Memorial cross commemorating the death of Probationary Flight Officer Francis Titcomb RNAS on 15 April 1917. Erected 1929.
Reasons for Designation
The memorial cross for Probationary Flight Officer Francis Titcomb, which stands on Castle Hill, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community, and the sacrifice made by members of the air services in the First World War;
* for the historic association with the nearby aircraft crash site that the cross commemorates.
* a simple yet poignant memorial cross built in a local stone, standing on high ground, in the manner of a wayside cross.
The aftermath of the First World War saw the biggest single wave of public commemoration ever with tens of thousands of memorials erected across England. This was the result of both the huge impact on communities of the loss of three quarters of a million British lives, and also the official policy of not repatriating the dead which meant that the memorials provided the main focus of the grief felt at this great loss. As well as personnel from the Army and Naval services, British losses now included members of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.
The First World War was the first conflict in which aviation played a major role for all the combatant nations involved. Prior to the Wright brothers’ achievement of controlled aircraft flight in America in 1903, the military services of various nations had used balloons and airships at war: for example, tethered observation balloons were deployed during the American Civil War (1861-1865). In Britain, the Royal Engineers became responsible for the Army’s ballooning capability in the 1860s. Despite the sceptical views of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the First Sea Lord expressed in 1910, an Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers was formed in 1911 and on 13 April 1912 the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was established, formed of a Military Wing and a Naval Wing. The Admiralty’s Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) followed on 1 July 1914.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914 the RFC comprised 146 officers and fewer than 100 aircraft, whilst the RNAS counted just over 700 personnel, 93 aircraft, two balloons and six airships. By the end of the war in November 1918 the air service had expanded to some 27,000 officers and 260,000 other personnel, operating more than 22,000 aircraft across 188 squadrons. Both RFC and RNAS included servicemen from Dominion countries. Similar expansions were seen in the air services of the other armies, as the First World War provided a unique impetus to fast-track technological advances in aviation around the world.
On the advice of the Smuts Report the RFC and RNAS were merged on 1 April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force (RAF), the world’s first air force independent of army or navy control. At the end of the First World War official figures recorded 14,166 air service casualties, of whom c9,000 men were dead or missing in active theatres of conflict. Some 8,000 had died during training.
The memorial cross on Castle Hill, In Moor, above Egton Bridge, commemorates one such death in training. Francis Holt Yates Titcomb RN (b1898) was a Probationary Flight Officer in the Royal Naval Air Service. He had attended school at Clifton College, Bristol, before winning a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge: his intention was to study science and work in aeronautics. Flying a Maurice Farman Longhorn, he took off from the RNAS Flying Training airfield at Redcar to complete his first solo flight on 15 April 1917. Unfortunately he encountered snow over the moors and crashed on Castle Hill. He was carried from the wreckage to High Burrows Farm, where he died. He was 19. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery (London).
The cross, known locally as Swinsty Cross, was erected under the instruction of Mr JK Foster JP of Egton Manor, in the early part of 1929. Sculpted by Mr JW Hill of Whitby, it was built by Mr R Harrison of Glaisdale. It stands close to the crash site.
The Egton stone memorial stands on Castle Hill on the moors overlooking Egton Bridge to the north and Beck Hole to the east, approximately 600m to the east of two Grade II-listed waymarkers on the Stape to Egton Road and Stape to Grosmont Road. It takes the form of a cross, reputedly based on the design of a wayside cross near Vittel in the Vosges (France). A blind wheel-head cross, bearing the figure of Christ crucified, rises from the stepped capital of a tapering column, square on plan. The column base is a cube which has raised panels carved on three sides with, to the front, a panel with the only inscription, reading KF/ 1929. The cross stands on a stone base, with a slightly projecting cornice to the front only. The base is mounted on a square platform.