Royal Flying Corp; Military Cross and Bar


Date Born:                   28th August 1887

Place of Birth:             Blenheim in New Zealand

Date Died:                   23rd December 1917

Place:                          Firth of Forth in Scotland

Buried:                         Comely Bank Cemetery in Edinburgh

Grave Reference No. K903



He was the son of Horace Edwin Collett of Lambeth in London and his wife Alice Marguerite Radford of Tauranga in New Zealand



For his family details see

Part 62 – The Trowbridge to New Zealand Line (Ref. 62O36)


Captain Collett was the second son of Captain Horace Collett, formerly of Tauranga, who for many years was a stock inspector for the Bay of Plenty district, and Mrs Collett of Clyde Road in Epsom, Auckland.  He was born at Blenheim in Marlborough and was educated at Queen's College, Tauranga.  After his father's death in 1902, Clive went through a course of engineering at Cable's Foundry in Wellington, and later on joined Messrs Turnbull & Jones in Christchurch.  He left New Zealand for London shortly after the outbreak of war and gained his first commission as lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps during 1915.  He later gained his captaincy and the rank of flight commander and pilot instructor and, through active service, won the Military Cross and also had a bar added to it.  He was seriously wounded on two occasions.


By 29th January 1915 he had gained his Royal Aero Club Certificate and obtained a commission in March 1916.  His personal file details his complete service career.  However, the start date given on the data sheet is 13th August 1918 indicating that it was probably compiled from the original RFC documents following that service being amalgamated into the Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918.


The first entry details a move to Brooklands on 17th February 1915, presumably for conversion or familiarisation training.  The next movement was a posting to No. 11 Squadron on 25th May, followed closely on 6th July with a visit to hospital for treatment on a wound incurred in an aeroplane accident at Hendon (Casualty Card W5680/167).


He was later posted to No. 8 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron on 30th July which was located at Netheravon in Wiltshire.  Seven months on and he joined No. 32 Squadron on 1st March 1916 which was also based at the same Wiltshire camp.


The next entry on his personal file dated 9th March 1916 reads ‘EF 18 Sq’ which may be interpreted as being Embarked to France with No. 18 Squadron, and this instruction was authorised within one week of him joining the squadron.


No. 18 Squadron had initially been formed at Northolt on 11th May 1915 and moved to France during November that same year.   The squadron later relocated to Bruay on 1st April in 1916 and so it would seem that it was there that Clive Franklyn Collett eventually started his active service.  However, less than three weeks later he was hospitalised, the cause being a fractured nose sustained in an aircraft crash on 18th April.   


Within another five days he had returned to England on board the merchant ship M S Delta.  According to the Casualty Form (Army Form B.103) his posting to No. 18 Squadron took place on 4th March 1916 and not 1st March as indicated on his personal file.


The injury he sustained was serious enough to keep him away from active duty until 13th June when he was posted to the Experimental Station at Orfordness in Suffolk, where he took on the role of test pilot.


The London Gazette announced his promotion to Flight Commander, temporary Captain, on 1st August 1916 whilst attached to the Experimental Aerial Range.  And towards the end of the year he was posted to Home Establishment on 15th November.


Clive Franklyn appears to be still attached to Orfordness in January 1917 when he made a pioneering parachute jump, the first from a BE 2C aircraft.  


The next entry on his personal file is a posting on 17th April 1917 to No. 59 Reserve Squadron, which had just relocated to Yatesbury in Wiltshire.  This for some reason was a very short attachment as, within a fortnight, he was posted to No. 43 Reserve Squadron at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham.  Yet another posting took place on 1st June 1917 this time to the Central Flying School at Upavon in Wiltshire.  This lasted until his embarkation to France on 24th July for his second overseas tour.


Once in France he was assigned to No. 70 Squadron based at Ervillers, inland from Calais near St Omer.  He joined as Flight Commander at a time when the unit was converting to the Sopwith Camel Fl.  The squadron wasted little time in testing its newly acquired fighter planes in the heat of battle and Captain Clive Franklyn Collett flying in B/3756 was credited with the Squadron's first Camel victory on 27th July.


The following is Captain Collett’s own account of the sortie typed up on the Combats in the Air (Army Form W3348) and logged as flight number 61.


Date:               27/7/1917

Time:               7.45 p.m.

