Among my collection I have this RAF mug from the years before World War 2.
It features an engraved message: “Presented to Officers Mess, Calshot, by Squadron Leader The Rev. R.N Shapley, March 1936”.
In truth, when I first bought it I knew nothing about Ronald Norman Calshot or Shapley. I’ve done a little research, but am always meaning to do a lot more. I’m quite sure there will be people reading this article who know more about them than me.
Calshot, which is situated near Southampton, in England, was initially established as a Royal Flying Corps base in 1913. It was taken over by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) during the First World War and became an RAF station on the formation of the service in 1918.
It was a seaplane and flying boat station, and was officially renamed as RAF Calshot in February 1922.
Calshot was home to the High Speed Flight as it prepared for the Schneider Trophy competitions in 1927, 1929 and finally 1931. Wikipedia states that Aircraftsman Shaw, also known as T.E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, was detached to Calshot to help with the 1929 Schneider races.
During the 1930s, Calshot continued its development and training role. It featured a Navigation School (until January 1936). Squadrons based there included 201, which flew Supermarine Southampton flying boats and later Saro Londons. 201 Sq would have been there when the RAF mug was presented.
But what of Shapley? I found the following references in Flight Magazine:
December 15, 1927: Rev. R. N. Shapley is granted short service commn. as Chaplain, with relative rank of Sqdn.-Ldr. (November 11). To RAF depot Uxbridge.
April 24, 1931: The Rev. R. N.Shapley, M.C., A.K.C., is granted a permanent comm. (March 19).
December 25, 1931: Revd. R. N. Shapley, M.C. A.K.C., to No. 5 Flying Training School, Sealand ; 6.12.31.
October 19, 1933: vice Rev. R. N. Shapley, M.C. Rev. R. N. Shapley, M.C., to Station H.Q., Boscombe Down, 9.10.33, for duty as Chaplain (C. of E.) at Boscombe Down and Netheravon.
May 24, 1934: Rev. R. N. Shapley, M.C. Rev. R. N. Shapley, M.C., to R.A.F. Base, Calshot,9.5.34 for duty as Chaplain (C. of E.)
January 13, 1938: N. Shapley, M.C., to Headquarters, R.A.F., Palestine and Transjordan, Jerusalem, 22.11.37.
The mug is dated March 1936, a couple of months before Shapley took up his role as chaplain to Calshot. And he was gone from Calshot at the end of 1937. What then?
The website of the Gordonians, an association for former pupils of The Gordon Boys’ Home, The Gordon Boys’ School and Gordon’s School, in Surrey, lists Shapley as being twice chaplain to the school: between 1923 and 1927 and between 1947 and 1949. It says he was later Bishop of Windward Islands. That sounds like another interesting posting!
I am, of course, intrigued by the reference to the Military Cross in the Flight Magazine listings.
What did he get this for? And when?
Wikipedia gives some biographical information but not about the medal. Its link to The Times says Shapley died on St Lucia and left £13,743. He died in December 1964.
But, again, nothing about the medal.
Wikipedia says he served with the London Regiment during the First World War. I am certain this when he won his Military Cross. But was he a chaplain then? He was not ordained until 1920.
It’s just a mug, I know. An inanimate object which, although it cannot speak, poses so many questions.