Fred Steel 1898-1970


Family Details

John Frederick “Fred” Steel was born 11 September 1899[1] at Stainmore, Westmorland, the son of Watson and Margaret Steel and brother to Joseph William.  In 1901, the family boarded with Watson’s grandfather John Watson, an 80 years old widower and farmer at Middle Dougill, Stainmore, near Appleby, East Westmorland.  Watson, then 24 years old was recorded as a “Mason”.  Marjorie, 25 years old was recorded as “Housekeeper domestic duties”.  Also living there were their 2 children, 2 years old John F. and 7 months old Joseph W.[2]  In 1911, Watson and Marjorie lived at West View, Evenwood where Watson was recorded as a “Grocer and draper”.  Their children John Frederick [aged 12] and Joseph William [aged 10] also lived there.[3]

Military Details [4]

Aged 17, Fred Steel enlisted 12 February 1917 into the Royal Flying Corps, being given the service number 59058.  He served as an Air Mechanic with 29 Squadron.  In April 1918, the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service combined to form the Royal Air Force.  29 Squadron saw action on the Western Front at Somme 1916, Arras 1917, Ypres 1917, Somme 1918 and Lys 1918.  Air Mechanic J.F. Steel was in France and Belgium at this time.[5]

Six months after the Armistice, in May 1919 he was transferred to 206 Squadron which was renumbered 47 Squadron in February 1920.  Air Mechanic Fred Steel was promoted to Leading Aircraftsman [LAC]. In June 1919, 206 Squadron was posted to Egypt to conduct an aerial survey of the River Nile from Luxor to Cairo.  In April 1921, it seems that he was transferred to the RAF Reserve but was immediately recalled for service at the Shotwick Flight Training School, Flintshire, Wales.  He was discharged in February 1925.

Further details are provided below:

  • 12 February 1917: John Frederick Steel enlisted into the Royal Flying Corps [RFC] being given the service number 59058 and was posted to 29 Squadron.
  • 1 April 1918: He was transferred to the Royal Air Force [RAF] when the RFC and Royal Naval Air Service [RNAS] were combined and reorganised. Rank: Air Mechanic 3.
  • 1 January 1919: Classified AC2 Driver
  • 5 May 1919: He was transferred to 206 Squadron which was renumbered 47 Squadron 1 February 1920.
  • 1 February 1920: 47 Squadron. He was promoted to Leading Aircraftsman [LAC]
  • 1 May 1920: Awarded 1st Good Service Badge
  • 15 May 1920: Reclassified Acting Corporal [unpaid]
  • 1 February 1921: Promoted to Corporal
  • 2 March 1921: 47 Squadron Uxbridge “M” Section. Reverted to LAC
  • 12 April 1921: He was recalled from the RAF Reserve
  • 14 April 1921: Shotwick Reserve Pool
  • 15 April 1921: 5 F.T.S. Shotwick [Flight Training School]
  • 11 February 1925: Discharged

In 1918, John Frederick Steel was recorded as “59058 2nd AM RAF”[6] and he was reported as being at home in February 1918 and on leave April 1919.[7]

29 Squadron [8]

This unit was first raised as a reserve squadron, initially equipped with the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c, in November 1915. In early 1916 however No. 29 became the fourth squadron to receive the Airco DH.2 pusher” fighter and arrived in France on 25 March 1916 helping to end the Fokker scourge and establish Allied air superiority in time for the Battle of the Somme.

By late 1916, the DH.2 was outclassed by new German fighters but No. 29 kept its “pushers” until March 1917 when it was re-equipped with Nieuport 17s. These were replaced with later Nieuport types, such as the Nieuport 24bis, as they became available. Due to a shortage of the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a the squadron retained its Nieuports until April 1918 when the squadron finally received the S.E.5a, which it retained for the rest of the war.

2 April 1918: The award of a Victoria Cross to Captain James McCudden of 29 Squadron was gazetted for his “conspicuous bravery, exceptional perseverance and a high devotion to duty”, between August 1917 and March 1918.

October 1918 was a bitter month for the squadron; four of its members died within a fortnight. Claude Melnot Wilson was the first to fall, on 14 October. Lieutenant Henry Coyle Rath collided with another pilot from the same squadron on the 26th. Even as Rath was succumbing to his injuries, Guy Wareing was shot down on the 27th.

