Born Adventurer: The Life of Frank Bickerton, Antarctic Pioneer

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He shot down two German aircraft and was credited as being one of the first men to demonstrate that the Sopwith Camel could be flown as a night fighter. He was also a friend of author Vita Sackville-West and was the model for the character of Leonard Anquetil in her novel, 'The Edwardians' Published by Sutton Publishing. Home Explore the BBC.

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Bickerton serving in the RAF in France, This discovery was the first step in establishing the continent as one of the planet's most important meteorite fields. Frank Bickerton died in Wales in This party would remain in Antarctica until the ship's eventual return on 12 December Shackleton intended to take a number of motor-driven sledges on his expedition, including one very similar in design to the converted REP monoplane. As the only man ever to have attempted the use of such a machine in Antarctica, Bickerton's expertise was second-to-none and his application was accepted.

Shortly after the party's return from Norway, Britain declared war on Germany and Bickerton decided to abandon any plans for a return to Antarctica and instead joined the Army. He soon applied for an officer's commission, however, and in April , he joined the 7th Service Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment as a platoon commander in D Company under Captain G.

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The Battalion crossed to France on 31 May and a few days later took up a position near Armentieres on the River Leys. It was here, on 28 June, that the Battalion lost its first officer , Captain John Bussell , Bickerton's brother-in-law, being shot through the head during an inspection of the trenches. The Battalion then played a minor role in the Battle of Loos during September with most of its casualties being suffered by D Company.

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In May , Bickerton volunteered to serve as an aerial gunner and observer with the Royal Flying Corps. This period formed the basis for the novel Wings of the Morning written by Patrick Garland , the theatre director and son of Ewart Garland.

Throughout July , 10 Squadron supported ground troops during the Battle of the Somme and on 31 July, Bickerton received his first wound of the war, a piece of shrapnel piercing his flying jacket and wounding him in the shoulder. On 16 August, he was injured again, far more seriously. With flying made impossible by low cloud cover, Bickerton and other officers experimented with a home-made anti-aircraft gun. During the experiments, the gun exploded, practically severing both of Bickerton's thumbs and tearing open his right cheek.

From August to February , Bickerton recuperated in England. After a brief spell as a temporary instructor at Upavon, he joined 70 Squadron at Estree Blanche on 21 July In the following weeks, Bickerton and his colleagues saw constant action and Bickerton claimed two victories: It was also during this period 3 September that Bickerton became one of the first men to use the Sopwith Camel as a night-fighter. Finally, on 20 September, during an attack on three barrage balloons, he was again seriously wounded by a bullet which passed through his thigh and amputated the little finger of his left hand.


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As a result, Bickerton was again invalided home. Bickerton's final injuries of the war were suffered in May , when he was serving as a test pilot at the Aeroplane Experimental Station at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk. On 18 May, he was testing bomb-aiming equipment in a Vicker's Vimy bomber. When the aeroplane suffered simultaneous failure in both its engines, forcing Bickerton to attempt a crash-landing.

Frank Bickerton

The resulting smash destroyed the aeroplane and left Bickerton with concussion and broken fingers. Having heard what Wild called "wondrous accounts of the possibility of making rapid and colossal fortunes in Portuguese East Africa by growing tobacco", the three men planned to become farmers. Having found the Portuguese authorities "impossible" they moved on to Fort Johnstone in British Nyasaland where they cleared acres 1.

During this process, however, Bickerton contracted malaria and was forced to return to Europe. Having spent some time in Paris with his friend, the artist Cuthbert Orde , he travelled in Newfoundland, where he joined a colony of ex-pats established by Antarctic veteran Captain Victor Campbell.

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During the late s, Bickerton regularly travelled between Newfoundland and England, combining the lives of a Canadian backwoodsman with that of a fashionable party-goer in the London of the Roaring Twenties. It was during this period that the novelists Stella Benson and Vita Sackville-West both became acquainted with the explorer. The former fell passionately in love with Bickerton and asked him to become the father of her child an honour which Bickerton declined , while the latter took Bickerton as the model for Leonard Anquetil, the hero of her best novel, The Edwardians In , Bickerton abandoned his farm in Newfoundland and decided to invest capital in a company founded by the American equestrian and golfing champion, Marion Hollins.

Ultimately, he would become heavily involved in the development of the Pasatiempo Country Club in Santa Cruz , working closely with both Hollins and the world-famous golf-course designer, Dr Alister MacKenzie. It was also during this period that Bickerton commenced what would ultimately become a disastrous love-affair with Marion Hollins's niece, Hope Hollins.