14th September 1917

Second Lieutenant David Kitto Billings, Royal Flying Corps, died, aged 23, in a flying accident near Water Orton on 14th September 1917. He was described in newspaper reports as a Canadian attached to the Australian Flying Corps and he died as a result of one of the pins in his leather safety belt breaking, causing one end of the belt to fly open and the aviator to fall out of the plane from a height of 1,500-2000 feet.

David was the eldest of the three children of British-born parents, Rev. Percy Billings and Lilla Adelaide Kitto, who had married in Portland, Maine, USA on 27th April 1891. Percy Billings appears to have emigrated in 1889, with his bride-to-be emigrating a year later. It’s not clear where David was born, as the family seem to have moved around a lot. His sister, Mildred Kitto Billings (1897-1981) was born in Ohio, USA and his brother, Rollo Kitto Billings (1902-1982) was born in Australia. The family is also known to have been in Toronto, Canada and it appears that David may have remained in the city when his parents relocated to Chicago c. 1912.

According to a report of his death in the Toronto Evening Telegram 21st September 1917, David had been a newspaperman with Toronto World, before leaving to engage in commercial pursuits shortly before joining the Royal Flying Corps in Canada and training at Camp Borden, which was officially opened in May 1917.

David Kitto Billings was gazetted Temporary Second Lieutenant on probation with effect from 23rd July 1917, and then proceeded to Castle Bromwich aerodrome the following month. At the inquest into his death it was reported that he had passed through the school and obtained his pilot’s licence. He had been due to depart Castle Bromwich on 15th September for a course of aerial gunnery at another station, but he decided to have a final fly round and, at about 6.40pm, took off alone in a two-seater plane. The aeroplane was seen looping the loop, and going up perpendicularly, before dropping sideways and then righting itself in a process technically known as “stalling”. An eye-witness recalled seeing the machine hang in the balance rather than righting itself as formerly, and then the pilot was seen falling to the ground. The plane crashed into a wood near Water Orton.

A search party was organised but the airman’s body was found at about 10am the following morning, about a mile away from where the aircraft had landed.

Gravestone of Sec. Lieut. David Kitto Billings

Second Lieutenant D. K. Billings is buried at St Mary & St Margaret’s Church, Castle Bromwich. He is also commemorated on the Canadian Virtual Memorial.

If you have any further information, please let us know.

Tracey
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

tel.: 0121 704 6977
email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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