Arthur Roy Brown

World War I Fighter Ace

A. Roy Brown

A Short History

Arthur Roy Brown was born Dec. 23, 1893 in Carleton Place, 30 miles west of Ottawa, Ontario. His father owned a flour mill and power company in the town, so they were quite well off. There were five children in the family, Howard, Margaret, Bessie, Horace and Roy. He was a physical youth enjoying hockey in particular. His hockey skills were good enough to get him an invitation to the Ottawa Senators, but his father disuaded him, particularly as he already had a bad injury from hockey. He did well in high school, but in order to take a place in the family businesses he transferred to a business school to study accounting. Following this course, he wanted to continue to university to study business administration, but he needed his high school matriculation, which he technically didn't have. His Uncle Will and Aunt Blanche in Edmonton invited him west to attend Victoria High School from 1913-1915.

As a young man he was outgoing and intellectual. By 1915 he was an Officer Cadet in the Army Officers' Training Corps, but he was fascinated by the new technology of flight. He and his friends looked into it as it seemed a better way to go to war than the horror that was unfolding in the trenches. Both the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were recruiting in Canada for young men who had a demonstrated aptitude in flying. Basically they had to have completed an elementary flying course to show that they were capable of flying an airplane. His father said no to the RFC as the casualties were starting to mount in alarming fashion, whereas the RNAS seemed to have it relatively easier flying patrols along the British, French and Belgian coasts.

As soon as he finished high school in Edmonton he returned to Carlton Place to meet up with his friends, in particular Stearne Edwards. The Royal Naval Air Service were recruiting in the area so four of them applied. However, the RNAS and RFC still considered flying duty to be a gentleman's posting; they required prospective pilots to have an Aero Certificate. The only Canadian flying school in Toronto was full, so the four of them left for the Wright Brothers school in Dayton, Ohio with a cadre of other students, some of whom would distinguish themselves. "Red" Mulock would rise to be the first ace in the RNAS and an Air Commodore in the Canadian Air Force prior to WWII; Stearne would become an "ace"; and Roy would be an ace and credited with killing Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron. First they had to sign papers absolving the Wright Brothers if any of them was injured or killed while flying one of the aircraft that were terribly fragile and unstable in the air. The lessons were expensive, $250 for 240 minutes in the air, plus living expenses that could total $600 in 1915. Fortunately, his folks were well off and could afford it. Eventually he got an aviators certificate on November 13, 1915 (ACA Certificate number 361) after only 6 hours in the air with an instructor. The only time they flew solo was for their licence exam. Stearne had graduated before Roy and had gone back to Canada.

The four friends joined the RNAS in Canada and found that the naval flying service also paid higher wages for men with certificates than were the Royal Flying Corps. He was appointed a Temporary Probationary Flight Sub-Lieutenant in Ottawa, 15 November 1915. As Stearne had already completed the Wright Brother's flying course he had already gone to England, while Roy sailed on Nov. 22, 1915. Once there all prospective naval pilots went to the flying school at Chingford to learn how to fly more modern aircraft, with higher landing speeds and a very different control system. The four friends were nicknamed the "Hobo Quartet" while at Chingford. Stearne was in the class but was ahead of Roy and advanced rapidly, as he turned out to be a natural pilot. He wanted to graduate with Roy, however, Roy was set back in training due to a series of illnesses. Then disaster struck when Brown crashed an AVRO 504 on 2, 1916. He climbed out of the wreckage and walked half a mile to the nearest telephone. The next morning he had a severe pain in his back so the doctor took another look at him. He had broken one of his vertebrae and had to spend two months in hospital. He had another month off on leave and returned to Chingford in August of 1916. By this time his best friend was in France flying with 3 Wing, RNAS. In September, Brown was posted to the Eastchurch Gunnery School. It seemed that Brown was not a natural shot, for it wasn't until January 1917 that he was sent to Cranwell to complete advanced training.

The War

By March, 1917 he was posted to 9 Naval Squadron and began to fly patrols along the Belgian coast in an agile little fighter, the Sopwith Pup. The Pup wasn't as well armed or as fast as the current German fighter, theAlbatros DII but it was more manouverable. Above 14,000 feet the Albatros would wallow about in the thin air but the Pup was still agile so Pup squadrons took to flying as high as they could manage to have an edge over the German fighters. While 9(N) Squadron also had Sopwith Triplanes in the first half of 1917 Brown never got to fly one in action, although he did manage to break the propellor of one. Roy sent it home with a photo embedded in it as a souvenir for his father. The standard duties of the squadron were to protect the North Sea fleet, locate German seaplanes, escort bombing missions and watch for Zeppelins returning to their bases. In April the Battle of Arras started and B Flight was attached to the RFC to help bolster their fight on the front lines, Roy went along.

Much to his dismay, but greatly to his luck, he was stricken ill until June thus avoiding April, 1917,  the month that the RFC came to call "Bloody April" when the new German Albatros DIII came into widespread service. Unfortunately, the British were still flying primarily Nieuport 17s, Sopwith Pups and 1 ½ Strutters that were clearly outclassed by the new Albatros. Only the Sopwith Triplane could compete on an even basis, but there were too few of them as only the RNAS had any, having traded all of their SPAD VIIs to the RFC for all of the "Tripes". RFC Corps squadrons flew constantly on reconnaissance, artillery spotting, mapping and bombing missions, and the Army squadrons were sent up to provide protection for them and to intercept Germans doing spotting and photography. Despite having a two-to-one advantage in aircraft, the British squadrons couldn't compete causing very high losses amongst all squadrons.

On recovery Roy was posted to 11 Naval Squadron which was primarily an operational training squadron, where he helped instruct new pilots. Then in July he went to 4 Naval Squadron, but in mid-July he was reposted to 11 Naval Squadron flying Pups, Triplanes and a few of the new Sopwith Camels from a base at Hondschoote.

His first aerial victory came on July 17, he describes the fight in a letter home. He often wrote his mother, father and sister Bessie. The only letter in which he describes a dogfight was to Bessie on July 18, 1917. This was strictly against the rules of the RFC and he had to post it from England to avoid the military censors.


