from Somerset, Devon and Dorset
© Andrew Templer 2023
THE MILITARY AEROSTATS
For ten years Grover had tried to convince the War Office that balloons were a vital part of the 'seeing eye' for the British army, The Victorian period saw the British travelling the world, however it was not until after the original small balloon committee had been abandoned that an effort was made to supply a balloon for one of the Army's overseas expeditions.
In 1873, the very year that the original members of the balloon committee were replaced by other Royal Engineer officers, the War Office called upon the RE Committee to prepare details of a balloon and equipment for the Ashanti expedition. Lieut. Watson worked out proposals for the most difficult part of supplying a balloon for operations overseas, that of a transportable gas generating plant. Mr. Coxwell offered to supply two silk balloons with car, net and the necessary additions for £2,000. It was found that the improvised outfit could not have been completed in time for use on the expedition and the whole project was abandoned. Another five years went by. Woolwich Arsenal were given the task of constructing an apparatus for the generation of hydrogen by two alternative methods of passing steam over red hot iron filings and the action of sulphuric acid on zinc.
The proposal made by Lieut Watson that the gas should be carried in the field, compressed in steel tubes, and generated at the base was pigeon holed.
In 1875, Lieut. Watson had met Captain Templer, an experienced balloonist and the owner of the large coal-
Captain H Elsdale RE who joined the work in 1879, and Captain Templer took "Crusader" to the Easter Volunteer Review at Dover and to Brighton a year later. The balloon was filled with coal gas at the nearest gas works and towed to the review with a smaller balloon which was used for gas replenishments. The observations at the Brighton Review were marred by fog and the smoke from the rifle fire and the smoke of the fuses of the bigger guns.
In 1879, after a long period of irresolution the War Office finally decided upon recognising the science of aerostation as a branch of the military art and the country now possessed for the first time as a part of the national war material, balloon equipment consisting of two balloons in commission and two others nearly ready for service. The result was due to the intelligent observation and study devoted to the subject by a few military officers whose experiments and recommendations finally convinced the authorities that balloons may serve valuable and important purposes in a campaign, and recent setbacks and experiences in Afganistan and Zululand strengthened the convictions
The balloon committee then consisting of Captain Lee, Captain Elsdale, Captain Watson, (away on active service) all Royal Engineers, and supported by Captain Templer of the 2nd Middlesex Militia, Suitable buildings had been found at Woolwich Arsenal where all the initial experiments had taken place, and during that winter instructions were given to a class of non-
The first special item was the manufacture of a rope of great strength used for a grappling irons and although less than 4 inch in diameter was tested to take a strain of 3 tons. A portable furnace, capable of manufacturing gas for two balloons in 24 hours, gas cylinders, basket and deflated balloon were devised to pack onto three general service wagons. Although the total weight was in the order of 34 tons, each unit when taken to pieces, did not exceeded 3 cwt. Unfortunately the rope gave way when the balloon "Talisman" was being prepared for flight, but such a small setback could not dampen the enthusiasm of the balloon committee, supported by the confidence of the 'sappers.'
In 1880 balloons were back in skies around Aldershot. Captains Elsdale and Templer with personnel and transport from the 24th Field Company Royal Engineers and two balloons were attached to the Aldershot Division during the manoeuvres of that year. So successful were their observations, the enemy movements being so easily plotted, the operations were actually terminated early.
After the manoeuvres one of the balloon detachments camped at Frenshan Pond, making a number of ascents which attracted large numbers of sightseers.
A week later the" Crusader" balloon could be seen floating above North Camp, somewhere near the Queen's Hotel. This was one of five balloons brought to Aldershot under the command of Captain Templer. The balloons were "Pioneer", "Pegasus", "Saladin", "Talisman", and Templer's own, the "Crusader".
