A magnificent Walsall man in his flying machine!

Sidney Webster was a remarkable pilot, prize-winner, war hero and pioneer airman. Image Kindly supplied by Stuart Cowley.

About a million years ago, top pal of the blog and longstanding originator of some great articles for the blog Stuart Cowley sent me details of a Pathe News clip of Walsall flying hero I knew little about:Ft.Lt. Sidney Norman Webster.

This remarkable airman was a real son of Walsall and true adventurer, and a national as well as local hero, both in civilian years and during wartime. He was often referred to as ‘Pebbler’ or the ‘Smiling pilot’.

Wikipedia records:

Sidney Norman Webster was born in Walsall on 9 March 1900 and joined the Royal Air Force in September 1918 and trained as a pilot.[2] He was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1921. In 1927 he was selected as part of the British team to contest the 1929 Schneider Trophy.[1]

Sidney Norman ‘Pebbler’ Webster. Image from Walsall Local.History Centre.

After training Webster and the British team moved to Venice, Italy to prepare for the race against Italy, and the United States. The race was held on 26 September 1927 and was won by Webster flying his Supermarine S.5 single-engined seaplane at an average speed of 281.66 mph (453 km/h).[1] After winning the trophy Webster was awarded a bar to his Air Force Cross.[3]

Webster left the High Speed Flight and after a tour as a flight commander in 1933 he was seconded to the Egyptian Government until 1939.[2]

Webster used his experience of high speed flight as he acted as a liaison officer between the Air Ministry and various aircraft manufacturers in the United Kingdom. In 1944 he moved to the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment as commanding officer.[1]

After the war Webster had two tours of duty with Coastal Command in between he was Air Officer Commanding RAF Hong Kong, he retired in 1950.[2]

You can read more about this remarkable, overlooked local hero in a wonderful article posted on the Walsall Local History Centre blog here or the full article at Wikipedia here. The video Stuart found, which has no sound, was posted on the YouTube account of the Pathe News Archive, and can be seen below.

The film description reads:

In His Home Town. Whole town welcomes Ft.Lt. S.N.Webster who won Schneider Cup for Britain.

Walsall, West Midlands

M/S as crowds in the street wave at a car passing in a cavalcade. It stops at a building. A man in a wig gives speech. Webster, in uniform, stands on a small platform amid the massed crowd. The mayor presents the award or plaque. The crowds cheer and wave hands and hats. It looks like a sunny day. Webster poses, looking rather serious, with his mother.

Thanks to Stuart Cowley for a great spot there, and opening up a bit more of our forgotten history. If you have anything to add, please do: comment here or mail me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.

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3 Responses to A magnificent Walsall man in his flying machine!

  1. Tim Kitchen says:

    A couple of years ago we visited the English Heritage Calshot Castle near Southampton (next to the Sunderland Flying Boats Hanger now used as a velodrome) As we were the only ones there we were chatting with the custodian who asked where we were from? On replying Walsall he said “Well you must know all about Webster?” to which we had to say we had heard of him and knew what he had achieved but not much else. We were then shown a room which was dedicated to an exhibition all about him as it was at Calshot he did his training for the Schneider Trophy. Well worth a visit to learn more about Webster’s life and career.

    • stuart says:

      Thanks for that Tim, worth knowing if I’m ever that way on. It would be nice to think that there was some form of display at one of the local museums. Fascinates me to think that just over 20 years on from the first powered flight our local man was hurtling along at just under 300 mph to win that trophy. You have to put your head in the same mindset of the folk back then to understand what an achievement it must have been, no wonder he drew the crowds back then.

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