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Disastrous Demonstration...
The Death of Donald Ashton-Shorter.  

14 May 1937.

Donald [at left] with another RAAF pilot in front of a Hawker Demon
[Many thanks to Rupert Holmes in the UK for supplying the historic images on this page.]

 THE ACCIDENT  [From page 329 of RAAF History: ‘The Third Brother’]

Even the Hawker Demons which entered service with the RAAF from 1935 were discovered to be not as robust as their ‘modern’ status led some to expect.

On 14 May 1937, Pilot Officer Donald Ashton-Shorter of No.3 Squadron was demonstrating the aerobatic capability of Demon A1-40 to members of a militia unit at Townsville (Qld).  

Demons A1-41 and A1-40 on the Townsville airstrip prior to the crash.

Taking his machine to 3000 feet, Ashton-Shorter commenced a near-vertical dive towards the Ross Plains aerodrome.  Once below 500 feet he began to pull the aircraft out of its dive, but the port upper mainplane broke away and folded back, followed by the lower mainplanes.  The machine continued on into the ground, killing him instantly. 

Fortunately he had not been carrying an Observer on this flight.

DEMON CRASHES AT TOWNSVILLE.  [Bernie Advocate 15/5/37]

…The fuselage then crashed to the ground, landing 70 yards from the crowd.  The wreckage hit the ground nose-first and made a hole four feet deep, then bounded along the ground for 50 yards. 

Waratah Crash Recalled. 
Pilot Officer Ashton-Shorter was one of the four RAAF officers involved in the forced-landing of two Hawker Demons in Tasmania on February 3, 1937.  - Lost in a fog when enroute from Laverton to Hobart, he brought his plane down safely on the main road at Waratah with petrol sufficient for only 10 minutes remaining in the tanks.


BRILLIANT CAREER.  [Sydney Morning Herald 15 May 1937]

Pilot-Officer Ashton-Shorter was attached to the Richmond base.

He was the son of Dr. H. L. Ashton Shorter, of Dee Why.  He was 23 years of age.  He was born in Sydney and lived at Lindfield.  He was educated at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School.  In July, 1935, he was one of three selected from Queensland to train as an officer at Point Cook for the Royal Australian Air Force.  In July, 1936, he gained the rank of pilot officer and won the sword of honour for the highest aggregate number of marks for the course.  A little more than a week ago he qualified as flying officer and topped the list of successful candidates.  During his brief service in the Air Force, he received promotions and was recognised as one of the most promising of the younger fliers...

RAAF Hawker Demons in Flight.
[Image digitally coloured at Photographic Training Flight, RAAF Base East Sale, Victoria.]

Quote from Ten Journeys to Cameron’s Farm - An Australian Tragedy, by Cameron Hazlehurst:

...Among the most notable of the casualties in the year and a half after the class of 1936 passed out was a university graduate and the star of the [Cadet] course, Donald Ashton-Shorter.  Awarded a ‘pass with special distinction’ with a score of 85 per cent, Ashton-Shorter received the sword of honour.  ... By May 1937 Ashton-Shorter had a total of 190 flying hours at No. 3 (Army Co-operation) Squadron.  Recognised as an officer of great promise he had won the Mannock Cup for best pilot 10 months earlier he was probably allowed greater latitude than some of his contemporaries.  He had dazzled troops of the 31st Battalion on exercises around Townsville, manoeuvring between trees and a telephone pole to pick up message bags suspended between two sticks 6ft high and 10ft apart.  But his skill could not save him when a farewell aerobatic display at an angle and height contrary to instructions put a strain on his aircraft that it was not able to take.  ...

Pilot Officer Ashton-Shorter, already signing his own log book as ‘O.C. B Flight, 3 Squadron’, would not live to fulfil the hopes of those who rated him so highly... 

Evocative pictures (below) of Don's funeral procession from St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, Tuesday 18 May 1937. 
His coffin was draped in a Union Jack and transported on a gun-carriage with full military honours:

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