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Prisoner of War – William Harold TRELOAR – The first member of the Australian Flying Corps to be captured


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Many will be familiar with the name John Linton Treloar, who during the First World War took on the organisation of the fledgling Australian War Records Section that formed the basis of the Australian War Memorial’s WW1 collection.  Perhaps not so well-known was his older brother William Harold Treloar, who became the first member of the Australian Flying Corps to be taken prisoner in WW1.

 

Harold, as he was known throughout his life, was one of Australia’s early aviators.  He had begun life on the 8th of August 1889 at Fairfield Park, Victoria, as the first born child of William and Jane Treloar, whose marriage had taken place the year before.  At the time of his birth his father William was running a Grocery business in nearby Fitzroy, and was also in partnership as a Land Agent.  However, in the November of that same year, he auctioned off all his stock, and by 1892 had a Grocery store in Auburn Rd, Hawthorn, which was later followed by Port Melbourne.  It was during these years that Harold gained three new siblings, one of those being the above mentioned John.

 

The family eventually moved to Hamilton in country Victoria, where William was the Manager of A. Miller and Co.’s ‘Mutual Store’ from at least 1898 to 1901, and in 1905 purchased his own store, the ‘Little Wonder’ Cash Store.  While the family continued to grow, Harold attended the local State School, followed by the Hamilton Academy, before following a career as a Chauffeur and Motor Mechanic.  By 1909 his family had returned to the city and were living in Albert Park, while William was employed as a Commercial Traveller with the Melbourne Merchants, Clark and Co. Pty Ltd.

 

Remaining in the country, Harold was in the employ of Messrs Young Brothers, Auctioneers, Stock, Station and Commission Agents in Horsham, and was apparently the first man to drive a motor car for them.  He remained with them for three years, until the July of 1911, and during that time drove many different types of cars throughout Victoria, NSW and South Australia.  They found him to be a “first-class Chauffeur, obedient, punctual and obliging.”

 

Further employment included some time as a chauffeur and instructor with J.R. Wotherspoon & Co. General Merchants, Beaufort, and driver and mechanic with N. McDonald Motor Works and Garage, Hamilton.

 

In 1912 Harold was living and working in his mother’s childhood town of Ballarat, and having befriended the Hooley family, he eventually became engaged to their daughter Lilian.  He was employed with the Ballarat Motor Works from 1912 to 1913, during which time he was a chauffeur and mechanic from May 1912 to February 1913 with Mr Robert Carstairs Bell of Mooramong, Skipton, who stated:

“I found him a most reliable & steady man and about the best driver I have ever known.  He also was a first class mechanic & well able to make any ordinary repairs to a motor car.

We were all sorry when he left to better himself.”

 

He also found employment with Mr Jasper Coghlan as chauffeur to his 40 h.p. Daimler lorry; and was associated with Messrs Loveland and Haslem’s Garage in 1914.

 

After nine years’ experience as a chauffeur and motor mechanic, Harold felt that his prospects for the future weren’t the best, and in 1914 he decided to change careers and follow his ambition to become an aviator.  Fuelled by a visit to Ballarat in early April of the aviator Harry Hawker, he promptly booked his passage to England and sailed on the Orsova on the 15th of the same month.

 

On landing in London on the 16th of May he first spent a couple of weeks at the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company. “He had been advised by the military representative at the High Commissioner’s office to undergo a course at the company’s school at Brooklands.  He witnessed the building of numerous machines for the Royal Flying Corps, as well as Bristol biplanes both of the tractor and propeller types.”

 

With this grounding, he then moved on to the Bristol flying school which was also at the Brooklands Aerodrome, Weybridge.  His first trip in the air was with Billy Stutt, an Australian pilot, who had gained his Royal Aero Certificate in February that year.

 

Harold obtained his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate No. 835 at The Bristol School in a Bristol Biplane on the 9th of July 1914, “after only three weeks’ tuition under very unsettled weather conditions.”  He then took an extended course at the Bleriot Monoplane School, also at Brooklands.

