Captain Joseph Joel Hammond

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Indiana.

Joe Hammond and ‘Britannia’, a Bleriot XI-2 in New Zealand, January 1914

Joe Hammond was a pioneering aviator. Amongst his ‘firsts’ were: first New Zealander to gain a Royal Aero Club certificate (no. 32), pilot of the first aircraft to fly in Western Australia, and the first cross-country flight in Australia. At the time of his death he had reputedly accumulated (although unverified) about 6,000 flying hours.

Joseph Joel ‘Joe’ Hammond was born on 19 July 1886 at Feilding in the Manawatu district on North Island, New Zealand.[1] He attended Campbell Street School in Palmerston North and St Patrick’s College, Wellington. Prior to the start of his flying career, Hammond travelled and worked intermittently in Australia, Alaska, the United States, and Europe. While in Seaford in East Sussex, Hammond met Ethelwyn Wilkinson, the daughter of a well-to-do local builder, and they were married on 19 November 1909.[2] Shortly afterwards in France Hammond began to learn to fly and qualified for Aero Club de France Certificate No. 258[3] in a Sánchez Besa biplane on 4 October 1910. He qualified for Royal Aero Club Certificate No. 32 on 22 November 1910, flying a Bristol Boxkite on Salisbury Plain.

Having been hired by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company (later Bristol Aeroplane Company), he, his wife, two other pilots, a team of mechanics and a Bristol Boxkite travelled to Australia for a series of demonstrations, which included the first flight in western Australia at Belmont Park Racecourse in Perth on 3 January 1911. The following month, Hammond piloted the first cross country flight in Australia from Altona, a southern suburb of Melbourne, 42 miles to Geelong Racecourse. After the formal demonstrations had been completed, Hamond and his wife remained in Australia until May 1912, when they returned to England. In August 1912, he began work as an instructor at the Eastbourne Aviation Company flying school and on 26 February 1913 he was commissioned as a probationary Second Lieutenant into the Royal Flying Corps Military Wing Special Reserve of Officers, less than a year after the Corps’ formation.

In 1913, Hammond was hired to conduct demonstration flights of a Blériot XI-2 that had been presented to the New Zealand Government by the Imperial Defence Committee. On 17 January 1914, he made the first flight in ‘Britannia’ in Auckland.

Captain Joseph Joel Hammond, Royal Air Force

On the outbreak of war Hammond was mobilised for service. Initially undertaking training at Lydd in Kent, Hammond qualified as a military pilot on 29 January 1915 (later backdated to 26 November 1914) and was posted on 16 February to No. 1 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron at Farnborough. He was confirmed in his rank the following month and promoted to Lieutenant on 24 April. In May he was posted as an instructor to No. 4 Reserve Aeroplane Squadron, which was also at Farnborough. Contrary to some accounts, Hammond did not serve operationally with the British Expeditionary Force.

Troubled by a pain in his leg, Hammond was examined by a medical board in September 1915 that confirmed a diagnosis of a thrombosis and he was taken off flying duties for a month. When cleared to fly he was posted to the Aeronautical Inspection Department, initially as a test pilot, and from February 1916 as a flight commander. He was promoted to Captain in June 1916. This period was not without incident and he was fortunate to survive at least two crashes. In January 1917, Hammond was posted to the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company as a test pilot.

In November that year, the British Aviation Mission was established in the United States, led by Brigadier General C F Lee, to assist (with similar French and Italian missions) in the growth of the Aviation Section of the United States Army Signal Corps. In the spring of 1918 a second tranche of British pilots was posted to the mission, which included Captain J. J. Hammond. He sailed for the United States on 27 March 1918 onboard the SS City of New York.

The details of Hammond’s duties in the first months of his tour of duty in the United States when he was based at Dayton, Ohio are not known in any detail but they included participation in the first ‘Flying Circus’ of mixed British and United States pilots, flying state to state across the mid-west. This included support for the drive to sell bonds for the fourth Liberty War Loan.

