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Never-before-published photos of First World War pilots

Photos of flying ace Joe Fall offer a rare glimpse at life during the Great War

  • Aug 10, 2016
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First World War flying ace Joe Fall stands beside his biplane, Expand Image

When we asked Mike Fall for a scanned photo of his father, First World War flying ace Joe Fall, standing next to his Sopwith Pup “Happy” for our October issue, we had no idea he would come back with a treasure trove of never-before-published photos of his father.

We couldn’t publish Mike’s extra photos in the magazine, but thought we would share a handful of them here as they provide a rare glimpse into the life of a First World War pilot.

Joe Fall is one of five First World War aces featured in the October issue of Canadian Geographic as part of a Wings of Courage photo essay (the issue hits newsstands September 7). The photo essay is part of A Nation Soars, a project commemorating Canada’s Great War flyers, and juxtaposes photos of today’s Air Cadets with yesterday’s aces to show the surprising youth of the men who fought in France during the First World War. 

Joe earned the unofficial title of “ace” in only 21 days after downing five enemy aircraft. He was a decorated First World War pilot honoured with, among many other medals, the Distinguished Service Cross with two bars for gallantry in the air, Mike says.

After the First World War, Joe was given a permanent commission by the Royal Air Force and played an active role in aviation’s rapid post-FWW evolution. He did everything from flying to and from early aircraft carriers — once almost drowning in the process — to testing nascent helicopters called “autogyros.” He helped develop prototypes of the artificial horizon instrument found in virtually all aircraft today, and, finally, he was a base commander for the RAF in North Africa during the Second World War.

After the Second World War, Joe returned home to his farm near Cobble Hill, B.C., but not to retire.

“He never slowed down,” Mike says. “Most people after 30 years in the Air Force would retire and that’s it, but he put in another 30 years on a dairy farm working his butt off. I could hear him every morning at four getting up to milk those cows.”

Joe died in 1988. He was 93 years old.

“Looking at the photos makes me think long and hard about what he went through,” Mikes says. “And you know, that thinking is something I should’ve done many years ago while he was still alive, and talked to him about it more than I did.”

To learn more about Joe’s amazing life, read Mike’s short biography of his father.

Editor’s note: Certain details about the circumstances of the photographs and other individuals pictured are not known; working with Mike, we have tried to provide as much context as possible. 

Joe Fall and members of his family at their farm in Hillbank, B.C. Expand Image
Joe Fall, front left, with members of his family at the Fall farm near Cobble Hill, B.C., date unknown. As a child, Fall sustained a head injury that likely would have prevented him from entering military service, but he covered the scars by wearing his hair long. He would later say that medical examiners with the Royal Naval Air Service asked only if he had any “bodily injuries” — “they didn’t ask me anything about head injuries.”
A young Joe frolicks for the camera Expand Image
A young Fall frolicks for the camera at home in the winter of 1917-18. 
Joe Fall, far right, with members of his squadron, date unknown Expand Image
Fall, far right, with members of his squadron, date unknown
Fall with his squadron, date unknown Expand Image
Fall with his squadron circa 1916-17. In the autumn of 1916, Fall was stationed in France with a French unit that conducted a bombing raid on the Mauser rifle factory at Oberndorf. In February 1917 he was transferred to No.3 (Naval) Squadron at Marieux, France, where he was promoted to Flight Sub-Lieutenant and participated in various air operations during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 
Fall walks to Buckingham Palace to receive the first of his Distinguished Service Crosses in 1917 Expand Image
Fall walks to Buckingham Palace to receive the first of his Distinguished Service Crosses in 1917. By December 1917, Fall had brought down 36 enemy aircraft and two observation balloons. He would be awarded the DSC twice more in his life. 

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