East Mersea: Tale of pilot and his faithful fox terrier helping schoolchildren learn about the First World War

Second Lieutenant Edgar Roberts’

Second Lieutenant Edgar Roberts - Credit: Archant

The true tale of a fighter pilot who flew with his faithful fox terrier Mick is being used to introduce schoolchildren to the subject of the First World War thanks to a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The cover of children's book Mersea Mick written by Veronique Eckstein

The cover of children's book Mersea Mick written by Veronique Eckstein - Credit: Archant

The heartwarming story was unearthed by Mersea Island-based author Veronique Eckstein whose curiosity was pricked when a boy discovered an old jar on the local beach in 1988. The jar, containing a 1919 penny, a letter, and a faded photograph, had been buried in 1927 at Mick’s woodland grave by the pilot, Second Lieutenant Edgar Roberts. With the passage of time the cliff-edge grave had been disturbed and the jar ended up on the beach.

Mrs Eckstein’s research led to the discovery that Mick the fox terrier was owned by local pig farmers Percy and Edgar Roberts. The brothers signed up at the outbreak of the First World War and Percy, who joined the army, was killed in the trenches in March 1918. Meanwhile, Edgar joined the Royal Flying Corps – a forerunner of the RAF – and took his canine companion with him to his training base at RAF Northolt in Middlesex where he continued to fly sorties into France for the rest of the war.

Mick would fly with Edgar during training but he was never taken across the Channel on missions. Both survived the conflict and when the dog died in 1927 Edgar buried him in a cliff-top wood near the family’s Ivy Farm at East Mersea.

The tale was turned into a children’s book ‘Mersea Mick’ by Mrs Eckstein and now the saga will be used by Mersea Island Tales Educational Trust as the basis of a multi-media project to help teach schoolchildren about the First World War as the conflict’s centenary approaches.

As part of the project, £10,000 has been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund to transform one of the barns on Ivy Farm into a replica First World War mess area. It will be used as an all-weather education centre where visitors will be taken on a journey from life on an Edwardian farm to the history of the War and the involvement of the Roberts brothers and Mick. An exhibition display in the barn will also be portable so it can be transported to schools in support of their projects on the history of the War.

Mrs Eckstein said: “As I found out more about Mick and Edgar, I realised there was a much a deeper story about the First World War. Many of the pilots kept dogs and they were a great comfort after the horrors they saw on their missions.

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“The First World War is a difficult subject to teach young children and this story is one way of approaching it. It also leads into learning about all the other animals that took part in the conflict, such as the horses, the dogs that were used to carry messages across the war zones and the carrier pigeons.”