RESEARCH by retired brewery worker Richard Townsend has led to his father’s picture playing a central role in First World War centenary celebrations in Devizes.

Devizes Outdoor Celebratory Arts asked people to put forward photographs of relatives who served in the Great War so it could become a centre piece for a spectacular installation in St John’s Church known as Local Hero.

Mr Townsend’s picture of his father Arthur, who worked in a dangerous role on airships, was chosen and it has been re-created in coloured sand by Rangoli artist Milan Arvindkumar at the front of the church.

During the Remembrance service on Sunday the sand will be dispersed.

Retired Wadworth worker Mr Townsend, 71, said his father never spoke about his war exploits and he only found out the extent of what he had done when his sisters asked him to look after suitcases of photographs two years ago. He became fascinated by his exploits and managed to make contact with airship experts and the story unfolded.

Arthur Townsend joined the Royal Navy in April 1912, just after his 16th birthday, two years before the start of World War One. He began his service as a boy sailor at RN Training Establishment, Devonport.

As his son put together a history of his father’s naval career he found that in 1917 he was promoted to Petty Officer when he was serving at RNAS Pulham which was one of the UK’s main airship statons.

He became a coxswain of the Coastal C26 airship and regularly patrolled the North Sea and English Channel in search of enemy submarines.

Mr Townsend said: “The Coastals were vulnerable to enemy aircraft, so the tactic was to make for the nearest coast, where anti-aircraft guns could drive away the attackers.

“On December, 12, 1917, under the command of Flt Lt Kilburn, PO Townsend and his crewmates were tasked to search for their sistership C27 that was shot down the day before. However, their ship developed engine problems and they encountered fog, making navigation difficult.

“Floating with the wind, they reached Holland, and my father and others had to jump from about 30ft into a field at Sliedrecht. He broke his leg in the fall. The airship drifted until it crashed into van Heek’s bakery in Eemnes Buiten. All the crew were interned in the Engelse Kamp Groningen, Holland until the end of the war.”