Lieutenant Harry Taylor
Harry Taylor was born outside of Birmingham, England in May 1889 and immigrated to Australia sometime in his early 20's. He enlisted on the 17th of September, 1914 at the age of 25 and 4 months and was posted to the Australian Army Service Corps, probably due in part because Taylor had been a mechanic in civilian life.
Taylor served for 15 months with the A.A.S.C. in Egypt and Gallipoli, being promoted to Corporal on the 24th of December, 1915. Taylor was posted to the 1st Divisions Ammunition Sub Park in France on the 15th of November 1916, at the same time being promoted to Sergeant. It was during Taylors service with the Amunition Sub Park that Taylor was awarded a Military Medal. By December of 1916, Taylor had applied for the Australian Flying Corps and had been accepted.
Taylor was sent to the Royal Flying Corps School of Aeronautiques in Reading, England as the first step to his becoming a pilot. Taylor graduated on the 8th of May, 1917 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Australian Flying Corps with 2 Squadron and was posted to 43rd Training Squadron, Royal Flying Corps for flying training, rapidly graduating with his wings and then studying at the Aerial Gunnery School at Turnberry before joining 2 Squadron at Harlaxton in England. 2 Squadron was building up to operational strength with the Airco DH5, a new scout the RFC had developed.
As 2, 3 and 4 Squadron were working up to strength in England, several of their pilots were detached to Royal Flying Corps squadrons in France for operational experience. Taylor was one of the pilots chosen and served with 41 Squadron RFC, who were at the time transitioning from FE8 pusher aircraft to the back-staggered DH5 tractor scout. Taylor spent 8 days with the RFC squadron before returning to Harlaxton.
2 Squadron Australian Flying Corps deployed to France, taking station at the aerodrome of Baizieux on the 21st of September 1917. Taylor flew the DH5, A9224 as the 5th aircraft in B Flight with a flight marking of "5". Taylor ran into trouble early on operations, badly crashing A9224 after a close offensive patraol over Arras.
20th October 1917, Lieutenant Taylor in 9224 (DH5) left Aerodrome on patrol at 8.5 a.m. on C.O.P over Arras and landed owing to engine trouble. T. piece breaking top. R. Long broken. Prop broken cowling broken.
2 Squadron was involved in the furious combat of the Battle of Cambrai where the DH5 Scouts were used in the close offensive patrol, counter attack and ground attack role. The entries in the Squadron Intelligence Summaries during Cambrai show the nature of the combat Taylro was involved in;
17th November 1917, Lieutenant Taylor in 9224 (DH5) left Aerodrome Baizieux at 11.45 a.m. and collided at 11.50 a.m. with a Haystack in Warloy, cause engine failure. Damage two rear and two front longerons, broken framework broken barcing wires, 4 main planes top and bottom, centre section broken, elevator rudder and Fin broken, Prop. and Cowling Broken. Pilot uninjured. Pilot was engaged in Target practice and Bomb dropping when his engine refused to pick up.
20th November 1917, Lieutenant Taylor in 9378 (DH5) left the Aerodrome Baizieux at 8.20. a.m. on a special mission and was brought down in No mans land a complete wreck, struck off as unsalvable. This pilot was not injured, tried to start another machine, he joined with infantry and finally rescued a wounded lad.
Taylors remarkable actions on the 20th of November were to earn him a citation, the RFC Communiques also told of his courage once he had crashed.
Communique No.115, November 20, 68 Squadron : Lt H Taylor while engaging troops at 30 feet, had his machine hit, so landed in "No Mans Land". On crawling out of his machine he was fired at by German snipers, so took up a German rifle with which he fired at the enemy and then crawled back. On the way he picked up a wounded man and carried him until reaching one of our patrols. He then found another British machine which had landed owing to it's pilot being wounded, so he got in it and tried to fly off, but could not start it. 2nd Lt F Huxley dropped bombs on a gun and horses, obtaining a direct hit. He also obtained a direct hit on a G.S Wagon which was destroyed and two personnel killed, then attacked 300 troops marching in fours and shot about 14 of them.
The DH5 Taylor tried to start and fly back to his base was the DH5 of Captain J Bell who had been shot through the chest by rifle fire from the ground during an attack with Lt R W McKenzie. Bell was to later die of his wounds. Taylor was flying with Captain G.C. "Skipper" Wilson when his aircraft was hit, Wilson wrote of Taylor being downed, "Close together we dived down and opened our machine guns on the Germans, pulling up to the level of the fog again ( about thirty feet off the ground ), and letting a bomb drop as we rose." Wilson lost sight of Taylor as they rose, before noticing Taylor had been shot down.
Wilson wrote, " That he[Taylor] was sufficiently alive to fire those rockets was amazing . His machine was just a heap of wreckage. One wing lay 20 yards from the rest of the heap." Wilson also noticed that 50 yards from Taylor were groups of enemy infantry who had been watching Taylor come down, uncertain as to whether he was crashing or going to strafe them. As he crashed they lifted their rifles to fire on Taylor.
