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Old 6 February 2004, 07:14 AM   #1
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Hello All:

I've been reading a history that mentions Bert Hall as being unpopular with other American pilots and this dislike may have been partially motivated by class distinctions. Also, while Hall was a prevaricator, it appears that in the areas where he did tell the truth he was to a limited degree more honest than the other pilots. Anyone care to comment?

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Old 6 February 2004, 09:01 AM   #2
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About all I remember right off hand is that his mates considered him a braggart and full of hot-air. Most tried to avoid him as he always talked about himself and sometimes made rather unusual and unbelievable claims about various adventures he'd been upon. I think the fact that the squadron actively tried to get him off the roster says much. And while I believe he did leave of his own volition, I think it somewhat accurate to claim that he was, in reality, sent packing...the only one pressured out during N.124's tenure.

A second pilot I think most wanted to join Hall was A. Courtney Campbell. An uber-prankster, Campbell was just plain reckless and stupid in the air. He made it his personal mission, for some reason, to test his mates' limits of patience. Flying within inches of his wingmen while on patrol, zooming around them, jerking his craft violently in the air while cutting-off another's flight path, he seemed to get a sickening joy from ticking off the other drivers. In one instance, while trying to egg on the new executive officer de Maison-Rouge, he got his landing gear actually caught in the Frenchman's upper wing. This was close to their aerodrome, and just about every pilot of the Combat Group stationed there rushed out to see the ruckus, expecting both locked planes to come tumbling down any minute to both pilots' deaths. Campbell did manage to get separated, de Maison-Rouge was white with fear upon landing (who knows what color his trousers were!), and then Campbell expected everyone to praise his flying skills in extricating the two ships. Thaw and Prince had almost nothing good to say about the man. Very strange person. Under normal disciplinary conditions, I would think he would have been sent to the infantry upon the first incident, but the French told Thenault to ignore the Americans' behavior because of their political and moral significance!
Old 6 February 2004, 07:24 PM   #3
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Just imagine the damage C.C. could have accomplished in the infantry? The French were having their own problems at the front and didn't need any more.
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Old 6 February 2004, 07:54 PM   #4
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Bert Hall was a legend in his own mind. He was just the kind of loudmouth that gave all Americans a bad name, but in spite of himself he actually became quite a hero. Just goes to show that if you put somebody in harm's way,he can amaze even himself.
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Old 6 February 2004, 08:24 PM   #5
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The best examination of the comfusing and contradictory career of Weston Birch "Bert" Hall can be found in Dennis Gordon's "Lafayette Escadrille Pilot Biographies", published in 1991, and the same info appears in his "The Lafayette Flying Corps" book from Schiffer. Gordon examines in detail the contradictions between Hall's two books, "En l'Air" , published in 1918, and "One Man's War", published in 1929. Both contain their share of fabrications, but Hall actually did serve with distinction and win decorations from the French Air Service. He appears to have been a lovable con-man, a distinctly rough-hewn soldier of fortune who was out of place among the wealthy ivy league types of the Lafayette. Hall was genuinely liked by some Escadrille members, particularly Kiffin Rockwell. However, Kiffin's brother Paul, the official Escadrille historian, certainly despised Hall and did his best to discredit him. Gordon also details Hall's often shady post-war career, when he alternated between soldier-of-fortune trips into China and working for 20th Century Fox in Hollywood. There is even a photo of Bert Hall with Alice Faye, Robert Young, and Shirley Temple !!

During the 4 July 1928 dedication of the Lafayette Escadrille Monument near Paris, three different women claiming to be Mrs. Bert Hall showed up to occupy the same reserved seat ! You almost gotta love the guy for that alone...

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Old 8 February 2004, 05:33 AM   #6
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From a letter to family from 1st Lieut. Lansing Holden, 94th Aero Sqdn. (Over the Front, Fall, 1986);
"We had a good laugh at a newspaper article about Doug (Campbell?) where some woman reporter climbed all the way to the observatory to interview him- When she got there he wouldn't say a word! Just he wouldn't dare because all his friends over here would guy him-Those are the kind of chaps we admire and oh how unspeakably we hate the other kind- Bert Hall- Wright and the rest...."
Bert Hall was a unabashed self-promoter (to put it politely), had he had more than moderate success- the redeeming feature of achievement would probably made him, if not accepted, at least grudgingly tolerated (Fonck and Luke come to mind) but apparently Hall's greatest accomplishment's were in the production of hot air.
"In the final analysis, war is far more than an extension of politics. It is the most complex, demanding, and unpredictable of all human endeavors - as learned from 1914 to 1918." - from (with slight alteration) the introduction of "Pyrrhic Victory" by Robert A. Doughty (US Army Ret.).

