Rear Admiral Sir Mark Edward Frederic Kerr was a proper sort of British gentleman, the son of an admiral, and who moved in royal circles. Apparently, he was also a bad poet. Kerr was an admiral at the start of the First World War, and received his pilot chit on 14 July 1914, testing after a total of 82 minutes in the air. He was the first flag officer of the Royal Navy to learn to fly.

Photo of Major Brackley, Admiral Mark Kerr, and Major Gran
From Brackley 1938

Flying by Kerr
Quietly stealing across the blue sky,
Out-pacing the Eagle the Air-craft will fly;
Caring for nothing in Heaven and Earth,
For this is a new life come into birth.

Quoted in Rowe 1977

Kerr’s team arrived later than most of the entries, and decided to attempt their flight out of Harbour Grace, whereas the other entries were out of Trepassey, St. John’s, and what is now part of Mount Pearl.

The Atlantic sitting in the runway and three men in the foreground.
The Atlantic moving across the Harbour Grace runway, VA 67-32.3 The Rooms

His team consisted of Major Herbert George “Brackles” Brackley as navigator, Major Jens Tryggve Harman Gran, a Norwegian born RAF pilot and member of Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, Mr R. Wyatt, Wireless Operator, Lieutenant Colonel E.W. Steadman, Assembly Engineer, Major G.T. Taylor, Meteorological Officer, and twelve mechanics. The team mostly consisted of men of high military and social ranking and as such, were the favourites of the elite in England to win the Atlantic Air Race and the Daily Mail prize.

A house on rollers being moved to clear the airfield
Relocation of a house in preparation for the Handley Page airfield, VA 67-1.1 The Rooms

Kerr’s team would be flying the largest biplane in the world. He had a four-engine Handley-Page U-1500 Belin bomber called Atlantic. The aircraft arrived in 105 crates, some described as “large enough to be used as houses” (Parsons and Bowman 1983). The crates arrived on the RMS Digby to St. John’s, and were sent by rail to Harbour Grace. The crew ate and drank at the Crosbie Hotel (whereas the other aviators were at the Cochrane) before moving on to Harbour Grace. The crew boarded in people’s homes in the town. The crates were large enough that it was difficult to transport them, but that was solved by using the wheels from the aircraft to wheel the crates along the field. Once assembled, the aircraft weighted 14 tons and had to be pulled by a steam tractor.

A man standing next to the wheels of the aircraft Atlantic. The wheels are almost the height of him.
The wheels of the Atlantic, VA 67-16.2 The Rooms

Harbour Grace had to airfield at the time, and a runway was cleared at the east end of town, between the railway track and the harbour, parallel to Water Street, near St. Francis School. To build the 900 yards long and 100 yards wide runway, several small farms and gardens separated by rock pile fences and even houses, had to be dismantled. Some of the land had been in the families for years, but folks seemed willing to sell their land for the runway. The created field became known as “Handley Page on the Sea”.

It wasn’t one field, but a series of gardens and farms, with rock walls between them. These all had to be considerable obstructions, a barracks, which had to be destroyed. Gangs of men carried out this work and then, when all was cleared, a heavy roller, drown by three horses and weighed down with several hundred pounds of iron bars, eliminated the hummocks. The result, after a month, was a bumpy aerodrome

Joseph R. Smallwood, quoted in Rowe 1977
Cockpit of the aircraft, with the name Atlanticf visible, in a makeshift hangar.
Cockpit of the Atlantic, VA 67-26.4 The Rooms

On a test flight, the aircraft left Harbour Grace in early June, and took 23 minutes to reach St. John’s, flew over, and returned to Harbour Grace. The test showed that there were issues with the engine’s cooling system that needed to be fixed. The flight did add some urgency to Alcock and Brown and the Vicker’s Vimy team to make the attempt. The urgency was unnecessary as Kerr had to order new parts from England, and the first that arrived did not fit.

Biplane flying over Harbour Grace with church spires in the background
Handley Page Atlantic test flight 1919, from the Conception Bay Museum

This wasn’t Kerr’s only time in St. John’s (besides his arrival). He had a Rolls Royce leant to him by the Reid family, and would make the occasional trip from Harbour Grace to St. John’s where he would interact with the other aviators.

