Learning to fly was a dangerous business in 1917 and 1918. More than 14,000 of the men who joined the Royal Flying Corps lost their lives and 8,000 of them died while they were in training. The Royal Flying Corps (which became the Royal Air Force on April 1st, 1918) ran two pilot training camps close to Deseronto: Camp Mohawk on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and Camp Rathbun to the north of Deseronto, either side of the Boundary Road. The camps opened in the Spring of 1917, with three training squadrons based at Camp Mohawk and two at Camp Rathbun. In the winter of 1917-1918 the Deseronto wing was transferred  to Camp Taliaferro in Texas to continue training in the warmer conditions there.

Fifty-five men associated with these camps lost their lives, bringing the First World War very close to home for people in Deseronto. Local doctors were called upon to register the deaths. The picture below is believed to show Deseronto doctor Elgin D. Vandervoort (1853-1939) at the site of one of the crashes.

Of the 55 deaths, 40 were caused by flying accidents, 10 by the 1918 influenza epidemic, three from other diseases and two by other accidents. We will be marking the 100th anniversaries of these deaths as part of our First World War commemorative project over the next two years.

The chart below shows a comparison between the number of deaths over the course of the war of the Deseronto and Tyendinaga men who joined the army (in green) and those men who died while attached to the Deseronto training squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps (in blue).

Royal Flying Corps and army deathsNot all the crashes were fatal, despite the flimsy nature of the aircraft of the time. A report from the Deseronto Post  on September 20th, 1917 describes one such event on September 13th:

1917 Sep 20 Deseronto Post report of water landing

On the same day that the Camp Mohawk fatality [the deaths of Cadets Domville and Kramer] occurred a cadet from Camp Rathbun was forced to come down, which he did in about ten feet of water, quite near the Iron Works. After the plunge he rose to the surface and climbing up the tail of the machine calmly smoked a cigarette until rescued from his perch.
On that day no less than thirteen machines were smashed up more or less and yet everybody seemed happy.