Wilfred Henry Wilmot was born in Wake Green Road, Moseley, Worcestershire on 22nd July 1898 to William Henry Wilmot and his wife Ada Kate Wilmot [née Birley]. William Wilmot was a self-employed jeweller specialising in the manufacture of gold chains and of his five children Wilfred was the youngest by six years.
Initially Wilfred boarded at Lickey Hill School in Bromsgrove as a pupil before attending Wellington College where he studied between January 1913 and the summer of 1915, leaving at the age of seventeen.
As Wilfred was still underage for military service one must assume that initially he joined his father’s business. Interested in flying from an early age Wilfred clearly persuaded his father to pay for his civilian flying lessons gaining his Royal Aero Club certification at Wallisdown in Bournemouth on 17th September 1916 in a Caudron G.3 French biplane. The Royal Navy reimbursed his father for the cost of the flying lessons in late 1917.
Wilfred joined the Royal Naval Air Service on 17th December 1916 at Crystal Palace from where he was transferred to the flying school at Royal Navy Shore Station [HMS Pembroke II], known as RNAS Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent in January 1917. The airfield at Eastchurch, “home of British aviation” played a significant role in aviation history witnessing the first controlled flight on British soil by a British pilot. The Memorial to the Home of Aviation was unveiled in 1955, in the centre of the village.
In early February 1917 Wilfred was admitted to Chatham Hospital with Rubella where he remained for two weeks before being discharged fit for duty on 22nd of the month. A few months later in April 1917 Wilfred was posted to Cranwell as a probationary Flight Officer where he failed to graduate at the first attempt, spending five months there prior to taking up his final UK posting at Dover in September 1917 before crossing the channel to France. It was on 22nd August 1917 that he was promoted to his final rank of Flight Sub-Lieutenant. During his time in France Wilfred was part of No10 Naval Squadron based at Dunkirk, but little is known of his activities during this time.
Bad weather would often curtail or restrict flying activity in the winter months but by Sunday 3rd February 1918 the weather had improved to allow for the resumption of flying, although a heavy mist was still in evidence. On that same afternoon Flight Sub-Lieutenant Wilfred Wilmot RN took off in his Sopwith Camel aircraft [B6370] and along with his fellow squadron pilots patrolled an area of sky over northern Belgium. At approximately 1510hrs they encountered enemy aircraft over Rumbeke and engaged them in action at around 12,000 feet, the aircraft reducing in height as the fighting progressed. At some point during the melee Wilfred’s comrades lost sight of his aircraft and he subsequently failed to return to base alongside a fellow pilot from No9 Naval Squadron, Flight Commander Rupert Randolph Winter RN.
Wilfred was initially posted as missing and his parents duly notified by telegram the following day. Both pilots were later claimed to have been shot down by Otto Fruhner and Otto Esswein of Royal Prussian Jagdstaffel 26 (Jasta 26). This was a fighter squadron of the Luftstreitkräfte, the air arm of the Imperial German Army during WW1. A previous pilot within Jasta 26 in 1917 had been Hermann Göring.
Wilfred’s remains were subsequently recovered and today he lies in Dadizeele New British Cemetery, Belgium near to his fellow OW, Second-Lieutenant Harold Skitt, killed in action the same year. He is also commemorated on the main Stratford-upon-Avon war memorial and in Holy Trinity Church, “Shakespeare’s Church”, in the town where his parents were residents at the time of his death.
The Royal Naval Air Service, formed in 1914 was the air arm of the Royal Navy until near the end of the First World War, when it merged with the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force (the first of its kind in the world) on 1st April 1918.