(Nashville, Tennessee, February 19, 1890 – Nashville, August 12, 1959)1
Parrish’s paternal ancestors had settled in Maryland and Virginia in the eighteenth century; his grandfather, physician John Henry Parrish, moved to Alabama around 1845. The family of Parrish’s mother, Hattie Baker, came from England and settled in Philadelphia in the early eighteenth century; her father, engineer and businessman George Oscar Baker, relocated to Alabama in 1855. Both of Parrish’s parents were born in Alabama, and they were married in Selma, but James Parrish moved as a young man to Nashville, where he set up in business, and he returned there with his bride.2
Albert Elliott Parrish was an only child. He attended Wallace University School, a college preparatory school in Nashville, where he was on the football team. He enrolled at Vanderbilt University in 1908 in the class of 1912.3 Whether he completed his college studies is uncertain; the 1910 census lists him not as a student, but, like his father, as a commercial broker for dry goods.4 Parrish excelled at tennis and golf; his name appears frequently in the sports pages of Tennessee newspapers in the 1910s.
When he registered for the draft, Parrish was again or still working as a broker in his father’s dry goods company in Nashville. In early July 1917 he left Nashville for Chicago to take the tests required of applicants to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.5 He attended ground school at the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois in Champaign. His name does not appear on the rosters of graduates, but it is likely that he, along with John Warren Leach, was in the same class as Harry Adam Schlotzhauer and graduated September 1, 1917.6
Many of the men from the Illinois ground school classes of August 25 and September 1, 1917, including Parrish, chose or were chosen to continue training in Italy, and were thus among the 150 men of the “Italian” or “Second Oxford Detachment” who sailed to England on the Carmania. The ship left New York on September 18, 1917, and, after a stopover in Halifax, set out as part of a convoy for the Atlantic crossing on September 21, 1917. When the Carmania docked at Liverpool on October 2, 1917, the detachment learned to their initial consternation that they were not to go to Italy, but to remain in England and repeat ground school at the Royal Flying Corps’s No. 2 School of Military Aeronautics at Oxford University.
On November 3, 1917, after a month of classes at Oxford, most of the detachment, including Parrish, were sent to Grantham in Lincolnshire to attend gunnery school at Harrowby Camp—the men were in a holding pattern until the R.F.C. could find places for them at squadrons. Fifty men were able to leave Grantham on November 19, 1917, to start flying training, but Parrish was among those who remained at Harrowby Camp until early December and completed both two-week machine gun courses, the first on the Vickers, the second on the Lewis machine gun.
On December 3, 1917, the men still at Grantham were finally posted to squadrons. According to a list drawn up by detachment member Fremont Cutler Foss, Parrish, along with his fellow U. of I. ground school classmates, Leach and Schlotzhauer, was posted to “No. 37 Woodham Mortimer Grange nr. Maldon Essex.”7
No. 37 Squadron R.A.F., commanded at the time by Frederick William Honnet, was a home defense squadron charged with protecting London during German air attacks from the east. Its headquarters was at The Grange, just west of the small village of Woodham Mortimer, and its three flights were based at airfields that had been constructed at nearby Stow Maries, Goldhanger, and Rochford. The squadron had on hand B.E.12s, single-seat aircraft designed for reconnaissance and bombing, as well as B.E.2d’s and B.E.2e’s, two-seat biplanes that had been used operationally through early 1917 for the same purposes, but which now served mainly as training aircraft.8 It may have been while he was stationed in Essex that Parrish acquired “a small piece of the wing of the second German airplane brought down on English soil.”9 During a raid by German bombers in the early hours of December 6, 1918, two Gothas were shot down, one in Kent and one near Rochford (second Oxford detachment member Uel Thomas McCurry, training at Rochford at this time, mentions enclosing fabric from this plane in a letter home.10)
Assuming Parrish’s training at No. 37 Squadron was like Leach’s, he would have flown a number of hours in B.E.2e’s piloted by men from No. 37 and then been ready to fly the same type of plane solo. I find no official record of Parrish’s further training, but clues are provided by two newspaper articles from mid-April 1918, both apparently based on information contained in a letter Parrish wrote to his parents. One states that “Two others who were with [Parrish] during the first stages of his training at Champlain [sic], Ill., are still with him and they have been together throughout their English training.”11 This would suggest that Parrish, like Leach, was transferred at the end of January 1918 from No. 37 Squadron to No. 5 Training Depot Station near Stamford, where he could have continued training on B.E.2e’s before moving on to B.E.12s and then R.E.8s.
