war dead

Intelligencer report of 1917 Nov 17 on James Power's death

Intelligencer report of November 17th, 1917 on James Power’s death, courtesy of Belleville Public Library

Aviator Killed
Fell From Train
James Powers, From Deseronto Camp Killed in Michigan

CHELSEA, Mich., Nov. 17. – The body of James Powers, of Deseronto, Ont., a member of the Royal Flying Corps, was found on the railroad tracks near here. It is believed that he fell from a passenger train. According to papers of the dead man, his wife, Mrs. Cathian Powers, lives at 418 Heim place, Chicago.

The special trains with the aviators of Mohawk and Rathbun training camps, left of Thursday for Fort Worth, Texas, where the winter training camp is located.

In November 1917 the Royal Flying Corps pilot training camps in Canada relocated to Texas to take advantage of the milder climate. This involved transporting men and equipment by railway from Ontario to Fort Worth, some 1,600 miles or 2,500 kilometres. It took three days to make the journey. The photograph below shows the size of the trains used in this exercise.


From the collection of Sergeant C.P. Devos (2009.20(36), courtesy of Denzil Devos

Cadet James Powers somehow fell from the train on the way. The Royal Flying Corps casualty card states “Believed to have fallen from train window”.  In 1914 Powers had married Kathleen Buckley in Chicago and the couple’s home was in that city. It is possible that he had been trying to get back home to Kathleen when he died.

James Powers signature

Powers was born in 1885. He had joined the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto on September 10th, 1917 with the regimental number 150021. He was five feet six and a quarter inches tall and had been attached to 80 Canadian Training Squadron.

He was buried at the Elmwood Cemetery at River Grove, Illinois.


Reuben Sero signature

Reuben Sero died on this day in 1917 while serving with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry at the Second Battle of Passchendaele.

Sero was buried in the Passchendaele New British Cemetery in Belgium.

Reuben Sero's grave

Reuben Sero’s grave, courtesy of FindaGrave.com (uploaded by the International Wargraves Photography Project)

He is also remembered on the Deseronto war memorial.

Deseronto memorial

Isaac Maracle signature
Isaac Maracle was killed in action on this day in 1917 at the Second Battle of Passchendaele. The extract from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’s war diary for the day shows that there were 38 men missing after the attack on enemy lines. Ninety-three were killed.

Casualties of PPCLI on 30th October (including Isaac Maracle)

Extract from war diary of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for October 30th/31st, courtesy Library and Archives Canada

Isaac’s body was not recovered. He is remembered on the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres and on the Deseronto war memorial.

Deseronto memorial

George Albert Williams signature

On this day in 1917, George Williams was reported wounded and missing, later presumed killed in action, at Passchendaele.

A detailed war diary held at Library and Archives Canada describes the heavy losses of the 46th Battalion on the day of George’s death (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5). Below is an extract:

…At 5.40 a.m. of the 26th the Barrage started and remained 8 minutes before the company started to advance. This barrage was very irregular in fact it was impossible to tell where it was supposed to be resting. Many casualties were caused by our shells falling short before the 8 minutes were up. The company started forward 13 platoon in the first wave 14 15 & 16 platoons forming the mopping up party. Owing to the puzzling inaccuracy of our Artillery a certain amount of confusion was caused by the first wave losing so many men… During the day there was considerable sniping & machine gun fire… & numerous casualties were caused

A month before this engagement, Williams was awarded the Military Medal for bravery:

Military Medal citation for George Albert Williams

Military Medal citation card, Library and Archives Canada 2004-01505-5

During the advance over “No Man’s Land” the N.C.O. in charge of Machine Gun, and part of crew having been wounded, he took charge of the Section, and despite flanking fire of enemy’s machine gun, he rallied the remaining men, and led them to correct objective, and he himself immediately got his gun into action, thereby allowing advance to continue.

Williams’s body was never found. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres, and here in Deseronto.

Deseronto memorial

On this day in 1917 Beniah Ridgwell died of shell wounds at the 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station near Ypres in Belgium during the Battle of Passchendaele. Ridgwell had enlisted in Saskatoon in 1915. At the time of his death he was serving in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion (which, despite the name, was an infantry unit). In relieving a New Zealand battalion at Capricorn Keep at Passchendaele on October 24th 1917, six men were injured, as recorded by the unit’s war diary.

Benjamin Ridgwell's unit's war diary for 24 October 1917

War diary for the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion

Ridgwell was buried at the Nine Elms British Cemetery, southwest of Ypres. His name appears on the Deseronto war memorial. Beniah’s father, Charles, was living in Deseronto when his sons (Beniah and Sidney) enlisted.

Deseronto memorial

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.

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