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Henry John Lawrence Botterell

Henry John Lawrence Botterell ( November 7 1896 - January 3 2003) last living Great War fighter pilot.

Henry John Lawrence Botterell was born in Ottawa on November 7 1896 to Henry and Annie Botterell. He was the son of a civil servant and attended Lisgar Collegiate Institute before beginning a career in banking. His father died of pneumonia when Botterell was a young boy.

In 1916 Botterell was a 20 year old clerk at the Bank of North America (now the Bank of Montreal) when he joined the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) as a civilian flying trainee. His sister Edith worked in the office of Admiral Charles Kingsmill and had helped facilitate his entry. He was sent to England for training. At around this time his older brother Edward, who played football for the Toronto Argonauts, was killed in action in France while serving with the 48th Highlanders of Canada.

On May 16 1917, Botterell became a Probationary Flight Officer with the RNAS. Botterell was nicknamed Nap in the RNAS because of his supposed resemblence to Napoleon. He received his wings on August 15 1917 and was awarded Royal Aero Club certificate number 5093. In September he joined No. 8 Naval Squadron. The squadron, which was usually referred to as Naval 8, was soon posted to France in support of the Royal Flying Corps. Botterell’s immediate superior was also a Canadian, the air ace Flight Commander James White. The squadron was commanded by another ace, Squadron Commander Christopher Draper.

On September 18 1917 Botterell's second operational flight as pilot ended in a crash at Dunkirk when the engine of his Sopwith Pup failed. He sustained head injuries, a fractured leg, and broken teeth. After six months in hospital, he was discharged and sent back to Canada.

En-route to Canada Botterell ran into some of his former colleagues from Naval 8 in London. They arranged for him to be sent to Manston in Kent in order to re-qualify as a pilot. After 10 hours of refresher training he was approved to start flying once more and was sent to Serny on the Western Front where he rejoined No. 8 Naval Squadron, now renamed 208 Squadron RAF. He served with them from May 11 to November 27, 1918 flying a variety of missions in different aircraft. He flew patrols and fought over Serny, Tramcourt, Arras, Foucacourt, and Estrées. In 60 days between June and August 1918 he flew 91 sorties.

Botterell's sole air victory saw him bring down a German observation balloon, which was well-defended by anti-aircraft guns, on August 29 1918 near Arras. He was returning from dropping four bombs on the railway station at Vitry when he saw the balloon. Putting his Sopwith Camel into a dive, he put 400 machinegun rounds into the balloon, setting it aflame. The German observer parachuted to safety. The scene was imortalised in Robert Taylor's painting Balloon Buster.

During his service, Botterell flew a variety of planes, including several Sopwiths (Pup, Camel and Snipe), the RE8, the SE5, the Graham White and the Morris Farhman. He logged 251 combat hours.

At the end of the war, Botterell was a Flight Lieutenant with the Royal Air Force (the Royal Flying Corps and RNAS had been combined on April 1, 1918 to form the RAF.)

During an interview about his wartime exploits Botterell once said: "I had good hands. I didn't have the fighting acumen of some, like Billy Bishop. I was just a bank clerk. I wasn't one of the very best, but I had my share of action."

After his return to Canada, Botterell never flew again except on comercial flights.

Botterell returned to work at the Bank of Montreal as Assistant Chief Accountant, initially in rural Quebec and then in Montreal, eventually retiring in 1970. He married in 1929, to Maud Goater, who died in 1983; they had two children Edward and Frances.

During the Second World War, he was an Air Cadet Squadron Commander, in Lachine, Quebec.

In 1998 Botterell celebrated his 102nd birthday at a hotel in Lille where he and 16 other Canadian veterans marked the 80th anniversary of the war's end. In 1999 he was guest of honour at a dinner to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 2001 he received a visit from members of the present day 208 Squadron.

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa now houses a fence post that was caught in the wing of Botterell's Sopwith Camel during a low-level sortie.

The Canadian Department of Veterans' Affairs believed he was the last surviving pilot in the world to have seen action in the Great War.