Stanley Cooper Kerk

(Philadelphia, March 6, 1896 – March 30, 1973, Larkspur, California).1

Kerk’s father’s family had lived in Philadelphia for several generations. Kerk’s grandfather had been a clerk in the Philadelphia mint; Kerk’s father worked for J. Bishop & Co., a platinum manufacturing firm of which Kerk’s brother eventually became president.2 In 1914 Kerk was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance and Commerce; his name does not appear on student lists for later years.3 His draft registration indicates that in 1917 he was a clerk with the Midvale Steel Company in Philadelphia; his R.A.F. service record describes him as a metallurgist there.4

Kerk enlisted in the Reserve Corps at Essington, Pennsylvania, on June 18, 1917, and was soon assigned to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.5 He attended ground school at Ohio State University’s School of Military Aeronautics from the end of June through the beginning of September, graduating with Squadron 8 on September 1, 1917.6

Along with most of his O.S.U. classmates, Kerk chose or was chosen to train in Italy, and he joined the 150 men 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. Early in the voyage, Murton Llewellyn Campbell, who had been in Kerk’s ground school class, noted that “Kerk and Wells have been entertaining considerably. Wells sings, Kerk plays.”7

The Carmania docked at Liverpool on October 2, 1917, and almost immediately the men learned 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. Most left Liverpool for Oxford that same day, but, as luggage had not yet been unloaded, Kerk, along with Earl Adams, Allen Tracy Bird, and Robert Arthur Kelly, remained in Liverpool to look after it for the detachment, not arriving at Oxford until October 8, 1917.8 Over the course of October the cadets (as they were now called) made their peace with training in England instead of Italy and enjoyed the amenities of English college life. Murton Campbell mentions towards the end of the month that “We roasted some chestnuts tonight by our cozy little fire. Dug, Chap, Kerk and Rit were the bunch and a good one too. Hope I am in Flying School with them.”9

Kerk at Grantham. From John Chadbourn Rorison’s photo album, reproduced on p. 35 of Doyle, “War Bird Pictorial.” My thanks to the League of WW 1 Aviation Historians for permission to reproduce this.

On November 3, 1917, most of the second Oxford detachment members, including Kerk, went to Grantham in Lincolnshire to attend machine gun school at Harrowby Camp; there were not yet places for them at training squadrons. The next afternoon Kerk and three men who had been in the class ahead of him at ground school, Clarence Bernard Maloney, Joseph Kirkbride Milnor, and Guy Samuel King Wheeler, “hired a car and drove over to Nottingham about 24 miles,” where they looked around the town and had dinner, returning just before midnight curfew.9a

Ten days later it was learned that fifty of the men would soon be leaving Grantham for squadrons, and when the fifty were selected, Kerk was among them.  Along with Adams, Robert Alexander Anderson, Guy Maynard Baldwin, and Thomas John Herbert, he set out for No. 31 Training Squadron at Wyton, about fifteen miles northwest of Cambridge, on November 19, 1917.10 Ten days later, when Thanksgiving arrived, Kerk was one of the many men already posted to squadrons who returned to Grantham to celebrate. Festivities included a game of American football between the “Hardly Ables” and the “Unfits,” with Kerk playing for the latter, winning, team. His teammate Lloyd Ludwig remarked that “Mac, Kerk, Brader and Hardin played great games.”11

Back at Wyton Kerk presumably completed a course of preliminary flying training on December 17, 1917.12 There is evidence that he suffered from ill health, possibly beginning around this time. A note dated December 18, 1917, on his R.A.F. service record appears to indicate that he was transferred to the “non-effective pool,” i.e., put on leave, possibly for medical reasons, on that date.  A later annotation (March 4, 1918) describes Kerk as “Unfit any service 1 month.”  Four days later, Milnor, now working at American Aviation HQ in London, “went out to Tooting to see Kerk who is in hospital there” (perhaps the Grove Military Hospital). 12a

In early April 1918 Kerk was one of a large group of men of the second Oxford detachment whose names were forwarded by Pershing to Washington with the recommendation that they be commissioned “First Lieutenants Aviation Reserve non flying.”13  The status had nothing to do with Kerk’s ill health, rather it was part of an effort to speed up commissions for the many men in Europe whose climb up the ladder of rank had fallen behind that of their stateside counterparts due to insufficient training facilities in Europe; they were to receive their commissions “non flying” and then be transferred to flying status as soon as they completed appropriate training. Kerk was among those granted their commissions on this basis as recorded in a cablegram dated May 13, 1918.14  Meanwhile, on April 18, 1918, according to his R.A.F. service record, Kerk was once again assigned to 31 T.S. at Wyton, but a little over a month later, a medical exam describes him as “Unfit G[eneral] S[ervice] 4 weeks fit H[ome] S[ervice] flying duties.”

From Kerk’s R.A.F. service record.

Although Kerk was placed on active duty May 31, 1918, he remained in England into the autumn.14a An undated note on Kerk’s R.A.F. service record indicates that he had received two hours of dual instruction on DH.6s—a training plane used at Wyton and perhaps at nearby Fowlmere, where, by Kerk’s own account, he was also stationed.15  His R.A.F. service record indicates that he was transferred from No. 31 T.S. at Wyton on September 26, 1918, to his final training posting, the School of Navigation and Bomb Dropping near Stonehenge in Wiltshire, where he presumably trained on DH.4s and perhaps DH.9s.