Before Kerr could attempt the transatlantic flight, Alcock and Brown made the successful flight across the Atlantic, winning the Daily Mail prize. Kerr wanted to attempt the Atlantic, but was ordered to quit the transatlantic attempt, but to instead tour the aircraft in the United States. Kerr attempted to arrange his visit to New York with the arrival of the R-34 on its east to west flight. The Reids were there to see the plane off (Brackley misspells them as Reeds). During the flight, Kerr exchanged wireless messages with the R-34.

Working attaching the wings to the aircraft. Wood and crates are still visible under the aircraft and workers are working on the wings.
Positioning the wings on the Atlantic, VA 67-23 The Rooms.

The team left Harbour Grace for New York on 4 July 1919. On the way to New York, the engine started to overhead. There was a loud crack, the engine stopped, and as piece of metal went through the fuselage., which forced them down. In Parrshoro, Nova Scotia, they landed heavily on a small racetrack and destroyed the fuselage and damaged the tail. It took until October to repair the damage and continue to journey to New York. The aircraft was damaged again when it landed in Cleveland while en route to Chicago, and it was decided that the tour should be canceled and the aircraft was dismantled and shipped back to England. Parsons and Bowman (1983) speculate that there might have been a serious malfunction or defect which was a major factor in the cancellation of the tour.

Three men standing in front of the biplane Atlantic. The propellers are spinning and blurred in the picture.
The Atlantic with the engines started, VA 67-29.4 The Rooms

Sources:
Brackley, H.E.
1938 Newfoundland to New York, 1919. The Aeroplane, p. 533.
Parsons, B. and B. Bowman
1983 The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.
Rowe, P.
1977 The Great Atlantic Air Race. McClelland and Stewart Ltd.: Toronto.
Will, G.
2008 The Big Hop: The North Atlantic Air Race. Boulder Publications: PCSP.

There is a fantastic collection of photographs available at the Rooms of the Handley Page called the Kerr-Brackley Photograph Collection

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I worked in Fredericton, New Brunswick, for a year and a half as an archaeologist with the province. After much consideration, I decided to leave my job, and return to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. It was not an easy choice, but an important one for my physical and mental health. While in Fredericton, I did not have much time to do any aviation research into the area, or much research at all for that matter, but did happen upon a little aviation history while writing a report on the area of Barkers (or Barker’s) Point, a community that has amalgamated into the greater Fredericton area. Unfortunately, there are holes in this research as I could not get to the provincial archive before I left, so am relying on what little I found in a couple of books about the Fredericton area in the Fredericton and Oromocto libraries and the internet.

Map of Fredericton including Barkers Point (GoogleEarth 2019).

Saint John and Moncton had airports in the 1930s, but Fredericton only had aviation use as being on a List of Airharbours Available for Use. A site in Embleton, west of the city, was considered between 1930 and 1932, as was an area in Nashwaaksis for a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan aerodome in 1936, and the R.H. Carten property on Maryland Hill, but neither project happened, mostly due to the anticipated costs.

The airfield was built in 1941 with the efforts of Frederick William Hartwick, and the small airfield was established for light aircraft and daytime use. The Hardwicks purchased a farmer’s field and some surrounding properties in Barkers Point, a community mostly known for farming and logging. Harwick was a pilot who worked in Saint John where he flew mail between there and Fredericton during the 1920s and 1930s. He did attempt to establish a mail and passenger route to his airfield, but the site was determined to not be suitable.

From a 1985 topographic map showing the location of a private airport in Barkers Point.

Like many pilots of the time, he was also a flight instructor, an aircraft maintenance engineer, and could rebuild engines and airframes. In his move to Fredericton, he brought with him two DeHavilland Gypsy Moths and a Piper J-3 Cup. Once established, Hartwick, with his wife, Sarah, and his son from a previous marriage, Percy, lived in a farmhouse on the airfield property and used a hay barn as an airport hangar. During the winter, the Hartwicks would move to North Devon, and would offer flights off the frozen Saint John River for $2 a flight.