No. 11 Squadron
My dear Bess, Just got 3 back letters of yours which have been on a trip all over the country. I have very little time to write as I am very busy at present.

We had a great time yesterday. On our patrol I saw some of our anti aircraft firing on some Huns so went down to see what was on. We ran right into about eight of their scouts. I was right in the middle of them before I knew it. I opened fire on one and just got a few rounds off when he went down in a spin and my gun jambed. I cleared my jamb and opened fire on another one. I got a lot of lead in him and he was out of control immediately. Went down side-slipping and every way but the right way. Then my gun jambed again and a Hun got under my tail {i.e the back of my machine} and opened fire on me. I side-looped immediately and came out of the loop right under his tail and got about 25 rounds into him when he went down in a spin also. My gun jambed again which I cleared but there were no Huns left to fight with as they were all driven down by that time. I was quite low then and came back across the line dodging their anti-aircraft fire at me. They must have fired 75 shells at me but I stunted all around and got away alright. They only got one small piece of shell into my wing so I was pretty lucky. That is what a fight in the air is like in a very brief way. It is the greatest sport you can imagine. That is the first scrap this squadron has had so we did pretty well. One of the other chaps got one too. I was glad it happened as it did because that is the first time I have been in charge of the patrol so I have got in pretty strong with my C.O. I [sic] surely is exciting while it lasts but I was scared stiff coming back through their archie and anti-aircraft fire. It was much too close for comfort I can tell you. I cannot write a letter like this very often so I hope this one gets to you alright.

How is the lake this summer? Are many of the cottages occupied and what kind of a time are you having? I expect it is rather quiet. I don't know how I shall ever settle down again after the exciting time we have over here. I am going to try to get out of this for the winter and get a job in England. I wish I could get XXXX have to go home but there is a war on and pilots are pretty useful at present and will be so am sure needed.

It is just lunch time so shall get this ready to mail to you just after.

Love to all


Unlike WWII, British pilots in WWI were often given credit for aircraft that they could not confirm as having crashed. They were often recorded as OOC, Out Of Control. To Brown it was only part of the job, a distasteful part. He did not take to showing off or bragging about his kills. To him it was a grisly business, not sport as many pilots made it out to be. He concentrated on downing the machine, and preferred not to think about the man in it.

Shortly after this he had another spell of stomach trouble. He apparently suffered from acute gastritis (a painful inflammation of the stomach) that was aggravated by the stress of combat and the fumes of burnt castor oil from their rotary engines. Castor oil was used as a lubricant in rotary engines, it is also a well known laxative and many Allied pilots suffered from the ill effects of breathing and swallowing the oil that was flung in liberal quantities from the whirling cylinders of their rotaries.

Lieutenant Sholto Douglas (later Air Vice-Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas) wrote: "Ours was a strain of a new and special temper that even now is hard to analyze. In some cases the abrupt change from the quiet of our way of life on the ground to the heat of being in a scrap in the air over the lines, often  in a matter of only a few minutes, led to tension or strain that, I must admit, had severe effects on the nerves. Stomach ulcers became one of the hallmarks of our trade."

Even so, he progressed with an appointment to Flight Lieutenant, with a promise of sorts for further promotion. This was pretty much a given, if a pilot survived long enough he would be promoted to lead others, for there were few who could boast of a year's experience flying in action, let alone a month.


No. 11 Squadron
July 29/17
Dear Dad, - Just received yours and mother's letter of July 9. It did very well to get to me so quickly.

I have been on the sick list for a couple of days with my stomach. Felt O.K. again today though. My C.O. is as nice to me as he could be. Comes in and talks to me as if I were his son. Scolded me for getting up too soon and yesterday every time he saw me he chased me off to my cabin.

He recommended me to Head Quarters for promotion to Acting Flight-Commander. They have made me Flight Lieut. though. If all goes well I should be made a Flight-Commander in the September promotions. I would have it now if he could get it for me. I have been in charge of a flight for two months now. This is rather unhealthy service to be in, here, at present but I am as careful as I can be. The trouble is you make all kinds of good resolutions about how careful you will be when you are on the ground and when you get in the air you feel altogether different and forget about them. The trouble is stunting too near the ground. The number that are killed that way is awful but that is one thing I never do under any circumstances as I have seen too much of that. Sid Ellis who was at home when he was a little kid was killed that way.

You asked about the address. It was correct and any letter with address should always get me without accidents.

Mother asked about Mxxx (?). The last I heard of him he had a job instructing in England. I do not think he will be back to France for some time anyway. Stearns is on leave in England now. I am the only one in France now out of the boys I started to train with in Dayton. Stearns will be back again very soon I expect. I wish he was coming to this squadron but it seems we can not get together again. We have certainly tried often enough but it never has worked. Stearns is going to have a try at it this time. He certainly is a fine fellow. They don't make them any better than he is.

As soon as I get an opportunity I will send home a souvenir to you. I shall explain later what it is exactly when I send it.

Love to all


Re address
I am not attached to R.F.C. at present that comes off address.

While with 11 Naval Brown drove down three aircraft, however, these were not seen to crash by anyone and so were not awarded to him as victories. Experienced pilots in WWI often spun their aircraft out of a fight looking very much like they were incapacitated only to recover from the spin and head for home, so an aircraft had to be obviously out of control close to the ground before a pilot could successfully claim it.

No. 11 Naval went back to guarding the fleet off of Holland. Even though they often saw nothing on these flights, they had their own particular brand of danger.


No. 11 Squadron
Aug 13/17
My dear Mother,-

Just received your letter of July 29 and am getting busy immediately. I am about as tired to-night as I possibly can be. I never, as the saying is here had the "wind up" which means frightened, so I never had the "wind up" so high in my life before as I had to-day.

We are doing patrols now to protect the fleet on land machines and the fleet of course is miles out in the North Sea. To-day my engine was missing badly all the time and the climax came when one of my flight had his engine quit and I had to go right down to 300 feet off the sea to make sure the fleet picked him up. He was picked up alright and I thought I should have to crash into the sea too but I got back alright and nearly crashed on landing as once I shut my engine off I could not get it to start again. I was all in when I got down again as I was so scared. Its no fun I can tell you. Enough of this. This is why I do not like writing about what we do as it is all done with much to narrow a margin. This letter will be mailed in England.

