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Chapter 1: Two airmen

Front label showing a general with the words Australian Flying Corps

Australians in World War I: Australian Flying Corps

This publication was produced by DVA to mark the 100th anniversary of the AFC and is the fourth book in the series about the First World War.


Chapter 1: Two airmen

The aircraft is all very well for sport—for the army it is useless.1


Both men were members of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) but their experiences could hardly have been more different. Merz was the first Australian airman to die on operations, Baker one of the last.Lieutenant George Merz died in a Mesopotamian desert on 30 July 1915. Armed only with revolvers, he and his observer, a New Zealander named Lieutenant William Burn, fought a running battle against Arab tribesmen across several kilometres of sand before they were killed. Their broken down aircraft marked the place at which the fight began, but only those who killed them knew where it ended. Their bodies were never found. More than three years later, on 4 November 1918, another Australian flier, the former artilleryman and thrice-decorated Captain Thomas Baker, pilot and flight leader, was killed in combat, shot down over the Western Front in the war’s last week.

Both men were members of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) but their experiences could hardly have been more different. Merz was the first Australian airman to die on operations, Baker one of the last.

Merz was let down by his equipment. Wartime aviation was only a year old when he died and his machine was completely unsuited to operations in Mesopotamia. A proud airman, he died not in the sky—conflict’s newest arena—but on terra firma, its oldest. He had never fired a shot in aerial combat or even seen an enemy aircraft. On his last flight, he took off alongside one other machine, from which he soon became separated.

Baker, by contrast, died in a fight involving more than twenty aircraft, in which another two Australians and perhaps eight German fliers lost their lives. In his war flying career Baker scored twelve victories, and on his last day was leading a flight on a squadron-strength operation.

Baker had already served more than two years as a soldier; in this and in other respects he was typical of Australia’s airmen in the closing months of the war. Merz, too, was typical of the AFC fliers of his era—he was among the earliest Australians to qualify as a pilot in the flying corps, and while Baker first took to the sky over wartime England, Merz’s first experience of flight was over a bayside Victorian grazing property on Melbourne’s outskirts. It was there, rather than in the distant theatres of war in which he and Baker fought and died, that the AFC’s story began.

 

 
Front label showing a general with the words Australian Flying Corps

Australians in World War I: Australian Flying Corps

This publication was produced by DVA to mark the 100th anniversary of the AFC and is the fourth book in the series about the First World War.

Australians in World War I: Australian Flying Corps Education Activities

The Australian Flying Corps Educational Activities booklet is aimed towards secondary students. It is designed to complement the Australian Flying Corps...

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