Tuesday, 13 August 2013

WERE AEROPLANES MADE IN MELTON MOWBRAY?

THE BUTCHER'S LAD, THE BARNSTORMER AND THE GRUBBER.


Samuel Summerfield was one of eight siblings born in South Derbyshire in 1894 into a farming family. In 1900 when he was just six years of age, his family re-located a few miles south to the small market town of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire where his father was to set up in business as a grazier and butcher providing meat for the local market. As a very young man, Samuel set himself the task of teaching himself to fly a heavier-than-air machine in the nearby fields and was later to obtain one of the first ‘British Aviators Certificates’ issued. During the Great War as a Captain in the Royal Flying Corps, he assisted in the training of the brave young pilots, who from all walks of life would fight and die in great numbers over the killing fields of France and Germany. In later years ‘Sam’ was to earn a living ‘barnstorming’ and providing leisure flights with a travelling air circus.

At the age of 40 and unmarried  Samuel made a life-changing commitment when, in 1934, he would travel half way around the earth to live and work at the small mining settlement of Tennant’s Creek, part of the wild and unforgiving outback of the Northern Territories of Australia. What was intended to be a six months return trip working ‘down-under’ to earn a few shillings in the 'off' season, became a one way migration when, after a very short period of flying action, all his plans and dreams were to evaporate in a local 'puff of wind'.  A hearing defect traceable to his exposure to an explosion in the early days of hostilities was deemed as sufficient to prevent him from obtaining a commercial pilot's licence in Australia which meant that he was never to fly again - personally disastrous and a massive, heart-breaking obtrusion for one so dedicated to his art.  With ideas of an alternative source of income, he would join immigrant prospectors and acquire a gold mine locally to become a ‘grubber’.   And it was here that he would die, alone, in 1967.


This is my account of all I have been able to discover of the remarkable life of this expatriate air pioneer extraordinaire, alas, now all but forgotten in his absence and the passage of time.  He properly lays claim to the soubriquet of ‘local hero’, not only in his home town of Melton Mowbray in England to which place he never ever returned, but also in that of his adopted township of Tennant’s Creek where he is at least remembered locally with some affection and where artefacts relating to his life and work in the outback are currently held in the local museum.  I hope I can do justice to Sam for whom, in absentia, I have acquired a great fondness and boyish admiration.


As this is one of my longer efforts at producing a story, it will, by necessity be split into probably (and hopefully) 3 sections.  I already feel great apprehension about laying out my deliberations and future intentions and thus I refuse to make any promises.  I believe that it is a significant little narrative and that Sam was a man to remember who deserves to have it told; so I will do my very best.  Bear with me!

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