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WWI pilot trainee remembered in his hometown

Published in the Allistion Herald, 17 April 2017

The inscription of the tombstone of Royal Flying Corps Cadet James Talbot reads: “A noble young life given in service”.

The weather on 7 April 2017 was cold and windy, with a thin layer of snow on the ground, as a crowd gathered at Union Cemetery in Dorchester, Ontario, east of London.

Gathered at the grave of Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Cadet James Talbot was a contingent from 16 Wing Borden, Royal Canadian Air Force, led by Colonel Andrew Fleming, Wing Commander of 16 Wing.  Some of the airmen gathered weren’t much older than Talbot when he died.

Also in attendance were members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 513 Donnybrook, Marcel Meyer, Deputy Mayor of the Municipality of Thames Centre, Captain Tom Hill, former Commanding Officer of 201 Dorchester Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Cadets, and other interested citizens, to honour an airman who died during The Great War.

This is an annual memorial ceremony, held every year since 2000.

This year’s ceremony had a special significance as it was one day shy of that fateful day 100 years ago when Cadet Talbot earned the unfortunate distinction of being the first fatality at the Royal Flying Corps training school at Camp Borden (now Canadian Forces Base Borden – CFB Borden), north of Toronto, Ontario, and the first casualty of military flying in Canada.

On that fateful morning, 8 April 1917, Easter Sunday, Talbot was flying in a Curtiss J.N.4 “Jenny” aeroplane, piloted by instructor 2nd Lieutenant G.C. Husband. The resulting crash of their aeroplane seriously injured both pilots.  Husband eventually recovered from his injuries, but Talbot died that evening at a civilian hospital, the Royal Victoria Hospital, in nearby Barrie, Ontario.

The 23 year-old pilot trainee was reportedly on only his second or third flight.

James Talbot was born in Buffalo, N.Y. on 22 July 1893 to Canadian parents John and Jesse Agnes Talbot.  The family later returned to Canada, setting in Dorchester.

Talbot had recently graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, when a sense of patriotism and desire to serve his country caused Talbot to forgo further education and join the RFC Canada on 23 January 1917.

Talbot was among the first group of cadets to commence training at Camp Borden in April 1917, a month shy of the official opening ceremonies for the training school, with the newly formed No. 81 Canadian Reserve Squadron of the RFC Canada.

Although his service to his country was brief, Talbot’s sacrifice has not been forgotten.  The Talbot Tower, the control tower at the CFB Borden airfield, is dedicated to the memory of Cadet James Talbot.

“A noble young life given in service.”

Sources:  Camp Borden – Birthplace of the RCAF 1917-1999, edited by Master Warrant Officer Norm Marion, http://canadiangreatwarproject.com.


About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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