirit and enthusiasm, showed an excellent character during his stay in the college”.
His commission, in the rank of Second-Lieutenant, was duly approved on 4th July 1917 and by the end of September he had completed his flying training having served with Nos 5 & 38 Training Squadrons, and also Nos 71 & 73 Squadrons. Eric was subsequently posted to No.28 Squadron on 6th October and left England for France on 20th October 1917 never to return. Not long afterwards the squadron received orders to go south and by 16th November Eric was in Italy, taking up a position at the front on 25th November 1917.
Little is known about his life during the ensuing few months and whether or not he encountered enemy action. On Saturday 19th January 1918 Second-Lieutenant Eric Godwin Chance, 28 Squadron, RFC took off in his Sopwith Camel B.2303. During the course of a practice formation the aircraft entered a spinning nose dive from a flat turn, from which he did not survive crashing near the aerodrome: Eric was 19 years old.
Eric lies in Padua Main Cemetery in Italy.
Copies of two letters received by Eric’s parents not long after their son’s death are reproduced below.
Will you allow me to offer you my deepest sympathy in the great loss you have just experienced? I only knew your son slightly; but our acquaintance began on Christmas morning, when I went over to his squadron to celebrate the Holy Communion. Your son was at the service, and we had a few words together after the service, when he told me how glad he was to have been able to come. The next news I had was the wire from Major Glanville asking me to take the funeral. We had tried to arrange meetings, but distance made it very difficult. I was able to take the Funeral Service. I am afraid that I cannot at present tell you where he is buried, but you will be able to know if you write to ‘Director of Graves Registration and Enquiries, War Office, Winchester House, St. James’ Square, S.W.’ You know how much he was liked by all the Squadron – that I quickly found out from both the officers and men. I feel any words are useless at times like these. I can only, perhaps, comfort you a little by the knowledge that he was able to receive the Holy Communion a few weeks before his death – you know how well he was ready. I pray that the assurance of God’s Love, which he now understands much more than we who are left behind, may be a help and strength to you and yours in these sad days.
Rev. H.E. Wynn (Chaplain), G.H.Q., Italian Expeditionary Force.
On behalf of all the Warrant Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Men of this Squadron, in which your son was serving, I desire to convey to you our deepest sympathy with you all in your sad and premature bereavement. Your late son was admired and loved by us all. I might inform you that his last resting place is situated amidst most beautiful surroundings. We fixed a Cross – made from a proportion of his machines’ propeller – over his grave. I enclose a rough sketch of the Cross, and also the brevet your son was wearing at the time of his death. Our Commanding Officer kindly gave permission for the Cross – which was made by men of the squadron – to be erected.
With sincere condolence,
I beg to remain,
Elliott, S. – Major, 28 Squadron, R.F.C.
The rough pencil sketch showed a Cross mounted on one half of the propeller, surrounded by a circle, bearing these words: “Killed in action 19th January 1918; 2nd Lieut Eric Godwin Chance, General List, Royal Flying Corps, No 28 Squadron.” Eric’s father died in 1932 and was subsequently buried in the churchyard of St Lawrence’s Church, Barnwood, Gloucestershire.
A short time thereafter, using the sketch as a template, a stone reproduction of the aircraft propeller, was affixed to Frank Chance’s gravestone in memory of Eric. Unfortunately, the passage of time and a falling tree have left
very little of the memorial intact. Eric’s mother was also buried here in 1940.
The Royal Flying Corps, along with the Royal Naval Air Service, merged together to form the Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918.