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- 3 Squadron's First Operational Loss -

(Extract from the Sloane Family's book: "To Fly Like An Eagle")

On the way to France, the RE8 aircraft being flown by Lt Shapira with Douglas Sloane exhibited signs of a fuel blockage.  Shapira made the decision to land at a nearby Aerodrome at Biggin Hill to rectify the problem, and ascertain their true geographical position.  What followed was tragic in the extreme; and the account below was later supplied to Douglas's brother, Alex Sloane, by the Red Cross Society:

Australian Red Cross Society

54 Victoria Street.,
       3rd October, 1917.

No. 6421 Driver A. J. Sloane,
10 Battery, Australian Field Art.,  B.E.F.


Dear Sir,

We are requested by your uncle, the Rev. Hume Robertson, to send you an account of the death of your brother No. 694 Air/Mechanic W. D. Sloane, 69th Squadron A.F.C., which occurred under such tragic circumstances on 21.8.17 and we regret to inform you of the following report given by Lt. Wilkinson, R.F.C., Biggin Hill, Kent, who witnessed the accident.

He writes -

The O.C. has handed your letter over to me to answer.  He considers it a matter requiring more personal details than he could supply, and I was the last to speak to them and one of the first on the scene of the accident.  Their machine landed on the Aerodrome about 12.10pm on August 21st, last.  Lieut. Shapira was the pilot and 2/AM Sloane, the gunner observer.  They were on their way from South Carlton, Lincs. to France via Lympne.  They were a little off their course and having had some slight engine trouble, came down on sighting our Aerodrome, to have this remedied and to find their actual position.  Their engine was put right and petrol tanks refilled by our mechanics. Meanwhile Lieut. Shapira came to lunch with us and Sloane went to the men's dining hut for his.  Shortly after lunch, having got full details of their course, they climbed aboard and their engine was "run up" for them.  They expressed themselves entirely satisfied and it was indeed running perfectly.  Just before they left, a message came through from the Air Board, to the effect that if Lieut. Shapira thought the weather conditions were not good enough, he was not to start.  This message I delivered to him while he was in his machine with the engine running.  The weather was perfectly fit for flying and he just smiled and said, "That's alright; cheer-oh", and proceeded to get away.

He got off the ground perfectly and flew straight into the wind to get his proper height; having reached a height of some 600 feet, he turned to get on his course.  Almost immediately his machine started to spin slowly in flat circles, then the nose dropped and she went down in a spinning nose dive to earth.  We heard the crash and saw a cloud of smoke ascend from behind a clump of trees, and heard the popping of cartridges.  Immediately an ambulance and a light tender proceeded to the spot, and believe me, we lost no time in getting there, but we were unable to do anything for them.  The machine was blazing from end to end, and it was impossible to approach her.  

A man who was working in the field in which she fell, had tried, he told us, to drag them out with a long handled hay rake, but it was soon obvious that they were dead, and he gave up the attempt.  The Doctor who reached the spot shortly after we did, gave it as his opinion that their death was instantaneous.  We got the fire out and took the bodies along to our Aerodrome, where they were placed in a hut and a Guard mounted.  An inquest was held, the verdict being accidental death when flying.  No one knows, of course, what caused the machine to spin, but it seems to be the general opinion here that it was due to an error of judgement as to the right amount of bank required.

We sent wires to all the British addresses amongst their personal effects, advising them of the accident, and the place and date of funeral.  These were all contained in a note book belonging to Lt. Shapira, which together with all the personal belongings of them both, handed over to the Australian Administrative Headquarters. The latter also undertook all arrangements for the funeral, and would be able to give all details as to place, etc.  

May I offer on behalf of all officers here, our sympathy with the relatives in their loss."

Trusting that it will be some slight comfort to know that his death must have been instantaneous, and assuring you of our very sincere sympathy in your great loss.

Yours faithfully,

Vera Deakin, Secretary.

London, England. 1918. Studio portrait of Vera DEAKIN (later White), Australian Red Cross (ARC).
Deakin, daughter of the former Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, established the Wounded and Missing Bureau in Cairo, Egypt, in 1915 and during WW2 she organised the Melbourne branch of the Bureau.  Deakin later became the Vice-Chairman of the ARC. 

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