war dead

2009.20(55) Vernon Castle and Jeff

On this day in 1918 Vernon William Blyth Castle was killed in a flying accident at Camp Taliaferro in Texas. The official casualty report noted the following details:

…Date of Casualty: 15.2.18
Where occurred: Canada Camp Taliaferro
Type of Machine: Curtiss J.N.4. C663
Nature and Cause of Accident: In trying to avoid a mach[ine] which was taking off the pilot who was about to land took control and stalled his mach.
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: Cadet R.O. Peters. U.S.A. Injured
Remarks: Capt Vernon Castle instructing in the front seat giving some landings to Cadet Peters before sending him off on solo. C of I [Court of Inquiry] as over.

The finding of the Court of Inquiry on the reverse of the report card reads:

The Court having examined all witnesses, weighed all evidence and examined machine C.663, is of the opnion that Capt. Vernon Castle, while on duty in machine C.663 No.84 C.T. [Canadian Training] Squadron, in trying to avoid collision with machine C 449 of No. 85 C.T.Squadron did an Immelmann turn from which he was unable to recover before hitting the ground and was killed.

Castle was killed as a result of being in the front seat of the aircraft, a position he often took after being involved in the crash which killed Cadet Allan Walton Fraser in May 1917.

This photograph, from the collection of Sergeant Christopher Paulus Devos, shows the aircraft after the crash.
Devos’s annotations read:

Capt. Vernon Castle
How this brave man met his death.
Pinned under engine in front seat.

Castle’s death made front-page news around the world. Here’s the Seattle Star‘s report on the evening of the crash:

Seattle Star 15th Feb 1918

Front page of the Seattle Star, February 15th, 1918, courtesy of Chronicling America from the Library of Congress

In the Washington Times‘s version of the story, Castle was described as “America’s most famous dancer” and it was noted that:

Vernon Castle was the highest paid dancer in all dramatic history…During the height of the dancing craze Castle’s salary averaged $6,000 per week.

Castle was born in Norwich, England on May 2nd, 1887, the son of William Thomas Blyth and Jane (née Finley). He arrived in New York in July 1906 and started his career on the stage shortly afterward. He married Irene Foote on May 28th, 1911 and the two established themselves as dance stars in Paris and then on Broadway. Vernon learned how to fly at the Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station in Newport News, Virginia, in early 1916, as this record from the Royal Aero Club shows:

Royal Aero Club Aviator Certificate details for Vernon Castle, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

Royal Aero Club Aviator Certificate details for Vernon Castle, from Ancestry, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

He travelled back to England to join the Royal Flying Corps in March 1916 and served on the Western Front until the following March, when he was transferred to Canada as an instructor at Camp Mohawk. With the rest of the Deseronto Wing, Castle spent the winter of 1917-1918 training cadets at Camp Taliaferro in Texas.

Vernon Castle was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York. In 1966 a memorial to Castle was erected at the site of his death in Benbrook, Texas.

Vernon Castle Memorial in Benbrook, Texas

Vernon Castle Memorial in Benbrook, Texas, courtesy of Flickr user QuesterMark


Ernest Arthur Denee signature

Ernest Arthur Dennee died on this day in 1918 of wounds received while he was serving in France with the 2nd Battalion. He died in Queen Mary’s Hospital in Stratford, London and was buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England. The headstone is inscribed “Gone but not forgotten by his loving wife”.

Ernest Dennee’s grave, courtesy of FindaGrave.com (uploaded by Charlie)

Ernest left all his possessions to his wife, Eliza, in his army will, which is to be found in his service record:

Ernest Arthur Denee's will

Eliza was living in Deseronto (where she had spent much of her life) when Ernest made his will.  This explains the presence of Ernest’s name on the Deseronto war memorial, even though Ernest himself seems to have had no direct connection with the town.

Deseronto memorial

Jacob Bernhart signature

On this day in 1918 Jacob Bernhart died of nephritis, a kidney disorder, at No. 4 Casualty Clearing Station in Belgium, where he had been admitted on the previous day.

He was buried at the Dozinghem Military Cemetery in Belgium.

Jacob Bernhart’s grave, from FindaGrave.com

Vernon Leroy Stoddart signatureOn this day in 1918, Vernon Leroy Stoddart died in Belleville General Hospital of a gunshot wound. Stoddart was born in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia on October 16th, 1893, the son of Lemuel Stoddart and Lillian (née Hunt). In 1911 he was working as a bank clerk.

