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Schnapps toast to mark 100th anniversary of Red Baron’s first victims

The families of First World War fighter ace, Manfred von Richthofen, and his first victims will share a schnapps together on the 100th anniversary of the event this September.

von richthofen schnapps cup
Manfred von Richthofen and a copy of the schnapps cup he commissioned to mark his first victory. The replica cup was made for Whitgift School and will be used at a centenary dinner on 17 September. Credit: Neil Cooper and Rob Chadwick

The descendants of the airmen will meet at Whitgift School in Croydon on 17 September to share the toast of reconciliation from a replica cup of the sort the ‘Red Baron’ commissioned to mark each of his victories.

Von Richthofen (pictured), later also known as the Red Baron after the distinctive colour of his aircraft, was one of the Great War’s most memorable characters and is considered the ace-of-aces by fighter pilots because of his extraordinary tally of combat victories.

Originally a cavalryman he transferred to the nascent German air corps in 1915. On 17 September 1916 while flying near the town of Marcoing, von Richthofen’s Jasta (squadron) attacked a group of British bombers. In the battle von Richthofen shot down one of the British planes killing the observer and gunner, Captain Tom Rees and mortally wounding the pilot, Second Lieutenant Lionel Morris.

Morris managed to land the plane behind German lines but died in an ambulance on the way to hospital. He was just 19, Rees only 21.

Von Richthofen commissioned a silver cup to mark his first victory and drank a toast to his opponents. It became a tradition for the ace and he had 60 such cups made – each detailing the enemy plane involved and the date of the action – before a dwindling supply of silver in Germany forced him to stop the practice (he refused to have the cups made in a baser metal). Sadly, very few of the cups survive to this day.

In total, von Richthofen would be credited with 80 kills during the war before he himself was shot down and killed on 21 April 1918. His reign of aerial supremacy had lasted a frighteningly short 18 months. He was 25.

Although there is some argument over who really killed the Red Baron* the doctor who conducted his autopsy, Lt. Colonel George Barber, was an old Whitgiftian boy, as was Lionel Morris.

As reported by The Telegraph, the school is currently hosting a small exhibition on the First World War and has commissioned a silver schnapps cup of the sort ordered by von Richthofen himself to form part of the display.

The families of Morris, Rees and von Richthofen will share a toast to their ancestors from the cup at a commemorative dinner this September.

Captain Tom Rees
Second Lieutenant Lionel Morris


*It’s normally attributed to a Canadian pilot, Arthur Brown, or ground fire from Australian troops, an hypothesis supported by Barber’s autopsy report

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