Sefton Brancker

Air Vice Marshal Sir William Sefton Brancker, KCB, AFC (22 March 1877 – 5 October 1930) was a British pioneer in civil and military aviation and senior officer of the Royal Flying Corps and later Royal Air Force. He was killed in an airship crash in 1930, exactly 20 years after his first flight.[1]

Sir Sefton Brancker
Sefton Brancker, c.1915–18
Birth nameWilliam Sefton Brancker
Born(1877-03-22)22 March 1877
Woolwich, Kent, England
Died5 October 1930(1930-10-05) (aged 53)
Allonne near Beauvais, France
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army (1896–18)
Royal Air Force (1918–19)
Years of service1896–1919
RankAir Vice Marshal
Commands heldMaster-General of Personnel (1918–19)
Controller-General of Equipment (1918)
HQ RFC Middle East (1917)
Palestine Brigade (1917)
Northern (Training) Brigade (1915–16)
No. 3 Wing (1915)
Battles/warsSecond Boer War
First World War
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Air Force Cross
Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)
Order of St. Vladimir, 4th Class (Russia)
Order of Saint Stanislaus, 1st Class (Russia)
Commander of the Order of the Crown (Italy)
Commander of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
RelationsWife: May Wynn Field
Other workBritish Director of Civil Aviation

Early life

Sefton Brancker was born in Woolwich,[2] the eldest son of Col. William Godeffroy Brancker and Hester Adelaide, the daughter of Major General Henry Charles Russell. Brancker grew up as the elder of two brothers and their father died in 1885. From 1891–94, the young Brancker attended Bedford School.[1] His father was born in Hamburg to a British father and German mother;[3][4] the Branckers were a long-established Anglo-German family that had lived in England for several generations.[5]

On 7 April 1907 he married May Wynne, the daughter of Colonel Spencer Field, of the Royal Warwickshire regiment; they had one son, also called William Sefton Brancker.[5]

Military career

Brancker was trained for the British Army at Woolwich, joining the Royal Artillery in 1896.[6] He served in the Second Boer War and later for a number of years in India, where he made his first flight in 1910.[7] On 18 June 1913 he was awarded the Royal Aero Club's Aviator's Certificate no. 525.[6]

During the First World War, Brancker held important administrative posts in the Royal Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force including Director of Military Aeronautics.[6] In late 1915 a brigade system was introduced in the RFC and Brancker was promoted to brigadier general and appointed to command the Northern Training Brigade with his headquarters in Birmingham. This appointment was to be short-lived as in early 1916 Brancker was appointed Director of Air Organisation in London.[8] In 1917, Brancker briefly served as the General Officer Commanding Royal Flying Corps's Palestine Headquarters and then its Middle East headquarters.[6] Promoted to major general in 1918, he became Controller-General of Equipment in January of that year and Master-General of Personnel in August 1918.[6] On 23 August 1918 he resigned his commission in the Army[9] and was granted a permanent commission as major-general in the RAF.[10] He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on 1 January 1919[11] and retired from the RAF with the rank of major-general on 13 January following.[12] He was granted the rank of air vice-marshal in 1924.[13]

Civil aviation

On 11 May 1922 he was made Director of Civil Aviation,[6] and worked assiduously to stimulate UK interest in the subject with both local authorities and flying clubs. He encouraged Manchester and other cities to construct municipal airports and airfields. He participated in several long-distance survey flights, notably with Alan Cobham. He was an ardent supporter of the development of British civilian air services connecting London to British colonies and dominions overseas.[14]

Sir Sefton was chairman of the Royal Aero Club's (RAeC) Racing Committee from 1921 to 1930 and his dynamic leadership led to the RAeC forming the Light Aero Club scheme in 1925, which helped provide the UK clubs with examples of such new and improved aircraft types as the de Havilland Moth and Avro Avian.