 

In a letter home dated the 16th of July 1914 he wrote: “So far I have not broken the least thing through any fault of my own.  One morning I had just landed when an overstrained wire broke, and caught the propeller, which, of course, burst.  The pieces broke the rudder and elevator wires, which, if it had happened in the air, would have meant a big fall and bad bump, as I had been up 300ft.  However, it shows what can happen and what luck means.”

 

Following the outbreak of war at the beginning of August, civilian flying in England came to a standstill and joining the Royal Flying Corps would not guarantee much flying as there were “four pilots already available for every machine.”  So, on hearing that instruction had commenced at the Australian Flying School, Harold quickly returned home.  He departed London on the Osterley on the 28th of August 1914 and arrived back in Melbourne on the 6th of October.

 

As soon as he landed, Harold, who was already a 2nd Lieutenant in the 70th (Ballarat) Infantry Regiment, immediately set about securing an appointment with the Australian Flying Corps (AFC).  Having completed a two week course in aerial observation at Point Cook in February 1915, this was followed up by a three week course for a further pilot’s certificate in the March.

 

On the 8th of February 1915 the Indian Government had requested pilots, transport staff and equipment from Australia to serve with the Indian Army in the campaign against the Turks in the Tigris Valley, Mesopotamia.  Having agreed to send what became known as a ‘Half Flight’ (half the strength of a standard Flight), four pilots were selected from the few that were available.  Under the command of Captain Henry Petre would be Captain Thomas White, Lieutenant George Merz and Harold.  His commission as a 2nd Lieutenant with the AFC came through on the 12th of April 1915.  Capt Petre sailed on the Orontes on the 14th of April in order to make advance arrangements, and Harold flew over his ship in a farewell gesture.

 

Having received his final leave Harold travelled to Ballarat the following day of the 15th, where he married his fiancé Alice Lilian HOOLEY in the Christ Church Cathedral on the 17th of April 1915.

 

Four days later on the 20th of April 1915 he left his new bride with her mother in Ballarat, and returned to Melbourne where together with Thomas White and most of the other members of the Half Flight he embarked on the RMS Morea for India.  George Merz who had been temporarily detained on instruction duties at Point Cook, followed Harold’s earlier gesture and flew over their ship as it left the pier, signalling his farewell.  From Bombay the Half Flight then travelled to Basra arriving on the 26th of May 1915, where they were joined in June by Merz.  “The four Officers were gazetted temporarily into the Indian Army, and on 11th June 1915 were gazetted into the Royal Air [Flying] Corps.”

 

On the 3rd of June Harold wrote home:

“Everything is O.K.  We have two Maurice-Farman fighting biplanes going, and I have been over the Turkish lines at Kurna, acting as pilot and observer.  We fly at 5000 feet, so if they hit us, good luck to them.  These machines carry a passenger and fuel for four hours, and do a little less than 60 miles an hour ground speed.  We have dropped bombs, but with little success.  But we have done some good reconnaissance, locating trenches, guns and so forth.  We advance to Barham Island to-morrow, and start a new depot there.  It is fearfully hot, about 110 to 120 degrees in the shade, and when there is no breeze it is simply a real Turkish bath.  I was the first Australian member of the Australian Flying Corps to fly over the enemy’s lines, and also the first Australian to fly in this country.”

 

This was followed up on the 25th of June with:

“Just a line to let you know I am still in the land of the living, and going strong.  Had several exciting times lately, through engine failure, mainly through the heat making the oil inefficient.

I had to come down in the desert, stay there all day till they sent out a strong party to guard the machine, and I thought it best to stay there, for I am sure the Arabs would have destroyed the machine.  On a later occasion the engine stopped when we were over water, and it took me all my time to coax it back to our island base.  The Arabs shoot at us repeatedly, but so far they have not registered on us.  I have been given the piloting of No.1 Maurice Farman biplane, fitted with bomb droppers, but have not seen any large Turkish force yet to try my hand.”

