The Reluctant Hero
View The Life of A. Roy Brown.
A video in which John Chalmers of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, narrates the life story of Roy Brown using archival photographs and modern footage of First World War planes.
A Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilot and combat leader in the First World War, Roy Brown is inextricably linked to the demise of Manfred von Richthofen, Germany’s highest scoring fighter pilot. Afterwards, Brown established General Airways Limited, operating through the 1930s in Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba.
Born in Carleton Place, Ontario on December 23, 1893 to his parents Mary and Morton. Arthur Roy Brown had two brothers and two sisters, and was known by his middle name Roy. He was born at home in a house that remains standing today. He began his education by attending public school in his home town of Carleton Place and was active in sports with local teams playing hockey on the team called “The Independents” and as a baseball player Roy proved his worth by playing on the Carleton Place men’s baseball team in 1912. In 1913 Roy moved to Edmonton where he stayed with his uncle, William Brown and his aunt Blanche while attending Victoria High School for two years. Where he was again active in sports serving as captain of the school’s basketball team. While attending Victoria High School, Roy met Wilfred “Wop” May, the names of the two young men were destined to be linked from the time of the First World War. Returning home to Carleton Place, Roy expressed a desire to enlist for the war and applied for the Royal Navy Air Service and to qualify as a pilot before enlisting he attended the Wrights School of Aviation in Dayton. Ohio earning his pilot certificate from the Aero Club of America. Two days later he was enrolled in the Royal Naval Air Service and on the “S.S. Finland” he sailed for England on December 2, 1915. As a probationary Flight Sub. Lieutenant he began training at the RNAS station Chingford, near London and continued his training by flying the VE2C aircraft of the Royal Aircraft Factory.
After earning his RNAS pilot certificate and training at East Church Gunnery School in March 1917 Roy was assigned to active service and appointed to #9 Naval Squadron in France at St. Paul de Mer near Dunkirk on the French coast and was soon flying the Sopwith Pup in combat with the Royal Naval Air Service.
On July 17, 1917 while flying a Sopwith Pup, similar to this replica at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Roy scored his first victory as a combat pilot downing an Albatross D3, a superior German aircraft and he was promoted to Active Flight Lieutenant. In August 1917 Roy Brown began flying the Sopwith Camel armed with its twin machine guns, and soon scored his second victory.
Assigned to a combat flight in his squadron he shot down three more aircraft in quick succession, thus becoming an ace, a pilot with five or more victories. By that time Roy was recognized as a leader as well as a competent pilot and in September was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross. In November 1917, Roy returned to Canada on home leave, an opportunity to spend time with his family and friends before leaving for overseas on January 29, 1918. This time sailing on the Justicia, a ship nearly torpedoed on Roy’s return trip but was ultimately sunk later in the war. Promoted to Acting Flight Commander, Roy was now flying only the Sopwith Camel, flying at least two combat missions a day and adding to his combat victory. On April 1, 1918 the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corp formed the Royal Air Force and Roy became a captain in the RAF 209 Squadron. A few days later his high school friend “Wop” May joined Brown’s flight and less than two weeks later the two pilots would be involved in one the most famous air battles of the First World War. On April 21st “Wop” May was pursued by Baron Manfred von Richthofen in his red Fokker triplane when Roy Brown in turn fired at the German pilot. The Red Baron was brought down ending the life of the enemy’s deadliest pilot an event portrayed many times in painting and stories and in a mural on a building in Roy’s hometown of Carleton Place, Ontario.
Roy’s wartime service soon ended and returning to Canada he married Edythe Moneypenny in Toronto. The couple had a son, Donald, and two daughters Barbara and Margaret who served with RCAF during the Second World War. In 1928, Roy became a pioneer in Canadian aviation incorporating General Airways Limited. The company began flying from Quebec to serve remote mining companies in Quebec and Ontario. By 1935 the company was operating four bases in Quebec and one in Ontario. Seven aircraft were in service carrying freight and passengers to remote points as far as Flin Flon, Manitoba and providing scheduled service to Winnipeg. During the Depression even though General Airways had enjoyed financial success eventually it became unprofitable and ceased operating in March 1940. Roy’s next venture was to purchase a rundown farm near Stouffville, Ontario. Turning it into a profitable business. “Wop” May and Roy Brown kept in touch over the years, last seeing each other in 1938. On March 9, 1944 at the age of fifty this war hero who built an airline died at his farm home in Stouffville. Arthur Roy Brown was inducted as a member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame at ceremonies held on July 4, 2015.