CABHC: HC06291 Belleville General Hospital in 1914

CABHC: HC06291 Belleville General Hospital in 1914

Stoddart joined the Royal Flying Corps in Halifax, Nova Scotia on November 10th, 1917. His regimental number was 153661 and he was five feet nine inches tall. He was officially accepted into the Corps in Toronto on December 17th. Just a month later, he was killed in a rifle accident while training at Camp Mohawk, aged 24.

On January 18th, the Intelligencer newspaper reported on the inquest in the following way:



Shooting Affray at Camp Mohawk Being Investigated – Cadet Moore Fired a Bullet From Gun, When it Was Supposed to be a Blank Cartridge

At Thompson Company’s undertaking parlors in this city last evening. an Inquest was opened before Coroner Dr. Boyce to enquire into the circumstances regarding the tragic death of Flight Cadet Vernon Stoddart. of Camp Mohawk, who died at the hospital here yesterday as the result of a gun-shot wound.

The Jury was composed of Messrs. E. T. Cherry, foreman; Geo Daw, T. F. Wills, Geo. T Woodley, W. A. Woodley, R Zufelt, A Blackburn and C. M. Hall.

Mr. Wm. Carnew. County Attorney, represented the crown in the matter

After the Jury had been sworn in they viewed the body and were shown the wound which had evidently caused death.

Police Officer Sergt. Naphan testified as to the summoning the Jury and that all were qualified to act.

Dr. Tennett gave evidence as to the nature of the wound which had no doubt caused death. He also testified as to deceased being brought to the Belleville hospital from Mohawk Camp to be attended to. Death occurred on Thursday morning about 7 o’clock.

Cadet Alfred Stewart Hunt, a cousin of deceased, testified that he recognised the remains as those of Cadet Vernon Stoddart, whose home was at Lawrencetown. Annapolis County. Nova Scotia, and was a son of Mr. Lemuel H Stoddart. Hunt then gave an explanation as to how deceased came to be shot. He occupied Room 1 of No. 2 Cadet wing. R.F.C. at Camp Mohawk, which was a large sleeping room where some 22 sleep. Considerable time was spent In the room by the cadets. He had heard of no grievances between deceased and Cadet Moore who fired off the gun which caused Stoddart’s death. At about 2.45 or 3 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. 16th inst., Cadet W. G. Moore, who is a boxer by profession, and had been relieved from all drill on account of some engagements Moore told witness that he was in the club room and picked up one of the guard’s rifle and was demonstrating bow the ejecter and bolt of the rifle would work. For demonstration he used what he supposed was a dummy round or blank cartridge. In the demonstration, the gun was discharged and Moore was In Room No. 5 In rear of No. 1 room where Stoddart was sitting on the bunk occupied by witness. The bullet went through an inch-board partition and struck deceased in the shoulder as he sat with his back to the partition Witness stated that no cadet is allowed to demonstrate with live or dummy ammunition, such being contrary to regulations, unless special authority is given. Whilst Moore was demonstrating the rifle, some fellow cadets were In the room with him. The rifle used was one a guard was to use on duty who was to be posted as guard on the afternoon of the accident. The ammunition apparently came from the aerial gunnery building about half a mile from the barracks. Ammunition is handed out by the instructors. whose duty it is to see that any rounds put out on the tables in this building for use of the machine gun classes in stripping guns are blanks. Moore might have had this cartridge in his pocket. When detained. Moore had no other cartridges in his possession. It is sometimes difficult to detect a live cartridge from a dummy cartridge, as all these are supposed to be dummy. It is against regulations for any cadet to have ammunition. dummy or alive, in his possession, and no cadet has a right to demonstrate a rifle with live or blank cartridges.

This was all the evidence taken at present, and the enquiry was adjourned until Tuesday evening next at thepolice court room.

In the meantime Cadet Moore, who discharged the gun. Is in detention at Mohawk Camp.

Cadet Stoddart. who lost his life, had only been 6 weeks in the service, and only 4 weeks at Camp Mohawk. Tbe remains will be sent to Lawrencetown, N.S.. for interment.

Fairview Cemetery, Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia, courtesy of FindaGrave.com

Vernon Stoddart was buried at Fairview Cemetery, Lawrencetown. A transcription of a newspaper article about him is available from the Find a Grave site.

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.

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.

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.

Next Page »