military training

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



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”


“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?”


“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.

If you missed the history talk on the nineteenth century development of Deseronto this weekend, there’s a chance to catch it again on YouTube:

Due to a technical hitch on the day, the visuals weren’t available, but this version includes the slides!

Armies of Europe at a glance

Armies of Europe at a glance from the The Sun, New York, August 2nd, 1914: Russia, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, England, Serbia

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the declaration of war by Great Britain on Germany in response to the German invasion of Belgium on that day. At 11pm Greenwich Mean Time that evening (6pm Eastern Standard Time), Britain and its Dominions (including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa) were officially at war. You can hear about people’s memories of their reactions to the declaration in this podcast from the Imperial War Museum.

During the next four years we will be marking the 100th anniversaries of local events in relation to the war on this blog. We plan to commemorate the enlistment and conscription of individual Deseronto and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory men, women, and boys, their deaths in action and from disease, as well as events associated with the local Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force pilot training establishments at Camps Rathbun and Mohawk, which operated between 1917 and 1918.

Our aim is to use archival materials from Deseronto and from around the world to demonstrate the local effects of a global war.

If you have photographs, or letters, or family stories about the First World War in Deseronto and the surrounding area, we’d love to share them here as part of this project: you can email us at

A month ago, we received a new accession of photographs  from Dave Stapley, whose family once owned a farm on the Boundary Road, at the eastern side of Deseronto. The farm was close to the World War One pilot training site, Camp Rathbun, and many of the 33 photos depict men, buildings, and aircraft of the camp.

As usual, there are pictures of crashes on the ground (look closely at the trees on this one in relation to the aircraft):

Crashed aircraft

Crashes into hangar buildings at the camp:

Aircraft crashed into hangar door

And into water (you can see the Foresters’ Island Orphanage in the background of this shot):

There are also several photographs of (mainly) unidentified individuals, including this lovely shot of a man crossing the finishing line of a race:

Man crossing finishing line

The skull-and-crossbones motif seen on the aircraft and on the tops of the runners here is a symbol used by the men of 90 C.T.S. (Canadian Training Squadron), which was based at Camp Rathbun. We know nothing about the creator of these photographs, but we can  surmise that he was a member of 90 C.T.S. who left his photographs behind him after he left the area.

The arrival of the Royal Flying Corps in Deseronto in 1917 provided a new angle of perspective on the town: for the first time, photographs began to be taken from the air. Aerial photographs became increasingly important to the campaign on the Western Front in Europe as the First World War progressed and learning how to take good photographs from the air would have been a vital skill for the trainee pilots based in Camp Mohawk and Camp Rathbun.*

The  album of World War One photographs mentioned in our previous post includes this shot of the town from a pilot-training aircraft over the Bay of Quinte, looking north over Deseronto.

At the top left of the photograph is Rathbun Park and the Town Hall (at that time it was the Bank of Montreal), with Centre Street and the Post Office also visible. Between the waterfront and Main Street several railway cars can be seen, running along tracks where Water Street is today. The buildings next to the lake shore are the Rathbun Company’s cedar mill (on the right), which manufactured cedar railway ties, fence posts and shingles and the car works (on the left). The smoke from the cedar mill’s chimney shows that this was still in operation when the photograph was taken, although generally the Rathbun Company’s industries were winding down at this time, with many of their buildings being taken over for use by the Royal Flying Corps as administrative headquarters and repair shops for aircraft engines.

The picture below, from the same album, shows the interior of a typical engine workshop. Women as well as men were employed in mechanical work in these establishments (and, unusually for the time, at the same rates of pay). The person to the left of centre of this shot is a woman.

In the winter months, the Canadian training camps were relocated to a US Army base at Fort Worth, Texas. Several of the photographs in the album show scenes from the Texas camps, including this photograph of a First World War tank:

We end this post with another aerial view from the album. This one is labelled ‘Fort Worth, Texas’:

*For a timeline demonstrating the increasing significance of aerial photography on the Western Front in the First World War, see this useful blog post by Tim Slater.

A recent transfer to the Archives from the Oshawa Community Museum and Archives includes a series of photographs of a collapsed bridge, without any information as to the location of it. I’m sharing it here to see if anyone can help us pinpoint it. The other photographs in the album mainly show scenes from Royal Flying Corps training camps in Ontario (Camps Borden and Mohawk) and Texas (Camp Taliaferro, Fort Worth) and were taken during the First World War in 1917 and 1918. The bridge could be somewhere near one of these camps, or perhaps somewhere else entirely!

This photograph shows an overview of the bridge site. There are no buildings on the side of the bridge nearest the camera, but there are several houses on the other side of the river:

Site of mystery bridge

This one shows a Coast to Coast bus in the water at the side of the bridge:

‘Coast to Coast’ bus next to the bridge

And this one is a close-up view of the bridge itself:

Collapsed bridge

Collapsed bridge

Please leave a comment if you can help.

The air cadets stationed in the Deseronto area during the First World War had to work hard to train as pilots but they also found time to enjoy themselves, too.  On this day in 1918, the Deseronto Wing held a Sports Day. We believe this photograph was taken at that event:

Men racing on barrels shaped like horses in the water by the wharf in Deseronto

‘Horse’ racing on the waterfront, August 1, 1918

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