Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1916, observer Lieutenant Robert Claude Oakes (pictured), Royal Field Artillery, and pilot Lieutenant Henry Rathbone Hele-Shaw, the Royal Garrison Artillery, both attached to 70 Squadron, the Royal Flying Corps, were killed when their plane was shot down over France.
Lieutenant Oakes, the youngest of nine children, followed his father, a lieutenant-colonel, into the army in 1916. One of his brothers, Captain Orbell Oakes, the Yorkshire Regiment, had fallen at Neuve Chapelle in March of 1915 at the age of thirty-four; their eldest brother had served with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment during the Boer Wars.
Lieutenant Hele-Shaw, his parents’ only son, was educated at Marlborough College before winning a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge. He postponed his studies and enlisted in the Public Schools Brigade before obtaining a commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery. By October of 1915 he had obtained his pilot’s licence and was listed as a Military Wing Flying Officer. He was wounded while acting as a ferry pilot on the Western Front during the winter of 1915/1916. (Sadly, no photograph of him could be located at time of writing).
On the day of their deaths they took off on a flight and were not seen again. It was presumed that they had been shot down and killed – German flying ace Leutnant Kurt Wintgens (shot down two months later) claimed, but could not prove, the victory. In April of 1917 advancing British soldiers discovered their graves in a German army officers’ cemetery at the village of Le Verguier near St. Quentin. They were later re-buried in the Jeancourt Communal Cemetery in France.
Robert, from Nowton in Suffolk, was 18 years old. Henry, from Kensington, was 20 years old.