On this day, two ascents were made to 700 feet, one at 600, and eight at 550, and eight at 400, due to the successive lowering in height due to loss of gas and changes in atmospheric pressure. 28 messages were dropped from the car in little weighted bags, as to the position of the ground forces. There was also a telephone from the basket to the small section managing a small inflated balloon which replenished any gas needed but on this occasion was not used. The occupants of the balloon were Templer, Elsdale and Heath.
On the 21st, Elsdale made a flight from Queens Parade to Stockbridge. "Crusader" was up again on the 24th August, just after mid-
On the Bank Holiday, August 2nd 1880, several balloons were landed at a 'Grand Garden Party' held at Aldershot Park, then the rented home of General Sir David Lysons, -
AFTER THE MANOEUVRES OF 1880, THE ROYAL ENGINEERS BALLOON SECTION CAMPING AT FRENSHAM POND.
During the autumn of 1880, and following the success of the manoeuvres at Aldershot, the War Office authorities had marked the progress of military ballooning by detailing a whole company of Royal Engineers for instruction in the art, replacing the small detachments previously employed in the experiments. The Company, the (24th Field) stationed at Aldershot, was placed under the command of the Captain Elsdale, who had been specially engaged in balloon work at Woolwich and elsewhere during the previous months and made several successful ascents and the following officers were under his direction... Lt's J Hare, W.E.N.Noel, and R.V.Anstruther all of them R.E. and Captain J H Templer, Royal Edmonton Rifles Militia, who was specially attached for the development of the production of coal gas which at this stage had been found troublesome for practicable purposes.
The 'utilisation of balloons in war had been theoretically worked out by the committee on the basis of the following conclusions.
It was assumed that it would be chiefly in wars of a large scale and in civilised countries that balloons would be of most advantage especially in sieges, the attack and defence of entrenched camps and watching a line of defence and it was also assumed that in most civilised places, local gas works would be found either in operation or abandoned. Even if partially ruined or destroyed gas works may readily be restored by trained military artificers and the necessary supply of gas soon obtained. Should all the works be destroyed some difficulty may be experienced in providing substitutes but for gas holders, good balloons may be used. The gas once provided can be conveyed for considerable distances and the balloons protected from the wind in sheltered situations until the balloons are required for ascents.
The military aeronauts also believed that in ordinary weather, balloons may be kept constantly filled at a distance of 30 miles from any gas works and with two or more sources of supply in opposite directions there may be no anxiety upon this point, seeing that the filled balloons could be taken in the required direction with a favourable wind, either by a free trip in the air or led captive by a wagon or a gang of men. Fresh supplies of gas to compensate for leakage which is reckoned 1000 cubic feet/day could be conveyed in small balloons. The whole equipment for a service balloon in the field would require one wagon, a pair of horses and a small detachment of efficient men under a skilled officer and two wagons would be sufficient for several balloons.
The Balloon Committee also considered the advantages and drawbacks of the Montgolfier or hot air balloon, one of which was used by the French Army with indifferent success on the day before Solferino in 1859. The advantage of dispensing with gas altogether and conveying powerful lamps or other heating arrangements is so important that the danger of fire might be overlooked and the more serious fault in the tendency of a hot air balloon to collapse if held captive owing to the rarefaction of the internal atmosphere making it became unsuitable for military purposes.
`The Committee had also considered the practicality of manufacturing gas from coal, wood, peat independent of local resources and had further calculated the means and the cost of transporting compressed gas with an army. It had been found possible to compress either hydrogen or coal gas after more careful research and, store securely in steel holders like pontoons, which could be used on active service for the construction of floating bridges if required, but it was found that the strength of the vessel would have to be increased with the compression of the gas and that something like l lb of metal would be required to hold a cubic foot of gas. The weight of 100,000 cubic feet which ought to be taken or even 20,000 cubic feet for one balloon is therefore required,,..... a very difficult task.
