Chief Mechanic

Service No(s):



Royal Flying Corps; Royal Air Force


Nos 8, 40, 4 and 2 Balloon Squadron



Place of birth:




Date of death:

Cause of death:

Grave or panel reference:

Name of father:

John Gammage

Name of siblings:

Caroline; Emily Louisa; John; George

Name(s) of children:




Date of birth:


Place of enlistment:



Age at death:

Cemetery or memorial:

Other memorial:

Name of mother:

Caroline Elizabeth Gammage (nee Seagars)

Name of spouse:

Edith Maria Gammage (nee Rogers); Anne Elizabeth Gammage (nee Roberts)


1911 Census- 1 Church Crescent, Church End, Finchley


Sydney Herbert Gammage was born on 4 June 1880 in Finchley. His parents were John Gammage, a goldsmith, and Caroline Elizabeth Gammage (nee Seagars). Herbert, as he was known, was the youngest of five children; he had two older sisters, Caroline and Emily Louisa, and two older brothers, John and George. They lived in Cumberland Terrace on Seven Sisters Road with a servant. Most of the children worked in the family firm: Caroline as a clerk, John and George as apprentices, who took over the business after their father’s death in 1899, and Herbert as a traveller.

In 1907 Herbert married Edith Maria Rogers, a board school teacher from Chalk Farm, in Holy Trinity, Haverstock Hill. He is described as a goldsmith and diamond merchant, living in Regents Park Road, Church End, Finchley. Edith’s father was a carver and gilder. Herbert and Edith had a daughter, Vera, the following year and moved to 1, Church Crescent, Church End, Finchley, employing a general domestic servant. Herbert is listed at this address as a member of New Court Chapel in 1921. His occupation in the 1911 census is given as wholesale manufacturing jeweller, commercial traveller.

In June 1916, at 36 years of age, Herbert enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), the air arm of the British army. From newspaper reports of Finchley War Tribunal, it appears that he initially appealed against conscription on grounds of hardship, claiming that his wife was ill. However, once enlisted, he moved speedily through the ranks and became one of the few Non-Commissioned Officers commemorated in the chapel.

In July Herbert was posted to France, serving as Aircraftsman 2 with No 8 Balloon Squadron, who were based at Vert Galand. Balloons (also known as airships), were deployed primarily for reconnaissance purposes, and used by both sides in WW1. Enabling observation of enemy trench lines, troop movements, supplies and artillery fire up to 20 miles beyond enemy lines − a much greater range than from ground level − they were immensely valuable for gathering intelligence, and for spotting artillery in real time. Typically tethered, and linked to the ground by a telegraph wire, the whole operation was extremely dangerous. The two passengers- the commander and observer known as ‘balloonatics’ – unlike pilots, had parachutes; they were supported by a highly trained team of 48 on the ground, who maintained the balloons. Among them was Herbert, whose trade was given as ‘rigger (airship)’. Protecting friendly balloons and destroying enemy ones (known as ‘roasting sausages’), became increasingly important during the course of the war.

In September 1916 Herbert was appointed Aircraftsman 1. In April 1917 he was transferred to No 40 Balloon Squadron based at Bruay, and thence to No 4 Balloon Squadron, based at Chocques, both in France. In May he was promoted to Corporal; in July he was appointed Acting Sergeant, and promoted to Sergeant the following month, returning home in December. He was transferred to the Royal Air Force when it was formed in April 1918 (from a merger of the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service), first as a Sergeant, and then Acting Flight Sergeant but without an increase in pay until he was promoted to Sergeant Mechanic (Acting Chief Mechanic) in July. His final promotion was to Chief Mechanic in September 1918; this made him a senior Non-Commissioned Officer. Herbert was in No 2 Balloon Squadron at Crystal Palace in March 1919, from where he was transferred to RAF G Reserve, and demobilised and discharged the following month. Herbert’s medical category of BII indicated that he was still ‘fit for service abroad’ should that later be required.

By 1925 Herbert and Edith were living in Potters Bar. Their daughter Vera married a timber merchant in Holy Trinity, Brompton in 1929. Ten years later Herbert was living in Ruislip with Anne E Gammage and Edith was living with her daughter and son-in-law in East Barnet. The year after Edith’s death in Amersham in 1945, Herbert married Anne Elizabeth Roberts, 21 years his junior. He died at West Ruislip Underground station in March 1955, aged 74. His second wife, Anne, survived him by a quarter of a century, dying in Highgate, aged 80 in 1981.