Remembering the Hall Brothers: Alfred Henry Benbow and Clement William
By Kevan Pipe
The following is part of a continuing series of profiles of servicemen from the Glebe and St. Matthew’s Anglican Church who gave their lives to Canada and the pursuit of peace in the Second World War. We commemorate and remember their passing, 80 years ago.
If there was one family from St. Matthew’s Anglican Church who suffered the most from the Second World War, it had to be the Hall family. Alfred and Clement, sons of Clement Alfred (a veteran of the First World War) and Effie Dean Hall, were residents of nearby Westboro. Both sons were named after their father.
The family lived on Royal Avenue and both boys went to Hillson Public School. Circa 1928, the family moved to 420 Hinton Avenue near the Civic Hospital, with Clement attending Glebe Collegiate and Alfred off to Ottawa Technical High School, both being members of St. Matthew’s along with older sisters Violet and Elizabeth.
Clement was the youngest of four children, born March 13, 1915. An avid sportsman, he played rugby, baseball and hockey, and had summer jobs at both McKeen’s and Loblaw groceries. He was a scholar as well, entering University of Ottawa in 1937 in the Bachelor of Commerce program and continuing his athletic pursuits as a member of the university’s football team. He gained the nickname “Tubby,” which stuck with him into his future.
It was during his fourth year at university, on October 23, 1940, that he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Following seven months of extensive training in Dauphin, Manitoba, he earned his pilot’s wings in July 1941. Given the importance of the bombing campaign then in full force over occupied territories, he was deployed from Halifax to England the following month.
Warrant Office ll Hall was assigned to Royal Air Force #12 Operational Training Unit (OTU) flying out of RAF Station Chipping Warden in Northamptonshire. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant and served as a bombardier in the Wellington medium bomber. Following a year of bombing runs and with 12 OTU now operating as an RCAF squadron, on September 16, 1942, 12 OTU was assigned to a nighttime bombing mission over Essen, in the heavily defended Ruhr Valley in the industrial heartland of Germany. This was one of the most feared missions due to the heavy concentration of German defensive measures in that area. Nicknamed “Happy Valley,” this area was under constant haze due to heavy industrial emissions from the manufacturing plants as well as heavy anti-aircraft fire protecting these precious facilities.
On that late summer evening, a massive armada of 369 bombers departed their bases across England for this bombing mission targeting German heavy industry and were scheduled to be over their assigned zone in under two hours. The bombing raid proved to be a major success with significant damage caused by this action; however, a heavy price was paid by Bomber Command that fateful night. Of the hundreds of planes sent over, 39 aircraft, more than 10 per cent, failed to return to base, including RCAF Wellington bomber BJ730, piloted by Flight Sergeant Clement Hall.
It was assumed that he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Local German forces recovered his body and those of his four crew mates at the crash site. Flight Sergeant Hall was buried in a war cemetery near Cologne.
Initially declared “status unknown” by the RCAF, it took another six months before he was formally declared “killed in action”. Three years after the end of the war, in 1948, his body was re-interred at the Rheinberg War Cemetery where it rests today, alongside more than 3,000 other Allied servicemen. Clement Hall was one of 60 University of Ottawa students killed in action in the Second World War of the more than 1,100 from this institution who served in the war.
Clement’s older brother, Alfred, was born June 1, 1913. Trained as a draftsman/estimator, he graduated in 1932 from Ottawa Technical High School and was then employed at the Independent Coal and Lumber Company. Like his brother, Alfred was an avid hockey player as well as a member of the Ottawa Flying Club. He married Chrissie Hay on May 3, 1937, and they were blessed with two daughters, Jo Anne (1937) and Beverly (1938). They lived at 38 Highland Avenue in Westboro and attended St. Matthew’s Church.
Alfred enlisted in the RCAF on June 10, 1940, followed later that year by Clement. Awarded his air gunners badge in 1941, Warrant Officer ll Alfred Hall was assigned to 420 RCAF Squadron flying a 4-engine Halifax heavy bomber from RAF Station Tholthorpe in Yorkshire. He took part in multiple bombing missions over Germany, including dangerous assignments to Essen, Hamburg, Mannheim and Dusseldorf.
On April 30, 1944, as part of the buildup towards D Day (which eventually took place just five weeks later on June 6), 420 Squadron was ordered to bomb the rail yards at Somain in northwest France, not far from Vimy Ridge, the historic Canadian battle site in the First World War. Although Flight. Officer Hall had already completed his second and final tour of operations (60 missions in total), he volunteered to go with his crew mates on this mission to help them complete their military tour of duty, known as their “ops.” This usually amounted to 30 missions, not exceeding 200 actual flying hours.
During the war, serving in Bomber Command was the most dangerous of any of the services. Fifty-one per cent of crew members were killed during operations while an additional 12 per cent were wounded or killed in non-operational accidents such as training flights. An additional 13 per cent were shot down over enemy territory and became POWs (prisoners of war). Just one in four crew members survived their ops. It was also documented that the most dangerous missions for air crew were the first five missions, and the final five.
Flight Officer Alfred Hall was on mission number 61.
On that fateful night of April 30, Halifax Bomber LW476-PJ took off from RAF Station Tholthorpe and proceeded over the English Channel to the assigned target in northwestern France, at approximately 8,000 feet altitude. After completing their bombing run and en route back to base late that night, likely less than an hour from safety, LW476-PJ crashed into the North Sea off the coast of France. Of the six crew members, only two bodies, including Flight Officer Hall, were recovered, having washed ashore days later near St. Valery in France.
Flight Officer Alfred Hall was buried in St. Valery sur Somme Communal Cemetery, where he rests today, alongside 14 other allied servicemen from the U.K., many from the original Battle of France in May 1940.
Due to the fog of war, the Hall family had hopes that perhaps he was missing in action or even a POW. RCAF Air Commodore (Personnel) D.E. MacKell finally had to formally notify the family of the confirmed killed-in-action status of their son on March 23, 1945, almost 11 months after his death. It was the second such deadly notification the family received.
Alfred, upon hearing of his younger brother’s death in 1942, and prior to his own demise, wrote his mother a letter: “We are proud and very glad that we had a mother and father who taught us unselfishly to risk our lives to maintain what we were always taught to believe…We know [the risk], but we still fly and always will.”
It was likely this strong belief in duty and his dedication to his comrades that caused Alfred to unselfishly volunteer for that fateful mission number 61, from which he never returned.
The Hall family lost both their sons in this global conflict, with Alfred leaving behind a wife and two young daughters. Eighty years later, both Clement and Alfred Hall are remembered forever at St. Matthew’s and at the Bomber Command Memorial Wall in Nanton, Alberta.
Kevan Pipe is a Glebe resident and member of St. Matthew’s, The Anglican Church in The Glebe.