In late-1917, the Aviation Section, Signal Corps had established a group of pilots to support the third Liberty Loan campaign. Having flown to a town, the pilots would perform stunts to attract a crowd and then land to sell Bonds to the assembled spectators in exchange for a flight. The tactic proved hugely successful and in 1918 British pilots from the Aviation Mission supported the fourth Liberty Loan campaign. From mid-summer, the British team was based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Established in 1909 by the automobile entrepreneur Carl G. Wilson, the site was used as a military aviation repair and refuelling field and was a natural choice for a central base to support the stunt flying over the mid-west states. Wilson was an enthusiastic supporter of aviation and the Bond drive and had come to know Hammond through the activities of the ‘flying circus’ in the region, including the first cross-country night flight by Brigadier General Lee and Captain James Fitz Morris MC which had taken place between Dayton and Indianapolis on 12 August. (Lee, Hammond and Fitz-Morris left for Cincinnati the next day and on 14 August, as he took of from the Western Hills Country Club at Cincinnati, Fitz Morris crashed and was killed.[4])

Lieutenant Roy W. Pickett Aviation Section, United States Army Signal Corps

On 22 September 1918, an air display was scheduled for the town of Greenfield, some 25 miles east of the speedway track. After lunch on the day of the display, Hammond took off in a blue-painted Bristol F2B fighter with as his passenger Ora Myers, the mayor of Greenfield, and an air mechanic. Myers distributed Liberty Loan leaflets on the flight east and, having deposited his passengers at a landing field north of Greenfield, Hammond proceeded to give his display over Duncan Field west of the town. For some unknown reason, the display itself was late and reportedly ‘disappointing’. On the return trip Hammond carried as passengers Lieutenant Roy W. Pickett, a newly qualified pilot of the Aviation Section, Signal Corps who was home in Greenfield on leave, and Mr Charles L. Kinder, a car dealer from Greenfield.[5] The air mechanic was left to drive Kinder’s car to Indianapolis. As the aircraft approached the field at the speedway track, it fell from about 500 feet, and its left wing hit a tree as it crashed in a cornfield of the Marion County Poor Farm on the boundary with the speedway track. Hammond was killed outright. Those that rushed to the crash site found Kinder dead in the cockpit and Pickett badly injured and semi-conscious.

Hammond’s funeral was held in Roberts Park Methodist Episcopal Church in Indianapolis on 26 September; it was an impressive affair, officiated over by Bishop Joseph M. Francis, formerly the chaplain of No. 32 Base Hospital in France. With his casket on a gun carriage, draped in the Union Flag and the Stars and Stripes, the procession of the cortege was watched by thousands. Military honours were provided by the large military contingent based at the speedway track. Hammonds casket was interred at Crown Hill Cemetery in the family mausoleum of Carl G. Fisher, in the expectation that it would be claimed by Hammond’s family after the war, which did not happen. The mausoleum is in Section 13, Lot 42, which is in the centre-west of the cemetery near that of President Benjamin Harrison.

The Fisher Mausoleum, Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis

Captain J. J. Hammond, Royal Air Force is commemorated on page 588 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 20 December. He is also commemorated on an addenda panel on Palmerston North war memorial in New Zealand, which was dedicated on 13 August 2005.

John McDonald at Lost Indiana for the photograph of the Fisher mausoleum.

1. (Back) Son of Joseph Penny Hammond (10 February 1858-28 March 1986) and Mary Campion (8 March 1863-23 June 1942). He had one brother: Cornelius Cumming Hammond (11 July 1885-18 February 1933).
2. (Back) Ethelwyn Wilkinson (1887-12 August 1951) never remarried and died at the Park View Nursing Home at East Hoathly, Sussex, aged 64. She was buried with her mother, father and brother in Seaford Cemetery.
3. (Back) ‘Liste Alphabétique des Pilotes-Aviateurs—titulaires de Brevet de l’Aero Club de France.’ (15 January 1911). l’Aérophile. p 39. Hammond’s service record shows the certificate as No. 257.
4. (Back) After an impressive funeral, and in an arrangement similar to that later extended to Hammond, Fitz Morris’s body was kept in the mausoleum of the Groesbeck family in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, until it was returned to the United Kingdom in 1919. Captain James Fitz Morris MC* was reinterred in Polmont Old Parish Churchyard, Falkirk, Scotland on 25 October 1919.
5. (Back) Charles Lawrence Kinder (1890-22 September 1918) is buried in Park Cemetery, Greenfield, as is Roy William Pickett (18 December 1892-8 February 1976).

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