military training

Ross Ambrose Harrison signature

On this day in 1917, Ross Ambrose Harrison was killed at Camp Taliaferro in Texas, while training with 78 Canadian Training Squadron, part of the 42nd Wing of the Royal Flying Corps which had moved from Deseronto to Texas for the winter.

View of Camp Taliaferro, Texas (2009.20 (35))

Harrison was born in Kingston, Ontario on April 20th, 1892, the son of Thomas Harrison and Bridget (née McCummiskey). He signed up in Toronto on September 1st, 1917. The official casualty card for the incident notes that he was alone in his Curtiss JN4 aircraft at the time of the accident and that its cause was unknown. His body was brought back to Ontario and buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Kingston.


Readers of this blog will be very familiar with the exploits of the pilots who trained at Deseronto in the First World War, but may be less aware of the pilot training that took place in the area during the Second. The former Camp Mohawk site on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory became part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, as No. 1 Instrument Flying School, during World War II.

A recent visitor to the Community Archives in Belleville brought in some materials which relate to Flight Officer George McCallum Sheppard’s time at the School. Sheppard was from Gananoque, and was stationed in Tyendinaga from 1940 to 1945 as part of ‘B’ Flight as a flight instructor.

This photograph is of an unofficial coat of arms designed by a member of the school, which lists the people who worked there:  J. A. ‘Jack’ Coulter, J. E. ‘Johnnie’ Millard, R. W. ‘Ralph’ Snider, D. K. ‘Mac’ McColl, L. G. ‘Lloyd’ Polden, W. E. ‘Mac’ McKinney, J. H. ‘Joe’ Wiley, R. A. ‘Bob’ Harris, D. H. ‘Sammy’ Wood-Samman, J. H. ‘Jimmy’ Clarke, W. F. ‘Bill’ Veitch, W. H. ‘Bill’ Durnin AFC, P. M. ‘Pete’ Bickett, E. E. ‘Hake’ Hacon, A. A. ‘Art’ Egan, G. J. ‘Fin’ Finlay, G. M. ‘Shep’ Sheppard, W. J. ‘Bill’ Morrison.

Harold Mills, the donor of these materials is interested in knowing whether anyone can identify the location of the house in the image below. It was the scene of a crash that took place on August 3rd, 1943. Flight Officer Sheppard’s Airspeed Oxford lost power to its port engine and clipped two trees before crashing just short of this farmhouse. Mr Mills would love to know where the house was. Please comment if you can help.

Wilfred C. Alcock signatureWilfred Cecil Alcock was a cadet with the 42nd Wing of the Royal Flying Corps when he was killed at Camp Taliaferro, the winter training quarters for the Deseronto pilot trainees.  A report in the Tulsa Daily World newspaper noted that he had a previous near miss at Camp Mohawk, where he was attached to 79 Canadian Training Squadron:

Tulsa Daily World report on Wilfred C. Alcock's death

Jinx Followed Him

NEW BEDFORD, Mass., Nov. 25 – Wilfred C. Alcock, aged 26, the aviator who was killed in an aviation accident near Fort Worth, Texas, yesterday, was a resident of this city. He left here a few months ago to study aviation at Camp Mohawk, Toronto, Canada, and was later transferred to Texas for advanced instruction. While flying in Canada he had a narrow escape when his airplane smashed against a tree in gliding to earth from a height of two thousand feet.

The official Royal Flying Corps account of Alcock’s fatal accident gives more detail on the cause of the crash:

Wilfred C. Alcock RFC casualty card

…Date of Casualty: 24.11.17
Where occurred: Canada Sth of aero field No 2 Camp Taliaferro
Type of Machine: Curtiss J.N.4 C760
Nature and Cause of Accident: Centre section of machine Carried away by under carriage of another machine
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: Nil…

Alcock was born in Knutsford, Cheshire, England on May 10th, 1891, the son of Frederick Alcock and Harriet (née Jones). In 1911 he was living at 95 King Street, Knutsford, with his parents and working as a printer. He emigrated to New York in 1912, leaving Glasgow on the SS California on October 19th. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto on September 6th, 1917, giving his home address as 131 Merrimac Street, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Wilfred was buried in Oak Grove cemetery, New Bedford and is also remembered on the Mobberly Road war memorial at Knutsford in England.

Lee J. Roebuck signature

On this day in 1917 Lee James Roebuck died in a flying accident at Camp Mohawk near Deseronto. He had enlisted in Toronto on August 16th, 1917, giving his home address as Bloomington, Illinois. He was born on April 2, 1884, the son of Lewis F. Roebuck and Anna (née Brigham). His regimental number was 74545 and he was five feet ten inches tall. He was attached to 87 Canadian Training Squadron.

The Intelligencer described the day of Roebuck’s crash in the following way:

Intelligencer 1917 Oct 22 Roebuck's death

Belleville Intelligencer report of Roebuck’s death, October 22nd, 1917, courtesy Belleville Public Library

Aviator Killed at Camp Mohawk
Series of Accidents at Camp Yesterday – One Killed One Injured

Yesterday was one of the bad days at Mohawk Aviation Camp, a number of accidents featuring the day, resulting in the death of one cadet and another receiving painful injuries.
Cadet Roebuck, of Chicago, who was making his first solo flight, ad ascended about 500 feet when his machine got out of control and plunged heavily to earth, the cadet being instantly killed, while the machine was a total wreck.
Another plane came down with a rush owing to engine trouble, and the cadet in charge was painfully injured. Other accidents of a minor nature are reported.

The official Royal Flying Corps record noted:

RFC casualty card for Lee James Roebuck

Casualty Card for Lee James Roebuck, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

…Date of Casualty: 21.10.17
Where occurred: Canada Camp Mohawk
Type of Machine: Curtiss JN4a.
Nature and Cause of Accident: Machine half side slipped, half nose dived to earth from 300 ft. Loss of control by pilot thro’ stalling on a turn.
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: Nil…

Harry McBride, a rigger based at Camp Mohawk took photographs of the crashed plane. He estimated that the aircraft (C639) had fallen 800 feet. McBride stated that the aircraft belonged to 78th Canadian Training Squadron.

Photograph by Harry McBride of Lee Roebuck's crash

Detail of 2015.20 Album 2 (51)

Roebuck was buried at Bloomington (Scogin Hill) Cemetery, Illinois.

Lee James Roebuck headstone

Headstone for Lee James Roebuck, courtesy of Tony Cannon via Find a Grave

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


Harry Downer was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver.

Intelligencer report 1917 Sep 14 on Domville and Kramers' deaths

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


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

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