Together with Lord Thomson, the Air Minister, Brancker was killed when the airship R101 crashed near Beauvais France on 5 October 1930, during its maiden voyage to India.[6][14] His death occurred on the 20th anniversary of his first flight.[1]


In 1952 British European Airways named its 'Pionair' (Douglas DC-3) G-AKNB "Sir Sefton Brancker" to mark his substantial contribution to the development of British Aviation.

In 1996 British Airways (BA) named one of its newly delivered Boeing 777s "Sir William Sefton Branker" [sic] in recognition of his work. Other 777s in the BA fleet were named after aviation pioneers, for example "Wilbur and Orville Wright" and "Sir Frank Whittle." The aircraft (G-ZZZB) no longer carries Sir Sefton's name, aircraft names having been removed from the BA fleet since the short-lived 1997 Utopia re-branding.

Kenmore Park housing estate in Kenton Harrow has a number of its roads named after aviators including Brancker.

Brancker Road, Plymouth; was named in his honour during build in the mid 1930s.


  1. "Obituary: Sir Sefton Brancker – Development of Civil Aviation". The Times. The Times Digital Archive. 6 October 1930. p. 19.
  2. 1891 England Census
  3. Germany, Select Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898
  4. 1881 England Census
  5. "Brancker, Sir William Sefton (1877–1930), army and air force officer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-32041. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  6. Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Air Vice-Marshal Sir Sefton Brancker
  7. Raleigh 1922, pp. 421–22.
  8. Brancker, Sefton (1935). Macmillan, Norman (ed.). Sir Sefton Brancker. London: William Heinemann Ltd. pp. 122 to 115.
  9. "No. 31265". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 April 1919. p. 4292.
  10. "No. 31078". The London Gazette. 20 December 1918. p. 14960.
  11. "No. 31098". The London Gazette (7th supplement). 1 January 1919. p. 91.
  12. "No. 31196". The London Gazette. 21 February 1919. p. 2623.
  13. Who Was Who 1929–1940, p. 154.
  14. Pirie 2009.
  • Pirie, Gordon H. Air Empire: British Imperial Civil Aviation, 1919–1939. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.
  • Raleigh, Walter. The War In The Air: Being the Story of The part played in the Great War by The Royal Air Force: Vol I. Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1922.

Further reading

  • Sir Sefton Brancker by Norman Macmillan, William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1935
  • Heavenly Adventurer: a biography of Sir Sefton Brancker by Basil Collier, London, 1959
  • Air Days, John F. Leeming, Harrap, London, 1936
  • This article incorporates text from The Modern World Encyclopædia: Illustrated (1935); out of UK copyright as of 2005.
Military offices
New title
Directorate established
Assistant Director of Military Aeronautics
Deputy Director from March 1915

Succeeded by
John Fulton
Preceded by
John Higgins
Officer Commanding No. 3 Wing
August – December 1915
Succeeded by
New title
Brigade established
Brigadier-General Commanding Northern (Training) Brigade
December 1915 – February 1916
Succeeded by
New title
Post created
Director of Air Organization
March 1916–1917
Succeeded by
Lionel Charlton
New title Deputy Director-General of Military Aeronautics
February – November 1917
Succeeded by
Edward Ellington
Preceded by
Geoffrey Salmond
Officer Commanding Palestine Brigade
November – December 1917
Succeeded by
Amyas Borton
General Officer Commanding HQ RFC Middle East
November – December 1917
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Salmond
New title
Air Council established
RAF Controller-General of Equipment
January – August 1918
Succeeded by
Edward Ellington
Preceded by
Sir Godfrey Paine
RAF Master-General of Personnel
Title next held by
Cecil Lambert
As Director of Personnel
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Sykes
As Controller
Director of Civil Aviation
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Shelmerdine
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
Lord Weir
President of the Royal Aeronautical Society
Succeeded by
William Forbes-Sempill
Notes and references
1. A complete list of Brancker's military appointments can be found in Appendix I to Brancker, Sefton (1935). Macmillan, Norman, ed. Sir Sefton Brancker. London: William Heinemann Ltd. pp. 420 to 425.
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