WWI Aviator From Hall Had Some Close Calls

He was one of the first military airmen from Hall County who served in the First World War and although he had several close calls in the air, he managed to return home unmarked by the war.

Barnwell joined the Marine Aviation Corps, best known as the naval aerial service at the time, shortly after America joined the war against Germany. It was surely a big change for a normal boy as aircraft was used for the first time ever in a conflict. A year after finishing his training, Barnwell became an instructor but not long after that, he left to serve on a troop ship. His journey was also full of tension and surprises, as a German submarine failed to sink the American ship he was on, and which arrived safely in France in 1918. The Allied destroyers manage to sink the German submarine.

During the Second World War, Germany became quite good at aerial combat and succeeded in developing anti-aircraft weapons that could shoot down a plane flying as high as 30,000 feet.  Lt. B.G. Barnwell remembered all three different planes he flew during enemy attack. He said that although he always landed safely, the planes he flew were so damaged they had to be scrapped, the gainesvilletimes reports.

One of the most painful experiences for him was loosing his friend, a pilot who had trained with him before they both went overseas. Harvey Norman joined the forces around the same time as B. G. Barnwell and they learnt to fly together, at the same bases in Florida and left together for France. The were together on a mission when Norman’s plane got hit by ground enemy fire. The plane was shot down from 18,000 feet and crashed just inside allied lines. His body was later recovered by Barnwell and other in their squadron.

Barnwell talked about his best memory, which was when the war ended and he was with a group of Americans, French, Belgians and British, marching through the streets of Calais, France, singing, telling and celebrating, all in their own languages.

It didn’t take long until the next adventure, which took place on the ship taking him to the United States. It was the luxurious journey he expected, as there were more than 800 aviators and 2,000 wounded American soldiers, all aboard the former German vessel, the ship Mercury. A terrible storm almost sank the ship, which arrived in Newport News, Va., exactly a week before Christmas, making it possible for Barnwell to return home for the holidays.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE