O’s Historian Neilson N. Kaufman looks back on the life of former Clapton Orient amateur centre forward and Army Lieutenant Robin Jaques who was killed in an air crash on 8 August 1923 and why his headstone at the Grantham Cemetery grave side was only unveiled 92 years after his death on 8 August 2015…
(Photo courtesy of John Paul Jacques)
Having struggled to find much information on him when I first started my book with Alan Ravenhill ‘The Men who Made Leyton Orient’ in 1999, the internet was not as good as it is today. I was very interested to have been informed about some recent articles on the unveiling of Jaques head stone. It must be said that like all other football historians we all had his surname as Jacques, the reason being was because his son, also named Robin, a famous illustrator of novel’s and children’s books and daughter Josephine ‘Hattie’ to become a much-loved English actress both later added a ‘c’ into their surname (Jacques), in order to make it sound more French, both have since died.
In order to find out more about Robin Jaques I contacted the Vice Chairman of the Lincolnshire Family History Society Peter Reichelt, who has played a key role in finding Jaques grave and two years commissioning a headstone and Andy Merriman author of the biography on Hattie Jacques and both proved to were very helpful.
Reichelt informed me: “I first came across the story of Robin Jaques back in April 2013 when doing some research on local aircraft at the Lincolnshire Archives and found a short peice of his air crash. I then did some research at the Grantham Cemetery and came across his grave without a headstone, which annoyed me.”
“I got the local newspapers and radio and an ex-RAF man Graham Wheat involved and the two of us set up the Robin Jaques Memorial Fund and asked for donations for a headstone, many people and groups helped and finally in August 2015 the headstone was unveiled in a service conducted by Canon Brian Lucas, the Archdeacon Emeritus of the Royal Air Force.
On Saturday 13 August 2016, the grave and headstone was re-dedicated with a Spitfire fly over at 1.30pm, in attendance were Grantham people, Members of the Lincolnshire Family History Society and his grandson John Paul Jacques, when the Spitfire went over, John just looked up and said, ‘Wow, that’s wonderful.’
Merriman sent me some extracts from his book and a newspaper cutting of Jaques, when captaining the Army football team, shaking hands with the Duke of York.
Robin Rochester Jaques was born in Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 9 January 1897 to Joseph, a billiard room manager, he was later he become a brewer’s traveller, and Florence (nee King), he was the eldest of eight children.
After leaving school Robin became a Private in the Middlesex Regiment and later obtained a commission into the Army and served in the Army Educational Corp. He was posted to France on 18 June 1917 and reached the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Royal Scots Fusiliers and was awarded the British War and Victory medals. In 1920 he married 20- year old Mary Adelaide Thorne at the St Luke’s Church in Chelsea and the couple lived in Sandgate, Kent.
Jaques was a fine athlete and played centre forward for the Army, the Corinthian Club on numerous occasions and for Folkestone and in later years he played for RAF West Norwood in the Isthmian League.
During March 1921 Lieutenant R.R. Jaques captained the Army versus Chelsea to celebrate the opening of a new sports command ground at Woolwich. He was pictured before the match in the Daily Mirror shaking hands with the Duke of York, later King George V1. The following month he represented the Army versus the French Army, scoring in a 5-1 victory.
Clapton Orient manager Peter Proudfoot was desperate to find a centre forward who could score goals, his team had netted just four goals from the first eight League games. He was informed about Jaques and went to watch him play for the Army versus the FA at Aldershot on Wednesday 4 October 1922 and was very impressed with his dashing and forceful style of play. Both men met after the match and Jaques jumped at the offer to play for the O’s.
Centre forward Lieutenant R.R. Jaques made his debut three days later at Millfields Road against Leeds United and scored on debut netting the opener from a corner kick floated in by winger Owen Williams in a 3-0 victory to the delight of manager Proudfoot and the 14 500 crowd. The following week he played in a 0-0 draw at Leeds. He then appeared in a 2-2 home draw against the Wednesday (later Sheffield Wednesday), netting the equaliser with a fine shot from a pass by Clatworthy ‘Charlie’ Rennox. His final game came in the return fixture in Sheffield on 28 October but he sustained an injury in the 4-1 defeat and left the club to return to his Army duties.
On 3 April 1923, he was posted to the 100 Squadron as a Flying Officer in the RAF, based at Spittlegate, Grantham in Lincolnshire and the family moved to a tiny cottage in Newton, near Folkingham. He signed amateur forms with Fulham in July 1923 by their manager Phil Kelso and hoped to be in the starting line-up for the first Division Two game on 25 August against South Shields (it was another former O’s player James McKay, joining later in November 1924, who played at centre forward that day, Fulham lost 2-3 before 22,000 Craven Cottage fans).
He was soon under instruction and embarked on flying missions being trained by qualified RAF Pilots. On the morning of Wednesday 8 August 1923, six months after he had joined-up and with around thirty hours of flying training under his belt, although being quite capable in taking a plane out on his own, he took off on a solo trip in an AVRO 504 plane.
He was flying at a few thousand feet when he attempted some difficult acrobatic manoeuvers, the aircraft stalled and he lost control the plane swerved sideways and it crashed at 11.45am in a field between Cold Harbour and Old Somerby, Jaques was killed instantly leaving his wife, three-year old son Robin and eighteen-month old daughter Josephine.
Jaques was buried in an unmarked grave at Grantham Cemetery two days after the accident with full military honours. His wife was left just £180 and the family moved to her parents in Chelsea.
The Coroner returned a verdict of accidental death but at a later court of inquiry it was found that the crash occurred due to an error in judgement there was no fault with the plane, the report concluded ‘It appeared that Lieutenant Jaques flew his plane in the same way he played his football, in a somewhat adventurous manner.’
And so on behalf of the club and fans alike we thank both Peter Reichelt and Graham Wheat for their wonderful work and to those who contributed a headstone being first laid at his grave during August 2015, 92 years after his death. We say GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.