An image of Lieut. Osborne Orr and a poster advertising opportunities to join the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. (Images courtesy the Vancouver Island Military Museum)

An image of Lieut. Osborne Orr and a poster advertising opportunities to join the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. (Images courtesy the Vancouver Island Military Museum)

Nanaimo’s other First World War ace remembered

Lieut. Osborne Orr credited with five aerial victories before he was shot down

Nanaimo’s best-known First World War ace, Raymond Collishaw, has a cadet squadron and airport terminal named for him in his hometown.

But Nanaimo produced another WWI ace, too, whose heroics aren’t forgotten, but aren’t as well-recognized.

Lieut. Osborne Orr, who had five aerial victories before he was killed in combat, was featured by Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Military Museum in a newsletter this year, with the headline “Nanaimo hero rediscovered.”

Americans have sometimes claimed the Royal Air Force lieutenant as Orr lived, worked and met his wife in the U.S. Midwest in his early adulthood, but those claims are “easily proved not true,” wrote Angus Scully in his article.

Orr was born in Nanaimo in 1895 to a shoe store owner and the family moved to Vancouver about six years later to open a shoe store there. When he was 18, Osborne Orr went to visit an uncle in Minnesota, where he seems to have met his future wife and worked as a shoe salesman before returning to Vancouver and marrying in 1917, Scully wrote. Two weeks after getting married, Orr joined the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto and later sailed to England to join the Royal Air Force.

The RAF was only just being formed at the time, as ‘air supremacy’ was a relatively new concept. Historian Norman Franks, in American Aces of World War I, wrote that aircraft and design production from the start to the end of the war was “near miraculous.”

“In 1914 most military men considered the aeroplane little more than a curiosity of only marginal practical value,” Franks wrote. “By 1918 it had been developed into a thoroughly practical machine in its many forms. Four years of war had increased technological development to an unprecedented rate.”

READ ALSO: Nanaimo flying ace Raymond Collishaw was a sky hero

As Scully wrote in a separate piece, “flying was a new adventure and flying in combat had glamour” but it was dangerous, with average life expectancy at 69 flying hours.

“Despite this mortality rate, for many young men, the call to be a pilot was irresistible,” Scully wrote.

Orr became a second lieutenant in March 1918, notes the Aerodrome website. Three weeks later, the Royal Air Force was formed and the former No. 4 Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service was re-designated No. 204 Squadron of the RAF, according to RAF Squadrons: A Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912 by C.G. Jefford.

At the time, Orr and the 204th were based on the front lines at Bray-Dunes near Dunkirk, France, and moved around some of the aerodromes around Dunkirk before settling at Téteghem, France, Jefford wrote.

Orr flew the famous Sopwith Camel and “he was a good pilot and good shot,” Scully wrote. Orr scored his first two victories the same day Aug. 12, 1918, shooting down Fokker D.VIIs over Blankenberghe and Zeebrugge-Ostend in Belgium. Over the next few days, Orr added two more victories in Roeselare and Menen.

Orr’s fifth and final victory came Oct. 14, 1918, over Westende-Nieuwpoort. A week and half later, Oct. 23, he and others in his squadron were shot down over Dendermonde in an encounter with a dozen German fighters.

“His flight had just completed a bombing mission when it was engaged by enemy fighters near Termonde,” the Aerodrome notes. “In the battle that followed, Orr and four other Sopwith Camel pilots were killed in action.”

Orr’s body was never found. A service and casualty form in the Royal Air Force Museum shows that six days after he was shot down, O.J. Orr was marked down as ‘missing.’ He was 23 years old.

Nineteen days after Orr’s death, the Great War ended. He was post-humously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and is memorialized as part of the Arras Flying Services Memorial in Pas de Calais, France, according to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

“Thus,” concluded Scully, “Two men from Nanaimo became fighter aces in the Great War.”

The Vancouver Island Military Museum will be open 11:15 a.m.-4 p.m. on Nov. 11. Admission is free on Remembrance Day.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo’s legion halls decide to close on Remembrance Day as a COVID-19 precaution



editor@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Remembrance Day

Just Posted

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

Island Health is expanding COVID-19 testing in Nanaimo with a new testing location at Vancouver Island University. (News Bulletin file photo)
Island Health issues apology over racist practices in health care system

Report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond finds ‘widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people’

Kathy MacNeil, president and chief executive officer of Island Health, Dawn Thomas, acting deputy health minister and Island Health’s vice president, Indigenous health and diversity and Chief Don Tom of Tsartlip First Nation, stand out Saanich Peninsula Hospital Tuesday morning, when they also answered questions about a new report that “widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people” in the provincial health care system. (Island Health/Submitted)
Head of Island Health says Saanich Peninsula Hospital not part of racist guessing game

Tsartlip First Nations Chief Don Tom welcomes changes following report but promises future scrutiny

An air ambulance leaves West Coast General Hospital for a trauma centre at 9:50 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12 after a Port Alberni youth was injured in an accident on the Somass River. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO
COVID-19 outbreaks at pair of Vancouver Island Hospitals

Saanich Peninsula Hospital in Saanichton and West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni affected

Penny Hart is calling on the community to help find her son Sean Hart who was last seen on Nov. 6 at a health institution in Saanich. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Search spreads for Saanich man missing from mental health facility for nearly a month

Family hopeful as possible sightings reported across Island and in Vancouver

A pickup truck was involved in an incident 9:30 p.m. Nov. 30. A witness who took the photo says the truck left the roadway, knocked over a fire hydrant before hitting a parked van and coming to rest in a yard. Photo by Michael Hack
VIDEO: Island pick-up truck takes out numerous vehicles, fire hydrant and hits house

Investigation underway after incident on the side of Campbell River street

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

The IIO’s chief civilian director has cleared Victoria police of any wrongdoing in the Nov. 21 death of a man they had earlier arrested. (Black Press Media file photo)
Investigation clears Victoria police of wrongdoing in arrested man’s death

Police watchdog determined police action or inaction played no role in man’s death

A West Shore man has been handed two tickets for failing to wear a mask after causing a disturbance at a coffee shop in View Royal and gas station in Langford. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man ticketed twice for refusing to wear mask in same day, say West Shore RCMP

Police ask businesses to report incidences when they occur

Protesters stand in front of a truck carrying logs to the WFP Ladysmith log sort. (Cole Schisler photo)
Protesters block entrance to Western Forest Products in Ladysmith

Blockade cleared by Ladysmith RCMP around noon, December 2

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are inviting audiences into their home for ‘A Celtic Family Christmas’. (Submitted)
Natalie MacMaster coming to you through Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Here’s your chance to enjoy the famed fiddler in an online show with her husband Donnell Leahy.

Most Read