The second newspaper article suggests that at some point Leach’s and Parrish’s paths diverged, as it refers to the latter’s having been commissioned “after receiving training in the English royal flying corps at Huntingdon, England.”12 This suggests that Parrish may have gone from Stamford to Wyton near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. In any case, Parrish progressed reasonably rapidly. By early March 1918 he had completed the requirements for graduation from the first stage of R.F.C. training—flying solo cross country, flying at high altitude, and piloting a service, as opposed to a training, plane. R.F.C. graduation meant he qualified for his commission as a first lieutenant; the recommendation was forwarded to Washington on March 16, 1918.13 The confirming cable was dated April 6, 1918, and Parrish was placed on active service on April 23, 1918.14
R.F.C. graduation typically meant that the pilot received some leave, and it may be that Parrish spent some of that leave in London. In any case, at some point in London in the early spring he evidently encountered his cousin by marriage, Clarence Couch Elebash. Elebash, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute who had gone on to receive a medical degree from Tulane University, had sailed for Europe shortly after Parrish and was apparently involved in treating men during the German March Offensive.15 He was afterwards admitted to the Prince of Wales Hospital in London. Rumors reached Alabama that he had been wounded; Parrish was able to reassure relatives that “Dr. Elebash is recuperating from a breakdown, brought on by two weeks’ unceasing strain and work during a recent offensive, and that he is able to do the sights of London and is improving satisfactorily.”16
I find no record of Parrish’s postings and service during May and June, but for at least part of the time he was presumably doing advanced training on DH.4s. Then, in early July 1918, his name appears in a long list of men ordered to “proceed from London, England, to Issoudun, France, reporting upon arrival thereat to the Commanding Officer for duty in connection with aviation.”17 Issoudun, in the Loire region of central France, was the location of the American 3rd Aviation Instruction Center; a number of the men sent there at the same time as Parrish were soon ordered on to the 2nd Aviation Instruction Center at Tours, but Parrish was not among them, and I have not found information about his activities until he was assigned to the U.S. 8th Aero Squadron in September 1918.
Parrish reported to the 8th Aero on September 13, 1918.18 Seven men from the second Oxford detachment had already been with the 8th Aero for nearly a month: Newton Philo Bevin, Edward Addison Griffiths, Anker Christian Jensen, Uel Thomas McCurry, Edward Russell Moore, John Howard Raftery, and Hilary Baker Rex.
The 8th Aero was an observation squadron flying American built DH-4s.19 On the last day of August, in preparation for the St. Mihiel Offensive, the squadron had been assigned to the IV Corps Air Service of the American First (and at that time only) Army; they were stationed at Ourches-sur-Meuse, about eight miles due west of Toul.20
The combined effort of French and American forces to reduce the St. Mihiel salient had begun early in the morning of September 12, 1918. The 8th Aero was assigned to assist the IV Corps’s 1st Division, which was at the westernmost part of the American line on the south front of the salient. The squadron C.O., John Gilbert Winant, reported that on the 12th and 13th planes of the 8th Aero “were in the air for thirty-six hours and thirty minutes . . . and twenty-four separate missions were accomplished”21—and it was on one of the missions on the 13th, the day Parrish arrived at the squadron, that second Oxford detachment member Rex was killed. Whether Parrish was called upon to take part in these missions is not known: the operations reports that might provide details of individual flights appear, unfortunately, not to have been preserved.
