Known as a star of the Music Hall and in particular for his role in ' The Passing Show', Basil Hallam was also one of Lady Diana Cooper's dancing partners.
Possibly for medical reasons he didn't join up as soon as war began but, after being a recipient of numerous white feathers, often thrust upon him at the stage door, he decided to enlist. He became a Balloon Observer with a Kite Balloon Section of the RFC and his duties were to reinforce the work of observers working for Corps Squadrons.
On 20 August 1916 Hallam, a member of No 1 Section, was due to make an ascent with 2/Lt P B Moxon who had previously been registering for V Corps together with a third man, Lt Geoffrey McCall. McCall, whose brother was a school chum of Hallam, had been invited along as a guest.
Sadly, and owing to a high wind, the balloon broke away from its moorings and began to drift towards enemy lines. The crew then proceeded to throw out their instruments and maps before planning to save themselves. Unfortunately, there were only two parachutes in the balloon and Hallam instructed Moxon and McCall to jump. This, of course, left him with the decision of either drifting out of control into enemy lines or to jump and hope.
For a short period he was seen sitting on the edge of the basket before making his leap. The height was between three and six thousand feet and, not surprisingly, he didn't survive. His body was found on the Acheux-en-Amienois Road. In a letter to Lady Diana Cooper, Raymond Asquith, one of hundreds of witnesses to the tragedy, reported that Hallam's body was found dreadfully foreshortened and he was only identified by his cigarette case. Hallam was buried by Edgy Knollys and his grave is to be found in Couin British Cemetery.
The main reason why I am writing this note is to point out, contrary to other reports, that in the first place the balloon was not damaged by enemy fire, as Lady Diana appears to have thought and, secondly, there wasn't a problem with Hallam's parachute not opening as he wasn't wearing it.
12 Feb 2014
Please see and contrast the report by Rudyard Kipling referred to in our Remember on this Day article for Captain Basil Hallam.
Image courtesy the National Portrait Gallery