In November 2015, Taunton saleroom Greenslade Taylor Hunt sold a locket bearing a photo portrait of a Royal Flying Corps officer with a piece of aircraft fabric on the back inscribed Von Richthofens Aeroplane Canvas.
That tiny 1/4in (4cm) scrap sold for four times the top estimate at £600 as part of the three-sale Warner Dailey collection, but the man who put those sales together –Malcolm Claridge – now has a larger Red Baron-linked piece of canvas on offer.
The former Dreweatts militaria specialist is linking up with Bristol Auctions Rooms for a militaria section in the November 3 sale. One of the stand-out lots is aeroplane canvas, but not from a plane Von Richthofen flew – instead, from an enemy he shot down on April 8, 1917, over Vimy Ridge: a British BE2 No. A2815.
Flying his red Albatross D III, von Richthofen opened fire at the vastly inferior British plane, an aircraft the Red Baron dismissed as being built from “prehistoric packing cases”. The two second lieutenants from the Royal Flying Corps’ (RFC) 16 Squadron didn’t stand a chance. Their aircraft broke apart in mid-air. Pilot Ingleby Mackenzie, who was just 18, and his observer Everingham, 22, who had been married for just seven weeks, plunged to their deaths.
Recording his 39th ‘victory’ in his pilot’s log, von Richthofen wrote: “April 8, 1917. 16.40 hrs. Vimy. BE2 No. A2815. Occupants: Both killed. Remnants distributed over a kilometre. I was flying and surprised an English artillery flyer. After a very few shots the plane broke to pieces and fell near Vimy, on this side of the lines.”
Triumphant von Richthofen reputedly dispatched a German party to recover the shattered aircraft's tailplane bearing its serial number as a grisly memento. Now, in an incredible twist, this other fragment of the ill-fated British aircraft has surfaced 99 years after their deaths and features in this Bristol sale.
The piece was cut and recovered by Captain John Haydon of the Royal Highlanders of Canada (Black Watch) 42nd Battalion, a Canadian war hero who won the Military Cross for gallantry in 1918. Robert Haydon, his grandson, discovered this canvas as he sorted through his late mother’s possessions. It is estimated at £2000-3000.
In the top right-hand corner of the fabric which bears part of the BE2’s red, white and blue roundel, Capt Haydon had written: Part of wing of British plane brought down at Vimy Ridge, April 1917, by Baron von Richthofen, the ‘Red Ace’.
Mr Haydon said: “My grandfather was a war hero who served as a lieutenant with the Black Watch The Royal Highlanders of Canada at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. On one occasion he single-handedly captured a platoon of German soldiers and marched them back to camp to be interrogated.
“I remember my grandfather showing me the wing canvas when I was a boy. When my mother passed away I was going through her possessions and found the canvas wrapped in tissue paper in a cardboard box.”
Wounded twice, Capt Haydon won the MC for ‘conspicuous gallantry’ in the Battle of Arras when he led a patrol into Jigsaw Wood at Boiry Notre Dame in August 1918 and captured six German soldiers.
The two RFC flyers shot down by von Richthofen in 1917 are buried side by side at the Bois-Carre British Cemetery at Thelus, Pas de Calais.
The Red Baron claimed 22 British aircraft in April that year, including four in a single day, in a disastrous month for the RFC that became known as ‘Bloody April’.
British fight back
On November 11, Gloucestershire saleroom Dominic Winter Auctioneers has two First World War aircraft fabrics on offer, but this time the Brits are fighting back – these are German examples.
One, estimated at £1500-2000, is a c.1917 large painted black Iron Cross on a brown or ‘field green’ background, with a contemporary inscription in pencil to the upper edge from Aircraft shot down, Arras April 1917, 2 Sqn RFC. It is 21 x 32in (54 x 58cm) overall, mounted on board and displayed in a modern frame.
One of the original squadrons of the RFC, 2 Sqn was one of the earliest in service in France. It is particularly noteworthy for the exploits of William Rhodes-Moorhouse, who in 1915 became the first airman to win the Victoria Cross.