I am very glad you liked the photos. I have another one which you will like better when you get it but I cannot send it till I go on leave. Unfortunately all leave is stopped for this month which means I get no leave till October at the earliest.

Stearns is all O.K. again and back on duty. He tried to get to No 11 Sq. but could not manage it. I am very sorry as I wish he could have got here.

The weather as I told you in my last letter has been very bad for nearly a month. All rain and miserable. The result is our drome is all under water where there is no water is it mud.

The chap that fell in the sea has just got back. He is pretty lucky as it was hard for him to swim with big leather coat and great hip fur boots on. They picked him up very quickly though as he was only in the water about 8 minutes or so.

I must get to bed now as I have to be up at 5 something in the morning so good-night.

Love from
Your son
In late August 11 Naval was disbanded and he returned to No. 9 Naval Squadron flying out of Leffrinckhoucke Aerodrome with one of the premiere British fighter aircraft of the late war, the Sopwith Camel. This agile little fighter aircraft was renowned for being a difficult aircraft to fly, and it did kill a large number of pilots with it's unforgiving flight characteristics. However, once a pilot became proficient in the Camel he could use it's highly unstable nature to his advantage. While being relatively slow, the Camel could nearly turn on a dime to the right, so that with a bit of experience Camel pilots could whip them around behind an adversary before they could take evasive manouvers.
Brown in front of a Camel
There was a surprise in mid-August, his old friend Stearnes Edwards was posted to 9 (N). He had been a Flight Commander in 6 Naval but due to heavy losses in 9 and 10 Naval Squadrons fighting with the RFC over the front, 6 Naval was broken up and the pilots sent to make up the losses.

Roy managed a week of leave in late August in spite of what he wrote his mother due to an attack of tonsilitis.

Aug 29      1917
Telephone GERRARD 140

Dear Dad,-

Just a note to let you know I am on leave. I am due back in France Sept 1. All our leave was washed out but I had an attack of tonsillitis so managed to get my leave out of that as I was due for leave anyway and December looked a long time to wait. I am having a pretty good time. Have been up the river with Skeet (?) untill yesterday. I have 7 days altogether and am staying in London for the remainder of the time. I am going to send you the blade of a propeller with a photograph mounted in it. It is off the original tri-plane which is the fastest machine we have. It goes about 125 knots and climbs to 10000 feet in about 6 to 7 minutes. The prop split in the air with me in France. We brake a great many props in landing & shoot through a lot more due to defective tracer ammunition. I hope you get it all O.K. It is packed pretty well so you should receive it in good condition. I am just going out now to finish getting it away. My next letter will be from France.

We are just on the Belgian frontier about 2 miles from the sea. We fly over Ostend and … is s….. and it is no fun as they have pretty good archie around there. Must get away now.

Love to all

In September, Brown demonstrated his flying expertise by easily outmanoeuvring an Aviatik 2-seater and shooting it down. Before September was out he shot down two more Germans (a two-seater DFW C type and an Albatros DV) bringing his total to four Out-Of-Control. At the end of September 9(N) was detached from the RFC and placed in No. 4 (Naval) Wing. In that month the Canadians in 9 Naval had destroyed at least 20 enemy aircraft.

In October they moved to Frontier Aerodrome in the Ostend area but the dogfights in this area increased as the Germans tried to increase their knowledge of British military activities. On October 6 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his victories and for an extraordinary act of courage. In the midst of a large dogfight he had to break off with both of his Camel's guns jammed. Being an experienced pilot he kept an eye out for enemies by continually scanning the sky around and under him, and noticed a single Allied pilot trying to fend off four Albatroses. Brown whipped his Camel around, and still with jammed guns, flew through the Germans, forcing them to scatter and giving the British pilot a chance to escape. On October 13 the weather was poor, but in the morning they flew several patrols. Brown attacked a DFW two-seater and brought it down in flames over Ostende, his seventh victory. On the 16th he was promoted to Acting Flight Commander.

London Gazette No.
War Office,
2nd November, 1917

His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve of the following award to the undermentioned officer, in recognition of his gallantry and devotion in the field:


T/2ndFor the excellent work he has done on active service. On the 3rd September, 1917, he attacked a two-seater Aviatik, in company with his flight. The enemy machine was seen to dive down vertically, the enemy observer falling over on the side of the fuselage shot.

On the 5th September, 1917, in company with formation, he attacked an Albatross scout and two-seater, driving them away from our lines. One machine was observed to go down apparently out of control.

On the 15th September, 1917, whilst on patrol, he dived on two Aviatiks and three Albatross scouts, followed by his flight. He dived several times and picked out one enemy scout, firing about 200 rounds, when the enemy machine went down out of control, spinning on its back.

On the 20th September, 1917, whilst leading his flight, he dived on five Albatross scouts. Flight Lieutenant Brown picked out one enemy machine and opened fire. One of his guns jammed, but he carried on with the other. The enemy machine went down out of control and over on its back and remained in that position for about twenty seconds, whilst Flight Lieutenant Brown continued firing until his other gun jammed. The enemy machine then disappeared in the clouds, still on its back.

Another officer of the same patrol was later followed by four enemy machines, as he was separated from the formation. Both Flight Lieutenant Brown's guns were jammed, but he dived on the enemy machines and drove them off, thus undoubtably saving the pilot's life.

On November 10, 1917 he and Stearnes went on extended leave and headed home to Carleton Place for a well earned rest. They returned to England on January 30, 1918 and to France in February rejoining 9(N); Brown had command of B Flight and Stearnes of C Flight. However, in typical military style they arrived in time for the squadron to return to England to refit with new aircraft. Their kit was packed up and sent back but then poor weather delayed them for weeks.


No 9 Squadron
Feb. 15.
My dear Mother,-

As I wrote you about a week ago we were to go home to England for the squadron to re-fit on Feb 8. We have been waiting over a week now and have been unable to get away due to bad weather. I never remember a spell of weather when we could not fly which has lasted as long as the present one has. All our kit went to England on Feb 8 so you can imagine the state we are in now without a change of any kind. I got a pair of socks yesterday and feel quite clean now. It cannot last very much longer.

