More Problems With The Fairey Battles

A conference was held in connection with the number of recent accidents due to engine failure but, pending the return of the C/O who was on ten days’ leave, the only action possible was to stop the Advance Training School night flying. The anxiety concerning the number of engine failures in the Fairey Battles continued, and the decision was made to discontinue high dive bombing from 5,000 to 2,000 feet. Again, the Battles were considered unsuitable for the exercise. Then, a horrific crash in the village of Seeley’s Bay on June 9, 1941, caught everyone’s attention.

Reading the C/O’s diary and the comments on the unsuitability of the Fairey Battle, one wonders what was in the mind of the young man who had just successfully completed his course. His actions were inexplicable and not understood by anyone at the base, but village lore is that he had met a Seeley’s Bay girl at a dance and told her he would be over the village before he left.

He was known by a few in the village at least, it seems. The local lads spent summer days swimming at their favourite swimming hole and were joined by a few pupils from Kingston, with one of them being the young Scotsman. Did the F.A.A. pupils discover it while practicing low flying over Cranberry Lake?

The description given by witnesses of the pilot’s dangerous low flying made a crash inevitable considering that the antiquated aircraft were totally unsuitable for this kind of flying and he had just qualified as a pilot. Regardless of whether he had been rated by his instructors as a very good pilot, he showed a total lack of consideration for anything other than “showing his stuff” in order to impress a young lady. His recklessness sealed his doom and sadly took the life of two innocent victims. The story here is retold from both newspaper and eyewitness accounts.


A most tragic accident involving reckless low flying of a kind not seen before occurred on June 9, 1941, when a F.A.A. pilot, who had just completed his training, flew a Fairey Battle over the village of Seeley’s Bay, breaking every rule of flying he had been taught. Witnesses said they had seen the plane flying very low for several minutes. The plane skimmed over tall trees next to Mill Street causing them to sway as in a storm. Finally, in the last move in which the young pilot had full control, he came down in a dive in front of Gray’s store and as he pulled up, the aircraft struck a pole which broke off a portion of the wing.

Now out of control and flying upside down, the plane caught on wires which were dragged along as it clipped the corner of the residence of Bernard McAlonan. It tore a hole in the roof of a barn behind it, stripped a limb from a tree beyond the barn and continued almost half a mile pulling the wires from each pole along the street toward the Rideau River. As the plane approached the Hartley mill, Roy Hartley ran to the office at the back of the building to escape what would be the worst of the crash that was sure to come. Just missing the mill itself, the plane tore off a gasoline pump and continued across the street to finally mow down five boathouses “like a field of grain” in the words of one witness.

Beside one of the boathouses was well-known fishing guide and carpenter, Mr. James Free. With him was his young grandson, Harold Battams, who was visiting his grandparents from Oshawa.

A short time before this chain of events, Mr. Free had been in the mill buying nails for a boat he was repairing. As he was leaving, he looked up at the low-flying plane skimming the tops of the trees and remarked to Mr. Hartley, “I will never be killed in one of those things. I wouldn’t go up in a plane to save my life.” Minutes later, both he and his grandson were at the boathouses when the plane’s propeller tore into them. In the newspaper coverage, the five boathouses are described as having been reduced to pulpwood, as is evident in this photograph.


Arriving from near and far, the large crowd watched as the gruesome task of recovering the shattered remains of grandfather and grandson began. To add to the drama, Dr. F. S. Young suffered a heart attack while attending the horrific scene.

Mrs. Free had heard and seen the commotion so had rushed to the boathouses but was restrained from going any closer. She was standing among the crowd when she recognized the decapitated head of her husband as it was removed and carried to the waiting ambulance. As she screamed, the Service Police who were attending rushed to her aid and removed her from the scene.

Mr. Free, who was 59 years of age, was survived by his wife, the former Florence M. Bell. Also surviving was the mother of the boy killed, Mary Georgina, wife of Samuel Battams Jr. of Oshawa and a second daughter, Ruby, wife of Glen Mustard of Elgin; along with two sons, Edward and Earl of Seeley’s Bay. Harold’s body was cut in half by the propeller. He was the grandson of Mr. And Mrs. Samuel Battams Sr. of Gananoque.

He was also survived by one sister, Barbara, and five brothers: Conley, Bruce, Douglas, Wayne and Daniel.

The search for the body of the pilot was conducted under the direction of the Provincial Police and Squadron Leaders E. H. E. Cross and G. V. Fryer who had arrived by ambulance from the station at Collins Bay. His body was found in the cockpit, fastened in by his safety belt. One cut at the temple had bled profusely, but there were no other signs of injuries. His body was identified by the officers as A/LA William S. McCulloch. His funeral was held at St. Andrews Church on Wednesday, June 11, and his body was placed in the vault at the Cataraqui cemetery to await the arrival of his brother. On June 16, the remainder of his class received their wings and were posted to Halifax to await passage to England.

Eighteen-year-old A/LA McCulloch was survived by his mother in Paisley, Scotland. His body was interred in the military section at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver.

Gananoque Reporter

By Flight Lieutenant C. Radford

“It has been found through official records of Air Force Headquarters that a large number of fatal accidents to students in training are caused by a flagrant disregard of flying rules and regulation – not through ignorance on the part of the student or instructor, but the urge to feel the sensation of power and speed in an aircraft. In order to obtain this, the pilot indulges in low-level flying and thrills at the sight of trees, houses and countryside rushing past him.

“Areas for low-flying have been designated where all big towns can be avoided, but in some cases very small villages are on the route. During low level exercises over such territory, a pilot must be fifty feet above any obstruction, which would put the plane at approximately 150 feet above the ground.”

The request was made that, if an aircraft was seen stunting at a low altitude, a report to the nearest station be sent in. “If a person can read the number on the fuselage of an aircraft, then that plane is flying below regulation height of 1000 feet. Many people don’t report a low-flying plane because, as they said, “We didn’t want to get the lad in trouble. After all, he will soon be over there fighting for us and if he wants to have a little fun now, should I stop him.”

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