Henry Charles Biard

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Henry Charles Biard


Henry-Biard.jpg

A young Henry Biard tries out a biplane


Although he was only at the school for less than two years, World War One pilot and later winner of the prestigious Schneider Trophy, Henry Biard is rightly counted among Victoria College's highest achievers


Henry Biard in 1933

Family

Henry Charles Amedie de la Faye Biard was born on 1 January 1892 in Godalming, Surrey. His French father, Raymond, was an assistant French schoolmaster at nearby Charterhouse. The family, including Henry and his younger brother, Walter Lucien, were living in 2 Claremont Terrace, St Helier, in 1906 and 1907, and both boys briefly attended Victoria College.

Henry's maternal grandfather lived in Jersey during the 1860s, but it is not clear why the family came to Jersey, or why they stayed for such a short time.

Autobiography

By 1909, according to Henry's autobiography Wings, written in 1934, they were back in England. At the beginning of that year that the 17-year-old was bitten by the urge to fly, having watched aircraft going through their paces at Brooklands.

He learned to fly and was eventually appointed a flying instructor by Graham White, having obtained the Royal Aero Club's Aviator's Certificate No. 218 on 4 June 1912. Pilot training was rudimentary and risky in aircraft which had a maximum speed of 40 mph but stalled at only 2 mph slower. There were no dual controls and the instructor had to sit on the fuel tank at the mercy of his student's actions.

At about this time a Central Flying School was established at Upavon airfield in the middle of Salisbury Plain. On 16 April 1913, after gaining his Aviator's Certificate, that Henry Biard was awarded a probationary commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps.

While at the school he was a passenger in a crash. Barely a year later, on 3 June 1914, his service with the Royal Flying Corps ended when he resigned his commission. The reasons for this are a mystery because the event is not even mentioned in his autobiography.

Henry was staying at his paternal grand-father's farm in northern France when war broke out two months later, and was to witness the flow of French refugees struggling westwards with many of their possessions on carts, along with German cavalry passing through a nearby village and, a few days later, further cavalry setting alight to numerous properties, including his grand-father's farm.

He made his way back to England and to Graham White's flying school at Hendon, where he remained for the next two years or more, training younhg aviators who would soon find themselves over the front lines of France and Flanders.

A Supermarine Sea Eagle flown to Jersey by Henry Biard

Active service

Lt Biard appears to have returned to active service and undertook a number of anti-submarine patrols. During one he bombed a German submarine but did not claim to have sunk it, even though he reported sighting oil afterwards. He was probably flying a Wight Converted Seaplane, the same type of aircraft that another Old Victorian, Lt Charles Stanley Mossop was flying when some months later he sank the German submarine UB32 by a direct hit with a 1000 lb bomb, when operating from Cherbourg.

During 1918 Henry Biard claimed the "kill" of an Albatros while in France to learn of the latest aerial warfare developments. Throughout his account, however, he indicated that he was still a Flying Instructor during the periods that these events took place.

The Navy List dated April 1918 records him as having been commissioned at 2 December 1917 as a Probationary Flight Officer (Temporary) in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), at the British Flying School at Vendome in France. London Gazette No 31416 reported that Second Lieutenant HC Biard, RAF was placed on the Unemployed List as of 22 May 1919.

In competition with 200 others, Biard successfully applied for one of six positions as company test pilots with Supermarine Aviation, at Woolston, Southampton. The work involved the testing of newly designed aircraft as well production aircraft and in due course, he became the chief test pilot. He also piloted the first commercial cross-Channel air services from Woolston to Le Havre with Supermarine's offshoot, British Marine Air Navigation, and was one of the first, if not the first, to pilot a commercial flight to the Channel Islands.

Commercial flying was a risky business in these early days, with few instruments, often in adverse weather conditions, and in a cockpit open to the elements. He recounted one flight to Le Havre that lasted five hours flying into a gale, and later an accident to a fellow pilot off Alderney on the inauguration service to Guernsey.

In 1922 Hubert Scott-Paine decided to fund and enter an aircraft in the Schneider Trophy competition. Italy had won the trophy in the previous two years of competition, and another success in 1922 would mean that the Italians would retain the trophy. Henry Biard was selected as the race pilot flying the Sea Lion II around a 175 mile course in the Bay of Naples. The finalists were three Italians and Biard, after the two French pilots mysteriously withdrew before the competition got under way. The race saw the Italians taking and holding the lead for the first six or seven laps and bunching so that any overtaking would mean covering a greater distance. Biard managed to pass them by flying over the top, and took a lead from which the Italians could not recover.

He would enter twice more, finishing third to the USA at Cowes in 1923, and crashing during trials in 1925 at Baltimore, in the USA.

He continued with Supermarine until 1933, when he became redundant a few years after the company had been taken over by Vickers-Armstrong. Later on he would maintain his links to the Channel Islands, working with the Guernsey Meteorology Service. At the outbreak of the Second World War he returned to the RAF as a communications pilot operating out of Hendon, before returning again to Guernsey to live and work after the War. He died on 18 January 1966 at Charminster in Dorset.

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