Before the First World War, aeroplanes were very much a novelty. When Gustav Hamel brought his 50 horse power monoplane to the Lady Bay end of Boots Athletic Ground on 21 November 1912, a thousand people turned out to see him. He carried out three flights, each lasting between five and ten minutes, with the crowd cheering each time he took off. However, there was some consternation during his second flight when he descended in a rapid glide, pulling out to pass over people’s heads at not more than twenty feet.
But by this time, we already had our own local pioneer aviator. Robert Slack was born at Papplewick in 1886 and lived at various addresses in Nottingham and in West Bridgford. He had been granted his aviator’s certificate by the Royal Aero Club in November, 1911.
Slack soon gained a reputation for carrying out long distance flights, including taking his son (just before his third birthday) with him on a flight to France. Then, in June 1912, he set out to fly a circuit of 1,100 miles: the longest yet attempted in Great Britain. His stopping places were to be Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Blackburn, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff, and Bristol. Our picture shows his arrival at Hendon at the conclusion of his journey.
One newspaper reflected upon the novelty of it all: “Indeed the more we think of it, the more astonishing will be the change wrought in our outlook upon Nature by the coming of the flying machine. Who knows but that one day in a not very distant future we shall all be travelling by aerocab, aerobus, and by aeroship?” By the time he completed the circuit, his aircraft was covered with hundreds of autographs of people who had been out to see him.
Slack, who was living in Exchange Road, West Bridgford at the time, died in a motor accident on 21 December 1913. At his funeral, the floral tribute from the Imperial Air Fleet Committee expressed deep sorrow at “the untimely loss of an intrepid British airman”.
Written by West Bridgford & District History Society.