Collection Detection answer #10
Thank you to everyone who submitted their guess for last week's Collection Detection. As promised, here is the answer:
They are wing fragments souvenired from the aircraft of Baron Manfred von Richthofen – the “Red Baron” who was shot down and killed on 21 April 1918.
Perhaps the most famous fighter pilot of all time, Richthofen had just claimed his last combat victory (he was officially credited with 80) when the aerial battle crossed into Australian-held territory. Under fire from a Canadian pilot above, as well as from Australian gunners on the ground, he received a mortal chest wound that shortly ended his life. Richthofen managed to bring the aircraft down in a field, but died shortly after witnesses arrived. The plane was quickly stripped for souvenirs before a formal investigation could take place.
These fragments from the plane’s wings were collected by Australian soldier Walter Ernest Brown, known as “Wally”. Born in Tasmania, Wally was working as a grocer in Sydney when he enlisted in 1915. He served with the Light Horse and Camel Corps before transferring to the infantry, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions during fighting near Passchendaele, Belgium, in October 1917.
Wally received the Victoria Cross following an incident on 6 July 1918, when his party had taken over some newly-captured trenches at Villers-Bretonneux. After being told that an enemy sniper was causing trouble, Wally guessed the sniper’s likely position and ran towards it alone, carrying only two grenades. He threw one, which fell short, and reached the enemy trenches to find himself facing a fully occupied German dugout. Threatening the occupants with his remaining grenade, all thirteen soldiers, including their officer, promptly surrendered.
Wally returned to Australia in December 1919 and was discharged on 15 February 1920.
In 1940, Wally lied about his birthdate to enlist for the Second World War (service number NX35492). He was fighting as a gunner with the 2/15th Field Regiment Brown in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. Wally was last seen just before the Allied surrender, disappearing toward the enemy lines saying “No surrender for me.” The following day he was posted as missing, later presumed dead, and his body was never recovered.
Walter Ernest Brown is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial, 22 kilometres north of the city of Singapore. The Australian War Memorial holds many of the souvenirs he collected during the First World War, as well as a German machine gun from the trench he charged at Villers-Bretonneux.