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Henry Botterell, 106; Last Surviving WWI Combat Pilot

January 09, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Henry Botterell, believed to be the last surviving World War I combat pilot, died Friday in a Toronto nursing home of causes associated with aging. He was 106.

The son of a civil servant, Botterell was born and raised in Ottawa and educated at Lisgar Collegiate Institute.

He was working for the Bank of British North America (now the Bank of Montreal) in 1916 when he enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service. His pilot career was initially short-lived, when engine failure on his second takeoff in France caused a crash. He broke bones and received a medical discharge, but he reenlisted before he was returned to Canada. By May 1918, he was in Serny, France, flying a Sopwith Camel.

By war's end on Nov. 11, 1918, he had downed two German planes and several observation balloons. Most memorably, on Aug. 29, 1918, he dropped his four 25-pound bombs on a railway station and then headed back toward a balloon he had spotted aloft. He fired 400 machine-gun rounds into the sphere, igniting it as its operator parachuted out. Botterell saluted the German soldier, later noting that pilots in those days never shot a man in a parachute. The episode was captured by aviation artist Robert Taylor in his painting "Balloon Buster."

Botterell was wounded by a bullet that ripped through his ear, smashed his goggles and knocked him unconscious. He came to just in time to land the plane.

After his discharge, he returned to his job as a bank clerk, which he held until his retirement in 1961.

Botterell's brother Ed died in battle in World War I. Botterell married Maud Goater in 1929. She died in 1983. He is survived by a son and a daughter.

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