George Orrin Middleditch

(Detroit, Michigan, November 20, 1894 – Scampton, Lincolnshire, England, March 12, 1918).1

Middleditch was of English descent on both parents’ sides. His paternal grandfather had emigrated from Gloucestershire to Ontario, Canada. His father, Benjamin Middleditch, moved to Detroit in about 1880. There he met and married Devonshire-born Lucy Hannah Eveleigh and set up as a successful machinist and engineer.2 George was the middle of the couple’s three children and the older son. He attended the University of Michigan for two years, but, when his father died in early 1916, cut short his studies in order assume responsibility for his father’s business.3 By the time he registered for the draft at the end of May 1917, Middleditch was a cadet in the R.O.T.C. at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.

Detail from a photo probably taken when Middleditch was at ground school.

He transferred to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps and attended ground school at the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois.

Middleditch’s ground school class of about thirty men graduated September 1, 1917.4 Most of them, including Middleditch, chose or were chosen to go to Italy for flying training and were thus among the 150 cadets of the “Italian” or “second Oxford detachment” who sailed from New York for Europe on September 18, 1917, on the Carmania. After a brief stopover at Halifax the Carmania joined a convoy for the voyage across the Atlantic. The cadets sailed first class and enjoyed some leisure, including concerts featuring the violinist Albert Spalding, who was on board. They also had Italian lessons, conducted by Fiorello La Guardia, and, once they entered dangerous waters, they took turns at submarine watch. When the Carmania docked at Liverpool on October 2, 1917, the detachment members learned that they were not to continue on to Italy, but to remain in England for their training. They travelled by train to Oxford, where they spent the month of October repeating ground school at the Royal Flying Corps’s No. 2 School of Military Aeronautics. While at Oxford, Middleditch roomed with men he knew from ground school in Illinois: Walter Ferguson Halley, John Warren Leach, and Chester Albert Pudrith—the latter was also from Detroit and had been with him at Fort Sheridan.5

The men were eager to start learning to fly, but, because there were not enough openings for them at training squadrons, most of them, including Middleditch, were sent at the beginning of November 1918 to a machine gunnery school, Camp Harrowby, near Grantham in Lincolnshire. There they spent two weeks learning about and practicing with the Vickers machine gun. Then, in mid-November, it was determined that there was room at training squadrons for fifty of the Grantham cadets, and Middleditch was among those selected.

A handwritten list of ten names under the heading "Waddington."
Men assigned to Waddington, from the list in Foss’s diary of men assigned to training squadrons in mid-November 1917.

Along with nine others (Adolf M. Drey, William Wyman Mathews, Vincent Paul Oatis, Pudrith, Joseph Hiserodt Sharpe, Fred Trufant Shoemaker, Walter Andrew Stahl, Lynn Lemuel Stratton, and Ervin David Shaw) he set off on November 19, 1917, for Waddington, about twenty miles north of Grantham, where several R.F.C. training squadrons were located; Middleditch was assigned to No. 44 T.S.6

At Waddington Middleditch would have begun his training on Maurice Farman Shorthorns (“Rumpties”) and then moved on to Avros and perhaps DH.6s—all training planes—before beginning instruction on an operational plane, presumably a DH.4. He evidently made rapid progress; his fellow second Oxford detachment member Ludwig William Deetjen wrote in his diary that Middleditch and Pudrith were recommended for their commissions on January 15, 1918; this would have entailed graduating from the first stage of R.F.C. pilot training.7 On February 11, 1918, Pershing forwarded the recommendation that Middleditch, along with Pudrith and Stahl, be commissioned a first lieutenant. The confirming telegram (which also confirmed Leach’s appointment) was dated February 20, 1918; these men were thus apparently the first of the second Oxford detachment to be commissioned.8

By this time there were quite a few men from the Oxford detachments at Waddington, including Joseph Raymond Payden, who kept a photo almost certainly taken at Waddington of Middleditch standing between John Arnold “Jerry” Roth of the first Oxford detachment and Donald Elsworth Carlton of the second, all in flying gear. Waddington itself was a small village, but the city of Lincoln was nearby, and the cadets went there for entertainment and errands. Deetjen, in his diary, noted a Saturday evening date in Lincoln in early February 1918, after which “George Middleditch and I waited 45 minutes for our taxi out in the cold till 12.40 and it was an open Studebaker. We were blue in the face when we reached the huts.”9

A little over a month later, on March 12, 1918, Deetjen was about to embark on a “joy ride” with Middleditch, when he was waylaid by his instructor.10 Pudrith went up with Middleditch instead, in DH.4 A7692.11 They flew about ten miles north past Lincoln to Scampton. Whilst making a climbing turn, Middleditch apparently overbanked; the engine stalled and the plane crashed. He died either on impact or very shortly thereafter in hospital.12 Pudrith was injured and died of his injuries seven weeks later.

One of two casualty cards for Middleditch’s air accident, courtesy of the RAF Museum London.

On March 15, 1918, Middleditch was buried in Newport Cemetery in Lincoln, where Joseph Hiserodt Sharpe and Donald Elsworth Carlton had also been interred, and where Pudrith would later be buried.13

The entry for Middleditch in the burial registry for Newport Cemetery, which was used by the parishes of St. Nicholas and St. John in Lincoln.

At some point Middleditch was reinterred in the Brookwood American Military Cemetery in Surrey.14 Perhaps because of his family’s close ties to England, they did not request his reburial in the U.S., but there is a memorial marker for Middleditch in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit 15

mrsmcq May 25, 2020

Notes

(For complete bibliographic entries, please consult the list of works and web pages cited.)

1  For Middleditch’s place and date of birth, see Ancestry.com, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918, record for George Orrin Middleditch. His place and date of death are recorded as entry 5938 in the Register of Burials in the Burial Ground of St. Nicholas-with-St. John.  The photo is taken from p. 118 of Girton, The History and Achievements of the Fort Sheridan Officers’ Training Camps.

2  Information on Middleditch’s family is based on documents available at Ancestry.com.

3  “Another Detroit Aviator is Killed.”

4  “Ground School Graduations [for September 1, 1917].”

5  “Chester Pudrith, with American Detachment Royal Flying Corps, Writes from England.” In the newspaper’s publication of the letter, the second man’s name is given as “Warren Teoch,” almost certainly a mistranscription of “Warren Leach.”

6  For the names of the men sent to training squadrons in mid-November, see Foss, diary entry for November 15, 1917. Girton, The History and Achievements of the Fort Sheridan Officers’ Training Camps, p. 118, provides Middleditch’s training squadron assignment; see also “Middleditch, G.O. (George Orsen) [sic].”

7  Deetjen, diary entry for February 28, 1918.

8  Cablegrams 592-S and 813-R.

9  Deetjen, diary entry for February 2, 1918.

10  Ibid., entry for March 12, 1918.

11  “Middleditch, G.O. (George Orsen) [sic].”

12  Ibid., entry for March 14, 1918, indicates Middleditch died in hospital.

13  Register of Burials in the Burial Ground of St. Nicholas-with-St. John.

14  See “George O. Middleditch.”

15  See David, “Lieut George O Middleditch.”