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Red Baron puzzle is missing a piece

 
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BerichtGeplaatst: 31 Mei 2009 14:46    Onderwerp: Red Baron puzzle is missing a piece Reageer met quote

Canvas from a British plane shot down over Vimy Ridge by The Red Baron?

Grandson of airman seeks help with intriguing keepsake

OTTAWA — Soldiers have taken keepsakes from the battlefield for hundreds of years, so Lieut. John Alfred Pope Haydon was only following military tradition when he brought back a swatch of fabric from the wing of a British aircraft, possibly downed over Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

Now the souvenir has become a fascinating puzzle for his grandson, Robert Haydon, to ponder.

It is the writing on the fabric in his grandfather’s hand that so intrigues Haydon. The inscription on the upper right-hand corner reads: “Part of wing of British plane brought down at Vimy Ridge, April 1917 by Baron Von Richthofen, the Red Ace.”

Manfred Albrecht von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron, was the most successful flying ace of the war, with 80 confirmed combat victories.

“I think it’s fantastic, finding this,” said Haydon. “It’s obviously one of a kind and Vimy Ridge is our greatest battle. What to do with it, I have no idea. But I’m sure somebody is interested in it.”

The fabric, measuring approximately 30 centimetres by 18 centimetres, also shows part of the British roundel — the circular representation of the three colours of the Union Jack used by the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.

Growing up, Haydon never heard anything about his grandfather’s remarkable artifact. Instead, he found it a few years ago while going though several boxes of family memorabilia left behind by his deceased parents.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said. “The amazing thing is how it survived for all these years, and after all the moves my parents made. How the thing is still here is like a story in itself.”

The wing fabric, wrapped in tissue paper, was in a bag filled with military patches and badges, including some Nazi regalia. Haydon’s father was a flight-lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, so it’s likely he collected the Nazi insignia and the other unit badges. But the section of wing fabric could only have come from his grandfather.

“After getting this, he apparently carried it around for the rest of war. He demobbed and got back to Canada in 1919,” said Haydon.

As the 92nd anniversary of Vimy Ridge approached last month, Haydon decided to try to determine the provenance of the fabric. He made an attempt several months ago with the Canadian War Museum, but was unable to take it further and placed it in a safety deposit box.

“I think this is a fantastic piece of history for Canada. It’s an important piece of the greatest battle we ever fought. And the Germans and the British would be interested, too. It’s just incredible that the thing’s here.”

The fabric’s origins may be murky, but there is written evidence that Lieut. J.A.P. Haydon fought at Vimy as part of the 42nd Battalion, C.E.F. Royal Highlanders of Canada, known as the Black Watch.

His exploits are praised in The 42nd Battalion, C.E.F. Royal Highlanders of Canada In The Great War, by Lt.-Col. C. Beresford Topp, D.S.O., M.C. The book describes how Lieut. Haydon and two runners captured 60 “thoroughly cowed” German soldiers as they emerged from a dugout on Vimy Ridge. In the book’s appendix, Lieut. Haydon is listed as having won the Military Cross for his gallantry that day.

Judging by the book’s account, Lieut. Haydon was an honourable and heroic soldier, not the sort of man likely to add a false footnote to a war souvenir.

Given the ferocity of the fighting during the Arras campaign, it is well within the realm of possibility that Lieut. Haydon was somehow able to retrieve a small part of an aircraft shot down by the Red Baron.

In Vimy Ridge 1917, subtitled Byng’s Canadians Triumph at Arras, Alexander Turner notes, “Von Richthofen alone accounted for 30 British aircraft during the Arras campaign.”

Haydon would be willing to sell the fabric. “To some collector, the thing could be priceless. Now I’m semi-retired. Maybe this could make me permanently retired,” he laughed.

Haydon has been in touch with the Canadian War Museum, but its experts were unable to authenticate the artifact. “Our major problem with the artifact is that the provenance information is somewhat incomplete,” said museum spokesman Pierre LeDuc.

The writing on the fabric is intriguing, he said, “but who actually wrote it down and were there any witnesses?”

“It’s all the due diligence that museums must do to be able to say the Hitler car we’ve got on display is a Hitler car. The reason we know it’s a Hitler car is that we’ve got a piece of paper in the file that was sent to us by Daimler/ Chrysler saying the chassis number for the vehicle you have is one prepared specifically by us for the Fuehrer.

“Whereas with this one, it’s a very interesting story, but because the provenance details aren’t necessarily bulletproof we’d be very reluctant to say that this piece of canvas is from a plane that was shot down by the Red Baron during the Vimy Ridge attack.”

Mostly, Haydon wants to know more about the fabric.

“I need some advice. I wish someone would talk to me and give me some suggestions.”

Readers who have ideas or suggestions can reach Haydon by e-mail at roberthaydon@rogers.co

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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