"Frankly, I had enjoyed the war." Adrian Carton de Wiart
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Old 8 February 2004, 04:06 PM   #7
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In all my reading about and by Bert Hall, I find an interesting dichotomy. It appears that he may have cheated at cards, and lied about his experiences both prior to and after his service with the Lafayette, but I don't recall anything that indicated that he lied about his service while with the unit. There is nothing I can remember that accused him of lying about or inflating his victories. In fact, he was one of the early success stories in the squadron, getting some of its first victories. He appears to be the type of conman portrayed by W.C. Fields, but he seems to have been made of the real stuff. I think that had he been of the same social class as most of the others, his faults would not have been as unaccetable. He might not have been as high-minded as Prince, Rockwell, Chapman et al, but I probably would have had a better time hanging out with Bert on permission in Paris than with most of the others.
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Old 8 February 2004, 05:14 PM   #8
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Hello; Fourmnites;
Well it looks like you got back to one of my hero's, and such bad things you say. Cameldriver was nice though. Bert Hall was a friend of my Dads also Reg Denny's they used to meet at Denny' hobby shop on Hollywood Blvd, when my Dad was working for Denny. I met Bert Hall there a few times and he treated me very well and I liked him. he took the time to talk to a kid who loved WW1 aeroplanes, and told him stories.
Hall was a hillbilly. he was older then the other L/E flyers and he knew how to play cards a little better than the school boys. did he cheat, who knows, he was a con-man, no question about it, But he was also very interesting fellow to talk with.
He had a way with the ladies from Mata Hari to the beautiful lady (his last wife) shown in Gordon's book. which you should make a point in reading.
My Dad first met Bert when both Dad and Hall worked for Hagenback-Wallace Circus before the first WW started in 1914.
Bert went to France and joined the Foreign legion,and served in the trenchs, he joined the L/E and he did the job. Bill Thaw liked him, my Dad liked him and I liked him. he was 63 years old when he died in 1948. and I have thought of him often, he was a good guy. Muff
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Old 8 February 2004, 05:41 PM   #9
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I too lean towards the side that has admiration instead of distain for Hall. I can't believe he should be painted as an embarassment. Believe it or not, in the world outside the good ol' USA, he typifies the American soldier.

Hall was a self-made man in every sense of the term. Joining the Legion, flying with the French, not to mention his post-war activities and writing. Sure he wasn't the selfless knight that we so highly value in our WWI flyers, but the image he portrayed after WWI inspired a new breed of airman to fight the next war.

About a year ago his entire uniform was for sale on ebay. At the bottom of an inside jacket pocket was a paper with the name and address (only Mm C. and Rue Dupont was readable) of perhaps, as Greg mentioned, one of the women who later claimed to be Mrs. Bert Hall. Yes... ya gotta love em. Now go pick on Billy Bishop... someone who deserves it.


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Old 12 February 2004, 10:34 AM   #10
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Not to flog a dead thread, but it got me to looking another source up, and this isn't to judge or criticize a man who I've really never given much thought to. I really have no judgement on him one way or the other. He was certainly brave and fought for his country, and France when he didn't have to, and I'm sure many people did like him. But even crooks and con-artists can be affable to their friends.

But, anyhoo. This is from Herbert Molloy Mason's work on the Lafayette Escadrille.

Hall seems to definitely have been a braggart. He claimed to be a famous race car driver and also an experienced pilot who flew for the Turkish sultan, Adbul Hamis, during the Balkan Wars of 1912!

But he also seemed like a fun guy. Trying to bluff his way into a pilot's commission and out of the Foreign Legion, he told the French about his supposed exploits in the Balkan Wars and then took off in a Bleriot, quickly crashing it. Unhurt, his superiors angrily confronted him. He fessed up saying, "Well, I thought I could get the hang of it!" They liked his attitude and sent him to flight school.

He liked to brag to his squadron mates that he was on the lam from Boston Police for violating the Mann Act! And other stories.

I think the two most judgemental stories in the book are a quote from one of the squadron mates who said, "As we all know, Hall is an awful liar and hot-art artist who rushes in to report a victory every time he sees something burning on the ground." And then he was accused of rushing off to Paris to peddle the story of squadron favorite Kiffin Rockwell's last flight while the rest were literally in the act of burying him.

He was certainly involved to some extant with aviation in the States after the war and then ran into some trouble, apparently. He claimed to head China's air force against the Japanese and called himself General Chang Hooey Chang. His main battle was in court, though, convicted by an American judge in Shanghai of swindling the Chinese government of $10,000 in silver and spent 2 1/2 years in federal prison on McNeil Island, Washington.

Again, this all just from the one source. It sounds like he lived life to the fullest he wanted to make it.
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