SECOND LIEUTENANT GEORGE HELLIWELL HARDING
ROYAL FLYING CORPS
27TH MARCH 1918 AGE 24
BURIED: DIVE COPSE BRITISH CEMETERY, SAILLY-LE-SEC, FRANCE
George Helliwell Harding was the Red Baron's 73rd victim. He had only been with 79 Squadron since 2 March when he became von Richthofen's third kill of the day.
All the following information is taken from Mike O'Connor's excellent book 'Airfields and Airmen Somme'. Harding was attacking a German fighter when von Richthofen came from behind and shot him down. Harding's plane caught fire and broke up in the air. Two years later, Harding's sister, Ruth, an actress, was in France entertaining American troops. She wanted to identify her brother's grave - the implication being that he had been buried as an unknown airman. She identified a grave and insisted on the body being exhumed for her to identify the remains. It must have been indescribably gruesome. Her brother would have been horribly burnt and had been in the ground for a year. She did identify him and George Harding was buried in Dive Copse Cemetery.
Just under a month later Manfred von Richthofen was killed.
Harding was an American citizen from South Minneapolis, Minnesota. After America's entry into the war he tried to enlist in the American army but so many Americans were volunteering that he became impatient at the delay and crossed the border into Canada to enlist in the Flying Corps. He arrived in England in August 1917 and after further training, he went to France on 2 March. Twenty-five days later he was dead.
His father, Mr GF Harding, chose his inscription from Algernon Swinburne's poem 'The Halt Before Rome': Republican Rome, for whom the soldiers in the poem are fighting:
She, without shelter or station,
She, beyond limit or bar,
Urges to slumberless speed
Armies that famish, that bleed,
Sowing their lives for her seed,
That their dust may rebuild her a nation,
That their souls may relight her a star.