Norman Kenneth Berry

(Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, September 8, 1892 – before 1963).1

Berry’s father came as a child to the U.S. from England and worked initially as a foreman in a woolen mill and then as a government inspector in Philadelphia.2

Portion of printed form with handwritten entries about Berry's occupation in civil life.
From Berry’s R.A.F. service record.

Berry’s R.A.F. service record indicates that he was a mechanical engineer, had been a student at Columbia from 1909 to 1913, and that, starting in 1913, he had been an actor employed by “Chas Dillinghame [sic]” in New York City; this was presumably the Broadway producer, Charles Bancroft Dillingham.3

On August 25, 1917, Berry graduated from ground school at Cornell.4  Along with three quarters of his Cornell classmates, Berry was selected for training in Italy and was thus among the 150 cadets of the “Italian” or “Second Oxford Detachment” who sailed to England on the Carmania.  They departed New York for Halifax on September 18, 1917, and departed Halifax as part of a convoy for the Atlantic crossing on September 21, 1917.  Berry’s acting skills were apparently called on on at least one occasion.  On September 29, 1917, there was a benefit concert for the “Liverpool orphans home for the children of seamen,” and Berry offered a recitation, while other second Oxford detachment members and violinist Albert Spalding, who was also on board, played or sang.5

The Carmania docked at Liverpool on October 2, 1917; there the detachment learned that they were not to go to Italy after all, but to train with the R.F.C. in England.  They attended ground school (again) at Oxford. On November 3, 1917, Berry went with most of the detachment to machine gun school at Harrowby Camp, near Grantham in Lincolnshire.

Handwritten list headed Doncaster followed by two sets of five names.
Foss’s list of men going to Doncaster.

About two weeks later it was determined that fifty of the cadets could go to training squadrons, and on November 19, 1917, Berry (along with William Joseph Armstrong, Murton Llewellyn Campbell, Leonard Joseph Desson, Charles William Harold Douglass, Weston Whitney Goodnow, Bradley Cleaver Lawton, Clair Rutherford Oberst, Earl William Sweeney, and George Herbert Zellers) set off for Doncaster in south Yorkshire where Nos. 41 and 49 Reserve [Training] Squadrons were located. Berry, Armstrong, Douglass, Goodnow, and Zellers  went to No. 41.6

Berry’s R.A.F. service record notes, without providing a date, that he was at the “4 Aux S of A G” (presumably No. 4 Auxiliary School of Aerial Gunnery at Marske7), and gives the following summary:

Portion of printed form with handwritten entries about Berry's special qualifications.
From Berry’s R.A.F. service record.

“Mechanical Engineer Since joining RFC, Flown MFs, DH6s, BEs, RE8 DH4 & 9 A W. Martinsydes, Special Fighting and Acrobatic Course Photographs to a considerable extent.”  Berry apparently received his commission as a first lieutenant at the end of March 1918.8  After Marske, he went to the School of Aerial Fighting at Ayr where, on April 23, 1918, he, according to his R.A.F. service record, was involved in an “Aero accident. Seriously injured.” Bogart Rogers, an American who had initially trained with the R.F.C. in Canada, was at Ayr and, without naming names, wrote an account of this accident:

Two fellows started up in a Bristol Fighter, one as pilot and the other in the observer’s seat.  In taking off the pilot did a steep climbing turn down wind, which is generally a foolish thing to do.  The result was that the machine lost all flying speed, side slipped and crashed right in the middle of the aerodrome.  A good crash usually makes an awful noise and this was no exception.  The bus lay there for a second or so, and every one from the hangars rushed out toward it.  Then—poof—and the whole thing was in flames.  The observer had a broken arm and was sort of half hanging from his cockpit.  When the fire started he crawled out in a hurry his clothes burning nicely.  He rolled over on the ground, put the fire on his clothes out, and then went right back into the flames and dragged the pilot, who was unconscious, out and rolled him over.  It all happened so quickly that it’s hard to explain, but the observer surely showed wonderful presence of mind and considerable amount of nerve.  Both of them were rather badly burned, but fortunate in getting out at all.  You’ve no idea . . . how quickly a machine will catch fire and how completely.  The gasoline does it.  All that remained after a few moments was a few blackened metal parts.9