The marriage record of Frederick William Hartwick and Sarah Brown, married on 09 December 1937. Note the Hartwick’s occupation is listed as Flying Club Instructor (PANB 2019).

With the presence of the airfield, Paul Horncastle and Fred Butland, students at the Fredericton High School, organized a number of their fellow students to establish an air cadet squadron in the area. In January 1943, #333 was launched, and the students spent time at the Barkers Point Airfield under the instruction of Hartwick and working with the airfields Hawker Hurricane. In the summer, the Barker’s Point Flying Club was started, but its activity was limited due to wartime fuel restrictions.

Barkers Point Airfield in the late 1940s. From Jones and Jones 2007.

In 1944, several Lysanders few over Fredericton. One had engine issues, and used the Barker’s Point Airfield as an emergency landing. The soft, packed gravel and long grass airstrip caused the aircraft to roll and flip over. I tried to find more information about this incident, but without luck. The aircraft was dismantled and removed by the Air Force (I assume in this case the RCAF, but also could not find one that had been struck off or sent for repair after an incident in Fredericton). Jones and Jones 2007 also state there is a photograph of the incident, but it is not included in the book. Any further information would be appreciated.

Hartwick leased the airfield to James Sturgeon in 1945, who also purchased Hartwick’s three aircraft. Adding to his aviation business, Sturgeon had the dealership for the Fleet Canuck, the Seabee, and the Stinson planes. He used seven Fleet Canuck aircraft, including what was supposedly the first to come off the assembly line, as part of a training school. New hangars were added to Barkers Point, and his dealership sold aircraft throughout Quebec and the Maritimes. In 1946, Hartwick’s licence was transferred to Sturgeon. In that same year, Sturgeon offered chartered flights, demonstrations, and training for pilots and engineers. The airfield became a year-round operation, with three jeeps used to keep the runway clear in the winter.

In 1947, on January 24, a fire broke out in the main hanger. This destroyed three Fleet Canucks and two Cirrus Moths as well as four motors, some tools, and all of the office flying records. In the worst of luck, the fire destroyed the telephone line, making it impossible to call the fire department.

The University of New Brunswick Flying Club had a hangar at the airfield which they rented from Sturgeon. Most of the staff were former RCAF pilots who worked as instructors. The first official UNB flight took place on 29 January 1947. Luckily, their hangars were not touched by the fire a few days previous. The first flight was flown by Flight Club president and former RCAF bomber pilot, Thomas Prescott, and UNB President Milton F. Gregg. Faculty and students were present to witness the event. With the Flying Club, UNB became the first Canadian university to have its own aircraft.

From Jones and Jones 2007

In the spring of the year, Sturgeon’s part of the Barkers Point Airfield had recovered from the fire and had added Maritime Central Airways Limited, a mail and passenger service between Fredericton and the rest of Canada. Maritime Central Airways scheduled operations with the Lockheed 10 using Barkers Point in the fall of 1948.

In April 1949, Barkers Point Airfield was taken over by Gaetano Digiacinto, but he allowed the airfield licence to expire in the following year and never returned it. The airfield was left to become farmland. In 1947, the site for the current Fredericton Airport, in Lincoln, was chosen. In fact, Sturgeon was asked to assist with the surveying for the new airfield. Other potential airport sites were investigated in the 1940s, including a 1943 survey near Rusagonis and a 1945 survey in Lincoln. The land for the Lincoln site was expropriated in 1948 and work began that same year.

An aerial view of Barker’s Point from 1966, after the airfield closed (Jones and Jones 2007).

Sources
Jones, T. and A. Jones
2007 Historic Fredericton North. Halifax: Nimbus Publishing Ltd.

Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.
2019. Vital Statistics from Government Records. Accessed 05 September 2019.

YFC
2019. History of the Airport. Aeroport international de Fredericton International Airport. Accessed 05 September 2019.

There is a facebook post with some interesting, but uncited, photos here. While they look to be from the New Brunswick Barkers Point, there was also an airfield in Toronto with a similar name.


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