military training


Harry Albert Downer signature

On this day in 1917 Harry Albert Downer, a law student, died at Camp Rathbun when the aircraft in which he was a passenger crashed. He was born in Vancouver on December 17th, 1897, the son of Frederick Downer and Lilian (née Orchard). He had originally joined the Canadian Field Artillery on February 24th, 1917 with the regimental number 339577. He was five feet six and a half inches tall, with a medium complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. On June 13th, 1917 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a cadet with the number 70420. He was attached to 86 Canadian Training Squadron at Camp Rathbun as a Cadet Flight Instructor.

The accident in which Downer died was reported in Belleville’s Intelligencer newspaper on Monday September 17th, 1917:

Intelligencer report of 1917 Sep 17 on Harry Albert Downer's death

Intelligencer report on the accident in which Cadet Downer died, courtesy of Belleville Public Library

Fatal Accident at Camp Rathbun

At Camp Rathbun, on Friday afternoon, another air tragedy took place resulting in the death of a flyer and serious injuries to another. Flight Sergt. Drummond with Flight Cadet Alexander were in a plane at a considerable height when from some cause it fell to the ground. Sergt. Drummond was killed and Cadet Alexander sustained injuries of such a nature that his life is despaired of. The aeroplane was wrecked. The accident was witnessed by a number of residents of Deseronto and some from this city were in the vicinity at the time.

Gordon Porter Alexander

The newspaper got Downer’s name wrong. The other man in the aircraft was 22-year-old Lieutenant G. P. [Gordon Porter] Alexander, who suffered cuts and bruises and was “badly shaken up”. Lieutenant Alexander was a Toronto man who had originally served in the 48th Highlanders. He received his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate (#2869) on May 3rd, 1916 in England – this photograph of him is taken from the records of the Royal Aero Club (courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum).

The casualty card for the accident is reproduced below:

Harry Albert Downer RFC casualty card

Royal Flying Corps casualty card for Harry Albert Downer, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

…Date of Casualty: 14.9.17
Where occurred: Canada Camp Rathbun Deseronto
Type of Machine: Curtiss JN4
Nature and Cause of Accident: Stall on a turn. Nose dive into the ground from 100 ft.
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: Lieut GP. Alexander Injured…

The Court of Inquiry into the accident was held on the same day. Captain Aird of 85 C.T.S. gave the following description of the accident:

Detail from Attorney General's 1917 file RG4-32/1900 from the Archives of Ontario

Detail from Attorney General’s 1917 file RG4-32/1900 from the Archives of Ontario

1st. Witness.

Capt. J. Aird, C.C. 85 C.T.S. having been called, states:-

Driving along the road I saw a machine steeply bank to the left at about 150 feet; he then straightened out and went along about 100 yards or so, making a vertical bank to the left in which he seemed to lose his flying speed and went into a spinning nose dive. When I arrived on the scene they were endeavouring to take Lieut. Alexander out, having first discovered Can. 70420 Sergeant Downer was dead. I inspected the machine and found all controls in perfect condition. The work of taking the bodies out was carried on as fast as possible, but could have been greatly accelerated if axes and proper wire cutters had been available.

[signed] John Aird

Capt.

Harry Downer was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver.

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Intelligencer report 1917 Sep 14 on Domville and Kramers' deaths

Report in the Intelligencer newspaper of September 14th, 1917, courtesy Belleville Public Library

 

DOUBLE TRAGEDY AT CAMP MOHAWK
Two Airplanes Collide Over Landing Place and Crash to Earth – Cadets Domville and Kramer in Training for Royal Flying Corps, Instantly Killed

Camp Mohawk, where so many bright young men are being trained for service in the Royal Flying Corps overseas, was saddened yesterday by a double tragedy which cost the lives of two popular young students of aviation. Cadet Domville, of Montreal, and Cadet Kramer, of Detroit, both strong and vigorous young men, with high hopes and ambitions to give their best, even life itself, in the great struggle for the freedom of the world which is being waged with such relentless fury on the battlefields of Europe, on the sea and in the sky, where the “eyes of the army” keep unceasing vigil on the movements of the the enemy and fight thrilling duels among the clouds with armed enemy aircraft.

The two young cadets had each taken a machine up and after successful flights returned about the same time and were manoeuvring over the landing place preparatory to alighting, when in some manner both machines came together and crashed to the ground. Death came almost instantaneously to both cadets and life had departed when the bodies were lifted from the wreckage.

The Toronto express was just passing the camp when the accident took place and the machines fell near the station. Many of the passengers were witnesses of the event and were shocked and thrilled by the spectacle of a collision between two of these aircraft, and saddened by the certainty of death to the gallant young aviators.

