Tragedy of seven killed in Doncaster air disasters

Richard Bell of Friends of Hyde Park, next to the graves of airmen killed in Doncaster in World War One
Richard Bell of Friends of Hyde Park, next to the graves of airmen killed in Doncaster in World War One

When you think of servicemen losing their lives in action during World War One, the chances are you think of the Somme, Gallipoli or Paschendaele.

Few instantly think of deaths of servicemen in action in Doncaster and the numbers do not match those on the battlefields of the Western Front. But among those who were killed serving their country in the great war is a string of casualties who lost their lives serving at the airbase operated in the borough by first the Royal Flying Corps, and later the RAF.

Airmen taking part in a military double funeral at Hyde Park Cemetery in 1918

Airmen taking part in a military double funeral at Hyde Park Cemetery in 1918

Although some of those killed in accidents at what was a training base for pilots may have been taken for burial elsewhere, some remain here in war graves at Hyde Park cemetery.

This week the nation will remember those killed serving the country in wars. But Friends of Hyde Park Cemetery committee member Richard Bell suspects many know little of how many personal lost their lives on our doorsteps.

In total, there are 108 war graves in Doncaster registered with the War Graves Commission. Of those, 82 are from World War One and 26 from World War Two.

Some of those from the First World War were soldiers who died of injuries they had suffered overseas.

The wreckage of a plane crash crash in Doncaster during World War One

The wreckage of a plane crash crash in Doncaster during World War One

But those who died at the air base suffered their lethal injuries here.

Some of those have standard war graves of the type seen in war cemeteries near the major battlefields. Some were laid to rest in family graves with simple inscriptions added.

They are not forgotten - at least not by the Friends of Hyde Park Cemetery.

Mr Bell said: "There were people serving their country here in Doncaster. When you think about it, there was a training squadron at Doncaster with a combination of new technology that had only recently been starting to develop, and inexperienced pilots who were still under training, you can understand that there were accidents.

"We don't have a number for how many accidents there were at the air base, and there could well have been people taken to be buried in their home towns, but we know that there were a number who died in accidents who were buried here."

The airmen among those whose life stories have been traced.

The air base was on land opposite Doncaster Racecourse, next to what is now Leger Way, and was the home of the Number 47 Training Depot Station. It started operational service as a Home Defence Squadron base. From June 1916, half a Flight of No 47 Squadron was based there to defend the area against Zeppelins, but no Zeppelins were ever intercepted from there.

It had a number of hangars, which after the war demolished and the site was developed into what is now the Intake estate.

Those buried after accidents on the airfield include:

Anthony Steel Caldwell

Anthony was the son of Steel Caldwell and his wife, Lillian, of Eurabba, New South Wales, Australia.

He was killed in a flying accident in Doncaster on May 4 1917, while serving with the Royal Flying Corps. He was aged 26. At this time, Anthony was a Second Lieutenant with No 15 (Reserve) Squadron. Also killed in the same Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 aircraft was Second Lieutenant Cyril Harvey Trollope, who is buried in Bromley (Plaistow) Cemetery, in Kent.

The aircraft in question was a Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8, a two-seat biplane used for reconnaissance, artillery spotting and as a bomber.

Charles Smith

Sergeant-Major Charles Smith served with the 41 st Training Squadron, RAF and was killed on June 28 1918. The accident in which he died also took the life of his colleague, George Slack, who lies alongside him.

Charles was the son of Charles and Louisa Smith and husband of Dorothy Smith (formerly Witt) of Putney London.

George William Slack (served as C T Holt)

George was born in Jesmond, Newcastle and served under the name “Charles Thomas Holt”, for reasons that are not known. He was the husband of Celestia Alvera Slack of 53 of Jesmond.

George died on June 28 1918, aged 32. He was killed in a flying accident whilst he was with 49 Training Squadron, based in Doncaster. His Casualty Card at the RAF Museum

says the plane’s engine failed and the pilot fatally attempted to turn back to the airfield, but he got into a side slip and crashed. It is thought the incident occurred only moments after take-off. These circumstances accounted for many, many training casualties.

It was drummed into airmen not to turn back and risk losing flying speed, but for whatever reason this seems to have been what happened that day. Also killed in the same accident was Sergeant-Major Charles Smith.

Harry Leonard Savage

Harry was the son of Mae Savage of Bangor, in the US state of Maine. He was a Lieutenant with Number 47 Training Squadron, the same squadron as Sergeant Vivian, whose grave is alongside his.

Harry died on September 11 1918, aged 21. He was killed in a training accident with a Sopwith Pup, C420 (a single-seater biplane fighter) when in collision with another aircraft.

Stanley Furneaux Vivian

Stanley was born in Shepherds Bush, London, in 1892, the son of Richard Warren Vivian, of Lancaster and his wife, Edith Victoria Vivian of Penryn, Cornwall. In 1911 the family was

living in Chiswick, London, where Stanley was employed as an electrical engineer, before enlisting.

Stanley became a Sergeant with the 4th Training Squadron and died on the October 15, 1918, aged 26. He is believed to have been killed in an accident with a flare pistol.

John Loupinski

John was a Russian officer serving in the RAF and was killed on July 26 1919, in an accident at Doncaster. He was hit by the spinning propeller of Avro 504 aircraft, of 38 Training Squadron, whilst preparing to return to Tadcaster (Bramham Moor) airfield. He had been in Doncaster to take part in the RAF Northern Area Athletics Championships, at Doncaster.

Lieutenant E.S. Housley, his pilot, climbed into the machine and John prepared to start the engine by swinging the propeller. The engine started but then stopped. He made an

effort to start it again and he fell. No-one actually saw him struck, but a colleague who went to his aid saw he was terribly injured and pronounced dead shortly afterwards.