Profile of Courage: Lieutenant Wilbur Fawcett Annis

News Article / April 13, 2017

To see more images, click on the photograph under “Image Gallery”.

By Major Bill March

Wilbur Fawcett Annis was born on February 14, 1895, in the Township of Scarboro (now spelled Scarborough), east of Toronto, Ontario. He and his family were living in Toronto when war broke out in Europe in August 1914. Like many young men of his generation, he had already seen some service, including with militia units such as the 20th Halton Rifles, where he served in the Army Medical Corps. However, through 1914 and 1915, Annis was intent on finishing his schooling. On January 7, 1916, after completing his first term at the University of Toronto's Victoria College, he enlisted with the 76th Overseas Battalion (Canadian Infantry) as a lieutenant. He departed for England on September 26th of that year.

After a period of training at various schools, Wilbur joined the 58th Battalion in France on October 31, 1916. The battalion was stationed near Arras and would soon be preparing for the assault on Vimy Ridge; however, the newly arrived lieutenant would not be joining in the attack. Contracting influenza in December, the seriously ill Annis was invalided back to England later that month and spent the opening weeks of 1917 in hospital there.

Cleared by a medical board for general duties on March 17, 1917, Annis was an officer without a unit, and was posted to a reserve battalion while he waited for a vacancy in a front-line unit. Searching for more active employment he, like many Canadians in similar straits, applied to be seconded to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).

According to available records, he was transferred to the RFC sometime that spring, and appointed as a flying officer on August 16, 1917. Unfortunately, details of his training and subsequent employment are nowhere to be found.

In late 1917, Annis received orders to proceed to the flight training establishment in Canada. Such a transfer was not unusual because headquarters seemed to be making a concerted effort to send Canadian instructors to serve with the Royal Flying Corps Canada (RFCC) in the belief that they would be better equipped to deal with their countrymen. Still, a transfer to a “safe” area was more likely to be given to individuals who had been “flown out” at the front and badly in need of a rest. Whether in need of a rest or not, he was heading home to Canada.

After a brief period of leave to visit his family, he began working as an instructor at Camp Leaside, located in North Toronto. At 43 Wing, he was likely responsible for training flight cadets. His stay at Leaside was not long, and by March 1918 he had been sent to Camp Borden, about 88 kilometres north of Toronto, as a flight commander.

Early on May 3, 1918, Lieutenant Annis donned his flying gear in preparation for a training flight with Cadet F.L. Dugan. To take advantage of relatively calm air, training flights were often scheduled for early in the day or during early evening. Instructor and student, bundled against the cold, climbed into Curtiss JN-4 (Canadian) No. C1047, the standard "Canuck" trainer aircraft, and prepared for their flight.

Soon after takeoff, for reasons never determined, the aircraft stalled, fell into a nosedive and impacted the ground not far from where it took off. Dugan, seated in the forward cockpit position, was slightly injured. Annis, in the rear instructor’s position, suffered a fracture to the base of the skull. Never regaining consciousness, he died at the base hospital 28 hours later, on May 4, 1918.

His family was informed of the accident a few hours after it occurred and were present when Lieutenant Annis died. After a well-attended service at the Simpson Avenue Methodist Church in Toronto, he was laid to rest with full military honours in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He was 23 years old.

Lieutenant Annis’ funeral announcement

LATE WILBUR F. ANNIS GIVEN MILITARY FUNERAL

The funeral of Flight Commander Wilbur F. Annis, R.A.F., youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. L.E. Annis, 25 Fairview boulevard, took place with full military honors yesterday afternoon at Simpson Avenue Methodist Church. Col. Williams, chaplain, was in charge of the military services, and Rev. J.R. Patterson, pastor of Simpson Avenue Church, conducted the church service. The gun carriage which bore the casket was escorted to Mount Pleasant Cemetery by forty men from Exhibition Camp and by several members of the R.F.C., in charge of Captain Meredith.

A military service was held by the chaplain at the graveside, and three volleys were fired by the firing party, and the Last Post was sounded by the bugler.

A large crowd witnessed the funeral cortege passing thru the Riverdale district.

Toronto World – May 9th, 1918

 

Date modified: