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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 218766
Last updated: 25 October 2019
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Date:02-JAN-1915
Time:08:20 LT
Type:Bleriot XI
Owner/operator:6 Sqn RFC
Registration: 1842
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Baillieul, Nord Department, Hauts-de-France region, Flanders -   France
Phase: En route
Nature:Military
Departure airport:Baillieul, Nord Department, Hauts-de-France region, Flanders
Destination airport:Baillieul, Nord Department, Hauts-de-France region, Flanders
Narrative:
Captain Walter Lawrence, Royal Flying Corps, killed in a flying accident in France 2 January 1915, when his Bleriot XI (No.1842) broke up in flight during a practice dive bombing run. Walter Lawrence was probably the first Territorial (TAVR) to qualify as a pilot. The accident was also the first fatality for the newly activated 6 Squadron, RFC. According to 'The Aeroplane' magazine dated 6 January 1915, Lawrence was born Count Lawrence (Lorenzo) Walter Falcioni, being an Italian by birth, the son of an Italian father and an English mother.

Captain Walter Lawrence was originally posted as a pilot to 6 Squadron, RFC. At the outbreak of war, four RFC squadrons were mobilised (2, 3, 4 and 5) and to "bring the numbers up", many pilots and aircraft were 'borrowed' from 6 squadron. Lawrence flew out to France with Number 2 squadron on 13th August 1914. A few months later when 6 Squadron was almost back up to strength and was about to be mobilised, Lawrence rejoined the squadron, returning to England so that he could flew out to France with the other 11 pilots. The 12 aircraft made the short flight from Farnborough to Dover on 6th October 1914. The next day only eight aircraft were fit to fly from Dover to Bruges - Lawrence in his Henri Farman No: 680 and two other pilots flew out the next day on the 8th October with the last one two days later.

In those early days of the war, prior to the formation of Wings (and the splitting of squadrons into Corps and Army Wings), the role of Number 6 was mostly strategic reconnaisance. Captain Lawrence became a valued flight commander at Number 6 and was mentioned in despatches

On the day of his death (at the age of 22) he was apparently testing the engine of his Bleriot, having taken off from the squadron's aerodrome at Bailleul, before crashing. His death was the first loss of a pilot at Number 6 squadron.

The accident was debated in the House of Commons, and the report in "Flight" magazine (August 17 1916 page 697) is from "Hansard", the official record of Parliamentary debates:

"Statement.—Date, December 30th, 1914. Pilot, Captain W.Lawrence.
Place, France.
Machine said to be obsolete; wings folded up in the air. Mr. Pemberton Billing says he obtained the information from an officer who saw the accident.

Facts.—The machine was a Bleriot—a type now superseded. Captain Lawrence, an experienced pilot, was about to take part in a bombing expedition against a difficult target. Captain Lawrence was of opinion that the best way to achieve his object was to approach the target, which was well protected by anti-aircraft guns, at a great height, to dive down to within 200 or 300 feet of his objective, then to flatten out, drop his bombs, and climb again.

He decided to test this theory behind our own lines. He climbed to between 5,000 and 6,000 ft., then dived straight down with his engine full on for something like 3,000 ft., when his machine broke up, whether in the act of trying to flatten out or not cannot be definitely ascertained.

Conclusion.—The Bleriot type has been discarded, not because of weakness, but in due course of evolution in favour of better machines. Captain Lawrence, by this manoeuvre, subjected the machine to an unbearable strain in all probability in flattening out. There is no evidence of undue weakness or defect in the machine or of any other negligence."

Note that the Parliamentary debate in "Hansard" states that Captain Walter Lawrence died on December 30, 1914, but the Commonwealth War Graves Commision (CWGC) entry (see link #2) gives the date of death as January 2, 1915 (three days later). The latter date is the correct one, not least due to the aircraft involved having only completed repairs/rebuild (including a new engine) on 1 January 1915 after damage sustained in a forced landing on december 27 1914. The fatal accident was part practice dive bombing run, and part air test of a newly fitted engine

Sources:

1. Flight magazine (August 17 1916 page 697): https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1916/1916%20-%200699.html
2. https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/197706/lawrence,-walter/
3. https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/108337-captain-walter-lawrence-rfc/
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bailleul,_Nord
5. Airfields and Airmen: Ypres: Ypres (page 56) By Michael O'Connor


Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
29-Nov-2018 17:52 Dr.John Smith Added
29-Nov-2018 17:53 Dr.John Smith Updated [Narrative]
29-Nov-2018 17:55 Dr.John Smith Updated [Narrative]
06-Dec-2018 17:02 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]

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