I have received no mail yet since coming back but I expect it is waiting in Dover for me. We have not received any mail since Feb 8. Everything stopped at Feb 8 with us. We are as you can expect pretty fed up with it all.

I saw a picture taken at Dayton when we were training, which one of the boys at No. 3 Squadron has. It was taken after Stearns left. There were 37 fellows in it and out of all that there is only this chap from No 3 Squadron and myself who are in France now. About 10 have been killed, more have been out and gone back to a soft job and the remainder have never been out at all. Two out of 37 still carrying on is a very small percentage.

I shall write again from England when we get there as this weather cannot last for ever. It is not very often we wish for good weather out here.

Love from

They returned to the Western Front in March with new Camels (the BR 1 model) using the more powerful Bentley engine. On the 22nd he attacked one of seven two-seaters which fell into a vertical nose-dive. Other pilots confirmed that it crashed. One German pilot made a point of trying to kill him in his cherry-nosed Camel whenever he spotted Brown. On two occasions he nearly succeeded, riddling Brown's aircraft with bullet holes so that he had to be helped from the planes. But he couldn't quit, all pilots were needed at the front.

On April 1, 1918 the RFC and RNAS were amalgamated into the Royal Air Force, all RNAS squadrons were re-numbered starting at 200, so 9(N) became 209 Squadron, RAF. The pilots were also given RFC ranks so he and Stearnes became Captains. They were also moved to the Somme sector where the heaviest fighting was occuring.

The German high command realized that a late winter offensive was necessary if they were to break out and defeat the Allies before the Americans arrived. A massive German operation called Operation Michael, or the "Ludendorff Offensive", was on; 100 divisions of German troops were arrayed against 60 Divisions of Allied troops. The attack drove Allied armies back forty miles in a few days. From March 20 to 29 9(N) Squadron occupied six aerodromes as the front was forced back.

The brutal style of continuous fighting over the front, with numerous flights and dogfights every day was a rude awakening to the RNAS pilots, who had had a relatively sedate air war compared to the RFC. A new RFC pilot on the Western Front lasted on average 11 days. Once they had survived a month, they were old hands. This was one of the reasons why pilots such as Richthofen, Fonck, Collishaw and Bishop were able to rack up the incredible number of kills they did. Many of their kills were of inexperienced pilots who were relatively easy to shoot down.

It was imperative that the German advance be stopped, all pilots flew four missions a day, many of which were nerve-wracking straffing missions to break up German forces on the attack. Flying just feet above the ground firing on troops was an unglamourous and very hazardous task, but Brown did it. He was sickened by it, but he did it well. He was now amongst the most experienced pilots on the front. In March while escorting French reconnaissance aircraft he fired 100 rounds into a two-seater that was tring to get above the flight. It went down in a vertical nose-dive and was seen to crash. He downed one each on April 11th and 12. Wop MayThen his school friend from Edmonton Wilfrid "Wop" May was posted to 209 Sqdn.and joined Brown's flight.

Raymond Collishaw visited Brown one day in April and was astonished at the poor condition of Brown. He was exhausted, he had lost 25 lbs, his eyes were blood-shot and sunken and his hair was quickly graying. He had been trying to control his stomach for the past month with a mixture of milk and brandy (many pilots tried this combination to counteract the effects of ingested castor oil). But, despite Collishaw's pleas that he quit flying, he had to continue. At this time no one was exempt from combat flying for anything other than wounds. Many years later Collishaw recalled:

"Brown was definitely in a bad way, both mentally and physically, and he was both nervous and had lost his nerve.(letter from R. Collishaw to Ed Ferko)"

Their existance at Bertangles Aerodrome did nothing to cheer them. When they landed they had no diversions, no hot water, just tents in a muddy field. Every morning the field was shrouded in a thick fog. The spring was dreary, with cold rain and wind.

Manfred von RichthofenIt was little better at Cappy Aerodrome 45 miles away for the Germans of Jagdstaffel 11, part of Baron Manfred von Richthofen's "Flying Circus" (Jagdgeschwader 1). They too were continually cold, wet, and exhausted. He was 25 and close to being worn out by the recent heavy action. He had survived a serious head wound the previous year, and his young cousin Wolfram had just joined the famous Jasta 11.

April 21, 1918
The day started cold and foggy, but cleared by 9 A.M., so both British and German aircrews warmed up their fighters. Camel BR 1s for the British, Fokker Dr. I triplanes and Albatros DVas for the Germans. Richthofen flew in his standard red coloured triplane, Brown in his now-khaki coloured Camel.

Both flights left their respective aerodromes around 9:15. The Germans spotted and attacked a pair of Australian RE8s , but lost a triplane before the Australians escaped. The pilots of Jasta 11 reformed and headed towards the British. Brown spotted the Germans first and motioned for Wop May to stay high out of danger and then led 209 Sqdn to the attack. The triplanes were more agile than the Camels, and Brown soon had two on his tail. He quickly turned his plane and the triplanes roared past him. May watched from above until several Fokkers passed under him. He could stand it no longer and dove to the attack, spraying lead all over the sky. He missed everyone and had both guns jam. Happy with surviving his first battle May headed for Allied lines. But Richthofen had spotted May as the pilot he dove on was cousin Wolfram. He tracked May as he left the melee and followed him.

The first May knew that he was in trouble was when Richthofen's bullets smashed into his Camel. As a novice he had not developed the observational techniques required to stay alive in the air. He looked quickly over his shoulder to see a scarlet triplane on his tail firing at him. He spun his Camel to lose the triplane and then zigzagged after he came out of the spin. Richthofen stuck to him firing and matching the novice's moves.

"I kept dodging and spinning, I imagine from about 12,000 feet until I ran out of sky and had to hedgehop over the ground. Richthofen was firing at me continually. The only thing that saved my life was my poor flying. I didn't know what I was doing myself and I do not suppose that Richthofen could figure out what I was going to do. We came over the German lines, troops firing at us as we went over. This was also the case coming over the British lines."