Taylor had crouched behind a small mound after crashing and with his automatic starting firing back at the German soldiers. Taylor would run and fire with each strafing run of Wilson's until he was close to a small group of British soldiers who quickly clamoured around him and started firing back at the German soldiers. Wilson saw Taylor pick up the rifle of a fallen soldier and and fire alongside the British soldiers at the German infantry who was now surrounding the British position.
Wilson continued to strafe the German infantry in an attempt to get them to disengage the British soldiers and break up their attack, but offering himself as a target eventually had consequences. Wilson writes, "Then there was a crashing sound and I was blinded. Two bullets had pierced the wind screen infront of my eyes and dust from the triplex glass had been flung into my eyes. ....... For a while I flew about anywhere, certain of one thing only, that I was climbing up clear of enemy fire. Gradually the glass dust got washed from my eyes and I was able to see again."
When Wilson returned to the crashed aircraft the surrounding land was in the control of the Germans and neither Taylor or the British soldiering party could be seen. The men that Taylor had found had lost their Officer and Taylor fought with them as they edged their way back to more easily defensible lines and the main body of troops they were attached to. Taylor left the group once they reached safety and began the long trek back to the advanced landing ground when he came across Captain J. Bell's machine. Taylor with the help of some troops attempted to get the engine started but they were unable to. Taylor walked back to the airbase, reaching it in time for dinner.
On November the 26th, Taylor while on a patrol over Bourlon Wood found a DFW at 1,500 feet and fired into it at 200 yards range. The DFW dived away and flew straight into the ground where Taylor reported, "it stopped dead without any run or signs of life." On the 30thof November, Taylor met four German two-seaters at 2000 feet over the front lines, he flew directly at the leader and held his line until the German aircraft filled his Aldis sight, when he fired at point blank range. The German aircraft banked to the right but Taylor was unable to follow it as the other three German aircraft attacked his DH5. Taylor zoomed into clouds and lost them. On the 1st of December Taylor had two more indecisive encounters with German aircraft.
1st December 1917, Lieutenant Taylor in 9336 (DH5) left the Aero. Baizieux at 12.40. p.m. on a special Mission over Bourlon Wood and was returning at 2.25. p.m. crashed through a bad landing. Machine ran down the hill, jumped a road, got jammed between the apple trees, 2 Bottom Longerons broken, Planes, rudder bar, Ce. Section and Spars broken. Prop. broken. To 2.A.D for repairs. Pilot uninjured.
3rd January 1918, Lieutenant Taylor in B/74 left Aero. at 12. noon. and came down at 1.45. Machine overturned after landing in deep snow on S.W. Edge of aerodrome. Pilot injured and admitted to 56th Casualty Clearing Station, Top and Btm. left rear Longeron broken. Top C. Section and left Longer broken. To A.D. for repair.
The injury Taylor sustained from the accident was a cut to the forehead. Taylor was struck from 2 Squadrons Roll on the 9th of January after the accident. Taylor had flown 29 operational hours with the squadron. He was to rejoin the squadron briefly on the 18th of January before becoming ill due to the lingering effects of a concussion, most likely suffered in the accident. The Australian Flying Corps posted Taylor on the 19th of January, to the 8th Squadron in England as a flight instructor where he could recover from his injuries as well as pass on his front-line knowledge to the cadets.
After being admitted to Central Hospital in Hampstead, England, Taylor's lingering injuries were diagnosed as more severe with a fracture base of the skull and severe concussion, his Service Record reading "Ref to W.S.M.L 636.3 Should be dead Wounded Concussion severe". Taylor was to remain in Hospital and under convalescence until the end of July. During this period he was gazetted for the Military Cross, awarded for Taylor courage during the Battle of Cambrai. His citation read;
For conspicious gallantry and devotion to duty. Whilst he was engaging enemy troops his machine was shot down and crashed in the open. On crawling out of his machine he was fired upon by enemy snipers, whom he engaged with a rifle, which he had picked up. He eventually made his way back to one of our patrols, carryinh a badly wounded man whom he had discovered on the way. On a later occasion, when flying at 1,500 feet, he engaged an enemy two seater, which dived steeply to the ground and crashed. He is a clever and daring pilot, and is always ready to perform any kind of duty.
In July of 1917, Taylor was judged fit for duty again and was posted to the 8th Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Taylor served as a flight instructor for a month before being killed in a flying accident on the 19th of August, 1918 at Shripton Moyne. Taylor was flying a Sopwith Scout in mock dogfight training with Lieutenant Douglas Ferguson, they were engaging in combat manouvres over the Church at Shipton Moyne. While a service was being held in the church, the pair collided and both pilots were killed. For Taylor, the Sopwiths restraining belt broke and Taylor was mortally wounded with a fractured skull.
Taylor was buried on the 23rd of August with his kin in attendance. His hometown of Birmingham also erected a temporary memorial for him. Taylor had flown a total of 272 hours and 25 minutes with the Australian Flying Corps and Royal Flying Corps.
Roll Of Honour Card
Roll of Honour information from the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour Card entry for Taylors memorial location. Commonwealth War Graves Commision Commemerative Roll entry for Taylors memorial location.
The portrait of Harry Taylor courtesy of Julie Taylor. Intelligence Summaries of 2 Squadron Australian Flying Corps courtesy of Gordon Branch.
Australian Flying Corps : A Complete History of the Australian Flying Corps