by Phill Hubbard



My grandfather led an interesting life. I was the youngest grandchild and for one reason or another, I spent a lot of my childhood living with him. This is a snap shot of what I know.


Will Hubbard was born at the Rope and Anchor, Roomfield Lane, Todmorden, in Feb 1895. His father William died before he was born and his mother was left as the proprietor of the pub. His father's death was reported in the Todmorden press:

31st March 1895 William Hubbard landlord of the Rope & Anchor Inn, Roomfield Lane, died from influenza aged 29 years.


At the age of two his only sibling Gertrude died and his mother Emily (Farrer) married James Bulcock and they moved to Rock Spring House, which is somewhere near the Navigation Inn. They married by licence at St. Peter's in Walsden on 3rd. October 1904. James Bulcock owned the Gauxholme Brewery and raised Will as a Bulcock.


Snow White and the 7 Dwarves - Will is second from right.

This photo was taken about 1905.


At the age of nine, he jumped from the Malt store loft holding an umbrella thinking that he would fly. This resulted in a broken collarbone. By the age of 15 he was attending Manchester Grammar School, and around this time it would appear that he fathered a son. (I would love to get any information on this but I guess it would have been kept quiet in those times, although a letter refers to the fact that he was caring for him, but that is all that I know).

In 1910, while being told off by his mother, she had a haemorrhage and died in front of him. After this, it appears that he reverted to the surname Hubbard and went to live with his Grandfather, John Hubbard. Emily was buried with her first husband and their daughter in a vault at Christ Church, Todmorden. She was 38 years old.

Some time before the out break of the First World War he was arrested for speeding by two constables who apparently were equipped with bicycles and hence were having difficulty catching him each time he speed through the town. The two constables dressed in plain clothes and flagged him down. James Bulcock hired legal council and the result was that Will escaped prosecution. The laws had to be altered because the two constables had committed the crime of holding up a person on the King's Highway, which was punishable by hanging.

When War broke out he joined the Territorials only to desert one week later when he found out that they were to do home defence duties. He then joined the Royal Navy and because of his qualifications as a motor mechanic, he served with Commander Samson in Belgium. At Mons he was wounded while driving Samson on a motorbike and was mentioned in dispatches. In the preparations for the invasion of Gallipoli he fought against the Sanussi in Rolls Royce armoured cars.

Will landed at Cape Hellas on board the ' River Clyde' and served throughout the campaign. In one two-day period they were instructed to take a hill position, which on the first charge resulted in so many dead and wounded that the dead and injured were left where they fell until the next day when the charge was repeated. Will was shot on the first day and lay on the field until the next day when he joined the charge again only to be shot a second time. (I still have an original copy of a personal note given to the officers from Major General Hunter Weston where by "to suffer hardships, privations, thirst and heavy losses, by bullets, by shells, by mines, by drowning they were certain to win through to a glorious victory". It seems sad when you read it today)

In 1916, Will returned to England working on experimental aircraft. He and a South African pilot Captain Bell did some of the first trials on self-ejecting parachutes. Apparently they mounted a tube under the seat with a flap which when opened blew the parachute out behind the observer; this dragged him from the plane. As a young boy, I remember that my grandfather's comments were not complementary about how they were persuaded to volunteer for this.

Will returned to active service in 1917 first flying at night to stop German Gotha bombers attacking London. (I have a copy of the Sunday Herald with his photograph describing the night flyers exploits)

I mentioned Captain Bell because of the life long friendship that their time together created. Captain Bell was the highest scoring air ace for South Africa and the official report lodged by an American pilot tells of how Bell was caught by surprise by a German plane. Will broke off from his engagement to go to his assistance only to see him shot down out of control. My grandfather pursued that plane and eventually shot it down. Bell's photo remained on my grandfather's dresser for the rest of his life.

Will was recorded as shooting down the last plane in WW1. In all he was wounded four times, which resulted in him carrying shrapnel in his body for most of his life. He was shot down four times; twice by the enemy, and twice he shot himself down, which was not uncommon.

For his service he was awarded the DFC and Bar, Mons Star, Defence Medal with nine mentions in dispatches, and the Victory Medal, with a claim of 27 aircraft shot down. From the French he was awarded the Croix de Guerre with nine Palms.

He had an interesting record of different services in which he served.

  • Territorial Forces
  • Royal Navy as a Petty Officer on the President
  • Royal Navy Armoured Cars
  • RNAS
  • RFC
  • RAF

The Todmorden Gazette described him as:

"A bold and determined fighter in the air and against troops on the ground. On 26th. August 1918 he engaged 3 enemy 2-seaters and shot one down out of control. Owing to his pressure pump being shot away in the combat he reached our lines with great difficulty, landing 150 yards west of our front line. Undisturbed by the fact that the machine was under direct observation and subject to heavy fire, he removed all his instruments and pegged the machine down before leaving. In all, up to this time, he has accounted for 5 enemy machines." Later, he was awarded the bar to the D.F.C. and the Croix de Guerre "for numerous successes against the Hun machines, and also for good squadron work."

After the war, Will decided to travel to Australia with Eve and my father Jim. This was to be only for two years because Eve wanted to return to her mother. This unfortunately never took place because her mother died of gangrene poisoning when she caught her breast in a laundry mangle.

Will bought 500 acres of land in the hills 30 miles from Melbourne, but bush fires and the need to send Jim to school put an end to that and he returned to Melbourne to take up a position at General Motors as works manager.

In the thirties he was involved in setting up a rescue expedition to find the explorer Lassiter who went missing in central Australia searching for gold. He built a 45 ft. motor launch, which he called the `Iduno` on account of the fact that he could not think what to call it. He took Zain Grey fishing along the east coast of Australia. Zain Grey caught a number of world record marlin. During the Second World War, he was in charge of repairing all allied planes from the Pacific region. In 1946 he was Chief Engineer at General Motors and was in charge of the development of the Australian car, Holden, that was released in 1948. Will continued to work for General Motors until his retirement in 1964.

He had a number of uncles and two aunts. Ada (Hubbard), Major Dawson who lived in Todmorden and Annie (Farrer) Ratcliffe also from Todmorden who lived to over 100. When he returned to England in 1964 he met most of his uncles and cousins but when he was killed in a car accident in 1969 no one had any contact details so the ties were lost. A list is the only thing that I have to go on as follows:

  • John Hubbard born 26th Nov 1867 had two children Mary and Will
  • James born 15 Nov 1869 lived in Manchester
  • Thomas born 1 Nov 1871 lived in Warwick
  • George born 25 Oct 1873 Died 23 May 1917 (Could have died in the War?)
  • Ada (or Eda) born 21 Dec 1874 lived in Todmorden
  • Charles born 6 April 1881 lived in Birmingham
  • Edward born 8 June 1884 lived in Birmingham

If anyone knows of the descendents of Will's family in England, I would be very pleased to hear from them.


I hope that this little snippet is of interest to people.