Glasnevin’s Ace, Captain Oscar Heron D.F.C

Oscar Heron (1896-1933)

The First World War witnessed many advances in warfare but one of the most significant was the leap forward in aerial combat.
 
Many men buried in Glasnevin served in a variety of roles during the First World War with the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force. Each have their own impressive story of heroism and dedication to duty but few can compete with the accolades and distinguished service of Oscar Heron.
 
The war was the first time that aircraft were used on a wide scale and in the space of four years the face of aviation changed forever. Pilots of these early fighter aircraft took great risks and their life expectancy averaged just 11 days during the war. To become an ace a pilot needed five confirmed victories and less than 40 men from Ireland gained this honour during the war. Oscar Heron was near the top of this list. Many of the Irish aces would be killed at the front while some, such as Heron, would return home.
 
Despite the risks their role resulted in many of them becoming seen as glamorous personalities, revered by the public and looked on with an element of envy by those involved in the depressing stalemate of trench warfare. As James Fitzmaurice (VJ 158.5 St. Patrick’s) described the experience of his first flight.
 
“How fresh and clean this seemed after the clinging mud of the French battlefields. To fight in the air—what a thrilling sense of superiority.”
 
Oscar Heron was born at Banbrook Hill, Armagh on 17 September 1896, the son of a National School teacher.
 
During the First World War he served for a period with the Connaught Rangers before joining 70 Squadron as a pilot in May 1918. In the 6 months before the end of the war he had the remarkable record of shooting down 13 aircraft. This included 3 on the same day in the space of 5 minutes. Due to his exceptional bravery and achievements he was awarded a Croix de Guerre and also a Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation for the latter read:
 
“An officer conspicuous for his skill and daring in aerial combats. He has accounted for eight, enemy aeroplanes. On 28th September he attacked, single-handed, three Fokkers; one of these he shot down. On another occasion he, in company with five other machines, engaged six Fokkers, all six being destroyed, 2nd Lt. Heron accounting for two.”
 
Towards the end of the war he also gained recognition for being the first member of the Allied forces to enter the city of Lille. While flying over it he noticed that it appeared to have been abandoned by the German army. He took a great risk in landing to check and luckily found himself to be correct.

List of victories of Lieutenant (A/Capt.) Oscar Heron, 70 Squadron R.A.F.

 
 
 
Date
Time
Unit
Aircraft
Opponent
Location
1
30 Jun 1918
2035
70
Sopwith Camel (D6492)
Albatros D.V (OOC)
E of Bray
2
30 Jun 1918
2040
70
Sopwith Camel (D6492)
Albatros D.V (DESF)
E of Bray
3
19 Aug 1918
1955
70
Sopwith Camel (C3306)
Fokker D.VII (DES)
Houthem-Hollebeke
4
28 Sep 1918
1145
70
Sopwith Camel (D6696)
Fokker D.VII (DES)
NE of Passchendaele
5
01 Oct 1918
1630
70
Sopwith Camel (E7201)
LVG C (DES)
SW of Ardoye
6
07 Oct 1918
0845
70
Sopwith Camel (D6696)
Fokker D.VII (DESF)
Lichtervelde
7
07 Oct 1918
0845
70
Sopwith Camel (D6696)
Fokker D.VII (DESF)
Lichtervelde
8
09 Oct 1918
0940
70
Sopwith Camel (E7277)
Fokker D.VII (DES)
E of Roulers
9
09 Oct 1918
0941
70
Sopwith Camel (E7277)
Fokker D.VII (DES)
Roulers
10
09 Oct 1918
0945
70
Sopwith Camel (E7277)
Fokker D.VII (CAP) 1
W of Mayerneine
11
26 Oct 1918
1515
70
Sopwith Camel (C8201)
Fokker D.VII (DES)
S of Monchau
12
26 Oct 1918
1515
70
Sopwith Camel (C8201)
Fokker D.VII (OOC)
Montroelau Bois
13
28 Oct 1918
1140
70
Sopwith Camel (B7883)
Fokker D.VII (DESF)
Quatres
 
Following the First World War he joined the Irish Air Corps after its establishment in 1922 as the National Army Air Service. Along with James Fitzmaurice (VJ 158.5 St. Patrick’s) he became one of the pioneering officers of the new service. His main task was training at Baldonnel but in August 1933 Heron and his colleagues agreed to carry out a mock aerial battle above the Phoenix Park for Irish Aviation Day. While training for the event on Thursday 3 August two of the Air Corps planes collided killing a young pilot, Lieutenant Jim Twohig (SL 287.5 St. Patrick’s)
 
Despite the loss the aviation day was not cancelled and on the morning of Saturday 5 August, Oscar Heron acted as a pall-bearer at the funeral of Twohig to Glasnevin before making his way to the Phoenix Park for what would prove to be his final flight that afternoon.
 
The demonstration started without incident but Heron’s plane soon went into a diving spin at 200 feet, plunging into the ground nose first in front of 25,000 spectators including his wife. His injuries were severe and he died almost instantly. See press clipping
 
His funeral, with full military honours, came to Glasnevin on 8 August 1933. His coffin was borne on a gun carriage and draped in the tricolor with his cap and sword resting on top. As his coffin was lowered into the grave near the old O’Connell Circle a group of aircraft from the Air Corps flew past. Three volleys were then fired over the grave and the Last Post sounded for one of Ireland’s most accomplished aces of the First World War.
 
We are currently working on a WW1 exhibition, opening here at Glasnevin Cemetery Museum at the end of July 2014. We are looking for relatives of Oscar Heron to get in touch, please contact the Museum on +353 (0)1 882 6550 or email [email protected]

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