Roy Olin Garver

(Martinsville, Illinois, February 12, 1892 – near Eastbourne, England, January 28, 1918).1

Garver’s father and grandfathers were Illinois farmers.2  In 1912 his father died, and the family moved to Decatur where Garver learned shorthand and worked as a stenographer at railroad offices.3  Around 1914 he moved to Washington, D.C., where he was a correspondence clerk at the Interstate Commerce Commission while also attending classes at George Washington University.4  He enlisted shortly after the U.S. entered the war and was sent to Ohio State University for ground school, graduating August 25, 1917.5

Garver was one of the eighteen men from this class at O.S.U. who were selected for training in Italy and thus among the 150 men of the “Italian” or “second Oxford detachment” who sailed to England on the Carmania. They departed New York for Halifax on September 18, 1917, and departed Halifax on September 21, 1917. After an uneventful Atlantic crossing the Carmania docked at Liverpool on October 2, 1917. There the men learned that they were not to go to Italy after all, but to repeat ground school at the Royal Flying Corps’s No. 2 School of Military Aeronautics at Oxford University; while there Garver roomed with Raymond Joseph Payden.6

In early November most of the men in the detachment went from Oxford to Grantham to attend machine gun school.  Twenty men were selected by Elliott White Springs to go instead to flight school at the No. 1 Training Depot Squadron at Stamford; most of them had already had some flying experience. According to the War Birds entry for November 6, 1917, Garver, William Ludwig Deetjen, and Philip Dietz, none of whom had flown before, were nonetheless included because they had helped with clerical work for the detachment. Springs’s group left Oxford for Stamford on November 5, 1917.7  About ten days later Deetjen noted in his diary that “this morning Dietz & Carver & I went out to Burliegh House”; he was almost certainly referring to Garver and a trip to Burghley House, the grand country house southwest of Stamford.8

From Stamford, Garver apparently transferred early in the new year to No. 3 Training Squadron at Shoreham-by-Sea. In a letter to his mother dated January 11, 1918, he remarks that “I wrote you a few days ago about coming down here”— “down here” presumably being England’s south coast.9  Around the middle of the month he was joined there by second Oxford detachment member John Chadbourn Rorison, who had been a week behind Garver at ground school in Ohio.10

Photo of a man wearing an R.F.C. cap with a white band, and a flying jacket and gauntlets. A handwritten caption reads "Roy Garver. My room mate at Oxford. Killed on a Pup. 1917. Eng."
Payden’s photo of Garver, courtesy of Joan Payden.

On January 28, 1918, Garver was killed in a flying accident. It fell to Rorison to write to Garver’s mother.

Having for eight months been a very warm friend of Roy’s, I am writing on this very sad occasion to extend to you the most sincere sympathy of his many friends here. . . . Dear Roy left here for a flight about 9 o’clock on the morning of Jan. 28, and landed at Eastbourne about 25 miles from here. He started away from the aerodome [sic] at Eastbourne, and when he had attained the height of 200 feet, his machine turned to the right and resulted in a spiral nose dive, striking the ground just outside Eastbourne aerodome. He was removed to the Eastbourne military hospital, where he died at 3:30 p.m. The accident occurred at 11a.m., and he never regained consciousness.11

A court of inquiry was held, which was “of the opinion that the accident was due to the Pilot stalling his machine on a stick right hand turn resulting in the machine going into a spin from which he had not sufficient height to recover and crashing into ground with the engine full on.” An incident casualty card summarizes the “Nature and Cause of Accident”: “Stalled on right hand turn spun into ground due to error of judgement.”12

Unmentioned by Rorison and the court of inquiry write up is that Garver was flying a Sopwith Camel (B9282). The Camel was particularly tricky to learn to fly. “[The engine] operated on a peculiar principle; the crankshaft stood still while the heavy cylinders rotated about it. This created, in effect, a ponderous gyroscope that made controlling the little Camel more a matter of calculated perfidy than intelligent response. . . . A heedless bank to the right tucked the nose under and threw the aircraft into a vigorous spin.”13  “. . . it flipped into a spin very easily at low speeds. Consequently, in landing and taking off, a tremendous number of fatal accidents occurred. . . .”14

Garver’s death was the first in a number of deaths in training accidents involving American cadets flying Camels. A passage in the March 12, 1918, entry in War Birds lists several Camel crashes, noting: “All in Camels and all doing right-hand spins.” David Sinton Ingalls, a navy aviator training at Ayr, wrote in his diary on March 10, 1918: “Well, there was a strike today. All the pupils refused to fly any more Camels.”15  A table titled “Ratio of Fatalities in Flying Hours by Types of Machines” included in Dwyer’s “Report on Air Service Flying Training Department in England” from shortly after the war notes that ten American cadets were killed on Camels; the DH-4 comes in second with four.

