This article was first published in a book by Ronald Nelson Redman entitled Yorkshire’s Early Flying Days
William Rowland Ding, 1885-1917
WITHOUT question, Ding was a brilliant pilot, and at the time of his premature death he was acknowledged to have flown more types of aircraft than any other British airman. Despite a late start, only taking up professional flying in April 1914, he logged up 35,000 miles in the three months up to the outbreak of war. The son of a clergyman, he was born at the rectory in Alsager, Cheshire, and educated at St. Edmund’s Clergy School, Canterbury, followed by Finsbury Technical College. After a brief career in colliery engineering he took charge at the age of 19 of a London County Council generating station, but soon threw security to the winds and joined B. C. Hucks as his secretary/manager on the famous Blackburn Mercury barnstorming tour. After a £75 course of instruction at Hendon he secured Flying Certificate No. 774 on 27th April, 1914, and four weeks later he was giving flying displays in the Bath area.
Most of his early successes were made in a 40 ft span, crescent-shaped winged Handley Page biplane, powered by a 100 h.p. Anzani engine, owned by T. Lindsay Bainbridge. Headlines were made on 21st May when he piloted the first royal flight, transporting Princess Ludwig of Lowenstein Wertheim (the former Lady Anne Savile), swathed in expensive black furs, across the Channel. She was so taken with the experience, she booked a course of flying lessons.
During the summer he flew regularly from Harrogate Stray, at times in friendly rivalry with Harold Blackburn, also performing well with his Avro 504 biplane. Despite a five guinea flight price tag, not all aspiring Yorkshire flyers could be accommodated by Ding, and many had to be content with signing their autographs all over the biplane.
Northallerton Carnival booked Ding as star attraction on 30th July. His arrival was none too smooth, and a broken nose ensued, but undeterred he sent a postcard after the crash to his wife with the words ‘It’s a good thing it didn’t happen when you were in it — Love from Rowley’ written on it.
A less spectacular but worthwhile venture was the formation of the Northern Aircraft Co Ltd’s Seaplane School at Bowness on Windermere, in which Ding was a partner and chief instructor. The splendid prospectus detailed the course which for a fee of £75 would give students the opportunity of becoming not aeroplane chauffeurs but pilots! The lake offered ideal conditions for flying, its 12 mile length allowing a 10 mile straight flight over water. Of the four floatplanes used, one of the best was a converted Blackburn Mercury.
After his setback at the controls of the Blackburn Type L seaplane, when it crashed at Speeton, Ding soon started test flying for Blackburns from Brough and Roundhay, Leeds, as well as for the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Co at Thornbury, Bradford. Apart from all his Government test work, during April 1915 he took delivery of his own private Blackburn two-seater monoplane ‘The White Falcon’. Something of a mystery plane, it was built at the same time as the B.E. 2c biplanes and had many component parts of the Government designed plane. Ding was appalled at the waste of parts rejected by the A.I.D. Government inspector, and it may be that some of these were used to prove his point about waste in a time of emergency. The White Falcon’ was a popular plane at the Soldiers’ Field, attracting large crowds when flying on good evenings, and many members of the Olympia work¬force were treated to a flight in recognition of their production efforts.
The tragic end came for this popular man on Saturday, 12th May, 1917, at about 6 p.m., in the sight of about 1,000 horrified spectators, on what should have been just another routine B.E. 2c test flight. He had survived five bad smashes, but, in hindsight, it now looks as if the biplane was rather over enthusiastically put through its paces and was seen to fly almost vertically, minutes before it finally fell, gyrating from the sky at a terrific speed. It was all over in less than half a minute when the plane crashed on a fence which separated a field from a footpath known as Loner’s Lane which ran from Oakwood Lane to North Lane.There was an immediate explosion and only the swift action of a Major Secker-Walker, who was first on the scene, saved the pilot’s body from being consumed by the flames. Little remained of the plane to indicate the cause of the accident, but the air speed indicator was jammed at 150 knots.
Inevitably, the jury had to return a verdict of accidental death, a possibility which Ding had faced every day of his flying career, and he once confessed to his mother, ‘If I am killed, you will always know that I have done my duty for the advancement of aviation and my duty to my country, and if I have to go, I would prefer that sudden ending to a lingering bed of sickness.’ He got his last wish, but what a pity it had to be at such an early age. His death shocked the Blackburn labour force and soon a subscription fund was started to mark his association with the company, resulting in a 2 ft square bronze plaque bearing an artist’s impression of the head of the aviator. It hung on the works gate until 1946, when it was offered to Ding’s daughter, Mrs. Aphra Burley, with the intention of giving it to his old school at Canterbury. It was packed, crated and despatched, but has never been seen since. It never reached its destination and all attempts to trace it have been in vain.