H. H. Thomas (1886 - 1918)

HH Thomas

Henry Haberfield Thomas was born in Bristol on 12th May 1886. In 1909 he joined the Bristol Aircraft Company until 1914 when he moved to Farnborough to work as a design draughtsman in the Royal Aircraft Factory. In 1916 he was appointed chief airplane designer to Saunders on the Isle of Wight. Before leaving Farnborough he was presented with a mahogany mantle clock, inscribed: 'Presented to HH Thomas, by his friends on the drawing office staff, Royal Aircraft Factory, to record their appreciation of his good fellowship and his fearless defence of their liberties.'

At Saunders, Henry Thomas designed, from scratch, a two-seater Fighter Plane - the Thomas or T1. He accompanied its RFC pilot on its maiden flight - out over the Solent and back over the house in which his wife, Martha Paterson, had just been delivered of their first and only child. On landing, he was memorably sick. A second T1 was built but, following the Armistice in November 1918, plans for mass production were terminated. Henry Thomas also designed a very large sea plane bomber, 'The Great Britain' (named after his hero, I K Brunel's ship). A drawing of this plane exists (with basic specifications) but it is unclear if a prototype was constructed - he was also involved in plans to develop a major sea-plane facility at Portland in Dorset.

He had many friends amongst the pioneer aviators (AV Roe at Southampton: and Claude Grahame-White, whose wedding he attended in June 1912 - the menu signed by all the flyers there). Henry Thomas had a special interest in propellers and was developing plans to replace wood-frames with aluminium frames. During 1917/18 he prepared four patents on improvements in Radiator Blinds, Aerofoils and Wing Structures, Stranded Cables, and a Book of Tables specially intended for the use of designers and draughtsmen engaged in Aviation Work.

In October 1918 Henry Thomas caught Spanish Flu. He was confined to bed and after a week with a raging temperature, during which he repeatedly 'declaimed a lecture on 'Propellers' to draughtsmen in Southampton', he died on the 17th of October 1918: he was thirty two years old. His body was buried in the East Cowes cemetery, beneath a rectangle of Cornish granite, with the words 'Amore Vincit Omnia' inscribed in lead. After his death both Mr Saunders and Mr Roe were generous to his young widow, and her daughter Muriel Kate Thomas.

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