Wednesday, August 05, 2009


The "Red Baron" display case in the Library of the Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto, holds artefacts from the downed Fokker Triplane in which famed German fighter-ace Rittmeister Manfred von Richtofen's met his death, on the morning of 21st April, 1918. They include the aircraft's seat, wingtip, and piece of fuselage fabric bearing the German Airforce cross. These central objects of the Wings Room are well known to students of military aviation history and members of the Institute. Visitors also take particular interest in the displayed Spandau machine-gun, typical armament aboard von Richthofen's Fokker and many German military aircraft during the First World War.
Canadian fighter-pilot Captain Roy Brown somehow obtained the seat shortly after von Richtofen's death, and donated the seat to the Institute in 1920, where it has remained ever since. The seat is of sheet aluminum and plywood, covered with a red ochre fabric: very light construction. The holes in the seat centre are not bullet holes (despite a persistent but inaccurate legend.) They are actually mounting-holes for rivets which joined the seat to the fuselage. The side holes were caused by the force of the mounting bolts being torn out by the impetus of the Triplane's crash.
Mr. Arthur Bishop, son of the famous Great War ace Air Marshal William "Billy" Bishop VC, donated the Fokker Triplane wingtip to the Museum in 1968. This joined the seat and fabric piece to create the exciting trinity in the display case. The fuselage fabric cross is believed to have also been donated by Captain Roy Brown at some unknown exact date. The fabric shows the German late-version Latin Cross of 1918, and an area of paint has been scraped away for the signatures of eleven members of 209 Squadron, including Roy Brown and "Wop" May.

The Institute has the responsibility of caring for these artefacts for the benefit of future generations, and this has been done. The Museum Committee arranged for professional restoration work on the wingtip and fabric piece. Conservator Moya Gillett removed a large glue stain on the wingtip, and reframed and stabilized the fabric, which was slowly flaking away. We are sure these artefacts will last for another 70 years. The RCMI will always be indebted to Captain Brown for his generosity in giving to the Institute these very important Great War artefacts.

Sad to say, the Royal Canadian Military Institute closed its 110-year-old doors on University Avenue, Toronto, in October, 2010, in preparation for its move to new premises expected to re-open in two years or so. At that time, all its unique collection of military memorabilia will be available for viewing once more.

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