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RUPERT FORBES-BENTLEY, DECORATED WWI ENGLISH AIRMAN, in MALTA

Covers addressed to Forbes-Bentley have been seen on several websites and he was found to be an early English flier, a decorated airman in World War I, as well as a stamp collector, who made a new life in Malta. The first seen was a 1930 airmail cover from Victoria with the green 3d airmail stamp and the red 1½d Centenary of Western Australia swan stamp. It was addressed to Mr. R. Forbes-Bentley, Birchircara, Malta, and the reverse was not seen not seen (Figure 1).

The second was an air mail long cover, registered at Brisbane with a block of 7 violet airmail 6d stamps, a single copy of the blue 3d airmail stamp, both depicting Kingsford Smith’s flight in the Southern Cross as well as a single red 2d KGV Head stamp, a total postage of 3 shillings and 11 pence. The stamps were cancelled with a REGISTERED/ BRISBANE in 1931, and the cover was addressed as before. There was a manuscript ‘By Second Experimental Air Flight Australia - England’ (Figure 2).

The reverse had the same REGISTERED/ 15 MY 31/ BRISBANE originating postmark, a transit Cairo in English and arabic as well as an illegible oval Malta reception cancel as well as a small oval ‘34' handstamp (Figure 3).

The third cover has a right upper marginal block of 4 blue and olive 2d stamps depicting the figure ‘Malta’ with the black overprint ‘POSTAGE’ with ‘2' in the margin and the block is postmarked VALETTA/ 6 PM/ MY ( )/ MALTA. The cover is addressed to R. Forbes-Bentley. Birchircara (Figure 4).

The fourth cover has a printed From, R. FORBES-BENTLEY, Birchircara, Malta and it is addressed to G. Linde, Esq., 4119-24 Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minn. U.S.A. It has a single green ½d KGV Head Maltese stamp with POSTAGE AND REVENUE overprint, as well as a single purple 1d ‘Malta’ stamp with POSTAGE overprint postmarked in 1926 with VALETTA/ MALTA, and the reverse was not seen (Figure 5).

I was first introduced to Rupert Forbes-Bentley in the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, November 13, 1914 in a section ‘From The British Flying Grounds’ by a small photo which had a caption ‘Mr. Rupert Forbes-Bentley, who has recently obtained his certificate at the Beattie Flying School, Hendon’ (Figure 6).

Earlier the same year, R. Forbes Bentley’s name was recorded in the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom’s issue of March 21, 1914 as being one of seven elected as members of the Club. After World War I the Royal Aeronautical Society on June 26, 1919 recorded the following item, under the heading of ‘Married’: Capt. Rupert Forbes-Bentley, D.S.C., R.A.F. of Masslands, Beckley, Sussex was married on June 7 at St. Bartholomew The Great, Smithfield, E.C., to Ruth Harriett, elder daughter of Mr. And Mrs. P. Love of 96 Adelaide Road, Hampstead’.

Later I was able to confirm that Sub-Lt. Rupert Forbes-Bentley R.N.V.R. and two others were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in ‘Recognition of their services in a bombing attack on the Kueleli (sic) Burgas Bridge on January 4th, 1917, when several direct hits were scored and considerable damage done. The machines were exposed to anti-air-craft, rifle and machine-gun fire during the attack, and also on the return journey’. This event was recorded in The New York Times of Jan 7, 1917 (Figure 7).

Research at the National Archives of the United Kingdom for ‘Rupert Forbes-Bentley’ revealed 4 entries from 1914-1918, which did not allow my entry, but confirmed the award of his DFC. In addition there was a fifth entry for ‘FORBES BENTLEY MALTA 1913-1972’ which in view of the 2 covers from Malta suggested that this entry probably was the same man. I have asked this question of identity in my email to the National Archives, the answer pending.

Proof of his identity was forthcoming from a Maltese site of ‘MALTA FAMILY HISTORY, Index of R.A.F. & Commonwealth Airmen 1915-79' for there was an identical entry for each of Rupert’s 3 daughters: Margaret Harriett Forbes Bentley, born 14th October 1924, Ann Florence Forbes Bentley, born 7th November 1925 (twin) and Gwendolen Forbes Bentley, born 7th November 1925 (twin), all three described as the daughters of Ruth Harriett and Rupert Forbes Bentley, Flight Lieutenant, R.A.F. retired. This website consistently omitted the hyphen in the surname. This site gave no information when the family moved to Malta, nor whether the 3 daughters were born in England or Malta. One can guess that Rupert was exposed to Malta during his involvement in WWI.

The main Island of Malta (there are 2 additional populated islands to the north-west) is the site of the largest town in Malta, variously spelt Birkirkara, B’kara and Birchircara, has a population of 21,775, with the total population of Malta numbering only 402,000 (in 2006), living on a total land area of 316 km2. By comparison the capital of Valletta has a population of only 6,900. A map of the main island is shown with Birkirkara identified with a red arrow (Figure 8).

Addendum (December 2011): I have learnt the following information via a circuitous email route from a grandchild (?) that Rupert Forbes-Bentley’s family lived in Malta between the 2 Great Wars and he was a Government meteorologist.  His 2 hobbies were stamp collecting and astronomy, and there was no suggestion of Rupert having a family connection in Australia. Thank you Marion.

 
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