Brown saw that May was in desperate trouble and disengaged from the dogfight to dive onto the red Fokker from behind. He was a ways off and May had to fend for himself for several minutes.

May continued:

"I got on the Somme River and started up the valley at a very low altitude, Richthofen very close on my tail. I went around a curve in the river just near Corbie. Richthofen beat me to it and came over the hill. At that moment I was a sitting duck. I was too low down between the banks to make a turn away from him, I felt that he had me cold, and I was in such a state of mind at this time that I had to restrain myself from pushing my stick forward into the river, as I knew that I had had it."

What likely saved May was that Richthofen's guns were not firing properly. The left one was completely jammed and the right one was not extracting the bullets so that he could only fire a single shot before he had to manually reload, adjust his aim and fire again. Also, Richthofen had neglected his cardinals rule of air-fighting, don't go over the British lines, don't fly low and don't fly alone. He broke all three that morning, and it was his undoing.

Brown was now approaching the red Fokker from the right rear quadrant. He pulled out of the steep dive and fired off a long burst before he had to pull off or risk a collision. The Fokker continued on over Allied territory being subjected to a hail of gun fire from Australian troops. Then it wobbled and nosed into the ground. The aircraft lay in the field for several hours subjected to artillery fire until some Australian soldiers got a rope onto the body and pulled it across a road to safety.

Brown After the Red Baron

Quickly souvenir hunters hacked apart his aircraft before the British army doctors could get there to take the body and aircraft back for study. A message to British HQ read:

Fokker triplane No 2009 brought down at sheet 62 D J19 B44 designated G/5B/2. Engine Le Rhone is marked model Oberursel No. 2478. Two Spandaus (nos 1795, 659) - (less locks & ammo. Prop; instruments and name plate on engine had also been taken before salvage.) Brown flew Camel No. 7270. Triplane a complete wreck and was exposed to shell-fire for some hours .... It is painted bright red all over. Date on top plane -- 13-12-17. Fabric of rather better quality than usual. Finish of engine is better than those captured in previous machines of this type.
Signed report of 3 Sqn., A.F.C. Eqpt. Officer, is present (N.J. Warenford). He arrived at site at 2 p.m. when machine was being shelled by H.E., body still in wreckage rope was fastened around body, drew it across road and down a trench and brought it to aerodrome. The machine was knocked about by shell splinters. Pilots seat forwarded to 209 Sqn for retention as a souvenir. Request for engine for Brown; but apparently not granted, as engine, guns, &c. were sent to England 26.5.18 (204/5/1465).

Richthofen's airplane

Richthofen was carried off by an Australian ambulance to Poulainville and placed in a hanger. After the morning patrol, Brown went in to see the mighty warrior he had killed, but the sight of the body sickened him. The similarities between Richthofen and himself were too great. It wasn't glamourous, Richthofen's eyes were open, his teeth were bashed in from the crash and he had a large gash on his chin. He wrote of that night:

"... the sight of Richthofen as I walked closer gave me a start. He appeared so small to me, so delicate. He looked so friendly. Blond, silk-soft hair, like that of a child, fell from the broad, high forehead. His face, particularly peaceful, had an expression of gentleness and goodness, of refinement. Suddenly I felt miserable, desperately unhappy, as if I had committed an injustice. With a feeling of shame, a kind of anger against myself moved in my thoughts, that I had forced him to lay there. And in my heart I cursed the force that is devoted to death. I gnashed my teeth, I cursed the war. If I could I would gladly have brought him back to life, but that is somewhat different than shooting a gun. I could no longer look him in the face. I went away. I did not feel like a victor. There was a lump in my throat. If he had been my dearest friend, I could not have felt greater sorrow."

He was awarded his second DSC, for his work since his first DSC, but also for the feat of killing Richthofen. The Australians gave Richthofen a military funeral with an honour guard near the village of Bertangles. After the war he was exhumed by the Germans and buried at Fricourt, and was again exhumed and reburied with honours in Berlin.

Funeral of Richthofen

Brown's Combats in the Air Report
Brown's Action Report

A week later he wrote home to let his folks know what had happened:


Passed by Censor No. 228 (Postmark:) Army Post Office 27 Ap 18
Carleton Place, Ont. Mar. '18
(Envelope address: ) Mr. J.M. Brown, Carleton Place, Ontario, Canada (Text of letter: ) 209 Squadron, R.A.F. c/p G.R.O. London, B.E.F. April 27, 18.

Show this letter to nobody but at home, Uncle Clarence's and Uncle Alex's please,

Dear Dad,-

I am afraid I have not written for some time but it has not been my fault. We have been working so hard it has been impossible. I feel just about all done in today the way things have gone. My stomach has been very bad recently and the doctor says if I keep on I shall have a nervous break-down and has ordered me to stop active service flying. I am to have two weeks leave and then go up for a medical examination again. I have done everything in my power to come back to France after that but it does not look very hopeful. Both my C.O. and I have seen the Colonel about it and the Colonel in interviewing the General but they all say I have to abide by the doctor's order. I am sorry that it should happen at the present time when there is so much work to do. I have just got the flight going beautifully now and I have all good chaps with me. What is more we have been doing very good work. I have been congratulated by two Generals for what I have done which is very pleasant.

Our best effort was on the 21st when we fought Baron von Richtofen's "Circus" as they are called. I expect you will have read about them in the papers. There were eleven of us and twenty-two of them as nearly as we can make out. It was the most terrible fight I have ever seen in the air. I doubt whether there ever has been one like it before. We shot down three of their triplanes which were seen to crash and one that has not been confirmed as yet. Among them was the Baron whom I shot down on our side of the lines.

We did not lose anyone in that flight. It is going to have great effect on the war in the air as that fight was ordered by the Hun to give him a chance to do reconnaissance in the air and of course he was defeated. It is bound to have a great effect on the Hun especially when they lost their best fighter and their stunt squadron was defeated.

