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."