An American author. Hall was on vacation in the United Kingdom in the summer of 1914, when World War I began. Posing as a Canadian, he enlisted in the British Army, serving in the Royal Fusiliers as a machine gunner during the Battle of Loos. He was discharged after his true nationality was discovered, and he returned to the United States and wrote his first book, Kitchener's Mob (1916), recounting his wartime experiences.
'High Adventure' was published in June of 1918 while Mr. Hall was a captive in a German POW camp. When he was captured behind enemy lines, the book was still a work in progress. The Armistice would not be reached until November of that year.
The US did not enter the war until April 1917, and Hall had already served nearly three years as an American with British and French forces, as a machine gunner with the British, and as a pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille.
Pilot training in the French Air Corps was primarily a matter of survival. Visualize if you will, a class of “Penguins”, aircraft with wings too short for flight scurrying about the airfield as student pilots learn to control these machines with no instructor on board, and for that matter in Mr. Halls case there was never an instructor on board. Their solo flight was their first flight. They learned by doing.
The sheer joy and wonder of man’s early experience of leaving the bounds of Earth in an aircraft coupled with the danger and excitement of air combat made “High Adventure” such a good read.
“Pvt Ryan”, “Platoon”, “A Soldier’s Home”, “Kitchener’s Mob”. These aren’t happy stories, they are about the experience of War. War at different times, and although modern warfare may be more sanitized, the adventure, the horror, the emotions don’t change. James Norman Hall has been there. He “Saw the Elephant”, and his portrayal of his WWI experience is a tribute to those ordinary people who do such extraordinary things.
Those who have served will identify with at least some part if not all of this book, be it the rigors of training, the camaraderie, or possibly those memories that try as you may, you can never make go away. Those who haven’t may gain insight and possibly more respect for those who have.
Tommy Atkins is a universal soldier, be he the cook that serves up a hot meal, the sniper that keeps score on the stock of his rifle, or the machine gunner who hates his job....