Duty:               Practice Flight

Height:             13000 to 1000 feet

Locality:           Neighbourhood of Ypres Salient

Aircraft Type and No:   Sopwith Camel No. B/3756 armed with two Vickers Guns


Hostile aircraft encountered:              6 Albatros Scouts


I was out with Captain Webb for a practice flight when I saw what I took to be a formation of SPADS across the line.  I went towards them.  All except one retired but this one came straight towards me so I dived and saw the crosses on his wings.


I immediately engaged him.  He then climbed above me and was joined by the others.  They then circled round me, diving alternately.  I got underneath one and fired both guns into his fuselage.  When last seen his propeller had stopped, he put his nose down and glided away from the line and did not return.  I think his engine was damaged.


I was then engaged by the other five and shortly after both my guns jammed.  I dived and cleared one jam.  I was then followed down by the five enemy aircraft who fired on me heavily.  As soon as I cleared a gun I did a climbing turn on one machine and getting right underneath him fired a burst through his fuselage under the pilot’s seat.


He hovered for a moment, fell over on one side and then dived over the vertical.  It seems to me that he probably had fallen forward on his control-lever as the machine was apparently out of control.


The remaining four enemy aircraft continued to follow me but did not close.  They kept up a steady fire at about 500 yards.  I crossed the line at about 800 feet when the enemy aircraft left me.


The report was signed C F Collett and in the left-hand margin is a handwritten note “1 out of control” and it is this that constitutes the Sopwith Camel’s first enemy plane destroyed in an aerial dogfight.



This took place just four days prior to Sir Douglas Haig’s meticulously planned Third Battle of Ypres which was launched on 31th July 1917.  Haig had thought hard and long about launching a major offensive in Flanders for which his preferred choice would have been the summer of 1916.  However, the Battle of the Somme took precedence that year so his plan was delayed until 1917.


This major offensive, which was the final great battle of attrition of the war, continued from 31st July until the fall of Passchendaele village on 6th November 1917.   The offensive resulted in gains for the Allies but was by no means the breakthrough Haig intended, and such gains as were made came at great cost in human terms.



Two maps are included here that provide an insight into the area between Ypres and Passchendaele which includes many locations identified by Captain Collett in his reports.



     The Ypres Line as on 31st July 1917



See larger scale map below for locations given in combat reports



This more detailed map of the area includes many of the locations referred to by Captain Clive Franklyn Collett in his Combats of the Air reports. 


At the top is Houthulst Forest and just below this to the left is Bixschoote.  On a level with Ypres is Polygon Wood, just south of which is Gheluvelt and further to the south and east is Kruiseik.


Roulers is indicated off to the right along the railway line, and can be found on the larger map midway between Thourout and Menin, all of which are mentioned in his reports




Following that first flight on 27th July 1917, there then followed a series of sorties completed by Captain Collett.  On 5th August while on an offensive patrol flying Camel No. B/3768 the formation crossed the line at Bixschoote heading towards Roulers.  Near Roulers flying at 14,000 feet they encountered six Albatros-Nieuports and he was credited with one down having fired sixty rounds from each gun into the fuselage (logged as flight number 70). 


On 13th August another hit, this time in Camel No. B/3889 (logged as flight number 83) flying north of Thourout, the victim being a totally black painted plane with white crosses.  Captain Collett reports I got into a good position and put a double burst of fire into his fuselage.  The pilot was apparently hit as he fell over but he regained control and went down at a steep angle.  I watched him go down and turn over on landing.


Five days later over Kruiseik, south-east of Gheluvelt, Captain Collett again in Camel B/3889 (logged as flight number 92) patrolling between Houthulst Forest and Polygon Wood claimed another hit.   This was confirmed by fellow pilot Lieutenant J Crang and from the ground by Colonel Holt, Officer in Charge of 22nd Wing of the 5th Army.


Another sortie the following day on 19th August in the same plane (logged as flight number 98) was much more down beat.  The Captain reports that his formation had been split up so he proceeded to the pre-arranged rallying point north of Menin.  On arrival he was joined by just Lieutenant Epps in another Camel.  The two pilots circled around for a while hoping to collect others from the formation.  However, about fourteen enemy aircraft suddenly appeared and proceeded to attack the two British airmen.  Captain Collett reports I saw Lt. Epps being driven down with several enemy aircraft on his tail.  I was so hotly engaged myself that I was unable to go to his assistance.  I lost sight of Lt Epps and fought my way back to our lines.  The enemy aircraft had now increased to about nineteen and were patrolling up and down their side of the line.  I fired a red Very light hoping that some of our machines might come to my assistance, but returned home alone.


