Two Canadian officers with a local connection lost their lives on 23rd January 1918 whilst on active service. Second Lieutenant Ralph Gordon Hall, and Second Lieutenant Reginald Douglas Hamilton, both aged 19 and serving with the Royal Flying Corps, died in a flying accident at Castle Bromwich when their aeroplanes collided with each other.
Ralph Gordon Hall was born in Jarrow on 6th March 1898 and was the second child, and eldest son, of parents Thomas (a marine engineer) and Beatrice Helen (née Ballantyne). Beatrice was born in Canada, and it seems likely that she and Thomas married there, as their eldest child, daughter Elizabeth, was born there in 1896/7.
By the time Ralph was two years old, the family had moved to Ilford, Essex. In 1906, they moved back to Canada, where Thomas Hall had established a large engineering and dockyards works in Montreal two years earlier. Beatrice Hall died in 1912. On leaving school, Ralph joined his father’s engineering business.
On the outbreak of war, Ralph tried to enlist in the Patrol Boat Service of the Royal Navy, but fell short of the higher age limit the service required. Instead, he turned his attention to aviation and, in June 1917, was recommended by the Montreal Branch of the Aerial League to the authorities of the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto. He enlisted and began his training, being sent to England in November 1917 to continue his course.
He was killed just two months later, when his aeroplane, a Sopwith Pup, collided with a Sopwith Camel, piloted by Second Lieutenant Reginald Douglas Hamilton. Lieutenant Hamilton performed an Immelmann turn, and collided with Ralph Hall’s plane at about 4,000 feet. Both aeroplanes crashed to the ground, and both airmen were killed.
Ralph Hall’s remains were returned to Canada, and he was buried with full military honours at Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal on 16th February 1918. A memorial service was held at Erskine Presbyterian Church, and a memorial booklet was produced.
Reginald Douglas Hamilton was known as Douglas, and his first names seem frequently to have been transposed. He was apparently born in June 1898 in England, although we haven’t been able to find his birth registered.
Official records give his father’s name as George Hamilton, with an address of 314 Notre Dame Street, Montreal, Canada. Douglas enlisted with the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto in June 1917, before being discharged to commission on 31st October 1917. He was commissioned Temporary Second Lieutenant on 1st November, and was confirmed in the rank of Flying Officer on 19th November 1917.
Following the accident at Castle Bromwich, Douglas Hamilton was buried at Key Hill Cemetery, Birmingham.
If you have any more information about either of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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