The IV Corps Air Service did not participate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, but remained initially at Ourches.22 On September 29, 1918, IV Corps squadrons, including the 8th Aero, moved a few miles east to Gengault aerodrome near Toul. From there the 8th Aero flew extensive photographic missions as well as voluntary bombing missions.23 “One of the duties assigned at this time was to photograph the entire Corps front to a depth of ten kilometers, an area of about six hundred square kilometers.”24
Parrish with his observer, Edward Henry Hobbs, Jr., from Alabama, helped to make a significant contribution to this effort on October 9, 1918. Their squadron mate, Raftery, flew one of the protection planes during this mission, and he wrote a lively account of the day.25
A photo mission was scheduled to take a strip of German territory important in the eyes of our army, but early morning clouds and drizzle seemed to prophecy a dead day. . . . Around lunch-time, encouraged by a bit of blue sky here and there Lieut. Moore the flight leader decided to chance it. . . and three machines taxied onto the field in position, Moore pilot and [Gardner Philip] Allen observer in the leading machine containing the camera, Parrish and Hobbs in the left-hand protection machine, and Raftery and [John Harold] Mulherin in the right-hand protection machine. After five minutes wait the fourth bus still persisted in spouting water from its leaky radiator so Moore, determined on braving the Huns with only three planes, waved his hand. Three throttles opened together, and three D H 4’s bounded across the field and up into the air. . . . when at Pont-a-Mousson Moore sighted eight Fokkers coming in from Metz, he cocked his guns once more to make sure and continued North up the [Moselle] river. Our formation at the required 10,000 feet manoeuvered to directly over Arnauville [sic; sc. Arnaville], the starting-point, and the Huns manoeuvred toward our formation. As our formation turned N.E. they came over on top, turning behind to follow at about 500 yds. . . . the Hun leader dived. He came in pretty close behind the formation, pulled up and let loose with both guns. On Moore’s machine a landing wire snapped on one side of him, a flying wire waved in the breeze on the other side and his elevators received a shower of bullets. Disregarding these white streaks of tracers shooting by on all sides, Moore kept directly on his course and Allen in the observers cockpit without making a move toward his guns to defend himself continued snapping his pictures and changing plates. . . .
The protection planes did their job, and the Fokkers eventually departed. The next hazard was anti-aircraft fire, which “cut still another rip in the leader’s wings. . . . At Lake Lachausee the last picture was snapped and the leader Moore, banking to the left, started the formation for home. In his cockpit Allen carried the hard-earned pictures which turned out to be clear overlapping photos of the exact territory required.”26
Parrish’s flying protection for Moore suggests he, along with Raftery may at that time have been in Moore’s A flight of six teams of pilot and observer. A roster from October 20, 1918, shows Moore and Raftery still in A flight; Parrish and observer Hobbs, flying DH-4 # 19, are listed in C flight.27
On October 23, 1918, the 8th Aero moved once again, this time about ten miles northeast to Saizerais where, again, they undertook voluntary bombing missions.28 The 8th was now part of the Air Service of the recently formed Second Army, whose proposed task—cut short by the armistice—“was to begin a general offensive leading to the capture of Metz and the gateway into Germany proper.”29 On October 25, 1918, the 354th Aero Squadron, an observation squadron preparing to become operational, also moved to Saizerais to work with the Second Army, and Parrish, along with Hobbs and Newton Philo Beven of the second Oxford detachment and Albert Cyril Rothwell of the first, was among the experienced officers from the 8th Aero immediately assigned to it.30 The 354th, like the 8th, appears not to have preserved records of individual missions, but their squadron history provides a general description of their activities:
On October 28 with fourteen planes on hand eleven pilots and fourteen observers on the rolls, the first operations were begun, consisting of reconnaissance in front of 92nd [Infantry] Division, which at this time extended from Villier-sous-Preny, about three kilometers west of the Moselle River, to Eply about ten kilometers east of the Moselle River; artillery reglage with the 349th, 136th, 350th, and 351st Field Artillery alternately. Also there were infantry liaison maneuvers with the 92nd Division, 183rd Brigade. . . . The number of teams scheduled to go across the lines varied from day to day according to the movements of the enemy. An average of ten teams were scheduled daily. In addition to these, an Alert and an Alternate Alert team were on duty at Group Headquarters from 6:30 to 16:30. By November 11 when the Armistice was signed, it might be said that the 354th had just struck its full stride.31
Parrish was among the men fortunate enough to be able to return to the U.S. early in 1919. He, along with Bevin, left Bordeaux on January 6, 1919, on the Wilhelmina, and arrived at Hoboken on January 19, 1919.32 Not long afterwards, he presented Hobbs—who had been able to return home even sooner than Parrish—with a cane made from the propeller from a plane they had flown together.33 Back in Nashville Parrish once again took up golf, his name again appearing frequently in the Nashville sports pages. He initially worked as a cotton broker, perhaps continuing his father’s business; later he went into real estate.34
mrsmcq September 10, 2021
(For complete bibliographic entries, please consult the list of works and web pages cited.)
