Second Lieutenant Evanda Berkeley Garnett

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Rhode Island.

Second Lieutenant Evanda Berkeley Garnett
Second Lieutenant Evanda Berkeley Garnett

Not all of the casualties buried in the United States were repatriated in the period immediately after the First World War. Second Lieutenant Evanda Berkeley Garnett was killed in an air crash in Lincolnshire on 27 January 1918. Over 40 years later, on 16 September 1959, his sister Caroline called at the United States Embassy in London in order to arrange for the disinterment of his ashes and their return from Lincolnshire to Rhode Island. She believed, incorrectly, that the remains of the other airman killed in the crash had been repatriated previously and stated that it was the family’s intention to bring Evanda Garnett home too. His ashes were duly exhumed and sent to the United States where they were reinterred in the family plot in Island Cemetery, Newport.[1]

Evanda Berkeley Garnett came from a well-known Newport family; he was born on 18 August 1897, the only son and eldest of the two children of William Garnett—an electrical engineer at Fort Adams—and his wife Harriett.[2] His grandfather was Mefrow ‘Frow’ Berkeley Garnett, captain of the Newport police department and later a well-known church trustee and Sunday school teacher. Garnett was a student at Rogers High School and after graduation he joined Light Battery ‘A’ of the Rhode Island Militia. Mobilised in June 1916, he served with the Battery on operations on the Mexican border, based at Fort Bliss, El Paso, until November that year.[3]

Private Evanda Garnett (on right) in Texas, 1916
Private Evanda Garnett (on right) in Texas, 1916

Wanting to fly but unable to secure a place with the Aviation Section of the United States Army, Garnett applied to join the Royal Flying Corps. He enlisted in Toronto on 6 March 1917 (70095, Royal Flying Corps Cadet (Airman 3rd Class)) and after a period of basic military training he joined No. 4 School of Military Aeronautics at Burwash Hall at the University of Toronto for four weeks’ ground training. This was followed by elementary flying training. Garnett was commissioned into the Royal Fling Corps on 16 June 1917 and, after a period of leave in Newport with his parents—which included a ball at Fort Adams held in his honour—he departed for England from Montreal. He arrived in Liverpool on the White Star liner RMS Magentic with five other new pilots on 27 June.[4]

In England he joined No. 61 Training Squadron, Royal Flying Corps in order to complete his flying training. The Squadron had been formed in Northumberland in May 1917 but within days had relocated to South Carlton in Lincolnshire, two miles north of Lincoln. The airfield was located immediately to the north of Hallifirs plantation to the east of the village. Garnett spent the next months of 1917 there completing his higher training and gunnery. All through his life he had experienced severe migraines and these were exacerbated by flying. He stopped flying in August 1917 and was grounded until January 1918 by a series of medical boards. By then he had completed almost 50 hours in the air and, contrary to reports published in the United States, he had not seen air combat.[5] A final medical board on 21 January confirmed the findings of previous boards but passed him fit for limited flying when not suffering from migraine or nausea. A report from his commanding officer on Garnett’s flying capacity was sought for the next medical board.

At about 2.00pm on 27 January 1918, Garnett took off in an Avro 504J, serial B-3230, with another trainee pilot on board as an observer in the front seat. The aircraft had just been delivered from the station workshops and this was its first flight since it had been repaired. The other trainee pilot was Lieutenant Allan Johnson MC, a Canadian who had previously distinguished himself serving as an infantry officer.[6] Garnett took off into the wind and when he was at about 100 feet he turned downwind. Unable to maintain flying speed, the aircraft crashed and immediately burst into flames. Shortly after the crash Garnett was seen to escape from the wreckage with his clothes on fire. The first men on the scene put the flames out and within 10 minutes he had been put into an ambulance and sent to hospital in Lincoln. The aircraft was destroyed by the fire; Johnson had been trapped in the wreckage and did not survive.

The Avro 504J in which Garnett was fatally injured and Johnson killed
The Avro 504J in which Garnett was fatally injured and Johnson killed

Garnett died at about 10.45pm that night in 4th Northern General Hospital as a result of his burns.[7]

The subsequent court of inquiry recorded that the crash was due to ‘…an error of judgement on the part of the pilot in climbing the machine too steeply when turning downwind…’. At the subsequent inquest the jury returned a verdict of ‘misadventure’.[8]

Garnett’s remains were cremated and interred in Lincoln in, coincidentally, Newport Cemetery. Most of the First World War burials here were of men who died in 4th Northern General Hospital. Garnett’s ashes were buried in plot D.417 and Johnson was buried nearby in plot D.323. The family plot in Island Cemetery, Newport, to which his ashes were repatriated in 1959, is in Section O, Lot 71, in the north-west part of the cemetery. It is marked with a bronze sundial inscribed, ‘I count none but sunny hours ’. Also buried there are his parents, his sister and her second husband. Elsewhere in this cemetery are nine Royal Navy, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve casualties from the Second World War.

