Family heirloom ‘most likely’ a piece of the Red Baron’s plane

German pilot Manfred von Richthofen became known as the Red Baron. Photo: Creative Commons, C.J. von Dühren. The Wartenberg Trust

German pilot Manfred von Richthofen became known as the Red Baron. Photo: Creative Commons, C.J. von Dühren. The Wartenberg Trust

Inside the home of a Darwin rural residence is a piece of fabric that was “most likely” stripped from the plane of Germany’s infamous Red Baron moments after it was shot down.

Baron Manfred Von Richtofen, dubbed the ‘Red Baron’, was taken down in the skies of northern France in April 1918.

With 80 kills under his belt, he was Germany’s most celebrated World War I pilot.

Eyewitness accounts reported the Baron was flying uncharacteristically low when he was shot down.

Although just who shot him remained a matter of debate for decades, it is now widely accepted he was killed by Australian gunners.

Adrian McQuillan’s grandfather Daniel was one of them.

“We’d beg pop to tell us the story of the Red Baron, and we’d sit on the floor and he’d tell it in detail,” he said.

Aussie troops were renowned for taking souvenirs from the war, and the Baron’s death was no different.

“Grandad told us the story of how he went down like at the time when the plane was shot down, apparently soldiers came from everywhere and surrounded the plane,” Mr McQuillan said.

Like so many of the others, he just took his knife out and cut a section out of the side of the plane, which included part of the insignia, the Maltese cross.”

Mr McQuillan, now a resident of Darwin’s Lambells Lagoon, sent the item to the Australian War Memorial to establish its validity.

He believes it may have also been part of a larger piece of fabric.

“What was pointed out was that it’s significant the line on the top of the Maltese Cross was straight, which was done earlier in 1918,” he said.

“They changed from a curved insignia to a straight-lined insignia.”

A matter of provenance

The biggest question about its validity arose because the fabric had been ironed, according to the Australian War Memorial.

Mr McQuillan said the fabric appeared to have been folded several times, and would have been ironed out to remove wrinkles.

Despite this, the AWM agreed it was “more likely than not” an original piece.

“It was a statement of provenance … if Pop was in the area at the time and was so clearly able to describe the events, then it’s very likely that the piece was in fact cut from the plane,” Mr McQuillan said.

He said his grandfather wanted to share his experience, but died before he ever got the chance.

He now wants to ensure the piece and its story isn’t forgotten.

“I’m very keen that it be preserved by somebody … I don’t have children of my own but I don’t want the piece to be lost,” Mr McQuillan said.

“This might be a way of doing what wasn’t done then … I can tell what I know.”


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