“I have flown about 900 miles, and not so far felt any ill-effects, but it is a strain, for the wind here is so strong at times that we fly only about 20 feet or so from the ground to make any headway at all; in fact, at one place we have been blown backwards.”

 

By September they had received more planes and while piloting Caudron 1 during a reconnaissance flight on the 16th of that month, its engine gave out and Harold was forced to land about 80 yards in front of the enemy position at Essin, south of Kut-el-Amara.  A Turkish officer (later taken prisoner by the British) watched through his binoculars as the event unfolded.  The information gleaned from him was that:

“The machine came down quite slowly and bumped once or twice gently on the ground before it stopped.

At first the officers tried to make a bolt for it, but saw it was impossible and returned to the machine.  They were both unhurt.  After they (the Turks) had taken the two officers from the machine our (British) guns opened fire on it and tried to smash it, whereupon they (the Turks) led one of them (the officers) back in its direction and the guns ceased fire, and they (the Turks) were then able to get it away.”

 

Harold and his observer Captain Basil Atkins of the Indian Army were the first two officers to be captured in Mesopotamia.  They were actually lucky, as two of their former colleagues, Lieut George Merz (AFC) and his pilot passenger Lieut William Burn (NZSC att RFC) had previously been killed by Arabs under similar circumstances.

 

Following their safe landing, excerpts of Harold’s description of their capture and incarceration are as follows:

 

“They opened fire on us with machine guns and rifles, and, though the firing was kept up for 10 to 15 minutes, we were both captured unhurt.  Until the Turkish officers came up to us, we had a hand-to-hand fight with the Arabs, who would have killed us but for the intervention of the Turks.  We were stripped and taken before the Turkish commander, Nurredin Pasha, who told us that if we did not give him all the information he desired we would be shot.  I asked him if he would tell the British anything if he were a prisoner.  He answered ‘No,’ and did not continue the questioning, but gave us coffee and cigarettes.  We were very surprised later to get tea and biscuits made in Melbourne.

Captain Atkins and I were subsequently sent by river steamer to Bagdad.  At every town or village along the river the Arab Sheik with his followers, came on board to look at us and at our 80 h.p. Caudron biplane, which had been riddled with rifle and shrapnel bullets.  On our arrival in Bagdad, the machine was exhibited for the benefit of the Red Crescent – the Turkish equivalent of our Red Cross.  We were royally received in Bagdad.  Fully 50 officers came on board to see us, and crowds of people lined the banks of the Tigris.  We entered the ‘Abode of Peace,’ once the most brilliant city in the Moslem world, with flags flying, and the steamer’s whistle blowing.  We were put in a large hospital, and a strong guard was placed over us.  We were given permission to buy clothes and to have a bath, a real Turkish bath.  The director of the Red Crescent was very kind to us, and saw that we received good food.  The commandant, Huckle Bey, took us for several drives, but, as he could not get any information out of us, the drives were discontinued.”

 

“After remaining 10 days in Bagdad, where we were treated with the utmost kindness and civility, we were sent to Stamboul, by way of Mosul.  The party that accompanied us to Mosul consisted of 15 Indian sepoys and a guard of 20 mounted gendarmes, with one officer.  The Indians travelled in open carts, but we were given an Arabarner, a closed carriage, in which you lie down.  The officer in charge could speak a little French, so we were able to find out a little about the country we travelled through.  After two days we reached Samara, and Tickereet was our next halting place.

On our arrival at Mosul we were handed over to the military authorities, and placed in an old dirty barracks.  From now on their treatment of us changed for the worse.  It was winter, and the very small room in which we were confined had bare floors.  The windows had no glass, and, to keep warm, we had to huddle together in a corner.  After a few days, Captain Atkins became very ill with dysentery and fever.  We could not eat the hotel food, because of its oiliness and filth, and we lived for a few weeks on boiled fowl and rice.”