An unverified hit was claimed during a sortie on 22nd August over Gheluwe while again flying Camel B/3889 (logged as flight number 115).


Also in September 1917 during the nights of 3rd and 4th he was credited with the first night flight in a Sopwith Camel.  It is recorded in the 1984 book The Air Defence of Great Britain 1914 -1918 by Christopher Cole that he took off from Estree-Blanche to intercept German night bombers over St. Omer, but that no contact was made with the enemy aircraft


Although not all listed here, at around this time in early September, Captain Collett had claimed twelve victories and had been awarded the Military Cross.


This honour was confirmed in subsequent Combat in the Air reports by the inclusion of the initials M.C. after his name.


The first of these was for a sortie on 5th September (logged as flight number 124) when he brought down another enemy aircraft.  The full report reads as follows:


Date:               5/9/1917

Time:               6.55 to 7.00 p.m.

Duty:               Offensive Patrol

Height:             16000 feet

Locality:           Roulers and beyond

Aircraft Type and No:     Sopwith Camel No. B/6234 armed with two Vickers Guns


Hostile aircraft encountered:           about 10 V-strut Albatros Scouts


At 6.30 p.m. a patrol of eight Camels met the Bristol Fighters as arranged over Ypres at 14,000 feet.  We proceeded over Houthulst Forest towards Roulers, the Camels assuming the lead.  When over Roulers I observed several enemy aircraft apparently working independently, there being no attempt at formation on their part.  We climbed towards them and engaged them at 15,000 to 16,000 feet.  Our formation was joined by five Nieuports and three SE5s, the Camels still maintaining the lead.  The enemy aircraft did not show much fight but we closed with them wherever possible.  I got on the tail of one aircraft and shot at him until I observed his right wing fold upwards; the machine then fell to earth.


By this time the Camels were well beyond Roulers, and when firing at another enemy aircraft I had a gun stoppage, so fell back upon the main formation while I cleared the same.  We then assumed the lead again and closed on some more enemy aircraft, one of which was flying about 300 feet above us.  The Camels attacked the machine hotly, and it then fell quite out of control through the midst of our formation.


After a further exchange of shots the enemy aircraft were all driven off.  We then made towards our lines; my engine was missing rather badly but on nearing the lines I observed two more enemy aircraft following us about 1,000 feet above and behind.  We turned on them over Houthulst Forest; I endeavoured to close with the nearest enemy aircraft but my engine was now missing so badly that I could not climb up to him.  However, I fired a burst at long range.  Then my guns gave out owing to lack of ammunition.


It was now getting dusk so we turned for our lines.  We passed over Ypres at 16,000 feet, my engine gradually getting worse.  By the time I got to Aire, my engine was cutting out for long periods and I was obliged to land at Triezennes aerodrome, the remainder of the formation returning alone.



His final Combats in the Air report (logged as flight number 127) was detailed as follows:


Date:               9/9/1917

Time:               see below

Duty:               Offensive Patrol

Height:             13000 to 40 feet

Locality:           Gheluvelt - Houthulst

Aircraft Type and No:     Sopwith Camel No. B/2341 armed with two Vickers Guns


Hostile aircraft encountered:

3 2-seaters at 5.10 p.m.; 3 2-seaters at 5.25 p.m. and 1 Albatros Scout at 5.50 p.m.


We patrolled as instructed between Gheluvelt and Houthulst Forest.  When over Gheluvelt at 5.10 p.m. we attacked three 2-seater enemy aircraft and after a short exchange of shots two made off in an easterly direction.  The formation engaged the remaining machine hotly and I got off a good burst at him.  Lt. Saward also fired off on this machine and it went down entirely out of control.  We did not see it crash as it disappeared in the haze.


The formation then patrol up to Houthulst where three more 2-seater enemy aircraft were engaged at 5.25.  I got onto the tail of one of these and drove him down from 10,000 feet to 4,000 feet.  The machine was entirely out of control with smoke coming from the fuselage and from 4,000 feet I saw this machine crash north-east of Houthulst Forest.


I crossed the lines at 4,000 feet and climbed to rejoin my formation.  I picked up on the remainder of the formation at 5.40 and we then patrolled again towards Houthulst Forest.  I saw two enemy aircraft beyond Houthulst towards Roulers.


