Like many family historians searching record collections, there are times when reading through the names in a set of parish records I stop short. In among the countless Johns and Mary Anns I may occasionally come across an unusual baptismal name recorded in the registers that makes me smile. Whether the child grew up thankful for this gift of a rather different Christian name, especially as they reached school age and met children blessed with more common names, is another matter altogether.
Recently, while looking at the newly released Nuneaton & North Warwickshire Family History Society parish records on TheGenealogist, I came across an entry in 1894 for a baptism in Nuneaton, St Mary’s. It was for a boy called Hereward – what made me smile was that if this boy was named after ‘Hereward the Wake’, an 11th century leader of local resistance to the Norman conquest of England, then his Norman-heritage surname of De Havilland certainly created something of a balance to this.
The exotically-named Hereward De Havilland was the third son of the Reverend Charles De Havilland, the vicar of the Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin in Nuneaton at the time of the boy’s birth. His mother was Alice Jeannette ‘Nettie’ Saunders. Hereward had two older brothers, Ivon and Geoffrey, who had been born in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire and two elder sisters, Ione and Gladys, both of whom had, like Hereward, been born in Nuneaton.
Even though their father was a clergyman, and the son of a clergyman, engineering was the calling for his two eldest sons. Both Ivon and Geoffrey headed towards automotive design and construction after their schooling, while Hereward shared a love of aviation with Geoffrey and was destined to become a pilot. In the First World War, Hereward De Havilland flew many missions and was decorated for his military flying skills. Middle brother Geoffrey, of course, would carve out a very special place in British plane manufacturing history as the designer of a number of excellent flying machines and would eventually establish the De Havilland Aircraft Company in 1920.
By researching the De Havillands in the Armorial Families Volume 1 on TheGenealogist, we can learn that the family seat was Havilland Hall in the Channel Island of Guernsey. We can discover that the branch that we are following is descended from a clergyman, the Rev Charles Richard de Havilland, who was a younger son of the senior line in the early 1820s.
Turning next to the Burke’s History of Landed Gentry, another resource provided on TheGenealogist, we now discover that the De Havillands are an ancient Guernsey family who take their name from the fiefs of Haverland that are situated near Valogne, across the water from the Channel Island on the nearby French mainland. As the progenitors of the Guernsey family were lords in the Cotentin peninsular, around 1050, they would have owed allegiance to their overlord - William, Duke of Normandy. That being the case then it would seem quite likely that Hereward’s ancestors were part of the army of Norman Conquerors that his namesake had fought so hard against.
Over 830 years on from when the conquest took place, and three years after the birth of his third son, in 1897, the Rev Charles De Havilland and his family would move from Nuneaton to a rural parish in the south of England. After having spent 14 years as the vicar of the Abbey Church of St Mary in Nuneaton the clergyman now became the rector of the rural parish of St Michael’s in Crux Easton, Hampshire. It was here that he would remain as the incumbent until his death occurred in May 1920.
By using the census records we can pick up on the 16-year-old Hereward – he was enumerated in Dover as a boarder at his school in 1911. He is also to be found in the educational records on TheGenealogist, where several entries occur for him in the Dover College Register.
Hereward’s elder brother Geoffrey had, by 1911, already started out on his illustrious aviation career. A look at the list of Royal Aero Club Members, from within the Occupational records on TheGenealogist, shows us that Geoffrey De Havilland had obtained his flying credentials in 1910 when, at that time, he was awarded certificate number 53. We can also see that Hereward was to gain his own R Ae C certificate in 1913, to join his brother in the skies.
Another record that we can turn to is the Who’s Who in British Aviation and Directory 1918. It reports that in 1912 Geoffrey was to break an altitude record for an aviator with a passenger. When flying over Salisbury Plain, with a Major Sykes as his passenger, he took his biplane up to the altitude of 10,500 feet. Geoffrey De Havilland’s record was to be surpassed the next year by the chief test pilot of Sopwiths, Harry Hawker, whose name was also destined to go down in the hall of aviation history.
While examining the various returns from The Flying Book, in the section entitled War Aeroplanes we can see a full page description including a line drawing of the De H 5 that allows us to understand something of the admiration in which the aircraft designed by Geoffrey De Havilland were held at that time. The publication describes the aircraft as “A large two-seater biplane designed by Captain de Havilland. One of the finest machines of its type in the world.”
Havilland was at first appointed an inspector of aircraft for the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate in January 1914. He missed his design work, however, and so in May he was recruited to become the chief designer at the Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited (Airco), in Hendon. He drafted the plans for many aircraft for Airco, all of which were designated by his initials as with the De H 5 example that we found above. In the First World War, a significant number of De Havilland-designed aircraft were flown by the Royal Flying Corps, in which his brother served.
We are able to see in the records that, at the beginning of the war, Hereward had joined the Royal Flying Corps as a 2nd lieutenant in the Special Reserve and became a flying officer. The term ‘flying officer’ was originally used in the RFC as a flying appointment for junior officers and was not a rank until some time later when the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service amalgamated to become the Royal Air Force.
Hereward De Havilland flew in various air campaigns in Europe and the Middle East in World War I and went on to reach the rank of Major. On 10 March 1917 he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for distinguished service in the field in Mesopotamia.
After the war, in 1920, Geoffrey established the De Havilland Aircraft Company and his younger sibling, Hereward, joined the company as well, moving to Australia to set up the Australian subsidiary of the family business.
By using TheGenealogist we can find entries in the 1938 edition of Who’s Who in Aviation. These give us more interesting details on the founder of the company, his brother Hereward in Australia, and also Geoffrey’s son - who had joined the company by this time. This information is very useful in order to add background to the family story that we are building up on the De Havillands. It confirms which educational establishments that they attended and also gives us their addresses at the time of the publication in 1938.
By clicking through to another result within the same records, this time for the company itself, we find some useful background information on the business. This lists the other subsidiaries that De Havillands operated, plus the places that it had established bases. These ranged from Hatfield in Hertfordshire and Edgware in Middlesex, to its two flying schools – one at Hatfield and the other in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
The De Havillands, of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, certainly made their mark on the world of aviation, making sure that their illustrious Norman name would become synonymous with British engineering wherever De Havilland planes took to the sky. Until recently they still graced passenger airliners from the Comet to the Canadianmade Dash 8s.
From an unusual Christian name, found in the parish records, to Occupational records, Landed Gentry and Military records, TheGenealogist has enabled me to accumulate a large amount of background on the De Havilland brothers without having to look beyond its collections.