Robert Hartley Deakin (1895-1917)

Remembered Today: 2nd Lt. Robert Hartley Deakin (1895 – 1917) and 45 Squadron, RFC

Remembered today, 11 November 2022, 2nd Lt. Robert Hartley Deakin, RFC, who died aged 22, in Northern France on 22 July 1917.

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was formed by Royal Warrant on 13 April 1912, its motto Per Ardua ad Astra (Through Adversity to the Stars). The RFC comprised of a Military Wing, Naval Wing, a Reserve, the Central Flying School at Upavon (responsible for training Naval and Army pilots) and the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, Hampshire.

45 Squadron of the RFC was formed in March 1916 at Fort Grange, Gosport, and was posted to France in October 1916, initially equipped with Sopwith 1½ two seater Strutters in the ‘scout’ role. The Squadron operated out of Fienvillers in Picardie in Northern France from 15 October 1916 and then Boisdinghem in the Pas-de-Calais from 4 November 1916 before moving on 4 December 1916 to Ste-Marie-Cappel, a small airfield about 15 miles to the east of Omer.

In 1916, whilst serving with the 10th Jats in Pakistan, Robert Hartley Deakin, volunteered for service with the RFC and was attached to 45 Squadron (26 April 1917). Following a short period of flying training Robert was deployed to France (embarking Folkestone, disembarking Boulogne) arriving at Ste-Marie-Cappel on 8 July 1917.

During the early years of the First World War, the life expectancy of an aviator was very short, many had little tactical training and most had only a few hours’ flying experience. The more experience pilots typically served as instructors back in England and several men were sent back home from the field for further training. Sadly 2nd Lt. Robert Deakin only survived 2 weeks in the skies above northern France.

On 16 July 1917, 3 Sopwith 1½ Strutters from the squadron were on an interception mission when they were attacked by 6 German Albatros D.III fighters near Houtem, Belgium. At 09.10 hours, Capt. Matthew Brown ‘Bunty’ Frew (1895-1974)1 with Observer 2nd. Lt. George A. Brooke2 (aircraft serial no. A1020) shot down one of the German aircraft over Polygon Wood and Second Lt. Robert Deakin flying with Observer Capt. James W. Higgins3(in aircraft serial no. A8292) forced another down out of control4.

2nd Lt. Robert Hartley Deakin 10th JATS Indian Army (an infantry division of the British Indian Army) and 45 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, of Norton Hall, Worcester, died 6 days later on 22 July 1917, aged 22. Robert, was flying with Lt. Reginald Hayes (from Wallington, Surrey, England, who had been with the squadron since 14 April 1917) in a Sopwith 1½ Strutter serial no. A1032. They were part of a formation of eight Sopwiths when they were attacked about 15 miles over the lines beyond the Menin-Roulers Road, Flanders. Both are listed on the Arras Flying Services Memorial in France (no known graves)5.

45 Squadron was reassigned to Italy in November 1917 and returned to France in 1918. The Squadron was disbanded after its return to England in 1919 and was later reformed at Helwan, Egypt in 1921. 45 Squadron was one of the most successful RFC fighter squadrons during the First World War, claiming 316 victories, however, 74 men lost their lives.


  1. Capt. Matthew Brown Frew MC was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on 4th March 1918 and the Italian Silver Medal for Military Valour on 12th September 1918. He was 45 Squadron’s most successful pilot.
  2. Lt. G.A. Brooke transferred to 20 Squadron on 1st September 1917.
  3.  In September 1917, following the replacement of the 2 seater 11/2 Strutters by Camels, Capt. James W. Higgins gave up flying and remained with the squadron as its Recording Officer.
  4. Source: RFC Communique no 97, 16th July 1917
  5. Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 2nd Lt. Robert H. Deakin certificate.

1 thought on “Remembered Today: 2nd Lt. Robert Hartley Deakin (1895 – 1917) and 45 Squadron, RFC”

  1. My maternal grandfather was James White Higgins and was happy to find this photo of Robert knowing they flew together on that mission of 16th July. I have a couple of photos of James in RFC uniform.

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