Adventures of a Pilot who left a Sussex Widow.

This is the amazing story of a WW1 flying ace who died 100 years ago and who had Sussex connections. Unusually he has a war-grave in the U.S.A.

Joseph (Joe) Joel Hammond was born in New Zealand in 1886 but after leaving school emigrated to Australia to work on a sheep station.  Hearing that gold had been struck in the Klondike in Canada he travelled there via Hawaii.  Unable to find any gold he went to Alaska to be an animal trapper but then travelled south to Phoenix, Arizona where he worked on a ranch.

Whilst in the USA Joe joined Buffalo Bills Wild West Show as a bareback rider.  He toured with the company including in 1908 when the show came to Europe, but after the circus returned to America he decided to stay.

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Joe Hammond

Joe came to England choosing to settle in Seaford, East Sussex.  It was here he met a local girl, Ethelwyn Wilkinson the daughter of a local builder and they married at St Leonard’s Church on 19th November 1909.

Hammond Ethelwyn
Ethelwyn Wilkinson


Joe and Ethelwyn honeymooned in France and it was here they saw something amazing – Louis Bleriot’s new aeroplane. Joe was determined to fly. He took flying lessons in Reims and gained a French Pilots Licence (No 258). He was the first New Zealander to learn how to fly.  Returning to England he joined the Royal Aero Club and obtained British Pilots Licence number 32.  After this, he obtained a job working as a demonstration pilot for the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company.

His employers (later called the Bristol Aeroplane Company) sent Joe and Ethelwyn by steamship to Australia to establish a branch there.  His aircraft was dissembled and stowed in the hold.

Joe made the first aeroplane flight in Western Australia.  Many people credit him with being the first pilot to fly in all Australia as previously flights had only been ‘short hops of a few yards’. On 23rd February 1911 Ethelwyn became the first woman to fly in Australia.   On 2nd March 1911 an Australian businessman paid Hammond to take him on a flight.  This is believed to have been the very first ‘charter flight’. Joe is also the first person to take aerial photographs of Australia.

Joe and Ethelwyn travelled to Sydney where he helped to establish Sydney Airport and then the newly married couple went to New Zealand so that Ethelwyn could meet her in-laws. It was in New Zealand that Joe became ill and the couple returned to Sussex.

In August 1912 Joe started working for the Eastbourne Aviation Company as a flying instructor.  The aerodrome was close to where Lottbridge Drove now runs. He was an excellent pilot and entertained thousands of holidays makers along the coast with his exhibition flights.  In September 1912 he flew over the beach at Bexhill which was the first time an aeroplane had been seen over the town.

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Joe at Eastbourne Aerodrome

Joe loved golf and on 8th October he flew a friend (Lieutenant Boyne RN) in his Bristol bi-plane from Eastbourne to Cooden Beach for a round of golf. He landed the plane next to the first tee.   Joe teamed up with Ben Nicholls an American professional Golfer and beat Lt Boyne who was teamed up with A.E. Baggs the Professional golfer for Willingdon Golf Club.  This was the first time anyone had flown to a golf match and was so unusual that it was reported in newspapers across the UK.

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In October 1912 it was reported that Joe had flown low over Willingdon Golf Club, and also fired into a flock of birds with a 12-bore shotgun – which does not seem to be so sporting!  He is also reported to have flown low over Willingdon Golf Club.

Later that same month Joel and Ethelwyn were again speeding but this time on land! They were passengers in a car seen to be driving along Bridge Street in Newhaven at a speed in excess of 25mph!  The driver was Mr Ernest Lovely of Eastbourne and he was summoned to appear at Lewes Police Court on 3rd December 1912.    Mr Lovely forgot about his court appearance until the last moment when it was too late for him to drive to Lewes. He therefore rang Joe at the Eastbourne Aerodrome and asked for a lift!

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Joe Hammond flew the defendant from Eastbourne to the Lewes Racecourse where he had to finish the journey by car.  Mr Lovely was prosecuted by Mr Lawson Lewis and said that he had taken Joe for a test run and had picked up Ethelwyn from Seaford.  He was unaware that there was a speed limit in Newhaven.   He was found guilty and fined £5.

On 26th February 1913 Joe joined the Royal Flying Corps with the rank of Second Lieutenant.  A few months later he travelled back home to New Zealand in order to assist the Government in establishing their own air-force.  He became the first official government appointed pilot in New Zealand.   He flew several exhibition flights and officials vied to be his first passenger – but instead of taking them, he allowed a music hall actress, Esme McLennon to take a short 20 minutes flight. She became the first woman to fly in New Zealand (I wonder if Ethelwyn found out!)

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Joe flying in New Zealand

The New Zealand authorities were furious that he had taken an actress on an unauthorised flight and he was promptly dismissed. (So as well as being the first official New Zealand pilot he probably saw the shortest service!)

Joe returned to England in August 1914 just as War was declared and immediately resumed his work as an instructor in the Royal Flying Corps.   He saw service in France early 1915 after which he was promoted to Lieutenant in April.   He was obviously a talented and important pilot who had far more flying experience than most other British pilots at that time therefore in 1916 he was promoted to Captain and posted to the Aeronautical Inspection Department who were responsible for testing new aircraft.  On one test flight in September he crashed landed into the grounds of an asylum at Lincoln.  It was assumed that he had been killed, but a search of the wreckage found his body was missing.  After this close shave he was found an hour later in a nearby barbers – having a close shave!

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At the beginning of 1918 the Government were campaigning to raise further funds to support the war effort. This was done by the sale of War Bonds both here and in the USA. In April 1918 Joe arrived in New York USA as part of the British Aviation Mission.  It was their aim to advise the American Government and to promote aviation in the USA (which to me seems ironic considering that it was the American Wright Brothers who had invented powered flight in the first place.)

I think Joe wanted to be back in Europe and be a part of the War effort as he was apparently disappointed that his main role in the USA was flying in war-time exhibition shows in order to promote War Bonds.  On 22nd September 1918 he was flying back from one such event in Greenfield, Indiana when his aircraft, a Bristol Fighter crashed near the Indianapolis Speedway Track. Joe was instantly killed.

Thousands of people attended his funeral at Indianapolis and after his cremation the ashes were stored at Crown Hill cemetery in Indianapolis where they were stored awaiting collection by his wife Ethelwyn.

Ethelwyn never collected the ashes of her husband. She returned to Seaford to live her parents and died in Hailsham in 1951.

(I have used a variety of sources apart from the internet including Seaford Museum, The Sussex Agricultural Express and The History of Eastbourne Aviation Company by Lou McMahon and Michael Partridge) 


One Comment Add yours

  1. Lin says:

    What an amazing story – thank you


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