Cadets Domville and Kramer were fine upstanding types of young manhood eager for adventure and anxious to take a man’s part in the great task of freeing the world from the menace of German domination. Both were blessed with jovial and kindly natures and had many friends in the camp and in Belleville who sincerely regret the sudden call with closed to prematurely lives giving such abundant promise of usefulness.

James de Beaujeu Domville had enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto on July 12th, 1917 with the regimental number 74199. He was born in Montreal on March 1st, 1899, the son of James Domville and Adele (née de Beaujeu). He was five feet eleven inches tall and was flying with 84 Canadian Training Squadron at Camp Mohawk.

Justin John Kramer initially joined the United States Army and transferred to the Air Service. He was born in Dayton, Ohio on April 28th, 1895, the son of John Kramer and Theresa Rosa (née Stompf).

The official reports of the accident assigned blame to neither pilot. Kramer was flying under the instruction of 2nd Lieutenant E. C. Bridgman, who escaped the crash with cuts to the face and bad bruising.

J. J. Kramer RFC Casualty Card

Royal Flying Corps casualty card for Justin John Kramer, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

Date of Casualty: 13.9.17
Where occurred: Canada Camp Mohawk
Type of Machine: Curtiss JN4a.
Nature and Cause of Accident: Mach[ine] C650 piloted by Cadet Domville while coming in from an altitude of over 400 ft in a straight glide collided with a machine C632 piloted by Cadet Kramer who was flying at less than 400 feet & turning to the left to make landing into aerodrome
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: 2Lt Bridgman Injured
Remarks: Cadet Kramer had control of the machine & the finding of the Court of Inquiry attached no blame to Cadet Kramer

Once again, we have photographs showing the aftermath of the crash.

Kramer and Domville crash

From Sergeant Devos’s photographic collection, 2009.09(29), courtesy of Denzil Devos

James de Beaujeu Domville was buried in the Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery in Montreal.

Justin John Kramer was buried in the Calvary Cemetery, Kettering, Ohio.

Norman Bruce 'Nipper' ScottOur colleagues at Elgin County Archives hold the Norman B. ‘Nipper’ Scott fonds, which includes materials relating to Scott’s career as a pilot during the First World War. Scott trained at Camp Rathbun in Deseronto, among other places, before joining the Royal Flying Corps’ No. 11 Squadron in France.

Elgin County Archives have digitized Scott’s pilot log book and made it available online [PDF]. It is interesting to see the flights logged by a trainee pilot at Camp Rathbun, and Scott’s subsequent activities on the front line in France.

Norman Bruce Scott's pilot log book

This page shows the flights taken by Scott this week in 1917: his third week as a cadet. You can see that he was already taking solo flights in this week, and getting a good tour of the local sights: Napanee, Belleville and Kingston all feature in his log.

The serial numbers of the Curtiss JN4A aircraft Scott flew are listed. We have two photographs of one of the planes, C593, in our digital collections. Let’s hope Nipper Scott wasn’t responsible for this particular landing.

Curtiss JN4A C593 upside-down

2011.20 (11) George Edward Munk’s album

William Sidney Gallie signature

William Sidney Gallie, a grain merchant, died in Camp Mohawk near Deseronto on this day in 1917. He was born in the United States in 1896, the son of William and Mary Gallie. By 1916 the family were living at 225 Bell Avenue, Winnipeg. Gallie joined the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto on June 18th, 1917 with the regimental number 70447. He was five feet six and a half inches tall.

Belleville’s Intelligencer reported the accident:

Intelligencer report of W. S. Gallie's death

BELLEVILLE, ONTARIO, FRIDAY, AUGUST 17, 1917
CADET KILLED AT MOHAWK
Lost Control From Collision With Another Plane and Crashed to Ground

A sad accident occurred at Mohawk Aviation Camp yesterday, which cost the life of Cadet Gallie, of Winnipeg
Two airplanes were landing close together and collided. Cadet Gallie’s plane was struck from behind when about one hundred feet in the air, and he lost control. The machine crashed to the ground, and Cadet Gallie was almost instantly killed.

The official casualty card confirms the details, and names the pilot of the other plane. Gallie was a member of 87 Canadian Training Squadron.

William Sidney Gallie RFC Casualty Card

Casualty card for William Sidney Gallie, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

…Date of Casualty: 16.8.17
Where occurred: Camp Mohawk Deseronto Canada
Type of Machine: Curtiss JN4a. C617
Nature and Cause of Accident: Collison with machine piloted by Cadet Burrowes T.N Can 74101
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: None…

This record gives us the identification number of the aircraft: C617. In our collection of digital photographs we have a series of images taken of the remains of this aircraft after the crash.