 

“About six weeks after our arrival in Mosul, Captain T.W. White and Captain Yeats Brown, both of the Australian Flying Corps, joined us.

Shortly afterwards Major Reilly, our flight commander, and Lieutenant Fulton arrived.  Thus by the irony of fate six flying officers who had messed together at Busra were now prisoners of war.”

 

Thomas White (who had been captured on the 13/11/1915) later described his first impressions of both Harold and Atkins as being so wasted and feeble with fever and dysentery that they were hardly recognizable.  But they began to show improvement straight away, the only possible reason being a lift in morale.

The treatment of the men here was far worse than that of the officers, and as much as Harold and his fellow officers tried to help them, there was not a lot they could do, and subsequently many died.

 

Harold went on to say:

“You can imagine our joy when, after five months, we heard that we were to be sent to Aleppo.  [They departed Mosul on the 20/2/1916]  Our great trouble was to get cash as nobody would accept Turkish notes.  The German consul finally changed some of our notes thus enabling us to pay our debts and to give the men a little money to spend en route.  The few German officers we met in Turkey were very good to us.  Two hundred men were sent with us from Mosul, but only 30 arrived at Aleppo.  Here we were allowed to stay at the Hotel America, the nearest approach to civilization we had experienced since our capture.

 

While at Aleppo Harold developed severe rheumatism in his knees and was granted permission to visit the hospital for treatment.

 

“After spending 10 days in Aleppo we again entrained for a destination unknown.  On our way we passed through Marmure, Tersus, and Byzanti, finally reaching Afion Karahissar [on the 24/3/1916], where we were placed in an empty house which was new and clean.  That same night three British officers escaped from another house, with the result that we were placed in an Armenian church with all the other British, French, and Russian prisoners.  The treatment we received here was good.  Moreover we began to hear talk of peace.  Our evenings were spent in attending our ‘theatre’ or else in mock trials and debates.”

 

Six weeks after their crowded incarceration in the church they were transferred to houses in the town.

 

“In March, 1917, in company with four other British officers, I was sent to Constantinople, as a reprisal for alleged mistreatment of five Turkish officers in Cairo.  We were placed in a filthy underground cell for 63 days, no exercise whatever being allowed.  [They were held in Seraskerat Prison]

After 101 days we were released owing to the efforts of the American consul, and were allowed to return to Afion Karahissar, where we remained till the signing of the armistice.

Thanks to the Australian Red Cross Society and the Royal Flying Corps Aid Committee we received many parcels, but I think only about 30 per cent of those sent.”

 

All the officers and men were very grateful to the Australian Red Cross Prisoner of War Department run by Miss M.E.M. Chomley, not only for the parcels of food and clothing sent by them, but also for their untiring attempts to do anything that was asked of them.

 

 

Although still a prisoner of war, Harold was promoted to Lieutenant on the 15th of August 1918.

Following Turkey’s unconditional surrender on the 30th of October 1918 he was finally repatriated after 3 years and 2 months of incarceration, embarking at Smyrna on the 19th of November and arriving at Alexandria, Egypt, on the 21st.  He was then returned to Australia on the Aeneas, embarking on the 2nd of January 1919 and disembarking in Melbourne on the 5th of February.  His appointment was terminated on the 30th of March 1919, and on the 1st of July 1920 he was transferred to the Reserve of Officers, and eventually placed on the Retired List on the 27th of November 1943.

 

Unfortunately Harold’s homecoming was not a joyous one.  During his years of absence he and his wife had kept up a regular correspondence, and he was given no indication that anything was untoward.  However, before leaving Egypt he had received a letter from his father explaining that his wife had recently given birth to a child.  Although she asked him for a second chance, he filed for a divorce in the March and the marriage was dissolved in the May.

 

A great believer in the future of Commercial Aviation before the outbreak of war, Harold stepped straight into this new industry on his return home.  When the Defence Department began selling off their planes in 1919, Messrs Fenton and Carey bought four Maurice Farmans with the intention of opening a flying school and passenger service from their property in Port Melbourne.  Harold with three other pilots from the Central Flying School at Point Cook delivered the planes to them on the 11th of April, and part of the purchasing deal was that he would provide instruction on the operation and maintenance of the planes.  They also employed him as a pilot and during his time with them he flew 270 passengers.

 

Harold’s personal life also took a turn for the better when on the 23rd of August 1919 at Echuca, he married Ida Emmerson TREWIN from Albert Park.  The couple at first lived with Harold’s parents in Albert Park before setting up house in Ivanhoe, and over the years they had three children together.

 

During the month before his marriage, Harold had gone into partnership with air mechanic Hector Lord and flight sergeant Richard Lonsdale, both of whom had served with him in the Half Flight in Mesopotamia, and they purchased their own plane from the Defence Department, a 100 horsepower De Haviland 6 bi-plane for £500.  They then toured Victoria giving passenger flights and exhibitions.  By mid-December 1919 they had visited 34 towns, having flown 6000 miles and taken up more than 700 passengers.  Mid-May 1920 had brought the distance travelled to more than 15,000 miles, while carrying 1900 passengers. Following each flight they issued their passengers with a certificate to show that they had made the flight.

 

In August 1920 Harold was one of the pilots who took part in the aerial Tour of Victoria to raise awareness for the Second Peace Loan campaign.  The Peace Loans were established by the Government to raise money to carry out their obligations to resettle the returning army.  The opening ceremony took place at the Melbourne Town Hall on Friday the 6th of August, and was followed by a procession through the city, while the four Avro planes taking part in the tour, flew overhead dropping leaflets urging subscriptions to the loan.  The following Monday together with Mechanic Flight Sgt Cecil Hazlitt, Harold set off on his allocated tour route, which involved visiting the towns in North-Western Victoria.

However, he was dogged by trouble from day one: “We headed for Clunes and Learmonth.  We had a very hard time.  Ballarat and district were enveloped in a thick white mist which rendered flying very difficult.  The bad weather continued until Friday and our plane had to face rain, hail and snow, in addition to heavy wind.  So thick was the rain at one stage that we had to descend to within 100 feet of the ground in order to pick out a paddock in which we could land.”

 

Having returned to Point Cook, they set off again on Tuesday 17th August for Kyneton, and on landing later that day an unfortunate accident occurred.  On the ground Police-Sergeant Hore who was keeping back the crowd was knocked down by one of the back wings of the plane, suffering a badly bruised shoulder and shock.  Things got worse the following morning as they took off to head to Bendigo, when only 100 feet off the ground the engine failed.  The plane plummeted to the ground and was totally wrecked, but miraculously Harold and Hazlitt were able to walk away with nothing more than a severe shaking.  They returned to Melbourne that night.

 

Flying a new plane, Harold and Hazlitt set off again on Monday the 23rd of August, having taken over a section of the North-Eastern district so that that area could be completed by the Wednesday.  The Tour of the State finished on the following Friday, the 27th, with an Aerial Derby; the four pilots who had taken part in the Tour, competing to see who could fly the fastest from Serpentine (near Bendigo) to the Melbourne Town Hall.  Carrying bags of mail to be dropped on arrival, they took off from the racecourse at two minute intervals and circled the township before continuing on their way.  Harold’s plane won the day, travelling the 116 miles in one hour and fifteen minutes, the other three planes not far behind.  After a few circuits of the city two of the planes then flew on while Harold and Capt McKenzie had to land at the Port Melbourne aerodrome to refuel, their tanks being almost empty.  Early in October Silver cups were presented to the winners by the president of the East Loddon Shire Council.

 

In October 1920 Harold was given the job of delivering the ‘Sunraysia Daily’ newspaper throughout the Mildura and Riverina districts.  Three weeks into the run and he struck engine trouble.  Although he managed to land safely, he subsequently crashed into a fence, damaging one of the plane’s wings, but escaped injury himself.  Flying with the Shaw-Ross Aviation Company in the December, he took part in the delivery of ‘The Herald’ to all the bayside resorts between Port Melbourne and San Remo.  That month also saw the running of the first Australian Aerial Derby and Flying Carnival, in which Harold won the opening event by managing to drop a small parachute within 25 yards of a white triangle marked in the centre of the Epsom racecourse at Mordialloc.

 

Having obtained his Civil Aviation Licence in June 1921, with the early number of 20, Harold was then employed as a Representative of the Aviation Department of the Shell Company of Australia Ltd (British Imperial Oil Coy).  At the end of November he escaped injury following a successful landing in windy weather, when a sudden gust then flipped his plane over, causing considerable damage.  A week later his Ivanhoe home was broken in to by thieves, who stole jewellery, clothing and a pair of binoculars.

Late 1924 early 1925 Harold was transferred to Bendigo where he spent the next five years as the Superintendent for the District, before being transferred to the Adelaide branch in March 1930.

It was noted that: “While in Adelaide, Captain Treloar, in accordance with the Shell Company’s policy, will devote his attention to stimulating public interest in aviation.”

Before leaving Bendigo he became one of the founders of the Bendigo Aero Club which was established in 1929.

By 1934 he had returned to Victoria and continued working with the Shell Company until 1940 (as a Salesman) at which time he was appointed to the State Liquid Fuel Control Board.  The final three months of 1942 saw him employed with the State Taxation Department.

 

Harold died suddenly on the 11th of October 1950 in Bendigo where he was employed as a Motor Salesman – he was 61 years old.  He is buried in the Warringal Cemetery, Heidelberg, and was joined by his wife Ida in 1982.

 

 

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Harold’s parents: William Henry TRELOAR and Jane Freeman CADDY married in Vic in 1988.

William who had been born at Linton (near Ballarat) died on the 7/1/1930 at his home in Heidelberg, aged 65.  Jane who had been born and bred in Ballarat, died on the 18/8/1942 also at home in Heidelberg, aged 72.

 

Harold’s Siblings: *Reginald Claremont b.21/6/1891 Hawthorn (Grocer’s Assistant) – WW1: Cpl 609 (MM), 4th MG Bn – WW2 – d.1969 Heidelberg; Grace Beatrice b.1893 Melb – d.1894 (5M); *John Linton b.10/12/1894 Port Melb (Military Staff Clerk) marr Clarissa M W Aldridge 5/11/1918 Notting Hill, UK – WW1: Maj (O.B.E.) 1st Div HQ (Aust War Records Sect) – WW2 – d.28/1/1952 Canberra; Vera Grace Larewance b.1898 Warrnambool – marr L.R. OATES 25/10/1924 – d.1954; Alexander Glenroy b.1900 Hamilton (Salesman, Warehouseman); Mary Thelma b.1901 Hamilton – marr BARKWAY – d.1974; Arthur Charles Caddy b.1902 Hamilton (Mechanic) – d.8/2/1963 WA.

 

Harold’s Children (3): *William Herbert Ross b.18/8/1922 Ivanhoe (Wireless Operator) – WW2: Merchant Navy – d.2002, *Eric John (Draughtsman) b.1925 – d.1998, *Janette Mary – marr K.B. IRESON – d.2016

 

 

For more in-depth detail in regard to:

*Half Flights time in Mesopotamia: – The Official History, Vol VIII The A.F.C.; “Fire in the Sky” by Michael Molkentin

*Harold’s incarceration – “Guests of the Unspeakable” by Thomas W. White

 

https://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/person/365069

 

 

 

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