Douglas Sloane joined the Australian Flying Corps, AIF, in 1916 and travelled to England. He was an engineer and though he fancied that he might be a pilot one day, he was happy to support those who were already qualified for that job. He became a 2nd Air Mechanic (AM) and, after basic training at Point Cook (Victoria), embarked on the Ulysses on 25 October 1916. In the UK he undertook further training and then worked at South Carlton, near Lincoln. He became a specialist at synchronising machine guns to fire through a rotating propeller.
His was a longstanding attraction to flying, and in letters home he mentioned his wish to set up an aviation business ‘in a year or so’. At the Yarrawonga/Mulwala Pioneer Museum the frame of an aeroplane Douglas commenced building in about 1911 is on display. He was working on perfecting the plane, but set it aside while he travelled to Europe.
Though his principal role was aircraft mechanics, his training also prepared him to be a gunner/observer. At that time, many planes carried a pilot in the front compartment and gunner/observer in the rear seat.
While travelling to the Western Front on 21 August 1917, the pilot of his aircraft landed it due to poor visibility, refuelled and then set off again. At about 600 feet the plane suffered catastrophic engine failure that caused it to spin crashing to the ground, killing the pilot, 2nd Lieutenant FG Shapira and Douglas Sloane. Vera Deakin, administrator of the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Inquiry Bureau, in her letter of condolence to the Sloane Family at Mulwala, noted that Douglas and the pilot’s deaths ‘must have been instantaneous’.
In Douglas’ pockets and a small leather bag, a few personal possessions survived the fierce fire. They included a picture of his Mulwala aircraft. The outer edges of the photograph had been burned away but the image of his creation remains clear. These few personal effects were secured in a small calico bag and forwarded to his father in April 1918.
Yarrawonga-Mulwala Pioneer Museum
Phone: (03) 5744 1402