I heard a machine sitting on my tail and turned round and saw the rest of the formation engaged with a large number of enemy aircraft.  I got onto the tail of one and emptied one gun into the fuselage at short range.  I followed this machine down and saw it turn over and crash.  The machine was not entirely out of control as the pilot made an effort to land it, so I shut off my engine and then flew straight at him, put a long burst into him as he lay on the ground; the machine burst into flames.


I was then attacked by three enemy aircraft and flew along at about 30 feet over Houthulst Forest so the machine gunners could not place me.  The enemy aircraft sat on my tail and continued firing at me though I manoeuvred as much as possible.


I crossed the trenches at 40 feet and returned home as I was wounded in the hand by one of the enemy aircraft.



From this sortie he claimed another three aircraft shot down, but the wound to his hand was severe enough for him to be admitted to hospital that same day.  The entry on his Casualty Form identifies the injury as a gunshot wound which almost shattered his left hand and notes a further visit to hospital was required two days later.  The extent of the injury was described as 'wounded NYD', meaning not yet diagnosed.


Another two days later on 13th September he sailed back to England and the last entry on the Casualty Form states that Captain Collett was awarded a Bar to the Military Cross on 20th September 1917.


Back home in New Zealand the Marlborough Express newspaper of issued on 16th October 1917 printed the following report.  “News has been received in Auckland that Flight-Captain Clive Collett, M.C., (son of the late Captain Horace Collett, at one time Stock Inspector for Marlborough) has been wounded and is now in hospital in Calais. Flight-Captain Collett learned the business of an electrician with Messrs Turnbull and Jones, in Wellington, and represented the firm on the West Coast for some time. In addition to holding a captain's commission he is graded as a pilot instructor, and has given many exhibitions of flying, one of them before the Duke and Duchess of Teck, Princess May, and other notables”.



After a period of rehabilitation he was posted again on 10th October 1917 but it is not clear to which squadron he was assigned.   Then on 4th December he made his final move to the Aero Experimental Station at an undefined location.  During this month he flew as a test pilot using captured enemy aircraft.  Tragically, it was whilst on one of these test flights on 23rd December 1917 that he was killed when the German Albatros Scout he was flying crashed into the sea over the Firth of Forth.


A Casualty Card records the accident and subsequent Court of Enquiry by declaring that the aircraft did not suffer from structural breakage or jamming of the controls, and that it was 'due to an error of judgment on the part of the pilot who appeared to have misjudged his height above the surface of the water'. 


The same Casualty Card also records his unit at the time of the incident as No. 73 Squadron, but this is not confirmed on his personal file. However, the squadron was operating Camels at that time, not in Scotland, but at a location east of Rugby in Warwickshire at a place called Lilbourne.





The following article was published in the Bay Of Plenty Times in 1918


The Late Captain Clive Collett

Some time ago we referred to the death of Captain Clive F. Collett, M.C., R.F.C., son of Mrs A. Collett, of Mount View, Clyde Road, Epsom, Auckland.  The deceased aviator was well-known in Tauranga and the following references to him will be of interest to many of our readers:


The London Times said of him - Captain Clive Franklin Collett, M.C., R.F.C., was accidentally killed on December 23, while flying in Scotland.  Born in 1887, he was second son of Mr Horace Edwin Collett, of Tauranga, Auckland, New Zealand, and came over shortly after the outbreak of war and joined the R.F.C. in March 1915.  In the same year he saw several months of active service in France, but a serious accident which occurred while he was bringing a machine to England prevented his flying for a long period and caused him injuries from which he was always troubled afterwards.  In spite of this, he insisted on flying again, and in August 1916, was given command of a flight.  For the rest of that year and for the greater part of 1917 he was engaged in experimental work, for which his experience and ability as an engineer (his profession before the war), and his great skill as a pilot made him especially useful.  His courage and coolness were such that he could be relied upon not only to execute novel and possibly dangerous manoeuvres in the air, but also to make accurate observations in the course of them.  In September 1917, he again went to France and of this short period his late commanding officer writes: “Captain Collett served under my command in France for some two months.  During this time he himself accounted for 15 enemy machines, all of which were confirmed.  This officer invariably displayed a determination and gallantry beyond all praise and the example he set was invaluable to the whole squadron. His devotion to duty was officially recognised during this period by the reward of the Military Cross and Bar.  Had not an unfortunate wound sent him back to England it is certain that he would have made for himself an unrivalled name".