That is one of the things we have done lately so you can plainly see I do not want to quit as there is such a wonderful opportunity at the present time to do effective work. We have a wonderful bunch of fellows in the squadron and I do hate to leave. The doctor said he would give me leave to go to Canada but I refused as there is too much to do here at present. How it will all come out I do not know. I do not feel at all well at present but a couple weeks rest I am quite sure will fix me up alright again. The Colonel is to see the General this afternoon and then I shall go on leave. I shall write you as soon as I get on leave and let you know what has happened.

I received your letter dated Mar 25 and I was very sorry to hear mother is sick and I hope by this time she is quite better again. If she would only not work so hard but there is no use saying anything. I am very glad to hear that Bess is not coming over. Try to persuade her not to come over al all. I hope she does not. Two of us over here at once is quite enough.

It was rather funny about Richthofen being shot down. The infantry on the ground the anti-aircraft and an Australian squadron put in reports that they had shot him down. All reports differed. They had a medical examination on the body and it was found they were all wrong without the slightest doubt. It is a terrible thing when you think of it that they should examine a body to see who should have the credit of killing him. What I saw that day shook me up quite a lot as it was the first time I have seen a man whom I know I had killed. If you don't shoot them they will shoot you so it has to be done. Shall write again soon.

Love to all

Shortly after this Brown was admitted to hospital for his severe gastritis, as well as stress and exhaustion.

No 24 General Hospital
May 9.18.
Dear Dad,-

Just a note to let you know I am getting along alright. I am off milk & biscuit now and am getting eggs and fish. Tomorrow if I am O.K. I shall get fowl, it will not be very long before I shall be out of here. I shall be out next week sometime. Wednesday in fact if I am lucky. I then go on leave to England. I was to go to the south of France but that has been changed as the place I was to go to down there has been closed for the summer. What happens after that depends on how I feel but I hope I shall be able to stay out here.

There is nothing very interesting going on here. Stearns was along to see me xxxday to give me the squadron news. He is quite well and working hard and good work too. I hope we do not get separated now. Shall write you again just before I get out of here or just after.

Love to all

I am having all kinds of people coming around to shake hands with me and give me congratulations. They are funny and I can hardly keep my face straight sometimes.

W.C. 2
May 17 18
Dear Dad,-

At last I am out of the hospital again and very glad of it. My stomach is feeling fairly good now although I feel pretty washed out as yet. Stearns expects to be on leave the beginning of the week and we are going to take a canoe trip up the river. It is the best thing I know of to make me fit again. I hope I am alright when I have to go back as I do not want to quit just at the present time. There is a pretty fair chance of getting a squadron now but I do not think I shall be lucky enough to get it. I should have a pretty good chance though if I am able to go back to France and carry on. I shall soon know. If I am not fit I am not going to try it. I hope the next letter I write will be from somewhere on the river.

Love to all

He went on leave but was not fully recovered. At this time his friend Stearnes Edwards also collapsed from battle fatigue and was sent to 24 General Hospital. Stearnes was sent on leave to England, and after his recovery was posted as an instructor at No 2 School of Aerial Fighting and Gunnery.

R.A.F. Gen. Hosp.
May 28. 18
Dear Dad,-

Well I am back in hospital again. I came on leave alright but have been feeling so rotten I decided my leave was doing me no good so reported and have been sent here. I do not know what they are going to do with me as I have not seen the Medical Officer yet.

This is a splendid hospital with an excellent situation. It is on a hill close to Hampstead Heath which gives it lots of fresh air. It seems to be very well run from the little I have seen. They do a lot of research work here into the different kinds of troubles which are peculiar to flying people. It is purely for R.A.F. officers so they get lots of material to work on. It is a very good idea having a hospital like this as in an ordinary hospital they do not know how to treat the troubles of flying people. What they will have me do I do not know but I am certainly not nearly as fit as I thought I was and shall not be able to go back to France for an indefinite time.

Shall let you know when I get some kind of different news. I shall be quite alright. All that is really the matter is I am just tired out.

Love to all

He finally got out of hospital in mid-June and went on a well deserved leave with Stearnes. They were photographed in London after receiving medals at Buckingham Palace.

BROWN, Flight Lieutenant Arthur Roy - Bar to Distinguished Service Cross - awarded as per London Gazette dated 21 June 1918.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On the 21st April, 1918, while leading a patrol of six scouts he attacked a formation of twenty hostile scouts. He personally engaged two Fokker triplanes, which he drove off; then, seeing that one of our machines was being attacked and apparently hard pressed, he dived on the hostile scout, firing the while. This scout, a Fokker triplane, nose dived and crashed to the ground. Since the award of the Distinguished Service Cross he has destroyed several other enemy aircraft and has shown great dash and enterprise in attacking enemy troops from low altitudes despite heavy anti-aircraft fire.

W.C. 2
June 23.18
Dear Dad,-

Just arrived here this morning from Scotland. Stearns and I have been on leave together. We report again July 3.

In Edinburgh I saw Dick Sinnott on the street. He was on draught leave, going over to France the end of this week. He said Frank Welsh was with him i.e. in the same camp but he has not been drafted yet. Doug Findlay was in Edinburgh also. He was up there on duty. He was to fly a machine from there to his station, a flight of about 5 ½ to six hours which is a pretty long flight.

We were up the river for a dandy trip. Got a canoe the same as Skeet and I did two years ago and paddled up staying wherever we liked. In all we paddled over 100 miles which certainly made me feel a lot better than I was. We were up the river as far as Reading. Passed all kinds of historical places.

Stearns and I had our pictures in the papers yesterday. Getting right up in society now with our pictures in the paper.

We are going to stay in town a few days and then may go down to the south of England. Moving around and seeing all these places is about a good a thing as we can do as it makes us fit as well as gives us a chance to see the country although it is fearfully expensive.

I do not know what I shall do after my leave is over. I am not going back to France but what kind of a job they will give me here I have not the faintest idea. I expect I shall get tired of England very soon and ask to be sent back to France. Flying in England does not appeal to me very much. When you have to take a soft job you do not want it.

I have dad one letter from home in the last I don't know how long. It was the one after you had received news about the Baron.

I have a couple more letters to write now and must get busy.