William Sidney Gallie's crashed plane

From Sergeant Devos’s photographic collection, 2009.09(22), courtesy of Denzil Devos

William Sidney Gallie was interred in the mausoleum at Glen Eden Memorial Garden/Riverside Cemetery in Winnipeg.

George Anderson Morton signature

On this day in 1917, George Anderson Morton, a grain merchant, died at Camp Mohawk near Deseronto as the result of a flying accident. George was born in Winnipeg on September 20th, 1895, the son of Thomas Morton and Mary (née Anderson). Mary died in 1904. Morton joined the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto on June 26th, 1917 with the regimental number 74036. He gave his home address as Grande Pointe, Manitoba. He was five feet five and a half inches tall.

The accident in which he was killed was reported in Belleville’s Intelligencer newspaper in the following way:

Intelligencer report of G. A. Morton's death

BELLEVILLE, ONTARIO, MONDAY AUGUST 13, 1917
Aviator Killed at Deseronto
On Saturday at the local Aviation Camp another fatal accident occurred, resulting in the death of Flight Cadet Morton, of Winnipeg. The young aviator was up at a height estimated at about 2,000 feet, when from some unknown cause the plane plunged to the ground and was totally wrecked. It is surmised that Morton fainted while in the air and in this manner lost control of the machine. The unfortunate victim was dead when taken from his seat and his body was badly mangled. Many bones of the body were broken. The body was prepared for burial and shipped to Winnipeg.

This is the official casualty record from the Royal Flying Corps, which notes that Morton was in 84 Canadian Training Squadron.:

George Anderson Morton RFC casualty card

Casualty Card for George Anderson Morton, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

…Date of Casualty: 11.8.17
Where occurred: Camp Mohawk aero. Canada
Type of Machine: Curtiss J.N.4a.
Nature and Cause of Accident: Machine nosedived vertically & continued in this position until it hit the ground completely wrecking the machine
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: Nil
Remarks: Cadet Morton had shut of[f] his engine preparatory to making a landing at a height of 2000 ft. A Court of Inquiry found no constructional fault in the machine

This photograph shows what remained of the aircraft after the accident:

George Anderson Morton's crash

From Sergeant Devos’s photographic collection, 2009.09(45), courtesy of Denzil Devos

George Anderson Morton was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Winnipeg.

Robert Charles Teasdall signature

On this day in 1917 Robert Charles Teasdall died at Camp Rathbun in Deseronto. He was born in Toronto on December 14th, 1897, the son of Robert Charles Teasdall and Marie (née Laughton). He joined the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto on May 30th, 1917, with the regimental number 70331. His home address was 600 Yonge Street and he had been working as a bookkeeper before he enlisted.

Belleville’s newspaper, The Intelligencer reported the accident that killed Teasdall in the following way:

Intelligencer 1917 Jul 13 Cadet Teasdall's death

Report in the Intelligencer of July 13th, 1917 on Cadet Teasdall’s death

FLIGHT CADET TEASDALL INSTANTLY KILLED

Fatal Accident at Camp Mohawk in Which Young Aviator From Toronto Lost His Life – Machine Crashed to Ground From Considerable Height

A fatal accident occurred yesterday afternoon at the Deseronto section of Camp Mohawk, resulting in the death of Cadet Teasdall of Toronto, a young man who has been at the camp under instruction in aviation since July 3.

The young cadet had taken one of the aeroplanes up for a flight, and when at a considerable height something went wrong, and he lost control of the flying machine, which crashed to earth. The unfortunate young aviator was almost instantly killed and the machine was practically destroyed.

The accident was witnessed by a number of spectators, principally motor car parties, who had arrived at the borders of the camp to watch the interesting incidents of aviation training, and the rapid descent of the machine with the practical certainty of death or serious injury for the young aviator was a terrible spectacle which will not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed it.

Cadet Teasdall came to the camp from Toronto, and his body will be forwarded to that city for interment.

The Royal Flying Corps own records confirm the newspaper’s report, except that the accident occurred at Camp Rathbun, rather than Camp Mohawk:

Robert Charles Teasdall's RFC casualty card

Royal Flying Corps casualty card for Robert Charles Teasdall, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

…Date of Casualty: 12.7.17
Where occurred: Canada, Camp Rathbun, Deseronto
Type of Machine: Curtiss J.N.4
Nature and Cause of Accident: Fl[yin]g acc[ident] – Machine Collapsed at height of 4000ft
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: None
Remarks: Machine Completely Wrecked

The Royal Flying Corps’ Court of Inquiry received the following evidence from Captain Aird:

Detail from Attorney General's 1917 file RG 4-32/2006 at the Archives of Ontario

Detail from Attorney General’s 1917 file RG 4-32/2006 at the Archives of Ontario

1st witness:Captain J. Aird. R.F.C. (S.R.)

