Walter Ferguson Halley

Photo of man from shoulders up, wearing suit and tie, surrounded by text; photo evidently taken from a magazine or the like.

(Rapid City, South Dakota, March 15, 1895 – Chicago, February 3, 1932).1

Halley’s grandfather, James Halley, came to the U.S. from Scotland in about 1856 and was working on the C&O Canal when he sent for his family to join him. They settled in Washington, D.C. One of his sons, James Halley II, became a telegraph operator in Wyoming and later a banker in Rapid City, South Dakota, where Walter was born, the eighth of nine children.2

Halley attended the Harvard Military Academy in Los Angeles and entered Cornell University with the class of 1917. He completed three years and then enlisted in the army in April 1917.3 He transferred to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps and attended ground school at the University of Illinois, graduating August 25, 1917.4

About one third of the men in this class, including Halley, chose or were chosen to go to Italy for flight training and were thus among the 150 cadets of the “Italian” or “second Oxford detachment” who sailed to England on the Carmania. They departed New York on September 18, 1917, and, after a stopover at Halifax to meet up with a convoy for the Atlantic crossing, docked at Liverpool on October 2, 1917. There they learned that they would not proceed to Italy, but would remain in England and attend ground school, again, this time at the Royal Flying Corps’s No. 2 School of Military Aeronautics at Oxford University.

On November 3, 1917, Halley travelled with most of the detachment to Harrowby Camp near Grantham in Lincolnshire to attend machine gun school. While fifty of the men at Grantham were sent on to flying schools on November 19, 1917, the rest, including Halley, continued their course at Harrowby Camp through the end of November.

A handwritten list headed "No. 49 Wing RFC, No. 44 Squadron Hainault Farm Essex" followed by the names of six cadets.
From Fremont Cutler Foss’s list of men assigned to squadrons on December 3, 1917.

Finally, on December 3, 1917, the remaining cadets at Grantham were posted to flying squadrons, and Halley, along with John Joseph Devery, Clayton Knight, Clark Brockway Nichol, Wilbur Carleton Suiter, and Grady Russell Touchstone, was assigned to No. 44 Squadron, a home defense squadron at Hainault Farm in Essex.5 Knight described their time at 44, where “there was absolutely no formality in the Mess, in contrast to our experiences at Oxford and Grantham.” The regular pilots of No. 44 flew Camels, but there was a B.E.2c used for training.6 At some point in January 1918 the six Americans were “posted away to a regular flying training unit at Stamford.”7 Knight remained at Stamford through May 1918, and Halley may have done the same.8 Halley had progressed far enough in his training by the latter part of March to be recommended for his commission; his was among the many recommended in ten cables from Pershing between March 30 and May 4, 1918, that were finally confirmed en masse on May 13, 1918.9 The commission became official on May 20, 1918.10

A clipping from a book with two columns. In the first column is the name "Halley, Walter F Capt" and in the second there are details of his military service from 1917 to 1927.
From The Official National Guard Register for 1927.

I have not been able to find a record of Halley’s further training or of the planes he trained on.  By the end of July, he was one of a number of second Oxford detachment men stationed at Issoudun in France, where the American 3rd Aviation Instruction Center was located.  He was evidently not assigned to an R.A.F. squadron, but was at some point posted to the American 7th Aviation Instruction Center at Clermont-Ferrand in France, where he served “as flying instructor in gunnery-combat, acrobatics, etc.”11 The 7th A.I.C. served as a bombardment training school, and Halley presumably flew DH-4s. On November 4, 1918, he was assigned to the U.S. 11th Aero, stationed at Maulan and flying DH-4s as part of the 1st Day Bombardment Group.12 He is not among those who flew missions on November 4 and 5, 1918, and the 11th flew no further missions before the armistice.13

A newspaper clipping from March 1, 1919, titled "Exodus to S.O.S. Begun."
From the 166th Aero Squadron’s newspaper, Cent Soixante Six.

At some point after the armistice he was reassigned to the 166th Aero, which became part of the Army of Occupation and was stationed at Trier and Coblenz.14 At the end of February 1919 he was among those in the 166th who received orders to proceed to Colombey-les-Belles in anticipation of returning to the U.S.15 He was a shipmate of fellow second Oxford detachment member Allen Tracy Bird on the S. S. Suriname, which sailed from Brest on April 4, 1919, and docked at Hoboken on April 29, 1919.16

Having returned to South Dakota, Halley initially worked at his father’s bank.17 In the late twenties he went into business with his brother Samuel Russell Halley (who had served with a French squadron in 1918) to create airline service in South Dakota and neighboring states. They also for a time ran the Black Hills College of Aviation in conjunction with their Rapid Air Lines Corporation.18



mrsmcq October 5, 2017


(For complete bibliographic entries, please consult the list of works and web pages cited.)

1  Halley’s birth and death dates are taken from his obituary in the Cornell Alumni News (see “Obituaries”). His place of birth and place of death are taken from “Walter Halley Dies in Chicago.”  The photo is take from “Walter F. Halley: His Company Helped Build His State.”

2  Information on Halley’s family is taken from Wells, “Scotland to the Black HIlls of Dakota” and other documents available at

3  “Walter F. Halley: His Company Helped Build His State.”

4  “Ground School Graduations [for August 25, 1917].”

5  Foss, “Cadets of Italian Detachment Posted Dec 3rd” (in Foss, Papers).

6  Kilduff, “Clayton Knight,” pp. 198-99. Kilduff had access to Knight’s diary and some correspondence; it is unclear which is the source for quoted passages in his article.

7  Knight, quoted in Kilduff, “Clayton Knight,” p. 203.

8  Kilduff, “Clayton Knight,” p. 206.

9  Cablegram 823-S recommends Halley; 1303-R confirms the appointment.

10  See the entry for Halley on p. 923 of Militia Office, Official National Guard Register for 1927.

11  See the list of officers at Issoudun on p. 4 of Dwyer, “Memorandum No. 8 for Flying Officers”; on Halley’s assignment to the 7th A.I.C., see “Walter F. Halley: His Company Helped Build His State.”

12  Sloan, Wings of Honor, p. 248.

13  First Day Bombardment Group, pp. 148, 150, 151.

14  “Walter Halley Dies in Chicago”; Wikipedia, “166th Aero Squadron.”

15  “Exodus to S.O.S. Begun.”

16  War Department, Office of the Quartermaster General, Army Transport Service. Lists of Incoming Passengers, 1917 – 1938, Passenger list for the S.S. Suriname.

17  See, 1920 United States Federal Census, record for Walter F Halley.

18  See “Walter F. Halley: His Company Helped Build His State” and “Black Hills College of Aviation Brochure.”