Mr C. G. Grey, Managing Editor of the magazine The Aeroplane, published in London, writes: "Capt. Clive Franklin Collett, M.C., R.F.C., was accidentally killed on Dec. 23rd, 1917, while flying in Scotland.  Born in 1887, he was the second son of Mr Horace Edwin Collett, of Tauranga, Auckland, New Zealand, and came over shortly after the outbreak of war and joined the R.F.C. in March 1915.  In the same year he saw several months of active service in France, but a serious accident which occurred while he was bringing a machine to England prevented his flying for a long period and caused him injuries from which he was always troubled afterwards. In spite of this, he insisted on flying again, and in August, 1916, was given command of a flight. For the rest of that year and for the greater part of 1917, he was engaged in experimental work, for which his experience and ability as an engineer (his profession before the war), and his great skill as a pilot made him especially useful. His courage and coolness were such that he could be relied upon not only to execute novel and possibly dangerous manoeuvres in the air, but also to make accurate observations in the course of them.  In September 1917 he again went to France, and in the short period of two months he brought down 15 enemy machines, all duly authenticated.  He took up experimental work again, and won the highest opinion of all with whom he came in contact.  Captain Collett deserves to be particularly remembered for his gallantry in testing new types of parachutes from aeroplanes, frequently from what would have previously been considered dangerously low levels.  His work in this direction will ultimately be the saving of many lives.  As an experimental and demonstration pilot he was unexcelled, and his vivid sense of humour made his demonstrations the more enjoyable to those who participated in them.  In the course of his work he came in personal contact with the people at all the advanced flying schools in Great Britain and at every one he made firm friends, so that one may safely say that he was one of the most popular officers in the Corps, though his natural modesty and sense of good form prevented him from becoming known to the outside public.  Thus he leaves behind him a high reputation for skill and gallantry, and a host of friends to mourn his loss.  Of the many fine lads who have come to us from the Overseas Dominions none has been a finer specimen of the youth of Great Britain that Clive Collett. This assurance may at any rate, be some consolation to his bereft family."





In the archive for No. 70 Squadron there is a written record that Capt C F Collett fought and wounded Baron Von Richthofen during the summer of 1917.  The validity of this claim has been questioned by Richard Bickers in his book The First Great Air War in which he claims the incident took place on 6th July 1917 two weeks before Captain Collett joined No. 70 Squadron and by an un-named pilot.


The Squadron also holds an article by Douglass Whetton, entitled Yesterday’s Memories (Recollections of Capt. Cedric N Jones 70 Sqn.) in which numerous references are made to C. F. Collett


Remaining squadron records still to be checked are 11, 32, 73 and those of the Central Flying School.


My thanks extend to the Public Records Office who kindly provided copies of the eight Combat Records referred to above, and to staff at Hendon who kindly supplied copies of the Casualty Records.







Today at Ieper (formerly Ypres) in Belgium is the Menin Gate, Ypres Memorial designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield with sculpture by Sir William Reid-Dick and unveiled by Lord Plumer in July 1927.  This is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders and covers the area known as Ypres Salient which stretches between Langemarck in the north to Ploegsteert Wood in the south – both can be located on the first map.


The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914 when a small British force succeeded in pushing the German forces back to Passchendaele Ridge, thus securing the town before the onset of winter and.


The second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans used poison gas for the first time to force an Allied withdrawal.


There was very little further activity at this point until the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917.


Included in the Debt of Honour Register for the Menin Gate Memorial is William Robert Collett (Ref. 1P31) Private 7790 of the First Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment who died on Sunday 1st November 1914 aged 32.  He was the son of my great grandfather Robert Collett (Ref. 1O70) of Cirencester and brother to my grandmother Alice Louisa Collett (Ref. 1P29) of Swindon.


It is believed that he died from gas exposure and injuries sustained during the First Battle of Ypres, but this may be unreliable as the history books state the Germans did not introduce poison gas until the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915.





The vast majority of the military records in this brief history of Captain Clive Franklyn Collett MC and Bar were gathered by my cousin Philip Goddard (Ref. 1R8) prior to his sudden death on 1st January 2005 when aged 57.


Originally produced in his memory by Brian Collett of Northamptonshire in June 2006.