After a short period with the army of occupation in Germany, the Squadron returned to the UK in August 1919 and was disbanded on 31 December 1919. The squadron ended the war having claimed 385 victories. Apart from those already mentioned, the 26 aces who served with the squadron included, Edgar O. Amm, Norman Brearley, Sydney Brown, Edgar G. Davies, Francis James Davies, Thomas Sinclair Harrison, D’Arcy Fowlis Hilton, Ernest Charles Hoy, Arthur G. Jones-Williams, Camille Lagesse, William Molesworth, James Dennis Payne, Arthur Reed, Charles G. Ross, Reginald H. Rusby, Alfred Shepherd, Christoffel Venter, Walter Bertram Wood

The Squadron won the following Battle Honours – Western Front 1916-1918, Somme 1916, Arras 1917, Ypres 1917, Somme 1918 and Lys 1918.  Fred Steel served with 29 Squadron for 26 months, from February 1917 to May 1919.

206 Squadron [from 1 February 1920, 47 Squadron] [9]

Following the Armistice, 206 Squadron was used to operate an air mail service for the British occupying army in Germany, before being deployed to HelwanEgypt in June 1919. Fred Steel joined the squadron 5 May 1919.  It was renumbered as 47 Squadron on 1 February 1920.  Further details of the photographic survey of the River Nile is given below:[10]

“An introductory note is probably necessary to give an idea what the Photographic Expedition was for.

The object aimed at, was an Aerial Survey of the River Nile, including all the mud banks and islands etc., or in other words a continuous series of photographs of the complete river bed.  Owing to the heat, all flying was done in the morning starting off at six and returning at nine o’clock, consequently as there were no long flights it was necessary to have a moveable Photographic Base.

For this purpose, the body of Photographic Lorry was removed from the chassis and placed on a flat railway truck which moved between Luxor and Assuit, finally arriving at Helwan Aerodrome [47 Squadron RAF].

The actual working hours of the Photographic Section were between 1130pm to 4.00am.

Work had to be done during these hours as the heat of the day would have melted the films of plates and thus caused trouble and extra work.

The photos were taken with a six inch LB type camera from a height of 14000 ft.

A Ford Car was used for conveying the Pilot, Observer and apparatus to and from the various landing grounds.

The aeroplane used was a De Havilland type 9a fitted with a 400HP Liberty Engine.”

Personnel included LAC V. Cockie, Engine Fitter; ACI T.A. Lucas, Photographer; ACI Duffel, Aeroplane Rigger; ACI A. Stokes, Photographer and ACI A. Thornton, Ford Driver.[11] In March 1921, Fred Steel was back at Uxbridge with 47 Squadron therefore, it is presumed that the Nile Photographic Expedition lasted 21 months, from June 1919 to March 1921.

Shotwick Flight Training School [12]

The school was formed on 26 April 1920 at RAF Shotwick.  It used a variety of aircraft including de Havilland DH.9sAvro 504sSopwith SnipesWestland WapitisAvro TutorsGloster GauntletsWestland WallacesHawker AudaxsHawker HindsFairey BattlesHawker HurricanesNorth American HarvardsMiles MastersAirspeed OxfordsMiles Magisters and de Havilland Tiger Moths.  It was disbanded in April 1942.  It is assumed that Fred Steel was posted here for almost 4 years from March 1921 to his discharge in February 1925.

Post War

Fred Steel returned home to Evenwood and ran the shop in West View.  He passed it on to his nephew John Steel who ran the business into the 1980’s before selling out to the Devgan family.  Fred Steel died in December 1970 aged 72 at Kirkby Stephen, Westmoreland.


[1] RFC/RAF service details

[2] 1901 Census

[3] 1911 census

[4] RFC/RAF service details

[5] Fred Steel’s photographs provide evidence

[6] Absent Voters List 1918

[7] Evenwood Parish Magazine


[9] ttps://,reconnaissance%20unit%2C%20operating%20Airco%20DH9s.

[10] “A Photographic Record of the Aerial Survey OF THE Nile from Luxor to Cairo by 47 Squadron RAF September 1920” an album of photographs in the possession of 59058 LAC J.F. Steel, 47 Squadron RAF

[11] Photographs included in the album of “The RAF Men”



STEEL JF RAF Air Mechanic

Air Mechanic




Dogfight – no notation
September 1918: Harold Crawshaw