Rogers’s description of the aftermath is confirmed by a photo that second Oxford detachment member John Chadbourn Rorison took of the grim wreckage of the plane.10  An incident casualty card records that Berry was the pilot of Bristol Fighter C4689 and that Louis Ward Wheelock, of the first Oxford detachment, was the passenger.11

A printed form with a number of notations regarding Berry's accident filled in with blue ink.
Front of casualty card for incident in which he and Wheelock were injured
Typewritten text that reads: Court of Inquiry. 22069/1918 Lt. Berry, Lt. Wheelock. The Court having duly considered the evidence placed before them are of the opinion that the accident was due to an error of judgment on the part of the pilot.
Court of inquiry report pasted to back of the casualty card associated with Berry’s crash.

News of the incident circulated, and War Birds includes a second-hand account (both Elliott White Springs and John McGavock Grider were at Hounslow in April).12  Berry apparently remained in Europe until early November 1918, but I find no record of his activities.  He was honorably discharged November 26, 1918, at which point he was twenty percent disabled.13

He apparently continued his military career after the war.  A wedding announcement from March of 1919 indicates that he was stationed at Ellington Field in Texas.14  I have found no information about him from later years.  The “Roster from Clayton Knight,” a listing of the cadets mentioned in War Birds dated February 22, 1963, indicates that Berry was by then dead, but provides no date or details.

mrsmcq April 21, 2017


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

1  Berry’s date of birth is taken from The National Archives (United Kingdom), Royal Air Force officers’ service records 1918-1919, record for Norman Kenneth Berry.  Emergency contact information on this record links this man to parents Albert & Ida Berry in Philadelphia and to wife Margaret Verna Jardine. Comparison with census and marriage records raises questions: census records give later birth dates; Jardine is listed on the service record, which apparently dates from 1918, as Berry’s wife, but their marriage did not take place until 1919 (see below).  Berry’s place of birth is listed on the 1900 census as Pennsylvania., Pennsylvania, WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, record for Norman K Berry, gives his place of birth as Boston.  Until more original documentation (a draft registration, for example) surfaces, these puzzles, as well as ones about his education (see below) cannot be resolved. The photo is a detail from the Cornell School of Military Aeronautics, Squadron G photo.

2  See records for Albert Berry at, 1900 United States Federal Census; 1920 United States Federal Census.

3  I have not been able to find a record of Berry in catalogues from Columbia University in New York City from this period.

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

5  Foss, diary entry for September 30, 1917; see also Ludwig, diary entry for September 29, 1917.

6  On the men sent to training squadrons, see Hooper, Somewhere in France, letter of November 14, 1917; Foss, Diary, entry for November 15, 1917; and Murton Campbell, Diary, entry for November 19, 1917.

7  Jefford, Observers and Navigators, p. 51.

8  See, Pennsylvania, WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, 1917-1919, 1934-1948, records (service) for Norman K Berry.  I have not thus far been able to find his name in the cablegrams relating to recommendations for commissions or in the related confirming cablegrams.

9  Rogers, A Yankee Ace in the RAF, p. 93.

10  See Doyle, “War Birds Pictorial,” p. 41.

11  See “Berry, (Norman).” Wheelock’s casualty card (“Wheelock, L. W.”) reads “Injured slight,” and he was apparently back in training at Ayr in September when he was again slightly injured, this time in an Avro.  See “Wheelock, L. W.” and “Wheelock, L. W. (Louis Ward).”  In 1919 Wheelock was awarded the silver medal of the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire and was “mentioned for valuable service to the Royal Air Force.” See “Foreign News,” pp. 28 and 29.

12  The War Birds account agrees with that given by Rogers; it appears at the end of the entry for April 14 [!], 1918.

13  See, Pennsylvania, WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, 1917-1919, 1934-1948, record for Norman K Berry.

14  See “Miss Jardine Bride of Lieut. Berry, U.S.A.C.”