Ernest Potter – A Port Arthur Aviator in WWI

Ernest Potter was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England in 1892.  In 1907 he immigrated to Canada, where he and his family settled in Port Arthur.  Ernest worked for the Molson Bank in Port Arthur and then in Winnipeg, until 1915 when he went to the Curtiss Flying School in Toronto to learn to fly.  After three months tuition on the Curtiss Biplane – the JN-4 or “Jenny” – he graduated with his pilot’s certificate on September 3, 1915.  From there he went to England, as a Flight Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and after further training was posted to No. 3 Wing of the RNAS at Luxeuil in eastern France.  The unit included a large contingent of Canadians, including Raymond Collishaw, who was to become an ace with 60 victories to his credit and rise to the rank of Air Vice Marshall of the RAF in World War II.  The Wing was equipped with the Sopwith 11/2 Strutter, the first British two-seat tractor fighter, and the first British aircraft to enter service with a forward firing, synchronized machine gun, capable of firing through the propeller arc.  The Strutter was also built in a bomber version in which the gunner’s position behind the pilot was fared over to allow bombs to be carried.   During his time with No. 3 Wing, Ernest Potter flew both versions.  As a bomber pilot he participated in two raids in October 1916, one on a munitions factory in Metz and another on the Mauser Rifle Works in Oberndorf .    The latter was a major effort with 40 British and French aircraft taking part.  It involved a round trip of some 200 miles into Germany, a flight of more than four hours duration, and set the pattern for the strategic bombing offensive that was to become the hallmark of the RNAS.  The following month, Ernest and several of his colleagues were decorated for their services, by General Joffre with a white whistle cord, or aiguillette, a mark of distinction worn on the left shoulder and given only to airmen.  In January he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.

Ernest Potter returned to Port Arthur where in 1917 he married Edith Merrill Leaney.  By 1921, he was back in Winnipeg working as a bank inspector.  Later he moved to Victoria, B.C. where he died in 1959.

Ernest Potter, a pilot in WWI, is featured in three Looking Back articles: December 23, 2005, June 19, 2011 and June 26, 2011. Full text of these articles can be accessed on microfilm at the Brodie Resource Library.

Read these newspaper articles of Potter’s exploits during the war.

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