war dead

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


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



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.

Learning to fly was a dangerous business in 1917 and 1918. More than 14,000 of the men who joined the Royal Flying Corps lost their lives and 8,000 of them died while they were in training. The Royal Flying Corps (which became the Royal Air Force on April 1st, 1918) ran two pilot training camps close to Deseronto: Camp Mohawk on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and Camp Rathbun to the north of Deseronto, either side of the Boundary Road. The camps opened in the Spring of 1917, with three training squadrons based at Camp Mohawk and two at Camp Rathbun. In the winter of 1917-1918 the Deseronto wing was transferred  to Camp Taliaferro in Texas to continue training in the warmer conditions there.

Fifty-five men associated with these camps lost their lives, bringing the First World War very close to home for people in Deseronto. Local doctors were called upon to register the deaths. The picture below is believed to show Deseronto doctor Elgin D. Vandervoort (1853-1939) at the site of one of the crashes.

Of the 55 deaths, 40 were caused by flying accidents, 10 by the 1918 influenza epidemic, three from other diseases and two by other accidents. We will be marking the 100th anniversaries of these deaths as part of our First World War commemorative project over the next two years.

The chart below shows a comparison between the number of deaths over the course of the war of the Deseronto and Tyendinaga men who joined the army (in green) and those men who died while attached to the Deseronto training squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps (in blue).

Royal Flying Corps and army deathsNot all the crashes were fatal, despite the flimsy nature of the aircraft of the time. A report from the Deseronto Post  on September 20th, 1917 describes one such event on September 13th:

1917 Sep 20 Deseronto Post report of water landing

On the same day that the Camp Mohawk fatality [the deaths of Cadets Domville and Kramer] occurred a cadet from Camp Rathbun was forced to come down, which he did in about ten feet of water, quite near the Iron Works. After the plunge he rose to the surface and climbing up the tail of the machine calmly smoked a cigarette until rescued from his perch.
On that day no less than thirteen machines were smashed up more or less and yet everybody seemed happy.

Phillip Maracle signature

On this day in 1917, Philip Maracle was reported wounded and missing and was later assumed to have died in the trenches west of La Coulotte (southwest of Lens), France. The war diary kept by the 44th Battalion for May 10th describes the situation he faced.

44th Battalion war diary entry for May 10th 1917, courtesy Library and Archives Canada

44th Battalion war diary entry for May 10th 1917, courtesy Library and Archives Canada

LA COULOTTE 10/5 Enemy shelled front and support areas during day and made extensive use of rifle grenades and gas shells. In spite of this our advanced posts and captured trenches known as the TRIANGLE were retained. Casualties 4 O.R. [Other Ranks] Killed. 44 O.R. Wounded

Maracle’s body was never found. He is commemorated on the memorial at Vimy and in Deseronto.

Deseronto memorial

Edmund Vincent McNeill signature

On this day in 1917, Edmund Vincent McNeill was killed in action in the trenches west of Fresnoy in France. German forces retook the village of Fresnoy on May 8th during the Battle of Arras. The war diary of the 19th Battalion describes the attack and the unit’s withdrawal (page 1, page 2, page 3). On the day following the attack, the men of the four companies of the 19th Battalion were re-formed into two companies.

McNeill’s body was never found. He is commemorated on the Vimy memorial and in Deseronto.

Deseronto memorial

William Pinn signatureWilliam Pinn was killed in the same attack on Fresnoy as Richard Brant.

William Pinn circumstances of casualty

War Graves Registers: Circumstances of Death, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

As was the case with Richard Brant, William’s body was not recovered after the attack. He is commemorated at Vimy and on Deseronto’s war memorial (as William Penn).

Deseronto memorial

Richard Brant signature

Richard Brant was killed on this day in 1917 at the Third Battle of the Scarpe in France. The extract below from the 2nd Battalion’s war diary shows the orders issued to the Battalion on May 1st, planning the attack on the village of Fresnoy in which Brant died.

2nd Battalion plan of attack at Fresnoy

Extract from war diary of the 2nd Battalion: plan of attack at Fresnoy, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

Brant’s body was not recovered after the attack. He is commemorated at Vimy and on Deseronto’s war memorial.

Deseronto memorial

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