A BOY born out of wedlock in Wimborne’s workhouse went on to become the most successful non-commissioned officer pilot in the Royal Flying Corps.

The story of Ernest Elton has been researched and recounted by great-niece Judith Day and by his son Michael.

Ernest Elton was born in 1893 to Edith Jane Frampton, who gave him for fostering to a local midwife, Hannah Elton, and her husband Henry. The boy adopted Elton as his surname.

He joined the Minster choir and on leaving school, became an apprentice at Kings Cycle and Carriage Works in East Street.

He enrolled in the Royal Flying Corps on August 11 1914, at the age of 20.

In 1916, he was promoted to corporal and then to sergeant, while he was serving as a flight mechanic with 6 Squadron in France.

In this role, he helped Captain Lanoe Hawker VC in developing the mounting for a forward-firing Lewis gun to be used in air combat. Before that, most air battles were fought with a rifle and handgun while the airman continued controlling the aircraft, or by throwing grenades and other bombs.

In late 1916, he returned to the UK to train as a pilot. In the 1930s, he related his time as an active pilot in late 1917-18, including an astonishing scrape in which he landed between the lines and was posted as missing.

Judith wrote: “After a skirmish at 12,000ft with 10 enemy planes and with his observer/gunner Canadian Sgt Hagen, wounded in the leg, Ernest discovered his plane had no power as they headed for home.

“Thinking he had run out of fuel, at 6,000ft with no engine and six miles into enemy territory, he glided west and eventually landed between the lines about 200 yards form an allied battery.

“Ernest struggled to get Hagen out of the aircraft, made him comfortable and safe in a shell hole and by crawling and sprinting, got to the dugout.

“He returned to Hagen with a first aid man to dress his wound, then sat with his observer till dark, when a stretcher party arrived.”

The plane was recovered the same night and when examined the following day, it was found to be riddled with bullet holes, including the fuel tank under the pilot’s seat.

Ernest was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” and displaying “the most marked courage, skill and determination”.

Ernest was discharged from the flying corps, by then renamed the Royal Air Force, in 1922. Twice married, he lived in the Slough area for much of his life and is only thought to have returned to Wimborne a couple of times. He died in 1958, aged 64.

Judith Day was aware of Ernest through family tales and one photograph.

After she started researching his story, she traced Ernest’s son Michael and the two met several times to pool their information. Michael died last year.

Their account of Ernest’s life is available to read at the Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne.