What's The Red Baron Got To Do With Croydon?

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 23 months ago
What's The Red Baron Got To Do With Croydon?

He was perhaps the most-feared German of the first world war. But what did the flying ace Manfred von Richthofen — otherwise known as the Red Baron — have to do with Croydon?

Quite a bit, it turns out — as a new exhibition explains.

A copy of the Red Baron's autobiography, in which he describes his first 'official kill'

Remembering 1916 - Life on the Western Front — which opens at the Whitgift Exhibition Centre, Whitgift School on 12 March — tells how the Red Baron's first ever kill was a former student of the Croydon school.

On 17 September 1916, von Richthofen shot down and killed 19 year old Lionel Morris over Le Hameau airfield in north west France. It was the first of about 80 planes the Red Baron would destroy during the first world war.

To mark his victory, the Baron ordered a silver cup to be made, engraved with the date of the kill and a model of Morris's plane. He continued the rather tasteless tradition for every subsequent kill he made, until silver supplies dried up.

Painting of the Red Baron's dogfight with the plane flown by 2nd Lieutenant Lionel Morris

Strangely, there's a Croydon link connected to von Richthofen's death too.

When the Baron was finally shot down and killed over the Sommes on 21 April 1918, the credit was initially given to the allied pilots Lieuenant Wilfred May and Captain Roy Brown.

Enter old Whitgiftian George Barber, who performed a post-mortem on the Baron, concluding that he'd probably been shot from the ground rather than the air (and an Australian rather than a Brit).

Barber's report was ignored until in 1935, when the author Charles Bean examined the findings and gave them credence. Ever since, the identity of the Red Baron's killer has been disputed.

To mark his victory, the Baron ordered a silver cup to be made, engraved with the date of the kill... He continued the rather tasteless tradition for every subsequent kill he made, until silver supplies dried up.

To commemorate the Whitgift's links to the Red Baron, the Croydon school has commissioned a number of new exhibits for the exhibition, including 10 silver cups (in the style of the Baron's cups) and a painting by aviation artist Alex Hamilton (see above).

There's also a piece of red canvas from the Baron’s red triplane, extracts from Morris's diary, and an original copy of the Red Baron’s autobiography.

The rest of the exhibition depicts the war from the British, French and German perspectives. Here are some of the other stand-out objects:

A British PH helmet (an early form of the gas mask) and a gas rattle
A decorative tin, possibly used for tobacco
A copy of the Wipers Times from 12 February 1916
A pickelhaube
A French propaganda poster, which translates to something like "We will have them!"
A French Chauchat light machine gun
A British signaller's armband, with a pigeon message container
German pin cushion
German trench club

Remembering 1916 - Life on the Western Front runs from 12 March-August 2016 at the Whitgift Exhibition Centre at Whitgift School, Croydon. £7 adults, £5 seniors, £3 children

Last Updated 09 March 2016