Love to all

In July he was also appointed to No. 2 School of Aerial Fighting as an instructor with Stearnes. His luck ran out however, on the morning of July 5, 1918. Just after taking off on a routine flight his motor died. In front of him were trees and telegraph lines so he tried to turn back to the aerodrome. He didn't make it.

No 2 Fighting School
Marske Yorks.
July 21
Dear Mr. Brown,

Long before you get this it will be one thing or the other with Roy. I hope you will forgive me for not having cabled you immediately but I could not do it for up till two days ago they expected every minute to be his last and I could not bring myself to send you news of that sort. He was mostly kept under the influence of drugs, and even when conscious, could not understand anything said to him, so I could see no use in cabling you.

He was just getting off the ground on his second flight here. At about 200' his engine stopped and since there were trees and telegraph wires in front of him, he tried to turn back to the aerodrome. He lost his speed on the sharp turn and he fell from about 60' feet vertical to the ground. Luckily the ground was soft, but it was bad enough. The engine somehow was thrown on top of the wreckage, although it was a Camel he was flying and its weight was more or less on his head and neck. I saw it all from where I stood and thought he must be killed instantly. The red + hut was not 100' away and no time was lost. Both collar bones are broken, four ribs I think, one of which has pierced his lung. His jaw may or may not be broken. There is a cut or rather a hole in the inside upper corner of his eye which they thought at first had pierced the brain, but it had not and will probably not be serious. There is also a cut on his forehead and of course many smaller cuts and bruises on his face and body.

The station doctor gave up all hope for him immediately and I brought a specialist down who arrived that evening and said the same thing so you see things looked pretty blue. However he has gradually improved and it is the opinion of three doctors that he will now pull through. He is being well looked after and has three nurses for himself.

He was quite rational in his mind for a while yesterday but wandered quite a lot. The nurse told me he had gotten her to write you.

To-day he was better than ever and could talk quite well. He is in no pain at all except that he sometimes insists on moving his arm and then his shoulder hurts. He has been talking all day and keeps the nurses laughing so he is in good spirits.

As soon as he is fit, they will move him to a hospital.

Well it has been a very anxious week but I think the worst is over now, though of course he has a long way yet to go. Anyway, here's hoping for the best.


Stearns Edwards

R.N.A.S. North Riding Infirmary
Aug 1. 18
Dear Dad, -

I do not know how far I shall get writing this or whether you will be able to read it or not but at any rate I shall make a start.

The last two weeks and a half must have been rather a worrying time as you would not know what kind of word Stearns would be able to send you.

I certainly did try my very best to kill myself and nearly succeeded. They gave me up for hopeless three or four times. I do not remember anything about what happened to me myself at all. What I write now is what they told me. I crashed at about eleven something in the morning cause unknown. It was a very bad crash, everything being smashed up rather badly. I have not heard full particulars of how I hit and what happened to the machine. They did not think I would be alive when they went to get me out. However, I fooled them then and have done so several times since. My clothes had to be all taken off me and burned as everything was soaked full of blood. The most serious result was my chest. My right lung was crushed in badly emphysema(?) since resulting in a very bad way (?). I was blown if xxx xx xxx a xxx all over (faint sentence). Three ribs were broken also but that or anything else that happened was not serious but my crash was nearly fatal. No complications set in with it however which was my fortune as if that had happened I do not suppose I would have pulled through. I had a rather large hole in my chest around fairly well to the side somewhat under the arm. I also had one on the left side almost over the heart but it did not amount to anything, I fractured the right clavicle rather badly and from the way things look now my right shoulder will have a small droop in it. It is the chief reason I have been unable to write to you sooner as my right arm is very awkward and movement has been somewhat painful. It does not seem to hurt it to write so much as I thought it would. I also had concussion of the brain from a wound on the left side of my forehead just over the left eye. It will leave a rather nasty looking scar. Rather funny part of my left eye brow has been shoved onto my forehead and will look rather strange after I get properly healed up. My teeth both upper and lower went through my lower lip meeting on the outside which makes two cuts on the inside meeting in one on the outside. It will not leave much of a scar but it is still rather painful although it is all healed up now. It has been really marvellous the way the different places have healed I only have three dressings now. The two places on my chest and a boil which came on the back of my right shoulder are the only ones now. I am not allowed out of bed yet except to go to the lavatory although I am not really supposed to do that. My head is not quite right yet. It aches rather badly all the time and my memory is not very accurate. No matter what I feel like I am certainly fortunate to be alive at all. I hurt my back again too although not at all seriously.

Have rested for a while to see if my head would not improve but it makes it ache to much to write more. Please let Alice know you have heard from me as I may not be able to write again for a few days.

Love from


My dear Mother, -

As you see I have been moved again. This is a very nice place and everyone is exceptionally good and thoughtful with me. My night nurse and the sister who is here during the day have both been in Canada which makes it pleasant.

This is one of my fed up days. I feel as blue as blue to-day. Last night for the first time in my life except when I was unconscious I lost control of myself. I do not sleep very well of course and last night I could not sleep till four o'clock. The nurse came in once and I not hear her till she was quite close to my bed. When I heard her I jumped and was as frightened as a baby. After that every little noise of any kind made me jump and frightened me the same. My head was pretty bad all the time. Please excuse me writing and telling you all this. I must unburden my self come time. Last night I found myself telling nurse I was so tired of being in pain all the time I could not bear it any longer. I cannot understand why I acted as I did last night but after what I have had I should not be surprised at anything which may result.

Please do not think I am complaining that my body is as it is that cannot be helped and must be put up with but I cannot help being disgusted with myself because I cannot do anything at all. I am really much better as a matter of fact. My head and back are still pretty painful and of course my chest is sore if I take a long breath, sneeze or cough the same way as I hurt all over when I move. My appetite is poor but I do not see why a person should desire to eat very much when they are doing nothing. Enough of telling all about pains and aches but it seems as if I wrote about what I feel and am doing it would all be a miserable mess. There is no one here you know so there seems very few other thing to write of.

I spend most of my time reading but as yet I cannot read very long at a time.