Cadet Teasdale flying at about 5,000 feet nosed his machine C.591 down (intending to loop as I assume because from what I gathered from the Cadets he intended to try a loop.)

He left the engine on and dived about 500 feet gaining an enormous speed, and just as he tried to pull the machine up, the left wing broke away. The machine then began to spin, then the right wing collapsed, then the tail and fell to earth.

I got into a horse and rig and drove half way to the accident, then ran. When I arrived Teasdale’s body had been removed and taken away in a tender.

I examined the machine and found all controls intact and I think the accident was due to the stress in diving the machine.

(Signed) J. M. Aird, Captain.

Robert was buried in St. James’s Cemetery, Toronto.

Allan Walton Fraser photograph from University of Manitoba Roll of Honour

Allan Walton Fraser photograph from University of Manitoba Roll of Honour

Allan Walton Fraser signature

Allan Walton Fraser died at Camp Mohawk near Deseronto on this day in 1917. He was born in Emerson, Manitoba on January 30th, 1898, the son of William Fraser and Annie Matilda (née Baskerville) of 215 Spence Street, Winnipeg. He joined the 196th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 1st, 1916 when he was a student at the University of Manitoba, with the regimental number 910044. He was five feet seven inches tall, with a dark complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. On April 26th, 1917 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps with a new regimental number of 70175. He was a cadet in 84 Canadian Training Squadron, learning how to fly at the recently-opened pilot training camp to the west of Deseronto, when he died. This was the first fatality at Camp Mohawk.

The accident was reported in The Hartford Herald newspaper in Kentucky in the following way:

Report of Allan Walton Fraser's death at Camp Mohawk in the Hartford Herald

Report of Allan Walton Fraser’s death at Camp Mohawk in the Hartford Herald newspaper, courtesy of Chronicling America

 

BRITISH AVIATOR BURNED TO DEATH

Deseronto, Ont.—While flying with Vernon Castle at Camp Mohawk, Cadet W. E. Fraser, of Winnipeg, Man., was burned to death. Castle escaped with slight injuries. The two were ascending for instructional purposes when Fraser was seized with nervousness and lost control. The machine swept backward into the hangar and the gasoline tank exploded, setting fire to the hangar. Castle was thrown out when the aeroplane hit the shell.

This photograph shows the burning hangar after the crash.

Allan Walton Fraser crash

From Sergeant Devos’s photographic collection, 2009.09(38), courtesy of Denzil Devos

The official report from the Royal Flying Corps gives a slightly different version of events:

Allan Walton Fraser RFC casualty card

Casualty Card on Allan Walton Fraser’s death, courtesy Royal Air Force Museum

…Date of Casualty: 30.5.17
Where occurred: Camp Mohawk Deseronto
Type of Machine: Curtiss JN4a.
Nature and Cause of Accident: Machine whilst making a turn at the height of 200 ft suddenly put her nose down, frightened pupil who gripped control wheel & pilot unable to right machine which struck roof of hangar and burst into flames.
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: 2/Lt W.B.T. [V.W.B.] Castle (Injured)…

Vernon Castle was a well-known Broadway dancer who had travelled to England to join the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. He was one of the flight instructors at Camp Mohawk. After experiencing this accident, Castle insisted on taking the more dangerous front seat in the cockpit of the Curtiss JN-4 training aircraft used by the Royal Flying Corps in North America.

A Court of Inquiry was held on June 1st, at which Vernon Castle described the accident and gave his views on the wheel versus stick controls for training aircraft:

Allan Walton Fraser Court of Inquiry - Vernon Castle's evidence

Detail from Attorney General’s 1917 file RG4-32/1145 at Archives of Ontario

1st. Witness. (Contd.) Question from the President:-

“Please give us your reason why you think the “Curtiss” with wheel control is an unsuitable machine for school work”

Witness

“I consider the wheel control unsuitable because you have not the control and quick action with the wheel that you have with the stick control”.

Question from a member:-

“Do you think you could have averted this accident if you had had the stick control?”

Witness.

“I really think I could”.

(Signed) Vernon Castle.

It was also noted by the Court of Inquiry that this aircraft had no instruments. Castle did not believe that instruments would have prevented this accident, but the Court expressed the opinion that stick controls offered more safety than wheel controls and that “all school machines of this type should be fitted with instruments”.

Allan Walton Fraser was interred in the mausoleum at Glen Eden Memorial Garden/Riverside Cemetery in Winnipeg.

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