Fremont Cutler Foss identifies this man in a  photo of the 166th Aero’s B flight as “Kirk.” It is probably Kerk.

There is conflicting information about Kerk’s active service in France. By one of his own accounts, recorded in 1920, he was in France already on September 4, 1918 (this is at odds with his R.A.F. service record).16 Kerk lists service with the U.S. 166th Aero Squadron in both the account he provided in 1920 and in one from 1934.17 In the latter he indicates he was with the 166th from October 18, 1918 through February 23, 1919, and the former notes that until early January 1919 he was at Maulan, France, and during most of January and February 1919 in Trier, Germany, which is consistent with the movements of the 166th. Curiously, Kerk does not appear on the roster of the 166thincluded in Hicks’s “History of Operations of the 166th Aero Squadron,” although he is among the men of the 166th listed as ready to depart Trier for Colombey-les-Belles in March 1919.18 On the other hand, Kerk’s name is included in a list of officers of the 11th Aero Squadron compiled, presumably, in 1919: the entry indicates that he reported to the 11th on November 6, 1918, and was then transferred to the 166th on November 9, 1918.19

Both the 166th and the 11th were part of the American 1st Day Bombardment Group; both flew DH-4s. The 11th had been part of the Group since its formation at Amanty in early September 1918, just prior to the St. Mihiel Offensive; the 166th was assigned to the 1st Day Bombardment Group, now at Maulan, on September 25, 1918. There are reasonably complete records of the missions flown by both squadrons; I have not found Kerk’s name among the pilots for any of the missions.

Kerk was able to return to the United States on the Kentuckian, sailing from St. Nazaire on March 20, 1919, and arriving at Brooklyn on April 1, 1919.20 He initially joined his father and brother in the platinum business in Pennsylvania.21 Sometime in the 1920s he moved to northern California and worked in the printing and engraving business.22 In early 1968 an interview with him was recorded that presumably focussed on his World War I experiences. The tapes, housed in the George H. Williams, Jr., Collection at the Eugene McDermott Library at the University of Texas, Dallas, are, unfortunately of such poor quality (or have deteriorated to the point) that they are largely incomprehensible.23

mrsmcq August 8, 2018; updated to reflect Milnor diary August 25, 2020


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

1  For Kerk’s place and date of birth, see, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918, record for Stanley Kerk. For his place and date of death, see “Stanley Kerk.”

2  On Kerk’s family, see documents available at

3  The University of Pennsylvania, Catalogue of the University of Pennsylvania 1913–1914, p. 618.

4  The National Archives (United Kingdom), Royal Air Force officers’ service records 1918–1919, record for Stanley Cooper Kerk.

5  For Kerk’s place and date of enlistment, see, Pennsylvania, WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, 1917–1919, 1934–1948, record for Stanley Cooper Kerk.

6  “Ground School Graduations [for September 1, 1917].”

7  Murton Llewellyn Campbell, diary entry for September 20, 1917; Horace Palmer Wells was a talented tenor.

8  War Birds, entries for October 3 and 8, 1917.

9  Murton Llewellyn Campbell, diary entry for October 29, 1917. The other men were Charles William Harold Douglass, Allison Henderson Chapin, and Roland Hammond Ritter.

9a Milnor, diary entry for November 4, 1917.

10  On the men posted to Wyton, see Foss, diary entry for November 15, 1917. For their date of assignment, see Kerk’s R.A.F. service record, cited above.

11  Ludwig, diary entry for November 29, 1917; see also Chalaire, “Thanksgiving Day with the Aviators Abroad.”  “Mac” was Maloney; the other two men were George Atherton Brader and Temple Paul Hardin.

12  Baldwin notes this date for his completion of the course, and I assume Kerk’s training was parallel. See Baldwin’s letter about his service, which is included in, Pennsylvania, WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, 1917–1919, 1934–1948, record for Guy Maynard Baldwin.

12a  In response to my inquiry, the RAF Museum London indicated that they could find no medical card for Kerk.  The quotation is from Milnor’s diary entry for March 8, 1918.

13 Cablegram 874-S, dated April 8, 1918.

14  Cablegram 1303-R.  For Pershing’s request that commissions with non-flying status be conferred, see cablegrams 726-S and 955-R.

14a For the date of Kerk’s being assigned to active duty, see McAndrew, “Special Orders No. 205.”

15  See the “War Service Record,” dated January 25, 1920, in, Pennsylvania, WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, 1917–1919, 1934–1948, record for Stanley Cooper Kerk.  On the aircraft at No. 31 T.S., see Sturtivant, Hamlin, and Halley, Royal Air Force Flying Training and Support Units, p. 299.

16  See “War Service Record,” cited above.

17  See “War Service Record,” cited above, and “Veteran’s Compensation Application,” dated March 1, 1934, also in, Pennsylvania, WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, 1917–1919, 1934–1948, record for Stanley Cooper Kerk.

18  See “Exodus to S.O.S. Begun.”

19  “11th Squadron,” p. 5; this may have been a source for Sloan’s information on Kerk in Wings of Honor, pp. 221, 248, and 412. Kerk’s name is included in the list of officers in History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A. (p. 206).

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

21  See, 1920 United States Federal Census, record for Stanley C Kerk.

22  See, for example,, 1930 United States Federal Census, record for Stanley C Kerk; and “Stanley Kerk.”

23  See Allen, “Guide to the George H. Williams, Jr. Collection, 1915-2006.”