Fallen First World War pilot remembered in Deseronto, Ontario

A woman wearing an RCMP uniform, a woman wearing clerical clothing, a man and women wearing suits, and a man wearing an air force uniform stand in a graveyard behind a gravestone.
From left, Constable April Delorme, Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the Reverend Veronica Wilson, rector of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Snettisham; Stuart Dark, Snettisham parish councillor; Ros Pugh, chair of the Snettisham Parish Council; and Colonel Mark Goulden, commander of 8 Wing Trenton, gather at the grave of Lieutenant Colin Coleridge in the Deseronto Cemetery, following a commemorative ceremony on June 9, 2018. PHOTO: Corporal Ryan Moulton, TN11-2018-0160-010

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From 8 Wing Trenton Public Affairs

Personnel from 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, joined Royal Canadian Air Cadets, 418 (Belleville) Wing Royal Canadian Air Force Association, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and officials from the village of Snettisham in Norfolk, England for a commemorative ceremony in Deseronto, Ontario, marking the wartime sacrifices of several men, including Lieutenant Colin Goss Coleridge of the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Leaving his family in Snettisham, England, in 1911, Lieutenant Coleridge moved to Canada to serve as a Northwest Mounted Police (which later became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officer in Saskatchewan and Manitoba before enlisting in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) (which later amalgamated with the Royal Naval Air Service to become the RAF) in 1917. He eventually became a flying instructor.

In January 1917, the RFC came to Canada to recruit and train Canadian aircrew for service overseas; the program was known as the Royal Flying Corps Canada (RFCC) (later Royal Air Force Canada).Training was conducted in southern Ontario, including at Borden, Toronto and Deseronto, and continued until the war ended in 1918.

Lieutenant Coleridge was stationed in Deseronto. In 1918, he was inducted as a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his actions in saving a cadet from a burning aircraft while his unit was at Fort Worth, Texas, for winter training, despite the risk to his own life and the injuries he sustained.

Five months later, in July 1918, Lieutenant Coleridge was killed in a plane crash at Camp Rathbun, near Deseronto, and buried with full military honours in the Deseronto Cemetery. He was 29.

Learning to fly was a dangerous business, explained 8 Wing’s commander, Colonel Mark Goulden, during the ceremony. Out of the 14,000 RFC and RAF men who died in the First World War, 8,000 were killed while training. “We vow to never forget and to save those who died from anonymity,” he said. “Today we honour those who served here and paid the ultimate sacrifice to secure the freedoms that we enjoy as Canadians.”

The group from the town of Snettisham, representing the remembrance project “Snettisham 45”, placed a wreath of Norfolk lavender and rosemary at Lieutenant Coleridge’s grave during the ceremony to symbolize his connection to that town. The project honours the 45 men from Snettisham who died during the First World War, and a similar wreath is being laid at each of their graves. The size of Snettisham during the war meant that one in six adult males died during the conflict.

The Deseronto commemoration is held every year, but 2018 holds special significance. This year marks both the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War and the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force. The RCAF and RAF have a long relationship that dates back to the very beginnings of our air forces, when Canadian groundcrew and aircrew such as Lieutenant Coleridge, joined the British air services. To a great extent, the RAF and RCAF’s shared history, heritage and traditions were established at that time.

“It is an honour for me to be here today, as I have been for the last several years, to celebrate the lives of the young men and women who gave their lives so we could have freedom in our country,” said Deseronto’s mayor, Norm Clark. He went on to note that more than 40 men associated with the local training camps had been killed in flying accidents while another 10 succumbed to illnesses such as the “Spanish” flu pandemic.

As well as Camp Rathbun, Deseronto was also the location of Camp Mohawk, another RFCC training airfield, during the First World War. Six other members of the RFC and RAF, who were killed during training or died from illness, are buried in the Deseronto cemetery: Cadet John Robson of Lairhope, Scotland (July 3, 1918), Private Frederick William Grand of Norwich, England (October 3, 1918), Air Mechanic 1st Class George Marshall of Aberdeen, Scotland (October 19, 1918), Sergeant John Holland of Sheffield, England (December 16, 1918), and Second Lieutenant Cecil James Gaston Humphreys of Wallington, England (July 15, 1918). Cadet Carl Bender of Winnipeg, Manitoba (June 10, 1918), is buried in St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery in Deseronto but is also commemorated during the annual ceremony of remembrance.

With files from Makala Chapman of The Contact, the base newspaper of 8 Wing Trenton.

Donation to National Air Force Museum of Canada

From Makala Chapman

Following Lieutenant Coleridge’s death, his parents donated a credence table to St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Deseronto. The memorial table remained in place even when the church was deconsecrated in 2001 and sold as a private residence to local historian and city of Kingston museum curator, Paul Robertson. The brass plaque that had been mounted on the table had been removed and was in care of the Deseronto Archives. As the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force approached, Mr. Robertson was contacted by members of 418 (Belleville) Wing of the RCAF Association and officials from Snettisham with a request to reunite the plaque and table.

A credence table is used in some Christian churches during the celebration of Eucharist (Communion).

Mr. Robertson donated the table and worked with the Deseronto Archives to reunite it with the plaque. The table and plaque have been donated to the National Air Force Museum of Canada at 8 Wing Trenton. The Snettisham representatives who attended the commemoration of Lieutenant Coleridge at the Deseronto Cemetery were also on hand for the unveiling of the table at the museum.

The deaths of the 45 men of Snettisham had “a huge impact on village life and the families, so we wanted to truly remember the people and their sacrifices,” said Snettisham parish councillor Stuart Dark as he explained the goals of the “Snettisham 45” project. “Rather than just remember them back home, we decided to do something where we were coming to them.”

The Snettisham representatives will spend several months visiting all of Snettisham’s fallen from the First World War who died while serving abroad. The journey will take them to three continents, seven countries and more than 25 sites.

“It’s a big undertaking, but we felt it was absolutely right and we needed to show that we know who these people are, where they are, and bring a piece of home to them,” he said.

A longer version of this article was published in the June 15, 2018, edition of The Contact.

RELATED LINKS

Royal Flying Corps Canada

Canadian Virtual War Memorial: Lieutenant Colin G. Coleridge

Deseronto Archives

National Air Force Museum of Canada

Snettisham 45 Project

Image gallery

  • An old photo of a burial showing an open grave and people wearing military uniforms
  • Five people stand behind a gravestone in a cemetery.
  • A woman stoops to place flowers in front of a gravestone
  • A group of people sitting in rows of chairs.
  • A woman wearing clerical vestments and another man and woman stand behind a podium.
  • Three men stand in a row.
  • A man stands behind a podium speaking into a microphone.
  • An engraved brass plaque.
  • A granite grave marker with engraved words, a cross and a military crest.
  • A printed form,
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