Known as the Red Baron for the colour of his planes, German pilot Manfred von Richthofen was the top scoring fighter ace of the First World War. He joined the Imperial German Air Service in mid-1915 and by April 1918 had been credited with 80 aerial victories. He received Prussia’s highest award, the Pour le Mérite, and was in command of Jagdgeshwader 1, known as “The Flying Circus”.
On 21 April 1918 Richthofen pursued Canadian Lieutenant Wilfred May at low altitude, exposing himself to ground fire over Australian lines at Morlancourt. As he passed over the Australians, he was fatally hit, most likely by ground fire, and crashed behind the lines.
Shortly after the crash, a recovery party of eight men from No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, led by Lieutenant Walter Warneford, arrived at the scene. They recovered the body from the wrecked aircraft, and salvaged what they could. As a mark of respect for their adversary, the men of No. 3 Squadron gave Richthofen a full military funeral the following day.
Among the souvenirs collected were the control column of the aircraft and Richthofen’s left overboot, both recovered by Warneford and donated to the Australian War Memorial in December 1919. Warneford’s party were not the only souvenir collectors that found their way to the aircraft. Pieces of the iconic red aircraft were particularly sought after due to Richthofen’s fame. Many of the souvenired objects have been donated to museums around the world.