This hospital is right on the banks of the Thames. All the chaps who are fit spend most of their time on the river. I hope to be able to get in a boat soon and have somebody row me about. From what I can see the grounds must be very pretty. This place is financed in every way by some Indian Rajah. It was a private home originally.

I has taken some time to write this letter about 5 hours not keeping writing continuously of course.

Love from

November 11, 1918, the "war to end all wars" finally ended. November 12, 1918 Stearne Edwards crashed in a flying accident in a Sopwith Pup. He died on the 22nd. It must have been a hard blow for Roy Brown.

When the war was over Brown gratefully retired from the RAF went back to civilian life as an accountant. He first was a Sales Manager for his father-in-law's firm and then he started a small airline in Quebec and Ontario. This was reasonably successful and when the Canadian government decided to get into the airline business he sold his company. When WWII started he tried to join the RCAF but was rejected. He then ran for a seat in the Ontario legislature but lost in the landslide against the government of the day. He took a job as Advisory Editor to Canadian Aviation magazine, but had to give it up on the advice of his doctor. He needed fresh air to breathe or would not last another year. He purchased a run-down farm near Stouffeville, Ontario and turned it into a prosperous business.

Nearly his last public act was a photo op with the current ace of the day, George Beurling.

He died of a heart attack at age 50, in Stouffville, Ontario, 9 March 1944.

Roy Brown was not proud of his achievements, he certainly never bragged about them or paid a lot of attention to how many aircraft he had shot down. He was, however, keen on getting to grips with the enemy. He was confident of his abilities, and of his men. He lead them well, and even when he was nearly crippled with gastritis, battle fatigue and exhaustion he lead them against the enemy for he knew that the men on the ground needed aerial protection to succeed. He undoubtedly shortened his life with his determination to succeed as a fighter pilot and leader, that is what makes heroes.


Wilfrid "Wop" May went on to become an ace with 13 kills and one of Canada's most famous bush pilots. He was involved in the aerial tracking of Albert Johnston, the "Mad Trapper from Rat River", and performed many couragous acts opening Canada's hinterland with an airplane. Denny May, his son has a website devoted to him at:

Stearne Edwards was an ace with 16 aircraft to his credit when he died on November 22, 1918. In 1920 a memorial service was held for him in the Presbyterian Church in Charleton Place and a tablet unveiled by Roy Brown. The tablet read:


In the final analysis, Richthofen may have done as much to kill himself as did Brown, or the Australian Gunners Popkin and Buie. He was exhausted from continual, harsh battle. He broke his own rules that he drilled into his men: never follow a low flying British pilot back over his lines. It was too hazardous. And he lost his situational awareness. He was concentrating so hard on Wop Map in front of him, that he forgot to pay attention to his situation. Had he spotted Brown diving towards him, he may have made an escape. Had he survived the war, it is probable that he would have become highly ranked in the Luftwaffe in WWII, as did aces Hermann Göring, Ernst Udet, Wolfgang von Richthofen, and Bruno Loerzer. Who actually killed him? That can not be proven. Brown admitted in a letter to his father and his later writings obviously showed he felt responsible for his death, but after a while he kept quiet about the whole affair. The Australians maintained for a long time that their men manning a machine gun killed him. The body was not fully autopsied, the plane had been shredded by souvenir hunters and there were no gun cameras at the time. To paraphrase Billy Bishop,

"Brown was an excellent flier, an experienced fighter pilot and was on the tail of Richthofen firing at him just before he crashed. Richthofen came over the Australian machine gun position several hundred feet up at a high speed, was over their position for only a few seconds and they had to fire up at him. So who is the most likely to have killed Richthofen?"

Who indeed? In the final analysis, it really doesn't matter.

The Path that May, Richthofen and Brown took in the chase.
Richthofen's Path
From the book: "Flugzeuge die Geschichte machten: FOKKER DR.1"
(airplanes which made history: Fokker Dr.1)by Jörg Armin Kranzoff
As presented on the ANZACS website Who Killed the Red Baron?

A great deal of controversy has been generated by the competing claims of Canadians and Australians over who shot down the "Red Baron". Dr M. Geoffrey Miller has written a clear analysis of the final moments of Richthofen titled "The Death of Manfred von Richthofen: Who fired the fatal shot?" and is presented in this link as published in Sabretache the Journal and Proceedings of the Military History Society of Australia with the author's permission. An excellent website exists explaining much of the information available on Manfred von Richthofen's death at: ANZACS: Who Killed the Red Baron?. Norman Franks and Allan Bennett have published much of this information in 'The Red Baron's Last Flight' Grub Street, London 1997.

Canadian Aces Home Page

Images From:
A.R. Brown, Imperial War Museum.
Sopwith Triplane, Calgary Air Museum.
Sopwith Pup, unknown.
Brown and a Camel, unknown
Wilfrid May, Imperial War Museum
Brown's report from Imperial War Museum.
Manfred von Richthofen, from a German postcard of the era.
Black and white version of a painting by J Davis?
MvR's DrI remains, Imperial War Museum.
MvR's first funeral, Imperial War Museum
Brown's report, Imperial War Museum
The Red Baron's Last flight from ANZACS website, Who Killed the Red Baron, with permission.
The Carleton Place hockey team from Hugh Halliday, with permission.
Stearn Edwards from Hugh Halliday, with permission.

Information From:
Stearne Tighe Edwards: Ace of Naval Nine, by Hugh Halliday. Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, v. 39, no. 1. Spring 2001.
Letters of Roy Brown from the Directorate of History, Department of National Defence.
Summaries of Roy Brown's career from the Directorate of History, Department of National Defence.
Personal communications with Margaret Harmon, daughter of Roy Brown.
Personal communications with Alan Bennett, historian writing a book on Roy Brown.
Norman Franks and Allan Bennett. 'The Red Baron's Last Flight' Grub Street, London 1997.
Christopher Shores, Norman Franks and Russel Guest. 'Above the Trenches. A complete record fo the fighter aces and units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915 - 1920'. Grub Street, London. 1990.
Letter from Raymond Collishaw to Ed Ferko. Ferko collection, University of Dallas, Dallas, Texas.
Sholto Douglas, Years of Combat. Collins, London. 1963.