It was proposed to devote the winter months when the weather is unfavourable for ascents, to study and practice in the making of gas, both hydrogen and coal gas, in various ways and it was considered that a chemist of experience would be appointed by the committee for this purpose. Templer's apparatus at the Royal Arsenal for obtaining Hydrogen from steam would be put to further practice and it was planned that an endeavour would be made to obtain a light carburetted or mixed gas more suitable than pure Hydrogen for balloon work.
With the 'Pioneer' and his own balloon the "Crusader" Templer continued to instruct several Royal Engineer officers in the art of ballooning. It was 1883, exactly one hundred years after the first manned balloon flight, that the British Army stole a march on the other military experimenters. In that year, the 'Sapper' a balloon of 5,600 cubic feet was built. In typical surroundings of ingenuity the choice of construction for the 'Sapper' was silk soaked in linseed oil, oil being squeezed out by an ordinary mangle. The hydrogen gas was made in old beer barrels with spelter and sulphuric acid and cleaned by passing through water. At about the same time, Walter Powell, M.P for Malmesbury had started work on a balloon with the help of the Weinling's a Swiss family, to make a 10,000 cubic feet capacity balloon with an envelope of "gold-
One of the most serious stumbling blocks facing the military aeronauts was to find the right gas holding material for their balloons. They had built envelopes of silk, envelopes specially treated with varnished cambric, and what proved to be the finest -
Goldbeaters skin which was prepared from the lower intestines of the ox, was so called because it was used in the process of making gold leaf. The Weinlings had for some years, in the east end of London, been making small balloons in this material, some being used for toy balloons, some for scientific purposes. The skins were imported from the continent, where they were salted down and packed in barrels. The actual material was no secret but the method of preparing and securely joining up the skin patches was known only to the Weinlings. The secret was jealously guarded by the family and when the amount of work required extra hands considerable obstruction had to be overcome. The completion of the 'Heron' was delayed as the foreman balloon-
Progress was being made by experience in the field. A balloon detachment actually went to Africa, arriving at Cape Town on December 19th with five balloons. The Heron was inflated at Mafakin (Mafeking) on April 6th, 1885, and Sir Charles Warren specially requested to make an ascent. The Spy and the Feo were inflated and the new air arm of the British Army proved itself to be of value. Ten balloonist N.C.O.'s and Sappers went to Bechuanaland under Major Elsdale and only eight could be found for the Sudan expedition. These small parties had to be supplemented by untrained men borrowed from other units in the field and transport had to be found. Camels were used in the Sudan to carry a miscellaneous collection of gas tubes, the Bechuanaland detachment did claim the best equipment.
On his return from Africa, Templer found the work at Chatham was outgrowing its quarters. Templer solved one of the problems by buying land at his own expense near his own home at Lidsing. As there was no shed available, sappers dug a hole in the hillside sufficiently deep to house an inflated balloon of 10,000 cubic feet capacity, to save it from swirling, uncontrollably in any wind. This hole was in the shape of an inverted cone-
Balloon construction continued at Chatham and by 1886 a new site had to be found for the development of the army balloons.
Up to this period Templer had met much of the cost out of his own private resources; but by the beginning of 1887, the War Office officially appointed him as 'Instructor of Ballooning' and, now a Major, he was gazetted to the post on April 1st with a salary of £600 a year. He now had a greater say in the future of the balloon section and strived for a move to Aldershot. As a result of the accuracy of observations during the 1889 Aldershot manoeuvres around Hampshire and Surrey, the G.O.C. Aldershot, Sir Evelyn Wood 'recommended that the whole balloon unit be-
The annual ballooning grant, which in 1886 was only £2,000, was reduced in 1888 to £1,500, and Major Templer was not even compensated for the expenditure which he had incurred in providing the balloon exercising ground at Lidsing.
The technical transport arriving in Aldershot included three special wagons for the carriage of gas tubes in the field. They were built up on G.S.(General Service) wagon frames devised by the Royal Engineers. These tube wagons each carried forty-
There were many dramatic incidents in the lives of the balloonists. In December 1881, Captain Templer, Mr Walter Powell, M.P. for Malmesbury, and Lieut. Agg-
Later that December news reached the authorities that a fisherman from Cherbourg had sighted an object thought to be a whale -
After this tragic episode Templer made no more flights, and he concentrated on his valuable experimental work.