It is puzzling that Garver was flying a Camel at all so early in his training—it was bruited that he had been on an Avro or a Pup, both more creditable.16  The casualty card notes that he had piled on twenty-eight solo flights and twenty-nine hours five minutes solo. This is less impressive than might appear at first glance: the flights and hours were almost certainly all, or nearly all, on Curtiss JN-4s. Springs, training at Stamford alongside Garver, accumulated a similar number of solo hours by mid-January 1918—nearly all on Jennys.17  When Springs transferred to London Colney about the time Garver went to Shoreham, he moved up to another training plane, an Avro, and then a Sopwith Pup. It could be argued that the cause of Garver’s accident was an “error of judgement” on the part of whoever sanctioned his flying a Camel at this point in his training.   Garver’s ground school classmate, Roland Hammond Ritter, on hearing of Garver’s death, remarked that “He was rushed thru too fast and became overconfident.”17a

Garver was buried in the cemetery of St. Nicholas at Shoreham.18  In June 1920, at his mother’s request, Garver’s body was returned to the U.S.; he was buried in a cemetery not far from his birthplace.19

mrsmcq July 19, 2017


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

1  For his place and date of birth, see, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, record for Roy Olin Garver. The photo is a detail from a group photo of Squadron 7 at the Ohio State University School of Military Aeronautics.

2  See, 1910 United States Federal Census, record for George B Garver; and and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880 United States Federal Census, records for Samuel Garver and for Milton Jones.  February 7, 2024:  I appear to be mistaken in identifying Milton Jones as Garver’s maternal grandfather; the more likely candidate is John Edmondson Jones; see and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880 United States Federal Census, record for John E. Jones, also a farmer.

3  On his father’s death, see McCachern, “George Bushler Garver.” On the family’s move and his training and employment, see “Lieut. Roy Garver Killed in England” and “Shorthand leads to Achievement.” Note: newspaper reports give Garver the rank of lieutenant, but he did not live long enough to be commissioned.

4  See his draft registration (cited above) for his employment in 1917; on his college attendance, see The George Washington University, Bulletin, 16.1, p. 261.

5  “Ground School Graduations [for August 25, 1917].”

6  On p. 26 of Payden, J.R.: Joseph R. Payden, 1915-1925, a photo of Garver is reproduced with the inscription “Roy Garver. My room mate at Oxford. Killed on a Pup. 1917. Eng.”

7 See War Birds entry for November 6, 1917. For departure date, see Deetjen, diary entry for November 5, 1917.

8  Deetjen, diary entry for November 14, 1917.

9  The letter is reprinted in “Lieut. Roy Garver Killed in England.”

10  Doyle, “War Birds Pictorial,” p. 33.

11  Rorison’s letter is printed in “Letters Tell Details about Garver’s Death.”

12  “Garver, R.O. (Roy O.)” Note: the transcription of this card at this page renders “3 T[raining] Squadron”as “37 Squadron.”

13  Reed and Roland, Camel Drivers, pp. 24-25.

14  Cobby, High Adventure, p. 95.

15  Ingalls, Hero of the Angry Sky, p. 129.

16  See Deetjen’s diary entry for February 2, 1918: “Roy Garver was killed in an Avro. We have not had the details yet.” And see the caption to Payden’s photo, cited above.

17  See Springs, Letters from a War Bird, Chapter 3, which includes transcriptions from Springs’s flight log.

17a  Ritter, letter of February 3, 1918.

18  See Rorison’s letter in “Letters Tell Details about Garver’s Death”; “Garver, Roy O.”

19  McCachern, “Lieut Roy Olin Garver”; “Garver, Roy O.”