In the fog of war many soldiers simply disappeared never to heard from again.
Today, Flight Sergeant Cosma Lake Randell from 22 Squadron RFC was shot down with his observer 1st Class Air Mechanic John Valentine Hurley in their Bristol F2b (B1101). They were part of a 6 strong patrol that encountered 5 enemy fighters. Also shot down in the encounter were 2nd Lieutenant Harold George Tambling and his observer Flight Sergeant W Organ in another Bristol F2b (A7204).
A few days earlier on 20 August, a Miss H Heidenrich had written to the South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau about the whereabouts of Randell and another soldier as they had heard nothing from him since “he sailed from Sydney on Jan 18th 1916” in the service of the 14th Field Company Engineers. It seems his family were completely unaware of his service since then. He had subsequently joined the 43 Infantry Battalion and then transferred to the RFC in April 1916. He had then qualified as a pilot on 30 August 1916 and then joined 22 Squadron. At this stage they assumed he had been killed.
The Red Cross responded on 24 August to Miss Heidenrich that the number of casualties was so vast that they needed further information that he had become a casualty before any further search could be carried out. No further letters are recorded from Miss Heidenrich in relation to Randell. However further correspondence from Margaret Randell is in the archives. It seems they finally heard that he was posted as “missing” in November 1917.
A further eyewitness report was received from 2nd Lieutenant Douglas William Mackintosh Miller dated 14 December 1917 which stated:
“Sgt.Randell was shot down and his plane was seen to be in flames as he fell. He appeared to get the fire under and the machine under control, and was seen from our anti aircraft guns to land and was then taken prisoner.”
Unfortunately this was false as both Randell and Hurley were both killed in the crash. It may be that Miller got confused with the aircraft of Tambling and Organ who were in fact taken prisoner.
The last letter with the Red Cross is dated 4 September 1918. At this point no news of Randell had been received and his family were still unaware of his death. It’s not known at what point they were finally made aware.
Copies of the letters are available to view on the South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau website.