1 Parrish’s place and date of birth are taken from Ancestry.com, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918, record for Albert Elliott Parrish. His place and date of death are taken from “Bert Parrish, National Life Ex-Aide, Dies.” This obituary is also the source of the photo, the only one of Parrish I have been able to locate thus far.
2 For information on Parrish’s family, I have consulted documents available at Ancestry.com as well as Boyd, The Parrish Family.
3 Commodore 1909, p. 53.
4 Ancestry.com, 1910 United States Federal Census, record for Albert E Parrish.
5 See “Parrish Wins.”
6 “Nashville Boy in Royal Flying Corps.”
7 See Foss’s list of “Cadets of Italian Detachment Posted Dec 3rd” in Foss, Papers.
8 On the commander of 37 Squadron, see Leach’s R.F.C. Training Transfer Card. On the squadron’s locations and planes, see Philpott, The Birth of the Royal Air Force, pp. 402–03.
9 “Nashville Boy in Royal Flying Corps.” The plane was perhaps the second of two brought down one day, but others had been brought down on previous occasions.
10 “Air Training in England Exciting.”
11 “Nashville Boy in Royal Flying Corps.”
12 “Nashville Tennis Star in Aviation.”
13 Cablegram 739-S.
14 Cablegram 1049-R and McAndrew, “Special Orders No. 205.”
15 “Dr. Elebash Dies in Asheville, N.C.” War Department, Office of the Quartermaster General, Army Transport Service, Lists of Outgoing Passengers, 1917 – 1938, Passenger list for Casuals, on Aurania.
16 “Dr. Elebash Recuperating in English Hospital.”
17 [Biddle?], Special Orders No. 109.
18 “8th Aero Squadron,” p. 142.
19 It is conventional to designate the English plane a “DH.4” and the American a “DH-4.”
20 “8th Aero Squadron,” pp. 110-11.
21 “8th Aero Squadron,” p. 116; this is part of the “Report on Operations against the St. Mihiel Salient” submitted by Winant, which is also reproduced on pp. 689-91 of Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, vol. 3.
22 Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, vol. 1, p. 245.
23 “8th Aero Squadron,” pp. 111 and 112.
24 Ibid., p. 111.
25 Ibid., pp. 119–20.
26 Ibid., p. 120.
27 “8th Aero Squadron,” p. 135.
28 “8th Aero Squadron,” p. 112.
29 Sloan, Wings of Honor, p. 360.
30 “8th Aero Squadron,” p. 144.
31 “354th Aero Squadron (Observation),” p. 146.
32 Ancestry.com, U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939, record for Albert Parrish.
33 “Lieut. Hobbs Has Very Famous Cane” and “Lieutenant Hobbs Arrives Tonight.”
34 Ancestry.com, 1930 United States Federal Census, record for Bert Parrish; 1940 United States Federal Census, record for Bert Parrish.