The Garnett family plot in Island Cemetery, Newport
The Garnett family plot in Island Cemetery, Newport

Second Lieutenant Garnett is commemorated on page 587 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 19 December. He is also commemorated on Newport’s First World War memorial at the City Hall, and on a memorial tablet at Roger’s High School dedicated on 6 September 1922 to the ten former pupils of the school who had died in the war.[9]

Newport, Rhode Island First World War Memorial
Newport, Rhode Island First World War Memorial

His service outside Canada entitled him to the British War Medal 1914-20, which was applied for by his father in September 1922.

Source:

The National Archives. Public Record Office. (1914-1922). Service Record for 2/Lieutenant Evanda Berckley [sic] Garnett, Royal Flying Corps. WO 339/117555

Acknowledgments:

Michael O’Neal for the photograph of the aircraft crash, from the album of Lieutenant John Milnor, and the photograph of E. B. Garnett.
Beth Hurd and the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project for the photograph of Newport war memorial.


1. (Back) The correspondence regarding the repatriation of his ashes may be found in: Reports of the Deaths of American Citizens, 1835-1974. NARA 241.113. Garnett, Evanda B. (1959). National Archives, MD.
2. (Back) William J. Garnett (1876-1939) married Harriett Gertrude Hamilton (1878-1953) on 12 November 1895: Caroline Beatrice (16 September 1898-12 April 1978). Caroline was the wife of, firstly, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Ogden Humphreys, Coastal Artillery Corps, United States Army (May 1887-12 September 1936), who was killed in a car accident, and, secondly, Lieutenant Colonel Henry S. Wheeler, United States Marine Corps (3 June 1894-31 July 1967).
3. (Back) For a full account of the Battery’s activities on the Mexican border see: Stiness, H R W. (1916). Battery A on the Mexican Border. Providence: E. S. Jones & Sons.
4. (Back) All five of the other pilots were also from the United States.
5. (Back) Newspaper reports described how he had shot down four enemy aircraft in one day over the English Channel, in the course of which he was wounded in the face. There is no evidence to substantiate these reports. Some newspaper reports recorded his death as being the result of enemy action.
6. (Back) Allan Barrie Johnson was born in Toronto, Canada on 5 July 1893, the son of Herbert E. Johnson (13 March 1862-18 May 1934) and Lillie E. (née Freeman) Johnson (6 September 1859-23 August 1926). An optometrist and member of the Militia, he enlisted on 12 November 1915 and joined 71st Battalion. On arrival in England he was transferred to 44th Battalion (Manitoba) in 10th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division. He was wounded in the right thigh during the Battalion’s attack at ‘the pimple’ during the Battle of Vimy on 12 April 1917. Records show an award of the Military Cross but the London Gazette entry has not been found. Having volunteered for flying training, he joined No. 1 School of Aeronautics on 7 August 1917, No. 39 Training Squadron on 12 September, and No. 61 Training Squadron on 2 October. (He is recorded incorrectly as serving with No. 45 Training Squadron; his service record indicates that he was, in fact, serving with No. 61 Training Squadron.)
7. (Back) By coincidence, Garnett was treated by an Italian born, American doctor, Lieutenant Oswald Neocle La Rotonda, United States Army Medical Reserve Corps, who was attached to 4th Northern General Hospital. He later became the medical director at St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in Manhattan.
8. (Back) The findings of the court of inquiry are recorded on the Royal Air Force casualty cards for Garnett and Johnson (see Johnson, A B. Royal Air Force Museum. Casualty card.). For details of the inquest see: ‘Flying Fatality in Lincolnshire’. (29 January 1918). The Lincolnshire Echo. p 2.
9. (Back) Private Samuel Middleton Cottrell, 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division, killed in action in France on 30 September 1918— Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery; Private Thomas Dowd Xavier Maguire, died of peritonitis at Camp Morrison, Virginia on 10 January 1919— St. Columba Cemetery, Middletown; Sergeant Frederick Collins Mayer, Company F, 328th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Division, killed in action in France on 9 October 1918—Island Cemetery, Newport; Lieutenant Sidney David Reynolds, 304th Infantry Regiment, 76th Infantry Division died on 16 January 1918 having suffered gunshot wounds to the thighs and groin during a training accident at Camp Devens, Massachusetts; Yeoman 1st Class Lucius Hazard Rice, United States Naval Reserve Force, died of pneumonia at the Royal Victoria Hospital Montreal, Canada, on 13 October 1918; Major William FitzHugh Lee Simpson, Infantry, died of appendicitis on 17 January 1918— St. Mihiel American Cemetery, France; Private William Donald Frazier Stewart, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Division, died of wounds on 5 August 1918—Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, France; Private James Walker Wilson Jr., 152nd Depot Brigade, died of pneumonia at Camp Upton, New York on 21 October 1918—Island Cemetery, Newport; and Coxwain Robert Lloyd Woods, USS Wathena, United States Navy, died in an accident when alongside at Philadelphia Navy Yard on 6 February 1919—Island Cemetery, Newport.

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