War hero’s story finally takes off
LARGELY forgotten by history, the astonishing but tragic tale of the Wylam miner’s son turned dashing flying ace has finally found its wings.
Captain Dusty Dunn survived the scourge of the Fokkers for an amazing 17,500 airborne miles during the First World War.
But after defying death so many times to live through the untold terrors of the Great War, the 20-year-old pilot was killed on British soil during a peacetime test flight.
The story of Frederick George ‘Dusty’ Dunn, and his immeasurable contribution towards modern aviation, has long since lain dormant.
As his death fell after the Armistice was signed, the Wylam lad’s name was not inscribed on his village war memorial.
But local historians Aubrey Smith, Roy Koerner and Philip Brooks scoured local archives to compile profiles of those in Wylam who gave their lives during the First World War.
The lives of the village’s men and their sacrifice were laid bare at a special presentation to mark the centenary of the war’s outbreak in September 2014.
And inspired by the display, Dusty’s family were determined that his story should be told.
Former journalist Vicky Taylor was encouraged by her aunt Angela Bourn to put her writing skills to good use and set the record straight.
So in January 2015, Vicky, who grew up in Heddon-on-the-Wall, began her own research into her grandmother’s cousin, Fred Dunn.
And the result is her debut novel, Learning To Fly recently published on e-book.
Vicky, who now lives between London and Perthshire, said: “I had heard about him all my life from relatives.
“My grandmother had a picture of him and spoke about him a lot.
“But the feeling in the family is that Fred was a hero and had just been forgotten about.
“I live near the National Archive in Kew, so I found his file and all this amazing information came out; he was an extraordinary man.
“I decided to write up his story and follow his life as well I could through the research.
“He died when he was only 24, but I thought it was such a remarkable life that I wanted to write about it.”
Vicky, who began her career as a journalist with the Newcastle Journal, visited RAF Hendon and Farnborough in her information- gathering exercise.
And when visiting her parents, who live in Ponteland, she would meet Wylam historians Roy and Aubrey to learn more about her famous family member.
Born to a French mother and coal miner father in 1894, Fred grew up in Wylam.
When he was 16, the family moved to London where his parents took jobs as domestics in a large South Kensington home.
Three years later, and a trained mechanic, Dusty became one of the first people in the country to gain a pilot’s licence.
He had earned his aviator’s certificate at the Bleriot School in Hendon.
At the outbreak of war, Dusty signed up to the Royal Flying Corps and was posted to 3 squadron 1st wing in France with the rank of sergeant pilot.
By April 2015, the young pilot had clocked up 17,500 miles in the air.
His impressive skill and technical understanding of the new flying machines saw him transferred to test-flying planes in England.
Less than six months into peacetime, in May 1919, Fred had risen to the rank of captain.
He was tasked with piloting the maiden flight of the Tarrant Triplane, a mammoth machine originally designed with the intention of bombing Berlin.
It had been altered for civilian flights across the Atlantic and was front heavy.
Tragically, just moments after take-off, the plane nose-dived and crashed.
Dusty was fatally injured. He never regained consciousness and died two days later in hospital.
As testament to his prowess and renown as a flying ace, Air Chief Marshal and controller of aircraft production, Sir Henry Brooke-Popham, wrote to Dusty’s father in the wake of his death.
He said: “He was undoubtedly the best all-round pilot I have ever seen...
“His death is a distinct loss to British aviation and I lose a personal friend.”
Vicky’s novel is a fictional work but based on the experiences and events of her relative’s life and career as a pilot.
It was published on e-book on May 15 and Vicky has plans to publish Learning To Fly in paperback later in the year.
Vicky said: “My family is really pleased I’ve written it. I wanted to put the record straight, this man was an extraordinary human being.
“During the war there was so much that could have killed him and he survived and then died so needlessly; it’s such a tragedy.
“Without a doubt he was a hero. The aviation we all take for granted now started off with pioneers like him.”