Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: James Norman Hall. Infantryman, Aviator, Prisoner of War, and Author

James Norman Hall (1887–1951) was born in Colfax, Iowa, and educated in his home state. At the outbreak of World War I, Hall joined the British Army, serving in the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, taking part in the Battle of Loos. Hall published his war memoirs in 1916 under the titles Kitchener's Mob and High Adventure. Hall reenlisted in 1916 as a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, underwent air training, and was assigned to Squadron 124 on 16 June 1917. Ten days later he was seriously injured in a crash.

When America joined the war, Hall transferred to the American Air Service serving with the 94th, then the 103rd Aero Squadron. In May 1918 Hall was shot down behind German lines and then spent the last six months of the war in a prison camp. Late in the war he met Charles Nordhoff, another American pilot who had served in the war with French units. The two men won a commission to write a history of the Lafayette Flying Corps inclusive of the Lafayette Escadrille.

James Norman Hall During the War*
When Hall and Nordhoff subsequently received an advance from Harpers to write travel articles, they moved to Tahiti. In 1921 appeared their travel book Faery Lands of the South Seas. Hall continued writing travel books and with Nordhoff published novels. In 1925 Hall married Sarah Winchester; his friend had married a Polynesian woman a few years before.

In 1929 appeared Nordhoff's and Hall's jointly written book about flying, Falcons of France. After Hall's suggestion the team started to write Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), the story about charismatic Fletcher Christian and Captain William Bligh. Two additional volumes of the series were published in 1934, and the following year saw their work filmed in one of Hollywood's greatest epics, starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton. Hall died in Tahiti. His posthumously published memoir, My Island Home, appeared in 1952.
* This photo replaces our originally incorrect image, which showed Lafayette Escadrille founding member Bert Hall. (We got our Halls confused.)  Thanks to reader Karen Tallentire for catching this.


  1. Here's a fun fact: a great-grandson of Norman Hall is LTC Nicholas G. Rutgers III, an F-15 pilot with the 123rd Fighter Squadron, Oregon AFNG. Yes, he's also descended from Henry Rutgers, the namesake of the university.

  2. Mutiny on the Bounty
    If I recall correctly, Hall’s and Norhoff’s treatment was not kind, which may too light a term, in their depiction of Bligh as a disgusting ogre. I have had lengthy and heated discussions with a sea buff friend who has read extensively on the Bounty subject. His spin is that Bligh was atypical of the ship commanders of the Royal Navy at the time. Rum, buggery, and the lash was the description of actual reality in the Royal Navy. So, it goes that it took a pretty rough sort of character, employing harsh means to maintain the discipline to carry out an arduous mission. Further he points out that the crew turned on Bligh, they were happy in Tahiti, taking wives, enjoying the good life…they didn’t want to return to Blighty . Both sides come together in their praise of Bligh’s seamanship; getting to safety, a 3,500 mile trek in the open ocean in an open overloaded boat. I thought Charles Laughton was great as Bligh, and Clark Gable was likewise an excellent Mr. Christain. Trevor Howard played a very memorable slimy Bligh, and Brando as the artist he is gave Cristain’s character life. Bligh wasn’t pilloried in the Hopkins Gibson work which goes along with my friend’s current opinion.