4 AFC History


Formed in Australia as 4 squadron and upon arrival in England in March 1917,the squadron was re-designated 71 (Australian) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. Initially the squadron was under the command of Captain A. Lang, during their training period

Major Sheldon, transferred from 1 Squadron AFC which was based in Palestine and Egypt took command but was replaced prior to departure for France by Major W.A. McCloughry who had served on the Western Front as a flight commander with 2 Squadron AFC.

The squadron was equipped with the F.1 Sopwith Camel.

Arriving in France on 18 December 1917 the squadron was based at Bruay Aerodrome for training and was assigned to the 10th Wing of the Royal Flying Corps. The squadron suffered its first casualties during this training period, when Lieutenants A.M. Anderson , R.H. Curtis and J.N. Cash were killed during a formation flying exercise which resulted in a collision on the 6th of January 1918.

Operating in support of the British 1st Army, the squadrons main duties were offensive patrols and escorting reconnaissance machines. 71 (Australian) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, first patrol over German lines took place on 9 January 1918, and its first air combat action occurred on 13 January 1918. That same day the squadron suffered its first operational loss when Lieutenant F.B. Willmott's engine failed and he was forced to land behind enemy lines. He spent the remainder of the war as a P.O.W.

On the 19th January 1918, 71 (Australian) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps reverted to its original designation of 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. At the end of February the squadrons strength was increased from 18 to 24 aircraft. The squadron suffered its first combat fatality on February 29th when the Sopwith Camel of Lieutenant C.H. Martin broke up in mid air after being hit by an artillery shell.

Prior to the German offensive in March, 4 squadron saw an increase enemy activity in its sector,including Manfred von Richthofen's "Flying Circus".

On the 16th of March seven Camels of 4 squadron engaged 16 Albatros Scouts of the famed Circus and a tumult ensued. After the "dust" had settled, pilots of 4 squadron made several victory claims, but they weren't without casualties. Lieutenant W.H. Nicholls failed to return. Nicholls had only been with the squadron a short time was shot down, although he managed to land he was captured and spent the remainder of the war as a P.O.W. The squadron continued to see increased activity during the Spring offensive and it was heavily involved in strafing and bombing operations in support of the retreating Allied ground forces.

The German advance forced the Squadron to be moved from Bruay to Clairmarais North on 28 April 1918 and joined 11th Wing, part of the British 2nd Army. Again enemy activity forced the squadron to move as Clairmarais Aerodrome was repeatedly bombed and 4 squadron was relocated to Reclinghem on the 30th June, joining 2 Squadron AFC as part of 80th Wing under the British 5th Army.

During July the squadron once again was heavily involved in supporting ground troops and offensive patrols, the squadron continued to rack up a considerable victory tally. They continued this type of work throughout the allied offensive of August.

On September 5th, a 4 aircraft formation lead by Lt. L. Taplin, met a large formation of hostile aircraft, all four Camels were shot down and Lt. M.E. Eddie, Lt. D.C. Carter and Lt. A.H. Lockley were killed, Lt. Taplin managed to survive his crash landing and was taken prisoner. It was a black day for the squadron but a darker day was in the squadron future. Later that month, 4 Squadron moved to Serny and in early October, 4 Squadron became only the second squadron to be equipped with the Sopwith Snipe.

The squadron was relocated several times during November with the squadron continuing it aggressive combat tactics. A week before the Armistice the squadron suffered it worst day for losses. November 4th saw Lieutenants Goodson and Rhodes shot down and taken prisoner during the morning and in an afternoon sortie Captain Baker, Lieutenant Palliser and Lieutenant Symons were all killed.

After the Armistice 4 Squadron was one of only two Australian units to be part of the Occupational Forces, the other unit being the 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station based at Euskirchen. Based at the Bickendorf aerodrome, 4 squadron spent Christmas 1918 in Cologne, it was here that 10 year old Henri Heremene a young Belgian child introduced himself to the squadron. Henri had spent most of the war as a mascot for various British squadrons, and the Australians likewise, took him on as their new mascot.

4 Squadron was finally ordered home in February 1919, returning to the United Kingdom in March and on 6 May embarked on RMS Kaisar-i-Hind for the return voyage to Australia. Also on that voyage was young Henri, who had been smuggled aboard by members of the Squadron. Henri settled at Jandowae, Queensland, in the home of Tim Tovell and his wife Gert. Tim had been a mechanic with 4 squadron.