Remembering young pilot who died as he prepared to serve his country

The gravestone of Second Lieutenant William Galbraith who was killed when his Sopwith Pup crashed on February 26, 1918.
The gravestone of Second Lieutenant William Galbraith who was killed when his Sopwith Pup crashed on February 26, 1918.

A training flight tragedy almost exactly 100 years ago robbed a family of their beloved son and the Royal Air Corps of a talented pilot.

Grangemouth’s Second Lieutenant William Thomas Galbraith was killed on February 26, 1918, when his Sopwith bi-plane crashed into the ground and burst into flames in Upavon, Wiltshire, England.

The son of Alice Galbraith, of Paris Street, was only 25-years-old.

He was just about to fly over to Europe to serve with the R.A.C. and take on the Imperial German Flying Corps in the skies above France at the end of the First World War.

Lt. Galbraith was laid to rest in Grandsable Cemetery in Polmont and on Monday, the 100th annivesary of his untimely death, Grangemouth 1333 (Spitfire) Squadron commander Flight Lieutenant Jim McFarlane and some cadets will be gathering in the afternoon to honour his memory by laying a wreath at his grave.

Details of Lt. Galbraith’s death and his background were contained in Falkirk Herald article from the time which stated:

Lieut. William Thomas Galbraith, Royal Flying Corps, eldest son of Mr and Mrs P.J. Galbraith, 25 Paris Street, Grangemouth, was killed in a flying accident at Upavon on 26th February.

Lieut. Galbraith, who was 25 years of age, was originally a motor ambulance driver in the A.S.C., and for his admirable work in the is capacity was recommended for the D.C.M. by the colonel of the Army Service Corps.

He was also advised to accept a commission, and, taking advantage of this opportunity, he came home in March, 1917, and attended a cadet school. He passed his final examination last month, and was awaiting orders to fly over to France when the fatality occurred.

His captain writes the bereaved parents: “It is with the deepest regret that I have to write to you about your son’s death. He had gone up in a Sopwith Scout (single seater) to practise flying at the range, and from accounts received, from people who witnessed the accident, he dived once, and in pulling the machine up he stalled, ie lost flying speed, and nose-dived into the ground, immediately catching fire.

“It may be a consolation to you, if one may call is such, to know that he must have been unconscious the moment the machine hit the ground. Sympathy in a case like this does not help to decrease the suffering, but it may be something to know that your son was popular with all, and that I consider had he lived he would have made a name for himself as a service pilot, as he was quite one of my most promising pupils.

“The deepest sympathy goes to you from all ranks in your great loss.”

The Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant also writes, giving an account of the tragedy, and repeating the assurance that the shock of hitting the ground must have killed the young man before fire broke out.

He concludes: “Your son was a noticeably good pilot, very keen, and would have done exceedingly well. He was most popular and his loss is sorely felt.”

Lieut. Galbraith was a mechanical engineer, and served his trade with Menzies, Stirling. His youngest brother has been discharged from the Navy, the gun firing having burst the lad’s eardrums.

Another brother, Harold, a signaller in the R.F.A., has been on service since 1914, having been through the biggest campaigns in France, with many narrow escapes and many wounds.

Yet another brother, Jim, a corporal in the Black Watch, also enlisted in 1914, and was through the Gallipolo fighting. He is still at the battle front.

Mr Galbraith, sen., is at present a sergeant in the R.A.M.C., and has also done good work in France, though he is now in Ireland.