One town, one man and a story that won’t go away

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by Lyle Dillabough

It just seems to go on and on. That endless tale of Captain Roy Brown, his hometown of Carleton Place, and the immortal/timeless battle with the notorious Red Baron. The story reminds one of a ghost that just keeps lingering on and refuses to die. And why is this so, you might ask? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the unheralded hero that Brown is has not received the proper attention and recognition that his contribution to history rightfully deserves. Perhaps, too, there is a certain “message” that has yet to be communicated, that needs to come forth and be expressed so that the story can be complete.

For few yet indeed know who Roy Brown was, and what his story is about. Fewer still know that he was born at Carleton Place. Contrast that with Manfred von Richtofen, who was otherwise known as the “Red Baron”, and who terrorized of the skies so much that he is regarded as perhaps the greatest of all World War One flying aces.

And yet, it was none other then Captain Roy Brown from Carleton Place who ultimately brought him down. If you ask most Canadians, they will likely tell you it was Billy Bishop (Canada’s most famous WWI flying ace) that shot down the Baron, or maybe even “Snoopy” from the Charles Shultz 1960’s Christmas TV special. But not Brown, nor would they even begin to know who and what kind of man he really was.

For it’s true that seldom will you hear the name Brown mentioned when referring to the Baron, and, amongst the few who know, disputes arise (like from many Australians) as to just who it was that really shot the German Ace down. Just recently, on April 21, 2018, a special tribute and exhibit was held upstairs in the Auditorium of the Carleton Place Town Hall to celebrate the 100th anniversary (on the exact date) of the Baron/Brown altercation.

Individuals such as Robbie Probert, Jeff Maguire, Jerry Flynn and several others (who have done much through “The Roy Brown Society” to preserve and tell the “The Brown Story”) put on a tremendous presentation to honour their late hometown hero. Although reasonably well attended, the crowd seemed small for such an event of true national/international significance. Again; why? ..one might wonder.

Over the years, I have too been haunted by the Roy Brown Story. Beginning with a conversation I had with the late Carleton Place councilor, Reeve and Mayor, Brian Costello, back in 1984, and onto the present, Captain Brown tugs at my shirt sleeves from time to time still. Many times I have written about him, been involved with discussions about him, and been involved with efforts to promote his story. And, although there has been much success in obtaining national coverage in recent years, the matter still escapes the attention and imagination of the masses.

It’s kind of a mystery, really, when one thinks about it. Perhaps the town waited too long to tell the tale properly, and didn’t capitalize on promoting it right after World War One, when the early days of (and amazement thereof) flight were still young. Another reason may come from Brown himself, (who he was, what he felt, what he represented). Because people wouldn’t know that Brown himself was not impressed with the fact that he had killed Richthofen. No, not one bit at all. Rather he despised himself for it. For the rest of his life too.

In personal letters written to his father, Brown “despised this thing called war and death”, and couldn’t face “the refined look, blond hair and distinguished look of one I had killed.” For, to him, the Baron was a brother of the air, and one who deserved the greatest of respect. Not really an enemy at all, and, although Brown was just doing his duty, within himself that duty couldn’t truly be justified within his own conscience, it would seem.

Therefore, perhaps the folks in Carleton Place today might consider changing their tactics when it comes to promoting and celebrating the Roy Brown Legacy? Maybe, by focusing on the fact that Captain Roy Brown stood more for peace then he did for conflict, and promoting him and his story more along those lines, than for victory in battle and ensuing death.

For Captain Roy Brown witnessed the true horrors of war, the utter waste of lives, the generations of damage and total insanity of it all. He tasted it all first hand and it destroyed him in many ways. Perhaps he wouldn’t want us to celebrate his so called “victory” over the Baron, but rather that we would strive for (and, hopefully, one day achieve) a time when fighting and killing one another won’t be necessary anymore.

Maybe Roy Brown (if he wanted to be remembered for anything) would want to be remembered as one who stood for peace, potential, pursuit, the “Love of Life”, and all that is and could be. Perhaps Carleton Place could become known as a place that represents these Roy Brown sentiments. Maybe then the crowds that Carleton Place officials hope would come, will come, and all can celebrate what truly is worth celebrating.

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