About 1891 when the Balloon School moved to its new quarters on the south bank of the Basingstoke Canal, the old hut barracks were at that time being taken down and replaced by brick buildings. The components of these huts were in great demand and applicants were allotted huts on condition that they were cleared away. Templer secured a good allotment, and with one of his small traction engines and a truck, manned by volunteers from his civilian staff, and helped by a few sappers, they turned out to collect the material. One hut was very like another, and frequently an angry commanding officer would find that a hut allotted to him had totally vanished. Meanwhile small temporary buildings sprang up in the balloon compound, which supplemented the authorised buildings with a number of useful additional workshops and stores. Layers of felt from the hut roofs provided a firm and protected foundation for the balloon yard which was swampy, and by melting down gutters and flashings quantities of zinc, which was scarce and costly, were obtained to keep the hydrogen factory running.
THE STEAM SAPPERS
The period at Aldershot between 1890 and the outbreak of the South African war was occupied in developing the operation equipment, and Captain B. R. Ward RE compiled a comprehensive "Manual of Ballooning" The technical transport of horses and men were on loan from 24 Transport Squadron RE equipped with G.S. wagons, a very unsatisfactory arrangement. The transport consisted of the balloon, four tube wagons and an equipment wagon, all drawn by four horses. The balloon wagon carried the cable and hand-
About 1898 the welded steel tubes were replaced by tubes of spun steel made by the new Mannesman process, which greatly increased strength for less weight and reduced the transport in proportions to the gas carried and six wagons carried enough gas to fill two balloons up to 13,000 cubic. feet, capacity.
Templer needed a more reliable transport system. Horse transport in South Africa had its problems. Towards the latter years of the 1890's Colonel Templer then Superintendent Balloon Factory, earned himself another title, that of Director of Steam Road Transport, and here-
When war preparations were made in England on how to feed the British Army in South Africa, Templer presented his scheme, The Colonel had long insisted that no method of transporting supplies was better adapted for the Veldt, than the steam sapper. There was no comparison between steam and horse and therefore when the difficulty of providing transport in South Africa was understood the War Office turned to Templer and gave him a free hand in organising a special transport company. Thirty traction engines were prepared immediately for service abroad, and twenty more were to be requisitioned to follow later if required.
Not a moment was lost in organising the vehicles for the new 'brigade. All the government steam sappers that could be found and spared were at once overhauled. Road engines were sought out for the transport company's requirements; one or two engines were armoured; suitable trucks and wagons were made ready; engine drivers, stokers and mechanics were enlisted, being drawn largely from railway reserve men. Roomy road-
Prior to the Army Corps leaving England for the South African War zone out on the wide expanse of the Long Valley, a sandy waste familiar to the balloon men, the traction engines were day after day ceaselessly tested as they came from the fitters yard making their trial runs under critical eyes. These engines, with their trains of trucks and wagons were driven over the plain, wheeling, circling, or forging straight ahead over the rough uneven ground -
The total strength of the transport company was 130 men, a captain and subaltern, six sergeants, four corporals, in all a competent staff of mechanics, drivers, stokers and smiths.
The forward looking Templer arranged the steam sappers to be of one pattern fitted with interchangeable parts, so that one crew would be at ease with any engine. In the case of an accident, repairs could be easily remedied. Each engine cost upwards of £1,000; and the road care about £100. One type of transport was designed with the special purpose of carrying compressed forage for the horses, enough forage to last 3,000 horses for three days -
Templer proved his point and the 'traction engine brigade' sailed for the Cape. Disaster, the ship carrying the engines was wrecked on the way out and the outfit almost entirely lost. On arriving at Cape Town, with the new unit, 45 Company RE, Colonel Templer was only able to organise an attenuated road service from local resources in traction engines, principally used at the base. He returned to the U.K. at the beginning of 1901, to resume his previous duties. Further consignments of engines were eventually sent out and the RE steam tractors were employed extensively up to the end of the war.
Officially the term "Steam Sapper" disappeared in 1894 and from then on the machines were called Traction Engines, but the old term took a long time to die.
Templer's idea had a bad start, but Templer's balloons served the army well, so to continue our story....
After the turn of the century the men of the balloon factory began to consider the possibilities of lighter than air dirigibles and Colonel Capper, decided to make use at once of the elongated envelopes made by Templer for the construction of a non-
About 1906 Colonel Templer retired but remained for a few years in an advisory capacity, and Colonel Capper, an old partner of the early days now became Superintendent of the Balloon factory in that same year. Just before he retired Templer had put forward a scheme for the removal of the Balloon Factory from the restricted and enclosed site at Aldershot which had now become quite unsuitable for the development and operation of elongated balloons or airships and the likely event of the coming of the aeroplane. The move to Laffan's Plain, the site of nearby 'common land' was less than a mile away and still within the confines of military Aldershot.
This vast area of common-
The first great event was the imminent flight of the army's first airship. Dirigible No 1, was manoeuvred out of its shed on 10th September, 1907, to make its first flight, piloted by Colonel Capper, and his crew, Captain King and Mr Cody. It says much of the high esteem in which they held San Cody and in his ideas that an American should be asked to participate in this grand adventure.
In September 1907 with Cody at the controls the dirigible 'Nulli Secundus' the first Army airship made a short flight around Laffans Plain. A few weeks later on October 5th, piloted by Col Capper, Lieut. C Waterlow, RE. and S.F. Cody, it flew 35 miles to London at an average speed of sixteen miles an hour. It had been sighted near Woking, then at Weybridge, soon it was over Walton, crossing the Thames at Ditton, where was it going questioned many excited sightseers. That morning the people of London went crazy. The airship passed over St Paul's Cathedral, surely "Nulli Secundus" was making for The Crystal Palace, the Mecca of the aviators and the strange machine was landed on the football ground. Lack of fuel had made this necessary, but what a sensation, Britain at last had a skycraft. After a few days with the weather conditions very gusty and difficult, with a head wind blowing from the west, the dirigible was packed up and sent back to the Laffans Plain shed for further development.
(Sorry but these photographs are unavailable)
1. Technical Transport of horses and men from 24 Transport Squadron RE equipped with G.S, wagons. 1892.
2 The team and tractor outside Balloon House. 1895,
3 Tractor teams ready at Aldershot for shipment to the Cape 1900.
4 Templer designed an operational trailer for field-
Tethered balloon within the R E compound. Colonel Templer and sapper aloft. 1895.
Aerial communication. Sgt-
JAMES L B TEMPLER.
The death was announced of Colonel Templer, early in January 1924, formerly Superintendent of the Balloon School Aldershot, and a great pioneer of Army flying. His death marked the passing away of one who was a great personality in the British Army during the last two decades of the Nineteenth and the early years of the Twentieth Century. He may justly go down to history as a pioneer. Thanks to his unceasing energy and disregard of official lethargy, if not hostility, the potentialities of the air as well of mechanical transport were eventually recognised. It is as a balloonist that he will chiefly be remembered, when with exiguous, and heavy personal outlay which rendered him eventually a far poorer man, he farmed the School of Ballooning at Chatham, from which sections were dispatched to Bechuanaland and Suakin Expeditions in 1885.
The Balloon School was eventually transferred to Aldershot and thanks to his extraordinary mechanical knowledge and flair, managed to equip the School with machines and traction engines that otherwise would have been sold at a loss or have gone to a scrap heap.
Templer's transport nest egg worked wonders during the manoeuvres of 1893 and subsequent years. In fact, its achievements awakened the War Office to the latent possibilities of road-
To close any picture press Alt + Left Arrow